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Claudine Jones
She's so cute...(and she knows it)
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April 2012

Part I

I've marched in solidarity with women, but I don't think I've experienced the 'sisterhood' aspect of life. Seen it in operation amongst women with sisters and I do not recognize it in myself. The reason, I expect,  is because I have two brothers. No sisters. 

So my recent sororitizing with members of the R___ Chorale has been a bit fraught.  This makes about a year that I've been with this group—ostensibly to re-enter the world of song after a bit of a hiatus—with as little fanfare as possible. SATB chorus, local, easy repertoire, no pressure. Sight-reading practice, essentially...maybe a foray into some featured bits here & there, but only if called upon to contribute. In a ego-free way, devoid of all remnants of Conservatory-Trained-Soloist Blather.  If this were possible, it must of course be with awareness of the inevitable push-back that comes from senior members. Ones who fancy themselves Up to the Task and whose initials are...wait! Can't do that. Can't name names. Or initials. Let's just say...'X'.  Let's say 'X' is not entirely senior nor junior, but has  had 'lessons' and also sight-reads like a mo-fo, while I must admit that I never could sight-read terribly well even at the top of my game.  My brain resists it with a doggedness that would make my Ozark ancestors proud. 

Anyway. In the midst of this re-entry into a musical sort of socialdom (remember, I'm a retired grandma at this point; don't do get-dressed-and-go-to-work-answer-telephones-brown-bag-it any more, nor have  I auditioned for any crap local OK revivals, so relatively speaking, I am by myself a lot), I discover to my dismay that my voice is not behaving. WTW? Of course I've had issues the same as any singer—sore throat, sinusitis—but I would behave sensibly & it would come around again, no problem. Here I am gently shouldering my way into a few bars of a solo bit that didn't even reach the top of the staff fer cryin' out loud.  And there's some kind of 'hooting' or 'catching' or something on the upper range. Rather panicked. Smushed through on principal. Never do that. Only use your interest if you plan on continuing to sing. Just sayin'.

This was not a good piece of information; it only led to worse decision-making. I'm classically trained so a Mendelssohn duet should be a walk in the park. Instead, my impulse to get paired up with X ostensibly to find a better blend than had previously been achieved almost ended in disaster.  It was close collaboration with a musical colleague once again (o Joy!), however some distracting static was leading me away from the solution I/we needed.  I heard myself offer foolhardy advice.  Shot myself in the foot, so to speak.

By the time I had been persuaded to travel with the group on an almost literal pilgrimage to India, I no longer cared whether my voice was going to be there for me; disgustingly enough, I was getting pretty good at appearing to sing while in point of fact no sound was emerging—a fancy patchwork through an entire concert, song by song, depending on the key we were in.  Changes in the placement of the singers in my section was often tricky—a few times I'd be next to someone who was sadly so dependent on listening to the singer next to her that she'd get totally confused & want to know why I was dropping out at bar 34 & had she missed an edit. 'No, no, ' I'd say. 'It's phlegm.'   I told myself I just wanted to go on an adventure. Subterfuge be damned.

On the trip, I tended to drift from the girls.  A pattern was emerging—it was as though a switch were thrown every time there was an unscheduled rehearsal break, a five minute opportunity, a bar in sight or even a gathering assembled to board a bus, which would cause every one of them to cluster & shout at each other in vocally the most remarkably unhealthy manner possible. Insistent calls for a proper Mojito or Gin & Tonic were more than just too much for my personal budget; my constitution revolted at the thought. The spontaneous re-establishment of my old quotidian meditation practice was a great comfort in those randomly assigned hotel rooms. Mental distancing was even more evident when I overheard one of our altos (in the aisle of a vintage Dutch church somewhere in South India) commenting that our entire group was made up of Catholics. 'Not me,'  I said, since she was standing right there. I figured I ought to clear that right up. She blanched. 'Oh, ' she said. 'I guess there are a couple of you.'

Regardless of my own vocal issues, it still annoyed the piss out of me to have been cajoled into this Musical Trip based on my (carefully camouflaged) strength as a musician and yet, despite X's weaknesses, see her get categorically assigned ALL the fun bits, plus a solo. It made me ill. I fought that; wrote notes to myself in my little spiral booklet. After all I'd been with them only a year. This was no surprise. Music is not the top priority. They like to drink...a LOT. And they have a particular need to send thank you notes and emails (which rarely if ever delete anyone to whom the email is irrelevant).  I got royally chastised by another alto for not saying 'thank you' to a fellow who had helped me hop somewhat awkwardly off our houseboat. I attribute this to the aforementioned Catholicism.  As though it was any of her fucking business.  I flipped the finger to her retreating back, one of the only times I felt almost out of control.  She'd been sick & missed the performances & I had been absurdly healthy while one by one everybody came down with varying degrees of dis-ease.  I was generous to a fault with my stash of Ricolas.

Yet why had I originally been encouraged? Interest, principal, whatever! I could still sing more confidently on a bad day than anyone else in the whole frikkin' room, men included.  And eventually, I told myself, I was going to figure out what the pesky voice problem was and fix it.  We were (are) in the business of charity work and we ought to have some pride.  My whole plan was to lay low, keep a modest profile & here I was pushing to the front again. Hell, I even accidentally ended up cuddling our Baritone Soloist while he sang 'Some Enchanted Evening'. (Not my fault, the sopranos didn't leave enough room.) And if there exists any footage of that night, it will show a somewhat blatantly swooning alto milking the situation. I'm nothing if not ballsy.

But this is about female energy; our director is a woman. She had kindly welcomed me at the beginning and I had worked through the introductory period with a grace I thought appropriate for a newbie. The weird joking & bullying & sarcasm—well, I took that in stride. I'm not the only target. She's got a sense of humor & often she turns the spotlight on herself, so...okay. Whatever. The problem was slow to revelation.  I was slow to catch on.  She has four sisters. Every woman in the group has at least one sister.

If you're not a sister, you just don't get it.

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©2012 Claudine Jones
©2012 Publication Scene4 Magazine

Like an orthopedic soprano, Actor/Singer/Dancer Claudine Jones has worked steadily in Bay Area joints for a number of decades. With her co-conspirator Jaz Bonhooley, she also has developed unique sound designs for local venues. She's also a Senior Writer and columnist for Scene4.
For more of her commentary and articles, check the Archives


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April 2012

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