There is nothing quite like a week away with a bunch of mostly strangers. You have to get to know each other very quickly, friendships and alliances are formed and re-formed, in-jokes abound, and much much fun is had.
Read on if you can handle the Alison Hannigan in-joke vibes... Or just skip to the bottom to read about the night I slept with 12 teenage boys.
What’s Choir School?
The Royal School of Church Music (RSCM)is an international body of which individuals and Church Choirs can become members, enabling access to music libraries, special events, and other choral-y stuff. Once a year, choristers aged between 10 and 19 from all over NZ (but mostly Welly) converge on a boarding school for a week of singing and learning, culminating in a final service, where the parents come to see their little poppets singing their hearts out to glorify God and stuff. Everyone runs around madly after the service, trying to score a hug from their crush, getting email addresses, and taking photos. Eventually the parents leave with their children talking up a storm about "du-bah-dauh!" and how things were "awwwwesome" until they fall asleep in the back seat and dream of the next Winter Choir School.
Harry Potter anyone?
The choir school was held at Wairarapa College in Masterton. I and the other staff had our own rooms but the kids were divided by age and gender into 14 bed dorms. The choristers are also divided into Houses by auditioning them to see where their voices are at. I was officially staff, so didn’t have to audition. When I sang, I was in Byrd. Mostly Alto with a bit of Tenor when they needed me.
Lilburn = young undeveloped voices (mostly wee boys and girls up to about 11 years old) Led by Helen Willberg.
Stanford = Sopranos (girls) and Trebles (boys) that do not yet have mature voices, and are usually 11-13ish, and boys with broken voices that sing Alto. Led by Alison Stewart.
Byrd = This is a full four part choir. Sops and Altos are all young women, Tenors and Basses are young men. This year there was a boy Alto as well, as he had a nice mature sound (too good for Stanford), but his voice was not yet low enough to sing Tenor. Led by the inimitable Steven Rowley. The campest man I have ever met. He wore a different pair of glasses every day to match his outfit, and let the kids tie his hair in pigtails. Nice, different, unusual…
Random quotes and where they came from
Oh! When singing the word "Gloria", one must avoid the nasal “ah!" at the end of the word (so New Zillind) and go more for the “oh” sound in the word “hot”. The fabulous Mr Rowley had us (Byrd house) in fits of laughter as we all picked a random note and practised our “oh”s. You gotta hear it to get the full effect, but imagine each one being higher than the previous and you might get the idea.
Du-bah-dauh! The electric piano we used for rehearsal had all kinds of sounds (strings, organ, piano etc.). In particular, it had a function called ‘voice’. The interesting thing was, instead of just an ‘ah’ sound or whatever, it has three levels depending on how hard you hit the keys. So you could be playing a piece and get ‘du du du du bah bah du dauh!’ all in one go. Stephen would play loud chords to get our attention, and the camp-y action that went with it always cracked us up.
Oh, that's Awwwwesome! Tom from Wellington Cathedral started this and it caught on. Must be said with the required number of double-ewes.
Nice, different, unusual… From Kath & Kim. Must be said in an Aussie accent. Stephen’s saying originally.
When I went to choir school in '88... Christina was the School registrar. She (and I actually), attended choir school in 88. Things that happened when Christina was at choir school in 88 include:
“we got drunk on the bus on the way up”
“I sneaked out to the boys dorms and kissed a guy called Julian – he’s gay now”
“WE didn’t have a television”
Selected choristers I hung with (i.e. the coolest people)
Sophie, 16, Alto. from my church. We were good mates already, and always sat next to each other when singing. We blend well.
Bec, 18ish, Alto. We were both staff, so had lots of free time to muck around. Good fun!
Hannah, 14, and Hannah, 15, from Napier Cathedral. They came down to Wellington instead of returning to Napier, and came to my Church on Sunday morning. I got them to come up and sing with our choir.
Tom, 15, Tenor. Nice abs. He let me touch his abs. Phwoar.
Jack, 15 going on 30, Bass. From Christ’s College, Christchurch. Flirts like mad with girls. I can see a problem here...
Thomas, 15, Bass, and Organ Scholar. Looks just like my netball mate James would look if he was 15 and blonde. What a cutie!
Edward, 17, Bass. Last saw him when he was about 11 and his family moved to Auckland. What a fine young man he grew up to be. He was my source of man hugs when I missed Sam too much. :)
Being sick as a dog and trying to sing is hard
I actually left for choir school in the grips of flu. Serves me right for not getting my flu shot. I slept most of the way on the train on Monday, slept the afternoon away at the school, and had most of the day in bed on Tuesday. When I was up I tried to sing, but I was only on about 40% lung power at that stage, and lost my voice after a bit. I took a vow of silence for two days (laugh all you like, but I did it!) and was finally able to sing by Friday – in time for Friday’s concert and Saturday’s service. I still have a fantastic smokers cough lingering in my lungs. Don’t even think about making me laugh.
The Friday night concert is a choir school tradition from way back (probably even before 1988, Christina!). There is always a wealth of musical talent in these young people, and this year was no exception. I volunteered to go first, as nobody else wanted to, and so I started the concert with an Indian dance that I had made up. I had full makeup and costume on, but I wrapped a blanket round me so people couldn’t really see what I was wearing. I even went up on stage with the blanket and flung it away just as the music started. Dramatic huh? I managed not to fall over and got lots of compliments, so I guess I did ok. I also was asked to dance at a cushion concert we are having at Church soon, so that was affirming.
There was the usual boy-in-drag act (don’t ask!), some ballet, bagpipes, a flute(!), a clarinet, a guitar, and lots of singing. Favourite act - the Byrd boys (Tenors and Basses) singing a Soprano/Alto piece in falsetto. Hilarious! The teaching staff made up a rap, but it was only funny cos it was so bad. The Chaplain lost his voice trying to sing in his act, and had trouble giving the sermon the next day.
The night I slept with 12 teenage boys
The kids were all fired up after the concert, and didn’t want to go to bed. The under 13's were pretty good – they were mostly quiet by 10, only an hour after their proper bedtime of 9pm. I let the over 13's stay up an extra half hour later than they had all week (10.30 instead of 10), but the final service was the next day and we didn’t want them up all night ruining their voices. Between 10.30 and 11.30 I divided my time between the girls and boys dorms, chatting with them, and making sure they were fairly quiet. On my second visit to the girls to check on them, there was a knock at the fire door, and who did I see outside but Tom and Harry from Wellington Cathedral. One might well ask, “where was Dick?” My answer: “That’s who led them to the girls dorm!” Haha. They were mightily surprised to see me, and took off at great speed back to the boys dorm.
I beat them back cos I had inside knowledge. They took a longer outside route. When they returned, I was sitting on Harry’s bed looking pleased with myself. They had a short lecture from me, at which point I grabbed a spare mattress, put both their cellphones under it, cos that's what they had used to organise the hook-up, and settled down for the night on said mattress, right between their two beds. Ha! And thus I spent the night with 12 teenage boys.
The final service
The final service was held in St Matthew’s Church, about 20 minutes walk from Wai-Col. I did a few trips in the school van to transfer the luggage, then took pity on the final stragglers that were walking. The acoustic in St Matthew’s is crap – in rehearsal we sounded like we were singing into a pillow. Once there was a congregation the sound was slightly better. They have a digital organ. Instead of air pumps and tubes and pipes, the console has a computer inside, and just plays sampled organ (and some digitally produced) sounds through massive speakers mounted on the rear wall. Sounds almost like the real thing, except one of the digitally produced voices – oboe – which sounded like a sick duck. Right in a nice quiet passage in our Byrd anthem. Nice.
There were some awards presented at the service. Three choristers were presented with Yellow Ribbons. These are very coveted awards which recognise musical ability and knowledge, religious knowledge, and leadership. They went to Edward (my mate), Paul (the other organ scholar) from Nelson, and Jess (yay for Altos!) from Wellington. Young randy Harry got the award for unbroken male voice and a girl called Phoebe got the similar award for girls. What a talented bunch. Of course, I would have got a yellow ribbon as well, if I wasn’t too old (you have to be under 19). Yeah Right.
Plans for Choir School 2007
1 Have flu shot in May.
2 Take camera and laptop.
3 Learn new Indian dance to wow the crowd.
4 Take fluffy blanket. Sleeping bag not warm enough.
5 Have Sam visit me one day mid-week so I don’t miss him too much.
6 Kidnap all young Tenors and Basses and make them sing in my church choir.
7 Have Sam attend final service so he knows who I am blathering about all the next week.