PART SEVEN: My Choir, Your Choir, Chicago's Choir: A History of Wicker Park Choral Singers, 2008 - 2012
I took a day off between interviews and headed out a bit later in the day for my next two. I had a meeting with a chorister whose day job was as school marm, and she had specifically requested that I show up in her classroom at 3:15 sharp. Not a second sooner or later. I polished my shoes and straightened up my bowtie and made sure I looked docile enough for a fourth grade classroom. Didn’t particularly care to get my fingers rapped. The note next to this miss’s name said “NICE,” but I wasn’t taking any chances. I showed at the appointed time and knocked on the slightly open door.
“Oh my goodness! Oh goodness come in!” I pushed the door open and stuck my head inside with a smile. It faded. One little boy sat on a stool with a bar of soap in his mouth. Another was copying out lines on the board. A third knelt on the ground in a pile of grits, a heavy book on his head.
“Here, come here and have a seat in front of my desk.” I swept off my hat and cleared my throat and moved as quietly as I could to the chair. Miss Reihsmann seated herself behind the desk in what I would only describe as a lordly manner and beamed down at me. I pulled on my collar.
“Soooo….” She crooned. “So you have questions?”
I had a number of questions by now…I glanced back over my shoulder at the little boy in the corner, poor sap, and then took out my notebook. “Sure. I hear you’re in on some of the second and third year activities of the choir, and I uh…I guess I was wondering…” The little boy on the stool stared me down with desperation. Get this soap out of my mouth he seemed to say. Please for the love all things, get it out.
“You were wondering?” she prodded.
“Oh, um,” I stared at my notebook like it might save me. Could it save me? “Well, what sort of activities might those have been?”
“Well, let’s see, shall we?” Miss Reihsmann pulled a calendar out of her desk marked 2009-10 and another 2010-11. Both were littered with pictures of baked goods. January was a cinnamon bun. “So in my first year in choir, we did an absolutely lovely Christmas Rose concert on December 5, 2009. And in the spring we undertook quite the ambitious little program entitled Dusk til Dawn, on March 27, 2010, with songs picked and handcrafted into sequence precisely in that order.”
“Got it. That order. Ambitious.”
“I also participated in a delectable concert we titled Angels and Demons, in two separate locations, on both July 7th and 10th of 2010. And I partook in choir extravaganza with the Elgin Symphony Orchestra’s 65th Anniversary Concert, whilst I missed out on the choir’s opportunity to perform with the ever lovely and gracious Oprah Winfrey on September 14, 2010.”
“Are you...are you giving…” I trailed off, looking back at the words I’d underlined for emphasis.
“A vocabulary lesson? Well, of course I am, you silly duck, musn’t miss an opportunity to learn.” She grinned even wider. “CHILDREN”
They responded with a chorus of “Yes, Miss Reihsmann?”
“What words did you learn just now?”
I was astonished as they all stood at attention and started to list off the vocabulary in exact order. The little boy with the soap in his mouth pronounced the words a bit oddly as he curled his tongue around the suds, and the boy with the book and the grits hesitated on the final word before guessing at it with a side glance to the kid at the board.
“Billy!” Miss Reihsmann jumped up from behind the desk. She leaned directly into my space and glared over my shoulder. “SPELL that last word.”
“BACK ON THE GRITS BILLY” She seated herself behind the desk and smoothed her skirts. “You may go,” she told the other two. They raced out of the classroom. “And that,” she told me with the same maniacal smile, “is how you teach children to be smart and nice.”
“So,” I said, jumping up from my seat. “I think I’ve got everything...yep.”
“Are you sure? Another question? We would have had time for one were you not a minute late.”
“A minute late, you don’t say,” I started edging toward the door. “That means I’m a minute late to the next interview! I really, uh…” I realized I’d left my hat dangling on the arm of the chair. I looked from the hat, to Miss Riehsmann, to poor little Billy. “Have a hat, kid.”
I ran away.
To Be Continued....