Then my parents dropped out.
Then so did we.
In between, before we worked out the difference between their not going and our contining to go, one of my parents would drop us off at church, returning an hour later to pick us up. Or the other one would. I suppose they drew straws.
Also in between, we would go to the park. For the church hour. It was behind the church.
“Come on!” Trouble would say, and we would follow him, even my sister who was older.
And we would play in the park, play and play and play, unsupervised, for the hour, returning back to the front of church in time for our lift home.
But then the park got boring, slightly more boring than church. And we worked out the difference – if our parents weren’t going to church then neither were we. It was our rebellion. And it worked. Plus I think they were a little alarmed when we told them that we never went anyway.
After that Sundays were all about lie-ins for everybody, the whole family. And church was all about Christmas. And Easter. We weren’t pagans.
Which meant no more Sunday School and no more Sunday School choir. Which was a little bit sad.
In Sunday School choir I sometimes got solo parts and would sing in front of the whole church – families, very old people, other old people, everybody. The minister. The whole congregation.
Everyone in Sunday School choir got a turn unless you had a voice like a dog. In which case your name was relegated to the bottom of the list and your turn delayed and delayed and delayed for so long that you might have quit by the time it came up.
Our choir teacher was very nice and took things quite seriously. She was strict about opening our mouths wide to sing which was really easy but I noticed some dumb-bats still never did. She was firm about diction. She wanted enthusiasm.
I could do all of them with my eyes closed but she was strict about that too. Eyes should be open, backs straight, mouths wide.
She gave us lots of songs to sing hardly any of which were boring. At Christmas we had brand new Australian carols. They were all about the outback and were rollicking. You could taste the dust in your mouth as you sang, they were so invigorating. And maybe because your mouth was so wide open. She wanted a lot of diction in those songs.
Imagine these lyrics to galloping drum beat or horse:
The North Wind is tossing the leaves
The red dust is over the town
The sparrows are under the eaves
And the grass in the paddock is brown
As we lift up our voices and sing
To the Christ-Child the Heavenly King
Or these to a cattle stampede:
Out on the plains the brolgas are dancing
Lifting their feet like war horses prancing
Up to the sun the woodlarks go winging
Faint in the dawn light echoes their singing
Orana! Orana! Orana to Christmas Day
Very Australian. The images didn’t sound much like our neighbourhood but I believed they were someone else’s, somewhere else. Somewhere much more Australian than our place.
Our choir teacher had very modern taste – she would choose hymns and carols that no-one had ever heard of and were so beautiful we wanted to sing them all week, which she highly encouraged.
“Practice, practice, practice” she would say and she made it so easy. She chose theme songs from films, smash hits from popular music and turned them all into hymns for the Sunday School choir.
I’d like to build the world a home
And furnish it with love
Grow apple trees and honey bees
And snow-white turtle doves
Always with our mouths open. Always with enthusiasm. The songs she picked for us were so lovely and so fresh, we sang them all week brimming with joy.
We sang from the heart. We sang harmonies. We sang all together because it sounded better. We enjoyed it so much we stopped fighting and forgot that choir was for sissies.
My drop-out parents had given us the means to sing not just by acting as taxi drivers but through their skin, through biology, blood. And through song.
“La la la laaaa!” we would chorus …
One morning, I heard this:
“ … and furni
sh-it with love!”
“That’s not how it goes” I said.
“Yes it is” said my siblings and sang again.
“It’s not” I said. “You are not using enough diction, between furnish and it.”
To which they responded:
sh-it with love!”
a little bit louder. And with more enthusiasm and more love.
At our next choir practice I brought it up with our teacher. Rehearsal was nearly over and our teacher asked us if anyone had any questions or anything to say.
“Yes “ I said, raising my hand. “In our house, my brothers and my sister are not using enough diction in the song. I think it is important for us to remember what you have told us about good diction. They are singing the song like this:”
And to her and all the children, I gave a solo, singing in clear, trilling voice:
not wanting her to be under any allusion about where the diction was not.
Her answer was to go bright red. Bright, bright red and and say nothing. No-one did. There was only silence. Then she contorted her face or it contorted her. She was tight-lipped. Then she went white.
Then I went bright red.
It was not the answer I was expecting.
Too late I realised that she thought I had been playing a rude joke on her. But by then there was nothing more to be said.
“What did you do that for?” asked my brothers and sister afterward. They were screaming with laughter, unable able to stop, only managing to do so for their question to me.
“Why?” they asked. “Why?” howling, squealing, rolling with laughter. In the car on the way home. At home. On and on.
But I couldn’t really answer them. I didn’t really know. I think I just loved the choir. I think I just loved singing all those beautiful songs. And I wanted to stand out as someone good, someone professional, someone serious about Sunday School choir.
I remember all those songs. I could sing them to you now, if you want. I bet we all could, both my brothers and my sister – four of us at that time, the littlest still a star in the sky and not yet arrived. Not yet a chorister.
She had a lot to catch up on when she came.
(image from goggle)