When I was in kindergarten, my mom put me into the Holy Family Cherub Choir, my church’s after-school choral group for elementary school students.
Although I loved to sing, joining choir was a decision made largely by my mom, and I often felt out-of-place among my peers. They all attended Holy Family Catholic School together and walked upstairs to the choir room in their plaid skirts and uniform polos for practice when school was dismissed.
I was the only public school student in the choir. My mom drove me to their school on Tuesday afternoons and dropped me off out front, leaving me to walk in alone in my non-uniform clothes, feeling anxious and out of place.
Despite my discomfort, I discovered my talent and love for singing choral music in that dingy old choir room surrounded by strangers. From that moment on, I was always a member of a chorus, participating in numerous non-audition school choirs, church choirs and small group vocal ensembles. Still, that out of place feeling never seemed to go away.
I always told myself I was different from other choir kids, and I even preferred to identify myself as a kid in choir, rather than a choir kid, just to set myself apart even further. I played sports, liked to have fun and thought I lacked this typical aura of innocence and perhaps “weirdness” that I always felt other choir kids had.
I never meshed with the people I sang with, and I only made a handful of friends throughout my 13 years in choir.
My sophomore year of high school, the only class that fit in my schedule for third period was engineering or Nightingales, my high school’s advanced-level women’s vocal ensemble. To get into Nightingales I was required to audition, which was a big source of anxiety for me. However, given the choice between a stressful audition or a semester spent in a math-heavy engineering class, my least favorite subject, the choice was easy. I scheduled my audition and was accepted on the spot.
I should’ve been overjoyed when I made it into the group, but I struggled to enjoy the experience. The silly vocal warm ups, the repetitive rehearsals and the time spent surrounded by girls I felt no connection to complicated my love for singing.
However, I couldn’t deny that we were good; the Nightingales were consistently invited to showcases, conferences and local functions. Eventually, by my junior year we competed in districts, regionals and successfully made it to states, proving ourselves as one of the most talented vocal groups in Pennsylvania.
That same year, the Nightingales received an offer to sing in a female vocal showcase at Carnegie Hall in New York City. We prepared rigorously for months, and even though this was an incredible once in a lifetime opportunity, I was unphased and slightly irritated by the time and commitment the group was beginning to require.
The entire choir drove up in charter buses together the night before our performance, staying at a hotel in Times Square, watching Disney movies and singing impromptu acapella songs for tourists on the streets of New York. I didn’t go with them.
Just as I did for the church choir when I was in kindergarten, I had my mom drive me alone to New York City the morning of the performance.
The day was long and chaotic, but finally by evening in our long black gowns and black heels, we stepped onto the stage to begin our performance. As I stood on the historical stage with these girls and looked out into the massive crowd, everything I thought I felt about choir began to change.
We sang an emotional ballad titled “1941,” written from a mother’s perspective as her son departs for war. At the song’s climax, our director began to cry; like second nature, her arms continued to conduct, but with her back to the audience, the Nightingales watched as tears quietly streamed down her face.
The moment was overwhelming. Goosebumps took over my body, and my eyes welled up with tears as I tried my best to hold notes with a massive lump in my throat. I realized at that moment I did mesh with choir kids, and despite my protest, I was a choir kid, too.
Our harmonies and vocal talents were what connected us, and I came to realize the people I so desperately wanted to pull away from were truly the ones who made me who I am. I was not a choir on my own, and I never would’ve made it to the stage of Carnegie Hall without the other Nightingales.
I felt different when I stepped off the stage that day. Every warm up, rehearsal and performance from that moment on was a lesson in teamwork for me, intertwining our voices into an ensemble that was capable of great things.
I’ll forever be grateful to those girls for the experiences we gave each other. Through hard work, dedication, differences and a shared love for singing, we nurtured not only our individualism but stood together and proved our power in numbers.