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  • As I was nearing the end of my workday, I was really tired. It had been a Monday to live up (or, down, really) to the reputation that Mondays have. I would have liked to have just gone home and chilled for the evening, or perhaps gone to the ballpark to relax and take in a Nationals game. Come to think of it, I actually did have a ticket for last night’s game. That would have been a cool way to chill and spend a nice summer evening after a long, hard Monday.

    But, I had a commitment. I had said “Yes” when my friend and former softball player from church had asked if I would be interested in singing the National Anthem at a Nationals’ baseball game next month. He’s part of the Singing Capital Chorus, a group of singers that are a chapter of the Barbershop Harmony Society. “I’ve never sung in a formal singing group before – but, I do always sing the National Anthem, loud and proud, whenever I go to the ballgame, and at hockey games, as well”, I’d told him. “Good enough – we’ll teach you how to sing it with a singing chorus. You just have to commit to attending three practice sessions over the next 5 Mondays, and you’re in.” So, I committed to it. I said “Yes”. Now, it was time to fulfill my commitment.

    I was going to go two weeks ago, but we had just gotten back to town from South Carolina that weekend, and I was feeling the effects of allergies, as I adapted to being back in the DC heat and humidity, so I didn’t go then. I was going to go last Monday, but I had also committed to playing on Derek’s church softball team, and they had playoff games that night, so now it was down to the wire. I needed to show up for practice the next three Mondays.

    I found my way to the Church, in a lovely section of Northwest D.C., about a mile walk from the Metro subway stop. As I made the walk, I will admit that I was beginning to have just a little apprehension. It’s entirely possible that I cannot sing as part of a chorus. You have to be able to sing in key, and be able to blend your voice with others, and harmonize and all of that stuff that I’ve never done before. When it comes to singing, I’ve always been a bit of a lone wolf.

    I was a little early, the first singer to arrive, and was cheerfully greeted by the conductor/leader of the chorus, Bill. “So, you sing with Rob at his church?” No, he used to play softball for me. “What’s your singing experience?” I always sing the National Anthem at sporting events, loud and proud, and that’s what I’m here to do. “Did you bring the music for the National Anthem?” I don’t read music. I’ve never sung formally before. He handed me a sheet of music, anyway. “Are you a tenor?” No – I think I might be somewhere between a Bass and a Baritone, but really have no idea. Rob sent me some MP-3 sound samples, and Bass sounded more like it might be in my natural range. “Great ! Why don’t you sit right in that seat, there”, as he showed me a seat among the 40 or so chairs set up in the large basement hall. Nothing I’d said seemed to put him off in the least. I kept getting the feeling like he was thrilled to have me there. So, I was glad to be there. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad, after all.
  • As others arrived and the basement hall slowly filled up, Bill and the musical director took me and five or six other newbies into a backroom,and had us sing some scales, going as low as we could go, and as high as we could go. Me and one other guy were put in the “no doubt about it” Bass section, while the others were sorted into Tenors, Leads, and Baritones.

    The first thing we did was go through a series of breathing and sound exercises. It was kind of like a vocal yoga session. So much about singing is about breathing. I think I knew that, but never really understood how it worked, how to intentionally use breathing to help you sing better. I learned how to breathe from the diaphragm, and how to open up my jaw and some other stuff that I don’t remember what they called it, but it allowed you to sing with more resonance and depth. They paired the newbies up with experienced singers of the same vocal type, in the seating arrangement, and then the two and a half hour practice began. It went by in a flash. After nailing the Anthem down – we spent about an hour getting it where they wanted it – we went into some other numbers, “Under the Boardwalk”, “Cabaret”, and a few other classic barbershop numbers.

    I just hoped that I wasn’t messing anyone up around me too badly. I had no idea if I was staying within my Bass part the way I was supposed to or not. I tried “hearing” what the others around me were doing, and singing along with them. It was really hard at first, but after awhile, I felt like I was getting the knack of it. At the end of the evening, another chap came up to me and said, “thanks a lot, your voice really helped me to stay in the range – you were great”, which led me to believe I must have done alright.

    But, aside from all that, I really had a blast the whole evening. Some of these guys have apparently been doing this a long time. They’re really good. At the end of the formal session, an impromptu “barbershop” sing sprouted up, and a group of us just started singing different numbers like a street corner doo-wop a cappello group. That was probably the highlight of the whole evening.

    My Monday had been transported into a whole other dimension, launched by breathing and being a part of something that made incredible sounds, beautiful music. I felt like I had a new appreciation for what my Dad found so pleasing about singing in Church and Chorale groups all those years that he sang. I was now glad I’d said “Yes” to my friend Rob. It looks like this old dog is going to learn another new trick!
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