1.5: Soprano Pains

Between each tick of the clock, the sounds of offbeat clapping, discordant singing in the wrong key, and the annoying rattle of a tambourine in the hands of a girl to cover up her Itchy voice all come rushing back to Nuria. She remembers standing in the front row of the choir stand in her black and white school uniform, her tie hanging below her neck and collar button undone, the dark blazer tied around her waist at the sleeves. Her choirmates all kept their uniforms composed, but she was the only one taking rehearsal seriously.

     I’d like to say choking hurt their ability to sing well…but I know better.

     The clock ticks closer and closer to 7 pm, now only fifteen minutes away. The last time Nuria set foot in a choir stand was six years ago. She can still recall most rehearsals vividly, especially after Egeme joined. All of her lessons, from Every Good Boy Does Fine and FACE to percussion instruments have stuck with her, but performing in a group, let alone out loud, hasn’t been on her agenda so long she believes she’s not as good as Reddic boasts…or that she herself does.

     Why’d I open my big mouth? Now I have to show up or I look like a quitter. I can’t quit…can I?

     “What are you still doing here?” Reddic asks, descending the basement stairs with Fanger padding down behind him.

     She strokes the leopard’s ears as he curls up to her, her wry smile telling him what she tries to hide inside. “Just getting my head on straight. Well, trying.”

     “Nervous, are we?” he asks, leaning against his desk.

     Nuria sighs as Fanger licks her fingers. “More than I thought I’d be, and I knew from the start it would be bad,” she admits ruefully. Nuria lowers onto the floor, leaning against Fanger when he follows suit behind her. “I’m not sure what I was thinking when I claimed I was ready.”

     “I agree,” Reddic replies. Nuria gives him a cross look, so he raises a hand swiftly. “Allow me to clarify. You weren’t thinking.”

     Nuria scoffs. “Rub it in some more, why don’t you?”

     He laughs at her pouting. “What I mean is that you were feeling it. Whatever brought that feeling forward, that’s what you focus on. Thinking will only inhibit you. Trust me on that.”

     The phoenix scoffs again. “Yeah, like you get nervous. You’ve smuggled in a dangerous–”

     Fanger yowls crossly.

     “–and very adorable beast onto campus and you walk around without breaking a sweat.”

     “I’m no different from you, Nuria. You’re someone who can fly fearlessly all through the sky, even testing your limits recklessly. Yet and still, signing has you petrified.”

     “We’re not the same. Nothing petrifies you,” she argues.

     “That’s as untrue as can be. Every day I’m petrified. I’ve told you how I was when I was your age. I was that way for a long time. I didn’t change overnight to who I am now. I’m still not entirely different. I work hard every single day to keep that version of myself at bay. My friends worry I won’t be able to, hence their reservations. When I think of you seeing me that way, I flinch.”

     “Really?” Nuria says in a moment, caught up in his explanation, believing the emotion in his voice.

     “And like me, I know you’re capable of facing your fears. You were terrified of Fanger the moment you first laid eyes on him, but look at you now. You two seem to be the best of friends.”

     Nuria leans her head back and looks Fanger in the eyes. His amber irises reflect in her wintry ones. She laughs as he shakes his head, producing a low yowl. “Yeah, yeah, pretend otherwise all you want. We know you like me, too.” She wiggles her finger between herself and Reddic.

     “The point is, Nuria,” Reddic says her name sternly to recapture her attention, “I know you can do the same. Go and prove me right.” He nods to the stairs.

     Nuria rises, turns, and approaches the stairs, failing at every turn to refuse his jocund smile. “Will you come with me?”

     He shakes his head just like Fanger does. “I have future lessons to plan. Besides, you chose to volunteer for the choir on your own. However you came to that decision, you did it. I trust you can do this without me, too. Trust yourself, as I do.”


     Nuria tries to sneak inside the choir room as Cwen directs the members through a song she isn’t familiar with. The door comes close to shutting quietly when it jerks and squeaks. The young lady freezes when the singing halts on Cwen’s signal of a raised clenched fist. The thirteen pairs of eyes trained on her feel like pinpricks. She hesitates to move forward until Professor Cwen beckons her silently, lowering a lyric sheet.

     “I was beginning to think you wouldn’t come,” Cwen says softly, but Nuria recalls enough of her previous experiences with her former music teacher and choir director to hear the subtle tone of displeasure also.

     Guess some things are universal.

     “Sorry, I’m late. It won’t happen again.”

     “A bit ahead of yourself, Nuria. You aren’t part of the choir yet.” The professors change in tone to authoritative is so swift that Nuria isn’t sure if her goosebumps are from the dread of having to sing, or if she’s just plain intimidated.

     “But you invited me here?” she can’t believe she formed the sentence to ask.

     “Indeed, I did. However, you have to audition like everyone else.” Cwen points to the choir stand, a familiar redhead waving in their direction. “Valine also had to, even though she’s a member of my house. No exceptions.”

     The change in his voice isn’t the only change unnerving Nuria currently. The hardened gaze Cwen gives off makes her appear more ferocious, unforgiving.

     She takes music even more seriously than my last teacher. Is it special to her? It has to be, right?

     “Okay, then,” Nuria says shakily. “What’s the audition?”

     Cwen faces the choir and lowers both hands; they seat themselves promptly. As she returns her gaze to Nuria, she says, “We’re going to sing a round. You and Valine appear to like “Run, Gyara”, so I assume that The Four Feathermen fits your niche taste.”

     Nuria grins, thinking of every concert of theirs she’s been to at once. “They define my niche taste.”

     “Then we’ll perform “Never Patient” by them. Sound good?”

     Nuria nods and does what she always does before singing aloud. She whips her braid over her shoulder and strokes it with both hands. She has no real reason to do so, but she started the habit back when she auditioned at Sakela Middle School Preparatory and it’s stuck with her since. When Cwen starts the round, she jumps in without further hesitation.

“Running all night through the streets”
“Running all night through the streets”

“Sitting most days in the heat”
“Sitting most days in the heat”

“Stuck looking from the window seat
While you’re alone in the loveseat”
“Stuck looking from the window seat
While you’re alone in the loveseat”

“I’m done being patient from my seat
Never patient on my feet”
“I’m done being patient from my seat–”

     Nuria nearly bites her tongue when she adheres to Cwen’s sudden raised clenched fist signal, all too eager to continue the song to completion. She’s sung in front of just her family for so long that she forgot how fun it is to sing with other people, too. The butterflies in her stomach flutter away.

     “Reddic’s review of your “speakers” was correct, after all. Your projection is good. We’ll have to work on your volume, though. No matter how far your voice reaches, it does no good if people can’t hear what you’re singing.”

     Nuria nods solemnly. My last teacher said that, too. I’m still struggling after all this time. The phoenix sighs, displeased with the evaluation. Then again, I’m the one to blame.

     “Now that that’s complete, we can start right away,” Cwen says.

     “Wait, I’m in?” Nuria says.

     “You sure are, dear. You’ve got a good mezzo-soprano voice, so you’ll be in the soprano row in the stands, to Valine’s right.”

     “But you said my volume was bad?”

     “This choir isn’t for perfect voices, Nuria. No one here possesses such a thing. However, one mission I have for all members is that we always improve upon our talents earnestly. If you’re on board with that, then you have a place here.”

     “Oh, sweet!”

     “Everyone, welcome Nuria to the Four Hearts Choir,” Cwen orders. The applause is brief but joyous. None of the twelve pairs of eyes congratulating her induction appear furious or envious, but jovial. “Take your place and we’ll start rehearsal over from the beginning.” She hands Nuria the same lyric sheet everyone else possesses. “Follow the instructions on that sheet as we go over each section. At the end, we’ll go over the whole a couple of times. If you have any questions, just raise your hand.”

     The rehearsal reveals to Nuria more universal choir language and etiquette, such as using a different number of raised fingers to indicate soprano (1), alto (2), and tenor (3), two thumbs up to get louder (Nuria feels this was directed to her more than to the choir as a whole), and rotating fingers to repeat a chorus, verse or line. The more unique conductor commands that Cwen employs are snapping her fingers to command clapping, chopping her hand to signal rhythmic side-to-side bouncing, and tapping the side of her head to signal going back to the beginning of the song that Valine explains is the FHA anthem during a five-minute restroom break.

     Feeling refreshed, Nuria strokes her braid for even more confidence once Cwen announces they’re singing the anthem the whole way through. As she belts out lyrics louder than normal and catches a swift nod of approval from Cwen, the phoenix feels a level of bliss she’s missed for years. Not only is she able to finally sing aloud, but doing so with others again elates her spirit exceedingly. She and her choirmates launch into the last verse when her voice grows so loud that she sails off the back of the choir stand. She slams onto and slides across the linoleum floor, her banging against one of the snare drum stands by the wall.

     Nuria brushes the drum aside as she sits up and shakes her head. She sees multiples of everything as her ears ring. Cwen’s split images come together once she kneels at Nuria’s right.

     “Nuria, are you okay?”

     “Yeah,” she replies sluggishly. “What just happened?”

     “That’s what I want to ask you.”

     Nuria blinks, perplexed for only a moment. Wait, are my ears ringing? Does that mean… Her suspicions are confirmed when she sees every other choir member covering their ears. She knows how bad it looks when she smirks, making them think she did it on purpose, but she’s too excited.

     Sonic voice- check!

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