Five tales of animals and love
The Dog’s Solo
The Return of Klaatu
The Dog from the Fire
Maxwell’s Silver Hammer
Sample from The Dog’s Solo
The Dog’s Solo
This is our year. The CD has gone to the committee, but this time we are GOOD and we are going to make it. I say that to my group every night. I’ve said that to the singers every year for the past nine years.
Patsy stands in the front row, warbling and hooting. We rehearse Lo, How a Rose E’re Blooming, the sweet fifteenth century German hymn. Her voice was once sweet and high, I know, as I conduct my little group, drawing out the altos, shushing the tenors. But now her support is weak and vibrato loose and sloppy.
She has a small dog named Milo who comes with her to every rehearsal. He’s a quiet and rather ugly canine with very short gray hair and white-streaked muzzle; no personality, really, but I admire how quiet and calm he is, and everyone seems to like him.
My feet ache and my right knee, broken several years ago while snow-boarding, talks to me these cold nights. I have a full-time job wrangling patients and physicians but every season I take on my carolers, too, and every year Patsy comes with Milo and her aging soprano voice to bolster and annoy the other singers.
We are called The Singers and we sing in nursing homes and shopping malls, hotel lobbies and the occasional private party; my reputation as a choral leader gains me entry into these places. But there is one showing I covet and I still haven’t attained, and as I think about our crammed schedule and hope everyone can make all the gigs, I know I would trade it all for one shot.
Our town is famous throughout the state for our Winter Lights Festival. People drive hundreds of miles to witness the first lighting on St Nicholas Day, and each approaching Christmas festival day new lights are added until the entire town center is strung, adorned, glowing and glinting with little stars and suns and fae-lights, dancing bears and fish, leaping frogs; winged horses traveling the sky.
The Winter Lights Festival Concert is the pinnacle of our winter celebration. Our steady little group of aging carolers has never been invited to appear.
I wish I could sit as I take the group through Good King Wenceslas. I am not getting any younger myself. It’s almost 10:00 p.m. and I have added sectionals to our rehearsal schedule, and I attend every one. My husband tells me I am stuck on the treadmill of life. My daughter stares at me, bleary-eyed from sleepless nights with Maisie, our first granddaughter, and asks what stimulants do I use?
As we reach bar nine, second verse, I realize I haven’t yet chosen the soprano soloist, because this fine old carol has just been added to our repertoire.
By chance I am looking at Patsy and she takes off with it, singing mightily, chin up, chest high, perfect embouchure. The two sopranos behind her sigh and roll their eyes, but I let her take the part because Patsy is a showman and there would be no stopping her now.
“Sire, he lives a good league hence,
Underneath the mountain;”
Just as I’m thinking it might be fun for this tiny, elderly lady with pixie short hair to sing the role of the page, a reedy wail begins floating up from directly under Patsy’s feet.
Milo sits, nose in the air, little mouth forming an ”O.” Good embouchure, I think. Up until now he has been perfectly silent. For the first time in all the years I have directed us and Milo has been coming for at least three of them, he is adding his voice to the choir.
This does not distract Patsy in the least. Not for the first time do I wonder about the state of her hearing.
The other singers look at one another, some smirk while others frown. I lead Patsy through her solo and when it is done Milo shuts up.
It’s late and everyone is tired, but I run them through the song again, perfecting our opening and the poco piu lento of the final two measures.
“Thro’ the rude wind’s wild lament
And the bitter weather.”
At the end of rehearsal we talk about costumes. Our newest member is a young tenor named Stephen with a lovely voice, who however cannot be heard under Gardener’s brassy tone. We carol in Dickensian style; hats and skirts, muffs, scarves, tweed slacks and greatcoats, and we discuss how Stephen should dress.
We have a Bob Cratchit—but we need a David Copperfield, so we list the garments, black greatcoat and cravat, black trousers, top hat.
I look at Patsy, who is giving Milo a snack. We’ll need the greatcoat and the hat. Patsy has an uncanny way of finding the odd or rare piece. She squints at the list I gave her.
“Greatcoat, black, size medium, and top hat.” She looks at Stephen who smiles back, a little embarrassed. “Do you have a big head, boy?”
We laugh. I have three basses, two tenors—tenors are always few in number, sadly—four altos and four sopranos. Everyone has had musical training; I can tell by the way Patsy stands, holds her music, breathes and phrases that she must have sung professionally at one time. I have no idea how old she is. Somewhere between 65 and 100, I think, rather uncharitably.
As everyone is donning contemporary coats of Goretex and down, Patsy approaches. She wears a very fine camel-hair coat and wool felt cloche. She has money, I know, but in all these years I haven’t really come to know her. There’s a wall of intent politeness around her, like the British, I think, that I have not been able to penetrate, nor, I chastise myself, have I tried very hard.
Milo is cradled in her arms, a fat, gray baby. “Megan, I’m so sorry about Milo. He’s never howled before.”
“No problem. It’s fine.” I smile. “Do you think he’s a tenor, maybe a contra-tenor?”
She gazes at me, blinking, gives me a worried smile. Her eyes are the color of pale green tourmaline. “He’s been anxious lately, following me everywhere.”
“Really, it’s OK. He’s a soloist, like you.”
Now she really smiles. “I enjoyed that.” She rubs the small dog’s head. “I’ll have to take him to see Doctor Greene. He loves Doctor Greene.”