July 2023

Scene for…

Claudine Jones | Scene4 Magazin

Claudine Jones

So let's back up a tick.

Let's hypothesize your goal is to become a skilled, confident professional working something that you love, and making some money. What happens is when you put everything into it and that opens some doors and then you walk through a few of them and, amongst the fabulous, there's inalterably orders of magnitude so much pain and horrible people horrible experience wounded sadistic crap.

Of course this has all come up because I've just been informed of the Interim's replacement. The new permanent choir director (since our former one is now not only blissfully retired, but a surprise newlywed).

Out of four auditionees, this pompous nutter was second in line, after the true deal breaker Interim (yeesh. for me at least). I can only assume that neither of the other two candidates that everybody I talked to was excited about, were able to accept because, as we've previously experienced in this national search, they didn't factor in how expensive it is to live in the fucking Bay Area. So we've ended up with the candidate who is local. (Nobody wanted Ms. Interim by the way. I count that as proof of at least some sound BOD decision making.)

This caused me to impulsively call a colleague from my old Conservatory days—only 30 years ago (who happens also to be my sister-in-law's cousin, and was as recently as last month down the street over at their house celebrating her upcoming marital plans--howzat for crazy) Of course she's also on FB. She is a voice teacher; we don't talk regularly, I just wanted to pick her brains about this whole idea of amateur choir vocal pedagogy. Arriving at weekly rehearsals to spend half your time listening to talk about thick folds/thin folds, straight tone, oscilloscopes and theremins.

She was excited; she finds it all fascinating. I found her take on the 'Disney voice' especially close to my heart. Without naming names she clearly has had experience with prepubescent students who were being asked to sing, as she put it, five steps below the staff. Ruining their young voices before they even have a chance. Her opinion of straight tone is that it is a current fad, or trend, if you will. She does not recommend it outside of certain specific limited repertoire

So the upshot is getting to spend half an hour chatting on the phone was like the tip of the iceberg. All of this, I want to say held resentment, and old forgotten teachers and feuds and triumphs and adversity came boiling over, we barely could keep up with each other as the ideas were tumbling out. She is one of the few people I can talk to who actually enjoys this kind of conversation. Extra points for showing more than a bit of interest in my retreats in (non)quest of non-duality.


Four days later

Oh lordy what have I done.

I figured after Sunday soaked in this lovely craziness doing a contemporary jazz mass in a big old church and even the previous Thursday night final rehearsal just being so light and comfortable, I must be doing something right. Looking around in this little hodge podge mini group—confusingly fused, having had this same (now retired) guy for years endlessly crossing the Bay Bridge, running both choirs, signing us up for any theater gigs that needed a temporary choral add-on.  Organizing us to chase around all over the world singing at any venues that would have us.

Familiar faces, welcoming, even silly as we talked about what to wear. What do you wear for jazz? The men got no problem they can put on a black turtleneck some slacks and snazzy hat but what do the women wear? We get some kind of throwback braless shimmy and silk stockings? Cloche hats? And feather boas. Come on none of us is 20 years old. Our choir director is sporting black and white wingtips.

I reckoned after this experience, with all the work I planned on doing in the next two weeks with another offshoot group just to have some summer practice sightreading and acquit myself with honor, that it was going to be more or less smooth sailing for a while at least.

Instead I'm a ping pong ball.

Back at the church my carpool guy says oh let's take a picture; he lines us three ladies up and he takes a wonderful shot and since they're such gentle people they send me a copy of it right away and when I get home I see it and I think well for somebody who thinks herself not very photogenic that's pretty good picture.

Then half an hour later I get an email request from our offshoot fearless leader for a headshot to be included in the Program. WTF. I swear to God, all I did was just grab that picture slap it in the gallery hit edit crop it so that I cut out the other two ladies on either side of me and I'm actually facing straight so my nose is in pretty good shape.

But who does headshots for chorus? I don't know whether to be charmed or horrified. Inside of 5 minutes I've responded with a goddamn headshot.

And now I have to admit that while I'm with these people on Sunday, there's little germination of unease that I feel I have to keep to myself. That choice, after abandoning Ms Interim, and enjoying the repertoire of Gustav Holst, he who is now the previously referred to notsomebody I really want to work with. Everybody knows the decision has been made now, but did I mention that to me there had been another email with a zoom link for tomorrow afternoon, calling for the presence of as many people of the Holst who would like to come hear this guy's news. Which I already knew what the news was, but I also already knew that in point of fact his new contract specifies that he can't run two choruses at the same time so these early folks invited to the zoom at the top of the hour before he arrives are all busy trading opinions on what the heck is going on.

Somebody says oh oh we got bad news don't we? And somebody else says oh I don't know, I guess we'll see. But in contrast to the morning Sunday gig, the mood is a bit grim. 10 minutes in, he is stumbling,  basically trying to explain how it was all hush hush, that he came to make the decision to take the job and how sorry he is that he can't do everything but he won't have a life he'll never see his family and it would basically just be a bad decision and although he will miss everybody, guess what?

He says they're going to talk, that is all of these various people who make decisions such as the boards of directors, and decide whether they want to combine the choruses whether that's even doable whether the (my old) rehearsal Hall has enough room to accommodate an unknown number of singers. We've lost some to attrition, they've lost some to attrition, I mean you know, covid. Duh.

So here I am, unable to concentrate. Feeling like I just couldn't keep my goddamn mouth shut. These are people I worked with for one program in response to missing our retired director, loathing the interim director—not the repertoire, mind you, just the endless twaddle (see pedagogy above)—and then after jumping ship, decided that although, again, love the repertoire, I wasn't really having any fun and didn't like this guy's next choice of program.

Besides I actually felt the urge to be proactive and start looking for something that I really really want to do, not just sort of fall into.

So what the heck am I doing showing up for this Zoom call. I think first off I wanted to be present as a member of the old group that he is now apparently going to be in charge of. I think there's only one other person that is in both choirs. I don't know her very well; she may or may not be on the call. But it just seemed like even if I'm on leave with both groups I have to keep my toe in. I mean that seems reasonable.

Also I feel like spying.

And I do keep my trap shut for quite a while, but then they start, I don't know, it's almost seems like they're standing over these choirs like carcasses, doing a post-mortem, picking apart guts on a slab.

I stay muted, hold up my hand, nobody calls on me. I put up the little virtual hand. That's ignored. I wave my hand, nothing. Mind you everybody's unmuted so there's unmoderated chatter going on, which I have to say I haven't really experienced a whole lot of in Zoom. I was building up a head of steam.

Finally I unmute myself and say hello, you know, full disclosure if you didn't already know, I'm a member of the chorus that you guys are discussing, have been for 9 years, and while I really loved the last piece I did with y'all, that other chorus is my home. And it makes me feel a little uncomfortable being here almost under false pretenses. I was going to continue if anybody has any questions feel free to ask, however I can't say anything officially because I'm not a member of the board.

But I never got that far cuz after that 10 sec speech, the chatter promptly resumes and I just get a sudden sense, you know what? I have other fish to fry. Let these guys figure this out. My mouse hovers over and I click leave.

A few hours later, I've already eaten my dinner and my dessert. I have a crap load of work on offshoot group to do for tomorrow night's penultimate rehearsal. I mean heck, I was actually starting to think I'm getting somewhere, this upcoming thing in its own way feels centered and truth be told, there's a mishmash of crossover singers participating that I'm friends with. And there's some Fauré and Poulenc.

I feel so distracted and miserable about the other thing, but I don't want to get to the point where I hover and hitleave.


Well, so much for centered.

Tonight was that next-to-last regular rehearsal. But let me preface this by a little anecdote from the distant past. I have a friend who really went Whole Hog into developing an acting career. She had an agent, didn't like LA—she was mostly interested in theater so living in the Bay Area was tough. Things seemed to be stalled. She's up for a pretty important role in a play; the callbacks are interminable. The final one (fifth? sixth?) comes down to this: madame director assembles everybody onstage. She then chooses the five actors people who most physically resemble each other, because after all they're supposed to be a family. Straw/camel/broken back. Said friend is now a retired therapist with a couple of grown kids one of whom makes a serious living as a professional conductor.

I organize my week around small bits of intense work on the Program. I choose something that I know is a bit tricky, there are 17 pieces in the program, and some consist of one or two pages that are just dense and thick, at first glance impenetrable. Plus the sheet music sometimes is kind of beat up copies that have been written on. So in order to maintain sanity it's required that one pace oneself. I get into a groove that's nice, I don't feel overwhelmed even though I still think this project is doomed. In a certain way. Not to be a Debbie Downer, but it is what it is. What was it that my friend from the conservatory said? They're not there to hear you rehearse, the red light comes on, you deliver. We're not getting paid. That's not what we're talking about here, sad to say.

Anyway the long and short of it is I choose to work one particular opportunity to join up with a trio in a Fauré piece. I drill it because it's sweet, not boring, in contrast to some of the other stuff. I'm confident so come time at the end of the rehearsal and they ask who is going to volunteer, I raise my hand. Turns out I'm the only one taking the middle part. Except hang on. Right in front of me is Miss Thing to whom I have been giving a ride for the last 3 weeks. Bitch turns around, looks directly at me and then says oh well I could give it a try. Three guesses who gets cast.

Boy that was a long walk back to the car. She's uneasy. So I take the high road and I tell her well as long as you're gonna do it, here's my advice to you. Your pitch is low, and if you listen to the first soprano, she is right on the money. Try your best to blend with her. The alto on your other side is too loud. Ignore her. My car mate gives a shaky giggle and her response is oh totally. Yeah. Totally. You know I was thinking on our first week, you were telling me that you don't hesitate to volunteer for solos, so I took your advice! I was so nervous, but I'm glad I took the chance. I said okay, but get your pitch up. Seriously.

The problem is she's not going to and it will be horrible, not the worst I've ever heard but even so. This here would have been a rant to my old man; I'm really glad I don't have any potato chips available.

I think I'll watch TV for a bit and then figure out a way of getting to sleep. I know for sure that the worst thing I can do is obsess but I've got that damn trio going through my head and I know it'll fade but what do they say at the retreat? What do we say in non-duality circles? Don't push it away—embrace it!

God I want some potato chips.



This is really hard to say but it seems what's underlying a lot of this is that I have backed myself into a corner. Other than writing and getting busy in the kitchen, both of which I love, theatre is the best thing that I do. I have nothing else that comes even close. Not gardening, not painting, not training for marathons, not playing bridge, (although I did do pregnancies really well…) And I did have a director say she wished she could clone me, so there's that. I do a mean cold read. Anyway.

I'm not a toy singer either. Sometimes when I listen to other choir members and they don't seem to comprehend the level they are at in comparison to someone like me. I don't say that lightly, it's just that I have found something that I am excellent at and I've sacrificed a lot to get where I am. I have to admit, as I did from the get-go, that it would have meant upending everything to try to move to Los Angeles or spend inordinate amounts of time honing my musicianship. I basically had slapped up a giant roadblock by taking on motherhood and relationships. There was no time left for me.

I suppose the cliché applies that career-wise I did the best I could. Yet to give it a real chance, I would have had to eviscerate any sort of schedule. Maybe turn my kids over to full-time care workers or something. Nannies? Send them off to boarding school? For what? The impossibility of that scenario is in the rear view mirror and it should stay there.

What occurs to me now is that one of the reasons this is a form of torture is I look around and I see the half-assed singers, and the ones that aren't are the ones that I want to be with but who honestly are a couple of decades younger, or they've got so much under their belts that they're Head and Shoulders above me skill-wise. Not to say that they're better singers but they have more resources. This ends up being so painful because it seems like there's no answer. No solution. Dabble in non-duality or embrace it wholeheartedly I don't know I don't care. All the stores are closed and if I wasn't boycotting Safeway I'd go over there and get those goddamn potato chips.

I'm sleeping on the couch tonight and I've got four part harmony Beautiful Dreamer going through my head from the end of the last TV episode.


2:30 a.m.

Back in bed. Turns out my old couch is too noisy. It's made with Springs and like other ancient items, it's getting hella creaky.

6:45 a.m.

This morning, I've kind of switched things up. Usually it goes in this order: put on watch, socks, go pee. Sit up in bed & check emails, read some headlines from Guardian or wapo, with a cup of coffee and half a greenbelly meal bar. I particularly like the banana chocolate ones, so I hoard them.

Instead, this time I got my coffee and cashew coconut bellybar and watch an episode of my medical drama, all the while marveling at how well-intentioned/manipulative it is, but as they always say makes work for actors.

Of course mulling over last evening's events but this time I feel a little stronger having a slightly different perspective. Not new, I have to remind myself, odd as it might sound to say it out loud I would rather be on this side of the equation: having the better voice but not necessarily getting the opportunity to showcase it, is absolutely preferable to the alternative.

I also am rehearsing a very short remark which I'll probably not deliver at next week's carpool. What I want to say is I'm going to be honest with you, it was in your power to make a decision that you knew was potentially hurtful. You chose to hurt me. I don't need to apologize to you for somehow instigating that by my remark, like I sort of had given you permission, but I do think, since you probably have decades on me of performing life ahead of you, that in future if you're gonna keep singing and have a few friends, probably not throwing your colleagues under the bus should be your default.

Now let's check the news and see what the world's up to.


3:00 p.m. Postlude

Email request to me: take a look in the Gloria section at meas 73-75 optional alto solo.

3 measures.

Including a tied dotted half-note.



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Claudine Jones | Scene4 Magazin

Claudine Jones has a long, full career as an Actor/Singer/Dancer. She writes a monthly column
and is a Senior Writer and columnist for Scene4.
For more of her commentary and articles, check the Archives.

©2023 Claudine Jones
©2023 Publication Scene4 Magazine




July 2023

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