Dress for success

by , under church

Fr T being on holiday, we had Fr J, whose own parish has services only fortnightly so he was free this weekend. I like Fr J a lot– he celebrates with joy and exuberance, which makes up for the fact that he lacks Fr T’s precision. Choirmistress (who is Fr T’s wife) was on holiday too, of course, and she’d put me in charge of the choir.

I was prepared to sing the Vigil alone, but a soprano turned up. That was convenient, because Fr J’s tone is on the high side but not high enough to take it as a C (as we did when we had an American visiting priest with a high voice). Apart from me and the soprano, and briefly another soprano who came especially to sing “Beside the Streams of Babylon”, there were only two people who had come in as I was arranging the books and asked “can we attend the service?” and I said “yes, of course!” (Later it turned out that they were from the Moluccan Evangelical Church, but curious about other faiths. They came again on Sunday morning because their own service was not until the afternoon.)

(Now I’m coming to the point. Were you already wondering about the title?) I was wearing one of the skirts my other half brought from Magdeburg, with the green velvet vest and an old off-white shirt that I cut the fraying cuffs off a while ago, leaving straight 3/4 sleeves. Also the green headscarf I bought for our foster-daughter’s wedding, a bit more stylish than my other green headscarf. Apparently I’m so comfortable in these clothes that I was completely competent to handle Fr J’s all-over-the-place intonation, the little things that were different because he’s from a different parish, the uncertain soprano, and the book I’d left upstairs (no big deal, only meant I couldn’t do a couple of things that Fr J asked me not to do anyway, but it might have made me nervous otherwise). As it was, I felt like the Force of Stability, very useful in the circumstances.

This carried over to the Liturgy, but not completely because I couldn’t keep the choir (now two sopranos including the one who was there on Saturday night, and two altos including me) from catching Fr J’s breakneck speed. But we didn’t break our necks, because in spite of that we were in control. I was wearing the same clothes again, half out of superstition (the Force of Stability uniform; protection against impostor syndrome), half because they’re neat-for-church and I couldn’t be hedgehogged to choose something else.

It wasn’t until the very last major piece of singing that I got an attack of the “oh! This actually works!” self-consciousness that usually throws me but this time I missed only one beat, and I think the rest of the choir thought it was my voice being tired from trying to sing mezzo-soprano most of the time. Like Harriet Vane, God meant me for a contralto.

There was a little girl, just walking, I think about a year old, who was completely fascinated with the choir. She kept coming back to watch, grinned back whenever I grinned at her, got interested all over again when something changed (either the sound or the directing). Perhaps in thirty years or so she’ll be a choir director herself!


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