Joy and Music and GleeMay 16, 2010 at 8:39 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments
Tags: a capella, a cappella, arch sings, Five For Ten, Glee
I’m late on my Five for Ten Memory post. I struggled with this one. Writing about any singular memory I feared would come across as maudlin or inauthentic — I wouldn’t be able to write eloquently enough to steer away from the clichés of happiness (weddings, birth, etc.) or sadness (divorce, death, etc.). So I wrote something else that just didn’t ring true and was about to hit “Publish.”
And then tonight after a long weekend with a sick kid, preoccupied with looming preschool and daycare decisions and bills and stuff and etc., et. al., I caught up on Glee. This is actually a long overdue post on why (apart from The Good Wife) this may be the best show on television. What does this have to do with the topic of memory? Bear with me…
Glee, if you are living under a rock, is the breakaway hit show about a high school glee club, and, yes, there is singing in every episode. And, yes, every week, especially during each episode’s finale, I find myself tingling with goosebumps, tears in my eyes. By the end of each episode the show’s characters have resolved that week’s dilemmas in rousing song, unabashedly singing their hearts out (oh, the cliché! But again, bear with me!) My skin tingles because I am transported back to my singing days when it was just as uncool and geeky to be my high school chorus as it is in the fictional Ohio high school at which the show takes place (not to mention the more selective a capella madrigal singers in which I was a second soprano). In high school, the rest of the chorus kids also did all the school plays and musicals and/or had long-ish hair and were in bands. I was nerdy, sure, but more academically so, which in my high school — although not cool, per se — was much more socially acceptable than being a drama nerd. (I played lacrosse in lieu of the school play, upping my cool factor even a bit more.) But once we were singing, such distinctions were as meaningless as they were otherwise important. My chorus cohorts and I had a bond that is hard to describe to non-“gleeks”: once you are out there, in front of an audience, listening to the pitch of your fellow singers or finding a shared source of energy, nothing matters but the music. Not high school cliques or grades or where you are going to college. It is a high; it’s a bond.
I chose my college over another I was considering in large part because of its a capella community. (This may be the nerdiest sentence I have ever or will ever write.) During my prospective-student visit, en route to a party, my hosts walked me past an arch sing. They wanted to hurry on to the keg, but I lingered at the entrance to the arch. This, this was my high school singing experience taken to a new level. The acoustics of the arches are perfectly suited to a cappella music, so much that each group comes to know its “sweet spot” in the arch — where their sopranos or bases will resonate the best. An all-women’s group was singing a little-known 80s song called “Time and Tide,” with an exquisite soprano soloist and back up trio and the hairs stood up on my arms. Reluctantly I let myself be dragged away to a basement party (I had a coolness factor to satisfy), but I never forgot that soloist or that song, and when I arrived on campus a few months later and did the round of a capella group auditions, I looked for the soloist. Fortunately for me, she belonged to the one a capella group that actually wanted me (I’m not a fabulous singer, I should add, but I have good pitch and a good ear and can sing on tune and can blend — a quality as equally prized by a capella groups as the most rousing soloist. Every star needs backup, no?) I remember writing in my journal the day I made the group that I felt as stunned and elated as the day I found out I was accepted to college itself. They want me? I can be a part of this?
Two other Five for Ten bloggers, college classmates of mine, have mentioned the arch sing phenomenon in their memory posts (here and here). So perhaps I’m not alone in recognizing their spirit and beauty and the unique role these weekly mini-concerts played in our college experience. But to be out there — singing — focusing only on the voices surrounding you, the collective experience, the soaring voices; and, yet, aware of the audience, rapt, in front of you, clapping and cheering and hopefully equally as moved or elated…
It’s glee. Pure Glee.
You might think Glee, the show, is ridiculous or embarrassing. Would students really sing like that, unafraid of how they seemed or what they looked like or with such lack of restraint?
Yes, they would. And the show brings me right back. Without realizing at the time, my singing group was the best thing I did in college. Sometimes I dream that I’m back in the group and what I remember is not the particular song we’re singing, but the feeling I had while singing it. I am untethered yet supported by the women around me; I am aware of the audience but unselfconsciously so; I’m enraptured and inspired and utterly free.