the first soprano bitch gang

For some reason, many singers, particularly in high school choirs and church choirs, come to the mistaken conclusion that first soprano is the prime part in a vocal ensemble, and that only the very best singers get to be first sopranos. You can go into the first rehearsal of almost any church or high school choir and ask how many women are first sopranos, and 75% of them will raise their hands and scurry over to the far left-hand side of the room. I’m not an expert, but logic tells me that most of those women are not, in fact, first sopranos. Many of them have just developed an attitude that they are better singers than everyone else.

Choral parts are more about creating a certain kind of sound than about determining who the best singers are. Singers are instruments, and a viola isn’t a lesser instrument than a violin just because it has a different kind of sound. It wouldn’t make any sense for a choral director to load up the first soprano part with all the best singers, because then he wouldn’t have a good balance of sound. If anything, there should be fewer singers in first soprano than in other parts, just as there are only a couple of flutes in a well-balanced orchestra.

I always ask my director where he would like to place me, and I am almost always placed in first soprano – not because I am teh awesome, but because I have a really airy upper register, and that’s the kind of sound some directors want on the first soprano part. You really need a good full, rich, almost “meaty” voice on second soprano and first alto. I think that kind of voice is beautiful, but I just don’t have it.

When I auditioned for this ensemble, the director told me to sing first soprano when we worked on the sections with split parts, specifically because of my vocal color. Okay. No problem.

Last night we split for the first time, and doing so required us to shuffle seats.

I had been sitting nearly in the center of the second row since the first night of practice, because when I first arrived that was the first seat available. When we split parts, I needed to get up and move to my right, but there were women there coming toward me so I decided I’d go down to the floor and loop around to the end. I did that, and I was the last person, and when I got around to the end there was no room for me.

Just a little problem, right? Oops, they needed to leave one more seat, so those five women could just move a seat to their left and I’d take the one on the end. Problem solved, everyone’s fine and drama-free, and we get back to work.

But that’s not what happened. Instead, I stood on the floor and very nicely said, “Oops, we need one more!” and those five women just sat on their asses and stared at me and one of them finally said, “This is for first sopranos.” I didn’t make a big deal or tell them that the director had asked me to sing first soprano. I just stayed calm and friendly and assured her that I was, in fact, singing first soprano, and another woman pointed at a seat with music and stuff on it and told me to sit there. I asked if that seat was open, because it didn’t look open, and sure enough, another member of the Bitch Gang said So-and-so was sitting there.

So I was standing there on the floor. And the rest of the ensemble was waiting for the damn sopranos to get their shit together so we could go on singing, and there were no seats in first soprano and apparently I, by being a new member with the audacity to sing first soprano, had offended the entire section and I was standing there feeling foolish and embarrassed and like I was inadvertently making a scene and I wasn’t sure what to do. Finally, all of the second sopranos on the first row, who apparently are not assholes, got up and moved so I could squeeze in between first and second.

I was still trying to make the best of the situation, so a little later, I said hi to the first soprano on my right and told her that I was still learning the music, so I might miss a few notes and she probably wouldn’t want to listen left. She sighed, and got up and moved.

And then, just in case I didn’t feel like complete and utter crap, later on we moved to a different section, and as usual, I heard people around me telling the page numbers to those who hadn’t tabbed their music yet. I noticed that the woman next to me was flipping around as if lost and I knew she just got the music that day, so I told her the page number. And she got all pissy and was like, “I know the page number. I was just looking at something else.” So I apologized, and said I was just trying to help, because I knew it took me forever to find the right pages before I tabbed my music and the people around me were really helpful. She told me without a trace of kindness that she would have her music tabbed by the next day.

So at that point I just kept my head down and worked on the music and tried to do my best until rehearsal was over.

As far as I know, I didn’t do anything to offend these women before last night. I’ve showed up on time to every rehearsal, I’ve sat in the same seat every time, and I’ve been friendly and polite to the people sitting near me. All of them are actually very nice, and I’ve had fun working with them, and they are all, of course, second sopranos. I don’t try to bust in on their cliques during breaks. I don’t disrupt rehearsals by chatting between singing, although many of them do. I’m there to work and to learn to sing better, and I’ve been in enough bands and choirs over the years that it’s easy for me to keep quiet when the director is working with another section. I have actually learned the music very fast, so it’s not like I’m in there fucking up the section by not knowing what I’m doing.

All I did was dare to try to sit near the elite and exclusive First Soprano Bitch Gang. It’s funny – I thought I left middle school years ago, and these women are all old enough to be my mothers or grandmothers, so I’m guessing they left middle school even longer ago.

Although maybe I am still in middle school, since I called my mommy to cry about it the minute I got home. This was supposed to be fun, and up until yesterday at 9:00 it was fun, and now I don’t want to go back.

Comments 8

  • Aw, what a bunch of mean whores.

  • They’re probably just jealous that you’re young and hot and can sing better than they do.

  • Sounds like the director has too many flutes.

    Anyway, don’t cry, bite back. If one woman responds to your help with, “I know the page number!” then just tell her to stop making such a god-awful racket then, some in the choir are trying to sing.

    fK those bitches. If they’re acting like Middle Schoolers then they’ll only respond to authority; you’ve been in charge of a group of young girls before, you know how to do it. Let ’em have a little taste of Lorie the …band leader person. (I forget what your choreography title was called!)

  • There’s nothing a little smattering of honey on their precious seats won’t fix.

  • Honey on their seats!? That’s brilliant. Especially if it’s squeezed from one of those smiling bear bottles.

    I wish you weren’t treated that way, but, guiltily, it provides the rest of us with a great story about a subculture we know almost nothing about.

    You might tweak this piece (and its related entries) into an essay and send to a publication like GRANTA. Especially with that title. An obnoxious experience, but a well-written one.
    -cK

  • Or if you want their asses to burn, put Tabasco on the chairs…Not that I’d uh, know anything about that, uh, or anything…

    And yeah, what Lauren said. You’re young and hot and they are TOTALLY jealous the Director would dare ask a newbie to sing first Soprano. =)

  • This totally reminds me of that part of the Dane Cook thing we watched the other day….

    Lorie… You did your best… they’re just jealous! They’re jealous of my baby angel.

  • this entry was truly amazing, and really made me think a lot about choir politics.

    it also made me want to sing again. because a dude in a mixed voices choir who is versatile, on-key, and can read music is a rarity, and this makes for a whole lot of positive choir self-esteem.

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