Vital Signs


When still relatively small, I sang in a church choir whose quality was the envy of our whole capital city diocese, so that its members, who included a chorus of boy sopranos like myself, were recruited, auditioned, trained, and paid. This last feature helped reconcile to plain song and Palestrina my career army officer father who would have seen me in the Scouts, out on the diamond, or headed for West Point instead.

Two afternoons a week after school, I got what was still then an awkwardly attenuated leg up the step of a rusted bus at the edge of the boonies, rumbled across the rivulet into town, transferred, and stepped off at the jewel in pearl-grey English Gothic granite on its velvet lawn in my grandparents' genteel neighborhood. But there were also the Sundays at daybreak for pre-ritual run-throughs, plus the Thursday evenings with the grown choir—not needing, evidently, our regimen of diction, intonation, vocalize, ear-training, sight-singing, and Latin. Nevertheless, a night of Thomas Tallis or Vaughan Williams might have been expected to prove a little intense, exhausting, for children, so at the right moment our truly masterful choirmaster would masterfully thank us for our grown-up efforts at music and deportment. Then we were, about 20 of us, and all but me in easy position to foot it on home under streetlights, joyfully—noisefully—dismissed.

Of course it all had a name, then. We called...

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