Maybe I'm wrong, but I suspect that many Mormons with musical talent grow up with a lingering ambition to some day sing in the Tabernacle Choir. In fact, the reputation of the choir is such that there are even some celebrity non-Mormons who have gotten their wish to direct the choir - just once.
Like Jimmy Stewart.So I was not so different, growing up thinking that some day . . .
But since we spent 20 years in Boston, I never seriously entertained the thought again until we returned to Utah. Then one day a light turned on in my brain - "I could try out for the Tabernacle Choir!"
It was not an entirely silly thought. I've always had a musical bent. I played trumpet and French horn in junior high and high school bands and orchestras. Then I took vocal lessons, sang solo in recitals and with the high school a cappella choir. Since then I've sung with other choirs and quartets.
It was such an interesting thought that I actually applied - sent a picture, resume, all that stuff. Then I didn't hear anything at all. I thought they had summarily turned me down - maybe because I'm a newspaper columnist.
But seven or eight months later I received a letter inviting me to take a "music skills inventory," described as "a wide-ranging examination" of my ability to "use aural and visual tools of music."
Emphasis would be placed on my ability to hear and to visually recognize what I hear. They warned me that as a "wide-ranging survey, it is a shock for some people, including some with considerable training." On the other hand, "many with lesser training who possess innate abilities do very well."
They warned that any attempt to "cram" would be unproductive. "You either have the skills or you don't."
I might be great or I might be terrible - and there was nothing I could do except try it. If I passed, I would prepare a tape for audition - and if I passed that, I would appear at an in-person audition - the final step.
What the heck? I decided I had nothing to lose except an evening. So with about 40 other pale, nervous-looking people, almost all of them men, I took the one-hour-and-15-minute test. In the first part measuring my tonal and rhythmic aptitude, I listened to two phrases of recorded music for each question and tried to determine whether the second phrase was different than the first.
I thought this part was very difficult. It seemed more like a memory test than a musical one, and I wanted to hear the first phrase just one more time before I decided - but I couldn't.
In the next step, major-minor mode discrimination, I listened to chords and tried to determine whether they were major or minor - then the same with phrases. Since this was totally foreign to me, my answers were stabs in the dark. I just designated as minor chords those that sounded scary.
Then I had to recognize the key tone of several musical phrases. I had no idea what that meant, and so after the first three or four I just started guessing - and that was against the rules.
Finally, the auditory-visual discrimination test seemed right up my alley, since I read music. In fact, it was a piece of cake. In response to several written musical phrases, I tried to decide if the aural version was consistent with the written.
I left thinking about the instructions we were given before the exam began: "Some of you will leave feeling terrific, some will feel terrible - but most of you will feel nothing at all."
The latter fit me to a tee because I had no idea how I had done. Only a few days later I received another letter beginning "Dear Applicant," and listing my performance on the basis of strong, average and weak.
On tonal and rhythmic aptitude and tonal center I was judged "weak," while on major-minor discrimination and auditory-visual discrimination I was marked "average." The best guess as to my chances of ever getting into the choir: "Fair to Poor"!
So that dream is down the drain. I can't sing in the choir - but I wonder if they would let me direct it? I'll bet Jimmy Stewart never took the music skills inventory!