This year, my elementary school celebrates its 100th anniversary. Word went out by e-mail asking graduates to return to participate in the making of a centennial CD. "Mature voices" were needed to sing the school songs.
I hesitated about attending the recording session until reading the closing words of the communication: "If the only voices in the forest were the ones that sang the best, the forest would be a very quiet place."
You see, many years ago this forest bird was found wanting by the St. Bernard's School music teacher. The school chorus was rehearsing for a concert to take place at Carnegie Hall under the baton of Leopold Stokowski. As we chirped away at the final rehearsal, the music teacher looked distressed. He stopped in front of me.
"Dean," he said, "You're a croaker."
Expelled on the spot from the chorus, I never sang under the baton of Stokowski.
This setback didn't prevent me from seeking out other singing opportunities. With gusto, I sang hymns at school assemblies, songs around campfires, and Christmas carols. Last year I participated in two caroling sessions. I love the music and words of hymns and carols.
A few days after signing up for the recording session, I received an e-mail from the conductor. He asked for the following information: "Your singing range or voice part. And indicate whether you can confidently hold an inner part, or prefer singing unison."
I replied, "Bass-baritone, I think. Inner part? No, I have no confidence. Truth to say, until I consulted my musical brother-in-law, I did not know the meaning of the term. I prefer singing in unison. I assume that means 'with other people.' "
I arrived at school for the evening recording session. There were 20 of us. I was reticent at first, being in the presence of a conductor, recording engineer, and experienced singers, most of whom could read music.
But the conductor put me at ease.
"Forget this is a recording session," he said. "Sing as you would if you were standing around a piano enjoying yourself with friends."
These were instructions I could relate to. I sang the wonderful songs with spirit and affection, for they form an important part of my early life.
The conductor was pleased with our singing. The CD will include songs performed by the boys now attending the school as well as by faculty members and our group, identified as the Old Boys Chorus.
At the conclusion of the session, I felt a measure of redemption. Having returned decades later to the scene of my disgrace, I triumphed in a small way, for neither the conductor nor my fellow singers seemed dismayed by my vocal efforts.
I left and boarded a Fifth Avenue bus. As the bus proceeded down the avenue I continued to sing, sotto voce.