Just like all people, I have my talents and weaknesses. There are some things I can do very well with pride and great ease. At the same time, there are tasks in life for which I have no talent whatsoever and have zero chance of accomplishing even with someone holding a gun to my head.
It’s been a known fact since elementary school that I’m absolutely terrible at mathematics; I just didn’t have a head for numbers. Having to tackle word problems would make me sick to my stomach and anything beyond basic math would cause me to break out in a cold sweat. It was quite distressing and I’m sure I failed every math test I ever took. There’s no grey area in mathematics, no wiggle room, and I found it to be stifling and utterly confusing. Clearly my left brain was dominated by my right. Eventually the time came for me to study algebra and geometry. The situation was so traumatizing for everyone that the school principal and teachers took pity on me (and themselves). They had a discussion with my parents where it was decided I would be dismissed from further math classes and allowed to concentrate of different subjects. I was granted a pardon from the warden and permitted to double-up on courses such as English, foreign language, music, history or religion.
Two other things I’m really bad at are playing sports and drawing. Can you imagine the humiliation of never being chosen to play on any sports team? I was always the last person standing on the sidelines, staring down at my shoes waiting for my name to be called. Likewise, in art class I couldn’t sketch a decent stick figure or draw a crooked line let alone a straight one and most of my work was unidentifiable, leaving people scratching their heads in bewilderment.
My stronger points lean toward the creative and dramatic, including the ability to learn foreign languages, music, singing, playing the piano and organ, acting, cooking and gardening. If there’s a trivia game, I’m the girl you want on your side. I was always good at fashion and makeup which opened the door for some modeling. I’m also a damn good driver, unafraid of bad weather, 18-wheelers or New York City taxi drivers. And let’s not forget my great love – writing – a true passion realized later in life. I’m good with words and turning a phrase, my imagination is unstoppable and I’ve got fantasizing down to an art form!
While I’ve only been writing in earnest for five years, music has always been a huge part of my life, hence my nickname “Top Alto”.
In school I auditioned for and landed the lead role in every musical. I can sight read any piece of music I’m asked to sing. In fact, when practicing my alto lines at home, I would often play the soprano, tenor and/or bass line on the piano while singing the alto line. It’s not that easy to do but an excellent way to learn your part.
Now, please don’t misunderstand; this is not bragging – it’s simply stating the facts. And if you want a list of other things I can’t do very well I’ll be happy to provide one. Believe me – it’s a long list! But that’s not the purpose of this story. Today I want to tell you about a time I failed at something I normally do very well. I didn’t just fail; I tanked. Royally.
You see, our choir was practicing for a special Mass, one we had been anticipating for weeks. Cardinal Edward M. Egan of New York, along with a retinue of religious bigwigs and officials, was going to visit our parish and I was chosen to be Leader of Song for the Responsorial Psalm. The melodies of some Responsorial Psalms are complex while others are rather easy. This particular psalm was bordering on ridiculously easy, a tune I could sing in my sleep. It consisted of ten words all chanted on the same note. Let me repeat that: ten words, one note, ridiculously easy. This was not Celine Dion belting out “My Heart Will Go On” while precariously balanced on a replica of The Titanic in Las Vegas.
I practiced a lot; the Mass was a big deal. The Cardinal, previously mentioned bigwigs and a church packed with the faithful as well as TV crews from Catholic Faith Network and Fox News were in attendance. Did I say it was a big deal? Now, I’ve sung at countless Masses in front of packed churches for years; this was a no-brainer!
The choir looked resplendent in robes of red and gold and I was hell bent for leather. Fifteen minutes into the Mass and it’s time for the Responsorial Psalm. Ten words, one note, Top Alto.
The organist played the intro, nodded at me to begin and I opened my mouth to sing. Now, let me just say if I choked and nothing came out of my mouth it would have been preferable to what did come out of my mouth. I, a mature, confident, talented woman, had suddenly been transformed into Alfalfa from The Little Rascals!
This was supposed to be a piece of cake and I was so damn sure of myself. I was ready; I didn’t clear my throat or wet my whistle before singing. Nope, I just plunged into the deep end of the pool.
Ten words, ten frog-like notes, Alfalfa.
Everyone averted their eyes and I couldn’t blame them. To say I was stunned and humiliated is an understatement; I just sort of slunk down into my chair and hid behind my music binder. Why is there never a rock to crawl under when you need one? I couldn’t help wondering if Cardinal Egan was asking himself “WTF was that?”
It’s all water under the bridge since that debacle and it’s something I can laugh about now but at the time I just wanted to croak. Come to think of it, I did!
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