I was standing on the stage with the choir for my high school’s Christmas concert because it was the second to last place in the world where I wanted to be.
Study Hall with notorious hard guy Mr. Jenkins was the number one last place I wanted to be, and it coincided with choir and band practice at my small Christian high school. Jenkins somehow managed to be an incredibly kind and caring man outside of the classroom, and a hard nosed staff sergeant once he crossed the threshold to his room. He wore cheerful sweaters and put product in his hair, but he also ran his classroom with strict precision and demanding standards that brought me back to my days of Catholic school.
I can’t say whether my animosity toward Jenkins in the classroom came from our clash of personalities or whether he really did have some extreme control issues that manifested in nitpicky classroom management. Either way, when I stepped into his room for study hall and met his guns a blazing gaze, I vowed to audition for choir the next day.
Mr. Rodriguez, our choir director, was new to the school. Disorganized, flamboyant, dressed to the nines, insanely talented, and a little too close to the edge, he struck me as a man with untapped talent and untapped rage. Perhaps he’d turn us into a world class choir, but I could also imagine it ending with Rodriguez trading in his suit for a straight jacket one day.
Thanks to his disorganization, I slipped into the choir without an audition.
Not knowing the first thing about music, I stuck out like a sore thumb in the baritone section where I couldn’t hit all of the notes. Realizing my mistake, I decided to lay low in the bass section that was never called upon to stand out or do anything flashy. I relished the anonymity as Mr. Rodriguez swung between nurturing and berating us.
As our school’s Christmas concert approached, Mr. Rodriguez made a series of soloist opportunities available to us. I didn’t even know that there would be a Christmas concert. I swung between complete ambivalence and horror at the thought that I would have to perform in front of hundreds of people.
The cherry on top was the fact that I would have to sing Christmas songs—I’ve never really taken to Christmas music.
Besides my disdain for songs like The Little Drummer Boy and Santa Baby, I’m just not one for the sentimentality that courses through the veins of Christmas songs. I found small comfort when I learned that we would perform selections from Handel’s Messiah rather than “Silent Night,” but I still wasn’t thrilled.
For all of my indifference about the Christmas concert, my classmate Amy was taking it quite seriously. Amy was quiet and shy. She spent a good deal of time with her group of friends, and the two of us didn’t speak all that much until after we graduated and attended the same college. Mr. Rodriguez could see that Amy had a lot of talent. Perhaps he saw it before anyone else.
During our rehearsals, Mr. Rodriguez encouraged different choir members to try out for the solos, and he became Amy’s loudest supporter to audition for the “Comfort Ye” solo. I remember watching in awe as Amy stepped up to sing the solo during rehearsal completely off the cuff just so we could practice our parts. She wasn’t perfect, but as she stepped in front of our choir with its fair share of smart mouths and vocal slackers, ahem, we all took notice that something special was about to happen.
In the weeks that followed, the solo for Comfort Ye became Amy’s in our minds. We all wanted her to get the part. Even more than that, we knew that she was destined to have it. When Mr. Rodriguez announced that the solo belonged to her, he was simply confirming what so many already expected to be the case.
Standing on the risers in front of hundreds of people at the Christmas concert in December, I thought about my starched white shirt and my strange adjustable black pants. I thought about how little that performance meant to me, while it was the highlight of the week for many in attendance.
As we neared the solo for Comfort Ye, I started to think about Amy. What could motivate someone to take a risk like this? She was quiet and unassuming. I never saw it coming. When given an encouraging prod to take a risk, she strode out in front of her peers to give it a whirl.
I could only think of myself going off key or the horror of my voice cracking.
Maybe Amy thought about those things too. Whether doubts weighed down her mind like me, she stepped up to the single microphone, faced the hundreds in attendance, and sang “Comfort Ye” to the height of perfection.
For a brief moment, I had no regrets about joining my high school’s choir.