Anyone who knows me even a little bit will know that I hate January. I know it’s exciting – the first month of the year, bright beginnings and shiny new diaries, long summer evenings and garden parties. But for me, January means choir holiday, and no rehearsals and no singing, and I hate it. “End of choir famine” is written prominently on the square of my calendar for the last Friday in January, and like Harry Potter crossing the days of the summer holidays until he can return to Hogwarts, so I cross off the days which separate me from the day I can return to the home I find in the choristers’ vestry.
This year, though, choir holiday is further complicated by the fact that for part of me, it came as such a relief. The lead-up to Christmas was painful, difficult. Singing became almost impossible to the extent that I questioned my capacity to be a chorister, to contribute anywhere near what I should as a member of this musical family. The idea of a permanent choir holiday is terrifying – like contemplating life without my arms. But in the back of my mind is the fear that I’ll return to choir after these weeks only to find that singing is just as hard as it was before the break. That the holiday has brought no relief, the hiatus has brought no fresh start on my return. That I will still find singing impossible. That I’ll have to make the decision either to push through, and hope to find enough healing to make singing possible again; or I’ll have to give up. Let go of the one thing that kept me alive through the darkness of the last few years.
Except that today I went to Mass at the Cathedral (what else do you do on a Sunday morning, even if you’re not singing?) and found myself sitting with two other choristers. And the last hymn was O Come All Ye Faithful. And my fellow chorister looked at me with eyes shining in glee and said, “Let’s do the descant!”. And no soprano worth her salt – even one who, like me, can’t sing at the moment – will say no to a descant. And so we did. Three of us.
Sing, choirs of angels, sing in exultation!, the verse begins, and so we did, our voices soaring in harmony above the melody carried by the congregation. And I felt my body exult, too; I felt the brightness that only singing can bring illuminating my soul. I sang with a smile on my face and my heart felt lighter than it has in a long time and once again I was a chorister. Not a chorister who can’t sing, who has to leave rehearsals because she’s not coping, who struggles in the choir stalls to keep a panic attack at bay. Just a chorister, singing a descant that’s fun, with people who have become her family.
And so I don’t have a choice, not really. Being a chorister is hard at the moment. Shit happens and that’s just the way that goes. I have to deal with it. Because, it turns out, not being a chorister is simply not an option.
With everything going on, I’d kind of forgotten that.