This part of my memoir happened when I was eight. My family had moved to a new town the previous summer and Angela was one of my first and best friends. It was my brother Billy who was sick that night. My sister, Laura, was born when I was five, and the twins, Billy and Judy, when I was seven. My parents always came to my events, sometimes my whole family, sometimes my dad, while my mom stayed home with the little kids. I always called them the “little kids.” I didn’t think I was a little kid–that’s for sure!
At Christmas time the church has a pageant and anybody who wants to can sign up for the Christmas Choir! I want to! So does Angela! We put our names at the top of the list.
During our first practice, Mr. Dove, the Choir Director Man, decides that me and Angela don’t sing right. He says we sing flat. Whatever that is. It’s bad and Mr. Dove doesn’t like it. I’m more flatter than Angela.
There’s a boy named Charles in the choir. He’s eleven. He has perfect pitch. Whatever that is. I can tell it’s something really good.
Mr. Dove hits a key on the piano and tells me to sing the note.
“No, no—“He hits the key again and sings. “Ah-h-h-h-h-h. Do you hear the difference?”
He wants the answer to be yes, but it’s no, so I just look at him.
He shakes his head and makes me do it over and over, but it’s always flat.
Next he tells Charles to sing a note in my ear and for me to sing the same note.
Charles put his hands around my ear and sings, “Ah-h-h-h-h-h-h.” His breath feels hot and tickly in my ear and his voice sounds too close and loud.
I sing, “Ah-h-h-h-h-h-h-h.”
“No, No, NO!” Mr. Dove gets mad. Every practice he makes Charles sing in my ear and I try to sing the same note. Everybody has to wait and watch me get the notes all wrong. I work real hard not to cry every time I go to choir practice.
Billy’s sick on the night of the pageant, so Mommy stays home with the little kids. Daddy sits with Angela’s parents and grandparents’ right behind where the choir will sit. We wear Christmas robes and have white Christmas candles. We get in line, biggest to littlest. Me and Angela are last. I can’t wait till my candle is lit and we go in front of the whole church and sing!
Right before we walk out, Mr. Dove whispers to me and Angela that when the choir goes up to sing, we have to stay in our seats. We can’t sing with the choir because we still sing flat. I guess singing is like a spelling bee at school. As soon as a kid gets a word wrong, she has to sit down and not be in it anymore.
We walk down the aisle and everybody in the whole church looks at us. I can hear lots of cameras snapping pictures. We have to walk slow, like kings and queens, and not look around. We sit in our pew and wave little waves at our families.
“And now the musical part of the program, under the leadership of Mr. Arthur Dove, will begin,” the pastor announces.
The choir stands up and walks to the front of the church. All except us.
“Go!” Angela’s mom whispers.
Daddy pokes me in the back and says, “Go! What are you waiting for?”
We shake our heads and whisper, no. They poke us a few more times, then give up. We all sit and listen to the perfect pitch, not flat at all, music.
After it’s done, we walk with the choir and give back our robes and candles.
As soon as we come out, Daddy says, “Why didn’t you go up?”
“Why didn’t you girls sing with the rest of the choir? Angela’s grandpa asks.
“Because Mr. Dove said we’re not allowed,” Angela says.
“We sing flat and he doesn’t want flat singing in his choir,” I say.
Our families look mad. When we get home, Daddy tells Mommy what happened and she says, “I’m going to call that church and complain! Telling two little girls they can’t sing! That’s ridiculous! If they wanted singers with perfect pitch, they should have held auditions! The nerve of that man!”
The next day is Christmas and the choir sings all the same songs as the night before. Mr. Dove lets us wear our robes and carry our candles and this time we get to go up front, too.
“Just move your lips, though, don’t really sing, girls,” he tells us.
Angela does the same thing I do. We let all the singing come out! Maybe our flatness hurts everybody’s ears. But we still sing Christmas songs with the Christmas Choir on Christmas morning and Mr. Dove can’t stop us!