Lady Tenor in a Sea of Men


My chorus just did two back-to-back performances this past weekend. There are 120 of us this semester, with only thirty men. The men sing the bass and tenor parts, and five of us women sing the higher tenor part with the guys.
Why, you ask? Because we five gals have a lower range than the average female singer, and because our director needs tenors. I blame my lower range on all those years of singing along to male groups like the Beatles, Herman’s Hermits, Crosby, Stills and Nash, the Eagles, Steve Miller band and solo singers Elton John, J.J. Cale, and James Taylor. I have always preferred guy groups to women groups — the Temptations over the Supremes.
I am the fourth tallest tenor in the chorus. We stand in our parts sections on the risers. I wear a boot with a two-inch heel, which feels better on my back than a flat shoe. That makes me 5 foot eleven inches. It puts me third from the end in the third row. I have male tenors on my right, male tenors on my left, male tenors in front of me, and two rows of rowdy basses behind me, all guys.
Today I popped into the gift shop at the hospital where my sis is recovering this week. I was surprised to meet Dottie, one of the tenors’ wives. They’ve been married for 57 years. We were talking about stuff when she mentioned how happy I look when I sing during the performances. She stands on the other side, singing with the sopranos. The risers are curved, and we all face inward to see our director.
I had to tell Dottie why I look so happy. Yes, I am surrounded by men. Yes, they look dapper in their black suits, but that’s not why I am smiling. It’s because I have a bunch of wise-cracking basses behind me saying funny things that keep me laughing.
For example, in the medley Oklahoma, when the female soloist sings about men who get flirty and start to talk purdy (pretty), the men are joking about talking dirty. Juvenile? Yes. Funny? Yes. These are senior citizens (mostly) who are still being guys, thinking like a guy. They remind me of the remedial reading class of all boys I had when I taught eighth grade back in the day. Another choice line from the same musical is how a girl wants to do for a guy what he will do for her. Of course these basses love that line, their minds in the gutter, because they are guys.
When the director asks us to put two fingers in our mouths to show how wide they need to be open when singing, the men are cracking up behind me. The name Monica Lewinsky is mentioned.
When we hold hands before we go onstage to say thanks to those who brought music into our lives, the men are joking with each other about how they’ve waited for this moment — to clasp hands with the man next to them. It’s a guy thing. They’re uncomfortable, so they make fun. Women don’t mind holding hands. It’s the same way when women will share a double bed with another woman in cramped quarters, but a man will sleep on the floor before he’ll get in a bed with another guy. It’s embarrassing. Men have to talk tough and be manly.
Our sweet and innocent director doesn’t know how funny she can be when she says things like, “I don’t like the men underneath the soloist!” She is telling us men not to sing, but the men are thinking otherwise. They are tittering at her unintended double entendre.
The director told me that when she was young and a date asked her if she wanted to go parking, she replied, “No, I don’t even have my driver’s license!” She thought the date wanted her to park his car. Adorable.
We all love our director. That’s why we show up every Tuesday night and work for her for two hours. She’s strict, she knows her stuff, and she always makes us laugh.

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