Swing low, sweet chariot, and pick me up!

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This weekend at the library I flipped through the book “All God Chillun”, which contains many spirituals that the slaves sang. When I looked it up on Amazon for the author’s name, I couldn’t even find the book. It’s an old one. As I sifted through the pages mesmerized by the stories, songs and pain held within them, I came across “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and the memories of all the times I caused pain to the ears of innocent bystanders with my singing voice came flooding back to me.

Though I’m not for sure, I think we had to choose between choir and band for a period of the school day in middle school. My friend, Mari, and I chose choir. Mari could sing. I could not. Still, I was forced to be in the class essentially. As time passed and my awful screeching was muted by the voices beside me, I began to think maybe I was absolutely wrong. I could sing! After all, Ms. Fuller said I was a soprano. If she classified me in a singing category of some sort, didn’t this mean I could sing? Wouldn’t she have stuck me in the broom and mop closet during class while everyone else sang “Oh, Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling…” if I absolutely was a hopeless cause?

Me with Mari in middle school, circa 1987ish.  Like the bangs?
What about my necklace that isn’t pointing down right?
And that silky shirt?  How about the shoulder pads?

Mari and me this summer.

So, I sang. And sang. And got in trouble (Mari’s fault!). And sang. (Mari would sometimes convince me that it was a good idea for us to sneak off of of the risers and crawl across the room from side to the other before Ms. Fuller noticed we were gone.  She usually noticed we were gone and would sing out “Minus 5!!!!!”.  She was subtracting points off of something, but we were never sure what.)

When the opportunity came to participate in the solo portion of the Solo & Ensemble UIL Competition, you know I snatched that baby up! 

I chose to sing “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”.

I was awful.  Awful, awful, awful.  I guess I thought that if I sang the best that I could in front of those unknown judges in a quiet room with no peers, they’d give me a pin or medal or something.  A pin or a medal or something is worth everything!  I could pin it on my bulletin board in my room or toss it around the neck of my teddy bear!  This was going to be AWESOME!

One afternoon, my confidence came crashing down.  Ms. Fuller thought it would be a good idea to have those singing solos in the UIL Competition TO SING OUR SOLO IN FRONT OF OUR PEERS IN OUR CHOIR CLASS. 

I wanted to die.  Right there.  I was begging that sweet chariot to swing low and come pick ME up!  I wanted to fall backwards into a coffin and be rolled out of the choir room to a place far, far away.  The city dump.  Nestled inside a large man’s sweaty armpit.  In a lion’s mouth.  Anywhere would have been better. 

Maybe Ms. Fuller could see I was searching for body bags in the choir room, because she offered those of us singing solos the opportunity TO SING BEHIND A DIVIDER in front of all of our peers.  She thought it would be helpful to my confidence and self-esteem if, while I sang like an old, sick horse being tossed out of an airplane from hundreds of miles off the ground, I was singing behind a shield.

www.posters.ws.com

It didn’t help.  As I sang this beautiful spiritual into one side of the divider like Alfalfa would have if he had had the flu and also would have just stepped on glass without any shoes on, I could hear giggles from the other side.  It was terrible.

(Now everyone in that room was praying for the sweet chariot to pick them up to take them away from the dying pterodactyl they thought was behind the divider.)

Even more terrible?

I never learned. 

During the following summer of 1987, I went to Dollywood with my family and sang “The Greatest Love of All” by Whitney Houston with my sister in a karaoke booth.  I still have that tape.  Horrid.  Absolutely dreadful.

Another example?

In 2009, I sang for the American Idol judge at Disney World.  Before you have my neck shot with a tranquilizer dart, know that I was only doing it for my son’s sake.  We took him to Disney World for his 5th birthday.  He saw the American Idol attraction at Hollywood Studios.  He was in love with the show and wanted to see what it looked like inside.  We missed the shows for the day, so the only way to look around it was to audition, but my son was too young to do it.  Although my husband probably contemplated leaving me for a toothless 90-year-old at this point, he didn’t let on about the plans in his head as he watched us enter the American Idol studio giggling.  He just laughed and encouraged us to go.  Before I belted out “Zippity Doo Dah”,  I told the unfortunate judge I was only singing so that my son could see the studio.  She smiled (and maybe winced), but my son smiled wider.

Maybe the humiliation behind the divider back in middle school gave me the courage to not care as much anymore about what people think.  I’m thankful God didn’t answer my prayer by sending that sweet chariot to pick me up back in 1987. 

I would have missed my son’s smile.

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