This year’s spring concert is my fifth with Sing Out Detroit. Arriving early, I’m keyed up with anticipation. I know there will be high points. One of them comes when our voices ring out, strong and true (and a cappella) in the opening number, the spiritual Freedom Bells. Another, when in a hushed pianissimo we come together in a perfect chord during Te Quiero. And just as we hoped, the audience does laugh uproariously during the very funny lyrics of Color Out of Colorado.
But for me this time, some of the most compelling moments happen in “the green room.” For this concert, taking place at a Jewish temple, it’s a tiny room underneath the sanctuary, through a hidden door and down some stairs. We mostly fit, although a few of us are sitting outside in the narrow hallway. Lockers line one wall; an old banged-up table opposite holds bottled water in coolers our crew brought in for us. There are folding chairs ringing the room, and we take turns sitting in them and resting our feet, pinched by dress shoes. Leaning up against a third wall tucked behind the chairs is a big painting of sky. Nothing but sky – pale blue, with soft, white clouds ranging across it. I keep looking at it, because it’s so calming. Next best thing to yoga, or pharmaceuticals. Not that I have any.
Waiting to go on, we talk about our jitters. “I don’t know the words to Old Fashioned Commitment Ceremony,” I confess to Sarah.
She responds, “I think I’ve got that one, but I Do is giving me trouble.”
This exchange takes some courage and quite a lot of honesty, because we’re about to go out in front of 200 people and sing – or attempt to sing – these pieces. I start feeling that this is when we really bond with each other – behind the scenes, as we’re picking the lint off one another’s concert black attire or appraising appearances on request. “Is my hair too big?” Tom asks me, wide-eyed. He’s afraid the humidity is making his long, blond locks so springy that they’ll block someone’s view. I laugh and tell him he’s fine – and that he’s very thoughtful.
Marianne asks me to hold her eye drops, in case she has an attack of dry eye. (I have pockets tonight; she does not.) Of course I oblige. Afterward, I think about how we hold so much for each other, stuff that’s not tangible but just as real. Going out on stage together is a vote of confidence not only in ourselves, but in one another. Sure, our stars carry us some of the time – and as usual our soloists and our band sound great. Todd, our director, pulls us along too, mouthing words for us, giving us big cues. But much of the time, the choir has to come through for the choir. When I walk out there with Tom and Sarah and Marianne, I’m saying to them “I know you can do this. I know we can do this, together.”
Group dynamics can really wear me out sometimes. But I’m starting to realize that it’s the dynamics of a bunch of people, myself included, asserting their individual need for control that makes things messy. When we’re truly together, feeling our “group-ness,” the power of the experience is energizing. The rough edges of our voices are softened in the blend, and the words I forget come singing out of someone else’s lips. We carry each other through a performance, we complement each other in the moment.
And this time, packed into the tiny green room as I watch a choir mate adjusting someone else’s tie or brushing off the hem of another’s skirt, as we confide in each other our hopes and fears before we walk out to face the audience, it has never been more real to me, how together we are.