DECEMBER 19, 1999: It is not often that I miss the Ladies’ College Old Girls Association (OGA) Carol Service. To me Christmas is all about caroling. It makes my day to warble flat and unmusical to the tune of Oh Come All Ye Faithful and giggle a little as I childishly substitute ‘Come and eat a plateful‘ to the Joyful and Triumphant line. Except for my father who possesses a rich and resonant voice, probably due to an early training received at Trinity College, Kandy, none of his many and varied female off-spring have ‘good’ singing voices.
Paul Beling the lanky choir master at the Assembly of God Church at No. 4, 6th Lane, Kolpetty, we attended when playing truant from the Anglican one to which we officially belonged (these distinctions are oh so important) assured me with a straight face, ‘Eve, if you can talk you can sing.’ I’m not fooled. It took me one public performance in the front row of a large and well trained choir and in front of a large and ill-trained audience to realise I had no warbling talent and that the devious choir master was using his standard trick to swell his flock.
Anyway last Monday was the aforesaid OGA carol service. I listened mesmerised as past pupils of varying ages sang the Cantata-The Wonder of Christmas. It is not that one is ever surprised that the singing at Ladies College would be anything but superb. Most of these ladies have at one point in their lives gone through rigorous training from the iconic Christine Perera – Singing Teacher, voice coach and conductor extraordinaire – As of course have I.
As I listen and chords pulsate within my soul, I’m taken back to my own brief yet sensational singing career at Ladies’ College. At that time we had four choirs. Categorised by age all the choirs were trained by Miss Christine whose singing voice may have flowed like butter but whose scolding voice would have done the most vicious head mistress of an Eastern European orphanage proud.
I think my initial problem was that I thought I could sing. When I closed one ear by holding down its large flap with my forefinger (as we were urged to do by Miss Christine to ascertain if we were singing in tune) and harkened to my trilling, I imagined hearing the most angelic sounds, even harps. Alas, nobody else did.
There Miss Christine was, ever and anon, weaning out the less musically inclined from her exquisitely harmonious choristers. Weeding, she called it rather rudely I thought. Miraculous as it seemed whenever I auditioned my voice stepped up and did the Tango. I was able to take the high notes, sang tunefully and I would get the much coveted nod of approval from Miss C. Never once did she guess I venture to say, that these peaks in my singing career were mere flukes or lady luck or something.
And the upshot? I, yes I was a member of the Ladies College third choir. Our stature nationwide was phenomenal as a School and as a choir, and of course all the four choirs were adjudged first in their categories at the national singing competition. To Miss C whose musical talents, repertoire and experience this kind of accolade though sweet was common.
I however was in cloud nine. I had sung Alto in harmony and it was a pinnacle of my success. Unfortunately the euphoria didn’t last long. Soon as time passed we had to graduate from third to second choir according to age. Again the dreaded auditions. My young knees knocked against each other making a horrible clacking noise as Miss C’s hawkish eye ball settled on my young and innocent face.
‘You hear again’, she rasped shaking her head, as if somehow it was unbelievable that a little girl would want to follow her dream even if she lacked talent.
‘Yes Miss’ I said bright as a button feigning confidence and optimism.
‘Okay’ she said ‘sing this.’
I did. It was difficult and my luck had deserted me though in my defense I did try. Miss C saw the my eyes welling with tears and gave me another chance. She sent me to the right of the stage where a small group of maybes had piled. She then told this group of which I was now a part to sing a section of the Right of Spring. Her keen ear picked up a jarring sound. It was me. I could see her listening intently. Eyes narrowed, lips pursed, chest heaving and yes some fire did emanate from her nostrils. It was more like an exorcism than anything else I had ever seen.
Her shapely frame stood before me.
‘You will have to go,’ she began….adding ‘dear’ as an afterthought. And I went.
Anyway it was worthwhile for I had my few months of glory in the Ladies College third choir. This sort of longing to sing I suppose (how many times have I used my hair brush as a microphone) is why I so keenly appreciate the talent in others.
But then I’m the type that even labels the ghastly sounds emanating from the Editor of this newspaper as he gallops along the corridor of the office trying hard to emulate Frank Sinatra, as music.
Nonethelss on Monday I dragged the family all the way to the front pew of the Ladies College chapel. This pew caters for nursery kids and toddlers and therefore the bench is just a few inches off the floor.
So we sat there our knees knocking on our chins and listened as the music transported us to a heavenly place. I suppose it was the noise of my knees clacking against my chin that reminded me of a similar clacking as I stood before Miss Christine trying hard to sing in tune.
First published in The Sunday Leader on December 19, 1999
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