There is musical accompaniment to this post. 

When I was a senior in high school, our conductor elected to have our choir perform a particularly ambitious piece for our state championship tournament. It was so not only for it’s difficulty, which was acknowledged as generally well beyond the capacities of the average high school choir (which we were decidedly not) but also because the piece was quite new; it had been written within the previous several years and the conductor was still living. This chorale also included a solo of a particularly demanding sort; a soprano had to maintain one constant note throughout the entire piece. This tone had to be sung with great sensitivity to nuance and exacting control. More, the singer had to manage with one voice, through an entire chorus of seventy others not to overpower, but to pierce.

Dr Uphaus told me he had never even considered anyone else for the job.

And so we went to state. And we didn’t win. But, one of our adjudicators was Dr Bruce Brown who was at that time the musical director at Portland State University. He made a point to compliment us on the execution of such a challenging piece of music. He also told us that the composer Arvo Part* was coming to Portland with his choir to perform THE VERY SONG with the Portland State Choir at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, and should we so choose, we were welcome to join them.

So, I and a few of my cohorts decided that would be swell. We toddled on down to PSU for 3 or 4 practice sessions. On the first of these Dr Brown cast around the room and said

“Is the young lady that sang the solo for state here in the group?”

I raised my hand, slightly terrified.

“Oh, grand. None of my singers can quite manage it. You’ll help us practice, yes?”

Of course I would.

Over the next few practice sessions, I just naturally assumed that M. Part would be select one of his own singers to perform the coveted solo. It turned out, rather, that he had wanted to leave that honor to Dr Brown, his host. When he was preparing us the night before the performance, Dr Brown turned to me with complete aplomb and said

“And naturally Autumn will be managing the solo as usual.”

I was completely, utterly, and in every way paralyzed by this pronouncement. I had not prepared myself in any way for this possibility, and I was in a paroxysm of terror in anticipation of it. I sat there in my plastic chair for ten full minutes after the larger group had broken up and wandered away, gripping the sides till my knuckles were white and my breath came back, though in gasps. It had taken all of  my will and every bit of my strength to stand up at state, with my own dear choir at my back, and lift my voice to this purpose. To do so instead, with hundreds of strangers (most older than myself and some professionals at their trade) and no less than the composer of the piece to witness was beyond reckoning. For you see, I had near crippling stage fright. Don’t laugh, It is completely true.

And so. I had to approach Dr. Brown and tell him that though I was deeply honored by his confidence in me, I could not redeem his choice by accepting it. I was too scared, my voice would not rise as it should, and I would fail him. He tried his best to change my mind, but I refused his persistence and cried over my mortification. He let me go, expressing his deep regret, not only for the performance, but for me. He knew then, as I did not, how much I would eventually lament my choice. Someone else sang the solo. The show went on without me entirely. I couldn’t even bring myself to go, I was so ashamed.

And in many ways, I still am.

I am not a person who lives with many regrets. I fuck up, things go wrong, I learn from them and usually see these detours with some equanimity. This too, taught me something tremendously valuable; I am afraid and I might falter, but I forge ahead nevertheless. In truth, this has probably lead to more emotional pain than any other philosophy I subscribe to, but I do not ever find myself dwelling on how things might have gone, should my courage have not failed me.


*There needs to be an umlaut over that a, but I can’t figure it out.