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First Night

I remember sitting in my car staring at this small rectangle brick building that I had passed so many times before. You know how you always notice that one building or house on your way somewhere and wonder what it looks like from inside? This was one of those buildings.

The building itself wasn’t really eye catching. What drew the eye was the size of the lawn enveloping a small squat building with little to no windows. I knew it so well because I had used it as a landmark to get to my piano lessons in past years. It’s not often you find so much land unoccupied in the suburbs of Chicago. Tonight, this building would witness my hopeful reemergence into the musical community. Despite the years I’d been spending abroad, it didn’t look like anything had changed.

I was 23 and had recently moved back home with my parents. It had been a tumultuous 5 months leaving me tired, depressed and frankly anti-social. To say that my mother was desperate to get me out of the house and around people is an understatement. I hadn’t really wanted to go to this rehearsal to begin with, but by the time I had parked my car I had grown nervous with excitement. It had been so long since I’d done anything musical. Would I still be able to sing? Could I still read music? What if it was one of those choirs that made you sing by yourself in front of everyone?

I gripped the steering wheel watching as women around me emerged from their cars and walked towards the entrance. 

Who was I kidding? I could still sing. My car could vouch for me. 

I hopped out of my car and gradually made it to the door of the building. It was freezing, but I couldn’t get my legs to move more than a snail’s pace. I told myself that I was just containing all my joy and if I moved any faster, I’d explode. 

I heard women’s voices – a lot of voices. And just like that my anxiety turned into curiosity. In choirs there’s always a lot of people – that’s the point of a choir in my opinion – but I’d never been to a Barbershop Chorus before. Barbershop was something I had always thought of as a man’s domain and not exactly the most popular thing on the block anymore. I felt like I was one of the few people in my group of friends who knew what barbershop was. To hear so many voices made me perk up.

I was greeted and given a binder and a name tag. As I stuck the name tag to my shirt, I walked into the small gymnasium. Not as many voices as I thought, but ladies of all ages were milling around checking what I found out later to be their mail slots or chatting with friends. I made small talk with a few of the women who greeted me warmly until I was pulled back into the hallway.

“I forgot – we have to get you tested!” exclaimed the lady, Mary, who had greeted me at the welcoming table.

I walked into an adjacent room where a boisterously joyful woman called out to me from behind the piano. “Hello, I’m Bonnie! We need to test your voice to see where we need to place you.” 

I introduced myself all smiles while slightly panicking. I’d been tested before – many times – but it had been years and I hadn’t really sung in quite a while. Bonnie reassured me that all she wanted to do was play some notes that I’d sing back and sing a couple of scales. The first note came out as a puff of air. Embarrassed, I cleared my throat and tried again. I was both elated and disappointed by the end. My voice was still there but unsteady especially within my higher registers. Still, Bonnie smiled warmly and suggested I try Lead.

Lead. Now that’s a term I’d never heard before. 

Bonnie led me out of the room and back into the gymnasium where I almost had a heart attack. The chorus had grown, almost bursting off nine sets of risers that curled into a semi-circle. Everywhere I looked there was a smile or a laugh and I could feel the joy flowing off the risers. The chorus was running through exercises and I felt the power of so many voices demanding to be heard push against me. I felt my heart lift and for the first time in months I felt myself relax. I hadn’t realized how tense and closed off I had become. Bonnie pointed to a section of ladies to stand with and I practically ran to join them.  

I’ve been involved in the fine arts since I was three years old starting with ballet. I’ve taken lessons and performed with several different instruments. I’ve performed in public forums, sports events, concerts, musicals, competitions, religious ceremonies and parties. I’ve been involved in modern, classical, foreign and so many other musical groups. At one point I was on track to become a music educator. Music has always been a part of me. So why do I feel the need to share this specific musical experience?

Music has that amazing ability of connection and emotion. We all react to it differently, but we still enjoy its benefits by applying it to our present thoughts or experiences. It’s a form of art that all people can relate to. I have come to realize since that first night with Choral-Aires that music doesn’t always provide community. Yes, music can bring a group of people together and maybe that group bonds in some sort of fashion. That doesn’t mean that the group is close or even cordial. 

That first night, standing on the risers surrounded by women I didn’t know, was the first time I’d ever felt as if this was more than a musical group. It was a family. My barbershop family. Of women.

I remember the rest of the night in a blur. I know that I tried to keep up with the music and I sat back and listened too, but largely I just felt ecstatic that I’d found music again, that I was standing in a sea of women who were there because of that same love and that I could let my worries float away. I left that first Monday night full of life. 

It has been five years since that first night. My life has changed so much, and I’ve only grasped the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Barbershop. There’s still so much more to see and I can’t wait to tell you all about it.


Published by sjungblut

A woman in the workforce by day, a singer by night, an artist in between it all.

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