1950 Memories of Suburban Adventures

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The Voice

Our school was so small that we didn’t have try-outs for chorus. If you wanted to join, you were in. This worked out great for me.

My tone deaf voice wedged itself into the melodies of our junior chorus. As a freshman, I automatically moved up to enhance the senior chorus.

While practicing for our Christmas concert, everyone except Beverly, a senior, petered out in the middle of a troublesome passage. Mr. Binns was impressed and gave her a solo. This lesson was not lost on me.

I sang loud and clear for the next four years, with no solo sent my way. One of my best friends, Marcia, had many solos. She also had a beautiful voice.

Marcia sang high soprano while I got pegged as an alto. This put a cramp on visiting during rehearsals. I believed I could sing soprano just as well as I sang alto. I was correct, but not for the reason I thought.

One day we had a substitute instructor, Mr. Pederson, so I snuck over to the high sopranos. Marcia stood in the front row since she was short. Much taller, I hunched beside her so I wouldn’t block the girls behind us.

We sang halfway through our first song and were stopped abruptly.

“Stop! Stop,” cried Mr. Pederson. “Everyone, repeat the previous stanza.”

I sang with gusto, hoping to finally be rewarded with a solo.

“Now, just the high sopranos,” he instructed.

I joined in as the high sopranos sang. Mr. Pederson singled out each row of high sopranos, beginning at the top row. He worked his way down to the front row and narrowed his search to Marcia (our soloist) and me. Based on snickering from the remaining chorus members, I became suspicious and no longer wanted to be discovered.

Marcia and I sang the passage.

“Aha,” he proclaimed. “There is the problem! You (pointing at me, not Marcia) are better suited for the alto section. And please sing a bit softer.”

I’m not sure why he went to such elaborate lengths to pinpoint my voice, but he appeared to derive great pleasure from it. Mr. Pederson was the cat, I was the mouse.

Mr. Pederson eventually took over chorus duties permanently while Mr. Binns handled orchestra. Once again, we encountered a troublesome passage in our Christmas concert music.

“This time I want you to sing the line at the top of your lungs,” he commanded. “Sing so the angels in heaven can hear you.”

Mr. Binns opened a side door and entered the auditorium at the exact moment we loudly belted out with gusto, “Here comes the king of the Jews!”

Mr. Binns is Jewish.

After his initial shock, Mr. Binns collapsed on a folding chair and laughed until tears ran down his eyes. Our entire chorus erupted hysterically. Poor Mr. Pederson wasn’t sure whether to laugh or tender his resignation.

It was difficult singing the phrase during our concert without cracking up at the memory, especially when our conductor, Mr. Pederson, couldn’t suppress his own grin.

Lesson learned: Laughter is always the best medicine as long as everyone is laughing together.

Lesson not learned: I continued believing I had a lovely voice for many years.
Now it’s your turn: Do you have a singing anecdote?

© Mary Norton-Miller and 1950s Suburban Adventures, 2012 forward. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mary Norton-Miller and 1950s Suburban Adventures with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


  1. Choosing says:

    I never have been able to sing…. and I know it….. 😉 I admire everyone you has the courage to sing in front of a crowd.

  2. Val Mills says:

    Just returned to my blog and yours is the first story I’ve read. Glad you’re still here 🙂 I wrote about my unsuccessful choir efforts in my 1950s school memoir. Maybe I’ll publish part of it online one day. Thanks for the memory.

    • skinnyuz2b says:

      Thanks, Val. You should have been in Hartford’s chorus. No matter how badly you sang, you never got kicked out. But you might get asked to sing more softly.

  3. valleygrail says:

    I bet your voice is beautiful! Thanks for sharing the delightful memory.

    • skinnyuz2b says:

      Oh no, Valley, don’t bet the farm. I’m so tone deaf that it’s pathetic. As a joke I once recorded myself singing various songs for my young nieces, so my two sisters would be forced to listen. My nieces loved it.
      I’m glad you enjoyed my story.

  4. chsuresh63 says:

    Hahaha! Mary – you continue to entertain unfailingly! AND that is a lesson I never learnt too 🙂

    • skinnyuz2b says:

      Thanks, Suresh. Each of my boyfriends had to pass the tolerance and acting test of being trapped in a car with me singing to them and telling me that they loved it. Many of them were never the same afterward!

  5. Glynis Jolly says:

    It’s interesting that your music teacher had the name Mr Binns and had a good sense of humor. I’m guessing that he was one of the teachers most students liked. I had a music teacher who was pretty much the same way only his name was Mr. Bastien. All the student who liked him called him Mr. B.

  6. Sing out, Louise! Thanks to you and poor Mr. Pederson for the morning chuckle.

  7. kriskkaria says:

    You may have a lovely voice, you never know. I sang in the chorus in Jr. High, was told I was tone deaf and an alto too. Years later, I took serious voice lessons and discovered I was actually a high soprano and I was not tone deaf.

    • skinnyuz2b says:

      Ha ha, Kris. I think my whole family knows. My sister took my singing cassette I made her daughters and moved it to their vehicle so she wouldn’t have to hear it all day. But that backfired. They wanted it played every time they drove anywhere.

  8. roberttozer says:

    Another lovely piece of nostalgia. You always manage to make me smile.

  9. spunkybong says:

    Oh, Skinny, that Pederson guy was a sadist , picking on you like that! 😀

  10. Oh Mary that was hilarious. Can imagine the scene very vividly 🙂

  11. suzjones says:

    I used to sing in many choirs when i was young. I practised often (and loudly) at home. One night as I was singing at the top of my lungs in the shower, the roof was hit was a shower of rocks. My family has never let me forget it!

  12. Mimmy Jain says:

    I wish I’d had your daring, Mary. I’ve never dared sing in public even though I love singing. All my family, except my husband, tells me, I can’t sing. Well, I tell him I like to hear him sing, too, though, truth be told, he can’t either. So you know how much his rating is worth. It’s a happy existence though, both of us singing to the tune in our heads and neither of us knowing what the other is really singing.

    • skinnyuz2b says:

      I overheard my two sisters laughing at my tone-deaf singing. I made two cassette recordings for their children of me singing several songs. The kids loved aunt Mimi’s singing and played the recordings non-stop. You should try this. It’s a great way to get even.

  13. TheLastWord says:

    My voice is at that perfect pitch that allows it to switch between an unspeakable baritone and a screechy and untenable falsetto at the drop of a note.

    We did have selections each year for the annual Parent’s Day concert and I was selected every time for roles ranging from shepherdess #8 (as a 9 year old boy) to a waiter in a chorus of just 6 waiters (jn Grade 10).

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