Sour Notes

By Joe Rector

I’ve always enjoyed singing. Jim and I sang in the children’s choir at church when we were young. For some reason, we had to sing a song alone for most of those events. Even in high school, Mike Guinn, Jim, and I sang a special song in front of the church. Two things that have been constant throughout the years are that I suffer from stage fright and at least one sour note or major mistake will occur during performances.

I played trumpet beginning in the fifth grade band. At the time, Mr. Scott was our director. I’m not sure how dedicated he was to the profession, but he hung in there and taught us the basics of our instruments. I never was able to beat Sharon Newcomb for first chair. Probably a bit more practice would have helped that cause.

Every year, the students from Ball Camp, Karns, Hardin Valley, and Solway joined forces to present a concert at the high school auditorium. We met for practice several times, and Mr. Scott told us to individually keep up with the music. “Don’t rely on the person next to you for being in the right place in the music.” I took that advice to heart, much to my embarrassment. The band played some Latin American song, and at the end of the piece, students were to say “Ole” in unison. Toward the last few measures, musicians lost their places, and the entire band stopped playing. I had been counting measures and believed I was keeping up. With Mr. Scott’s quote burned in my mind, I came to the place, and with a loud, “solo” voice, I yelled “Ole!” The place erupted in laughter, and Mr. Scott’s eyes burned holes in my skull.

Our high school choir toured each spring. In 1968, we traveled to Fall Church, Virginia. The trip was wonderful as we toured monuments and saw the seat of our government. The concert we gave wasn’t so wonderful. One selection was tricky with time changes and key changes. We’d been shaky with the song at school, but Mr. Nelson decided we could perform it. Unfortunately, we couldn’t. The silence in the middle of the piece was deafening. All of us stood red-faced in front of an audience that never expected us to fall apart.

When my brothers, their wives, Amy and I were in college, we enjoyed singing together. Dallas was a head resident, and during holidays, we would walk to one of the community showers to sing. The sound encouraged us enough to sing at church one Sunday. I still don’t know why it happened, but the farther along we went, the worse it sounded. We were off-key and the end of the piece sounded like a train wreck. We finished and quickly sat down. That was the last time our family group sang in public.

During the last years of my teaching career, I noticed that my voice was fading. On some days, I’d begin teaching, and my voice would disappear. At other times, I could barely be heard in the back of the room. That was a surprise to my students and me since I’d always been such a loud person.

At the same time, my singing voice was in trouble. The low note of the bass parts could no longer be hit. My voice went silent at times. Instead of singing, I croaked and gave up singing. It was disheartening to try to hit notes that just wouldn’t come out.

I’ve been convinced to join the church choir. My voice is more than rusty, and my ability to read music has declined. Still, I’m giving it a try. I look forward to Wednesday night practices. Singing with others is fun, even if I miss notes or can’t hit others. Maybe I can retrain my voice well enough to contribute to the choir and maybe be good enough to sing in the praise band.

Time will tell. I just hope that my days of hitting sour notes are over.