Sister Stanislaus went out (on the feast of Stephen).
Gathered children round about and lined them up all even.
She caused them all to sing a song, list'ning so intently
And singled little Larry out, all quite inciden...tal...ly.
Hither, child, and thither soon, darling little songbird.
You can really hold a tune, judged by what I've just heard.
You shall sing at Festival, you are designated.
You shall represent us all, boy soprano fa...a...ted.
That was in Grade 2. I was seven.
To be precise, I wasn't the only one pulled out of the line. There were others, but I really only remember Mirie O'Neal, she of the long blonde hair that always seemed to be in her mouth and drove the teachers crazy. She did have a sweet voice, though.
The "Festival" turned out to be the annual Kiwanis festival. A bloody competition. Competitions! The bane of shy kids and underachievers.
But don't get me wrong. I think I wasn't really shy. I rather enjoyed these competitions. Or maybe it was more the singing that I enjoyed.
I sang in Kiwanis festivals for quite a number of years. I never won. Always silver or bronze. Silver or bronze. Bronze or silver. It's sort of the luck of the draw. It just so happened that my age group had two other boy sopranos who were really good, and in fact grew up to be professional singers. Indeed, we were the best boy sopranos in all of Lunchbucket.
Later we all went to high school together too, St. Hieronymus of the Vulgate. Imagine all the best boy sopranos in town at one school. Trying out for the football team. (Moe, Mr. T., a former Argonaut with a sideways lower jaw was the coach. Picture him. Hollering at the sopranos. "Come on you pussies! Ten laps around the field. Move it move it move it! You think your voices are high now! I'll make yez squeal all right!")
Only once in all those years, once did I really feel that I was going to win. I knew in my heart that I was going to win. The section was so large it had been divided into two groups, the winners of which would have a sing-off the next week. I won my section. Those other two were in the other section, but I had heard them sing, and I knew that this was going to be my year.
That week I caught a cold and lost most of my voice. It came back by the day of the sing-off, but it was not 100%.
I'm telling you, this was no fooling around. Sister Stanislaus was the talent scout. She brought us along with the basics, the boot camp of vocal training. She was barely taller than us kids, but a bundle of kinetic energy. A dervish in habit and wimple.
Then she passed us off to Ms. Reynolds, who really worked us with the ooh-ahh exercises, proper pronunciation, proper posture, breathing, the diaphragm, the diaphragm. A real disciplinarian, she was, but she knew her stuff and made sure we did too. Every week. Then twice a week as we approached D-Day. I eventually ended up in one of her choirs too, where she always put me next to the altos (or whatever) because she knew I could hold the tune and not be pulled off by the other part so close.
Yes, it was a grand life...
So the first time I sang in public was at age seven. At the Festival. But not long after that I really sang in public at a school/PTA assembly. (Do they still call it PTA? Parent-Teacher Arguments?) And that was also the first time I sang into a microphone. That was a revelation! I could feel the electricity. Seven years old and getting this jolt of energy, not even so much from the audience and the applause, but from the mic itself, the amplified voice soaring out over the crowd. I liked that feeling, more than the applause I think.
Because, really, I wasn't shy, or even very nervous. But I was sort of baffled by the praise, by the applause. Actually, maybe even embarrassed by it. Why? Don't know, exactly. Except that even later on I would wonder, "What's all the fuss? It's not that special..."