Sunday, July 11, 2010

There's No Biz Like Show Biz

I had my first performance as a member of the ladies' barbershop harmony chorus I joined three months ago. We'll get to that in a minute. In the past few weeks, I have been expected to memorize the words, choreography and the bass part for at least ten different songs [with more to come] while living my real life. Big deal you say. Hey, I'm not in the cast of Glee. We only meet once a week for two hours, so I sometimes feel like I did in college, when I needed another week to study, but my finals were the next day. 
          Something else I've had to get used to: barbershop makes no distinction between men's and women's groups when it comes to the parts they sing. The highest singers are called "tenors," the people who sing the melody are the "leads," followed by the "baritones" or "baris" and the "basses." I was a second alto in my other life, but we don't do no f**king second altos in barbershop. So I've had to embrace the supremely unfeminine designation of "bass" the best I can. 
          I really don't like it. It's tough enough being taller than most men. [Even my father.] Not to mention wearing a size 10 1/2 men's tennis/volleyball/softball shoe.] 
          DIGRESSION: On an ad shoot once, a 6'2" pre-surgical transsexual, who ran the video playback, could no longer contain himself. He finally walked over and asked me where I got my clothes and shoes. He was still wearing men's clothing, albeit a pink polo shirt and lime green slacks, but his long blond hair was styled, his nails were painted red, and I noticed not a little mascara. We had a long conversation about how difficult it was for "tall girls like us" to find shoes and clothes that fit without paying couture prices. Yes, it was creepy at first, but funny how talking to somebody you would ordinarily avoid levels the playing field. 
          I even asked him [he still had his package] what size breast implants he was planning on. A pair of C's, you nosy bastards. When it came time to lop off his junk they would be implanting his new titolas at the same time -- who knew? The last I heard, following his surgery, he was showing up on shoots looking like a drag queen in short shorts and midriff baring tops. Kind of ironic since most transsexuals blend in very well. I guess she decided to take the catch-me-f**k-me route. 
          Meanwhile, following a lifetime of living large, the last thing I want is to be called is a bass. Thing is, I really do have a low voice. Sort of like Anne Murray [if you're old enough to remember her]. Except she was pretty butch if I recall, so maybe she's not the most glamorous example. Here's one -- Toni Braxton. You ought to hear me shred "Unbreak My Heart" in the shower. Or in the car with the volume cranked. At our latest rehearsal, one of the other basses mentioned that I seem to be the only one who could hit a low "C" without coughing up phlegm. I think she meant well. 
          Today was the first opportunity I would have to perform with the group. The venue was a sidewalk sale, meaning there wasn't a whole lot of pressure. Before performing, the group was using the opportunity to accost passersby by asking them whether they liked to sing, then proselytizing for new members with the zeal of born again Christians. Here take this, come to this, watch this, listen to this. . .  
          I looked at the playlist and saw at least two songs that I was still sight-reading, including one I just learned a week ago, and one that I didn't know the choreography for. Oh good. Humiliation is mine. 
          For some reason the director has me in the exact middle of the chorus. Not the back row where we tall peeps like to hide. This all has to do with the placement of the different parts. There's only a few basses so we're clumped in the middle. But the prominent location is killing me.
          Another thing -- we all dress alike for our performances. Not just the clothes either. Our nails and make up, too. Offhand if I had to distill the outfits we wear into a couple of words, it would be "sequins" and "polyester." Our matching lipstick and nails are either "showbiz red" or "footlight fuchsia." Fortunately not at the same time.

          The glitz and glam of ladies' barbershop takes a bit of getting used to. The most color I ever wear on my nails is a light, silvery pink. Except on those rare occasions when I pay for fakes. But my day to day nails look like I'm on a NASCAR pit crew. So why draw attention to them? Especially since I talk with my hands a lot. Needless to say, I haven't been too excited about wearing the bright red nails. It's not like those colors come off easily either. There's always some leftover red caught in the creases. 
          Nails are one thing. I stopped wearing bright red on my lips altogether when I hit fifty. Something about the way it slid into the wrinkles around my mouth like Amazon tributaries was disconcerting. The good news is that I don't have to buy my own makeup and nail polish. The bad news is that the group buys it for you so everybody matches. And we are expected to wear it. Please, can't we just sing in sandals and shorts?
          Today, despite temperatures and humidity in the high eighties, I slathered on the SPF 50, donned my black polyester palazzos, a red top, sequined earrings with a matching sequined sun visor, then tried not to melt. Worried about screwing up, I also wore sunglasses, hoping no one would recognize me. I even asked the woman standing in front of me, a little lady who sings with lots of enthusiasm, to really go to town so people wouldn't notice my many mistakes. I can happily report that she didn't need permission to steal the spotlight. 
          I think we sounded pretty good for the location, standing under the awning of a real estate office. We did some show tunes, some fun stuff for the kids, and I think we really nailed SH-BOOM. Yadada da dadada da. Yes, there were some lyrics that escaped me. Yes, I found myself moving my lips like a gasping fish from time to time. Yes, I was about a beat behind on some of the choreography. But everybody assured me we were clumped together so tight, it wasn't as obvious as I thought it would be. NOTE TO SELF: Women lie. 
           Then, just when I assumed we were finished for the day, I was told we were going around the corner to perform AGAIN. So I got to make the same mistakes a second time!!!! By the time we finished our "gigs" my outfit looked like I'd been playing LeBron James one on one. 
          Fortunately, we performed next to an ice cream shop, so, in gratitude for carrying me not once, but twice, I offered to buy cones for anyone who was interested. I got off cheap because women are always on a diet. But those who joined me agreed that an ice cream cone really hit the spot. Until we had to go outside again. 
          Finally, on my way home, once I got the air conditioning going in my car, the ocean of sweat began to dry off. And I'm sure the salt stains will come out in the wash. Polyester does have its perks. 
          So much for my first day back in show biz after forty years.          

5 comments:

Donna said...

You are such an interesting writer (and person, for that matter)! I'd love to hear a snippet of the group's singing.

Mrs. L said...

I'll get something up eventually.

Nan said...

I wish I could have been there to see you. For a change I could have been hair and makeup.

Rose said...

I used to work in Naperville with a lady who was in a Barber shop group, she used to call me "Wose".

My husband's the singer, I stink...

Remo said...

I think it's wonderful that seniors are keeping busy these days.