Local Lifestyle

Monday, Oct 21 2013 12:02 PM

HERB BENHAM: Knowing your own voice a re-choir-ment here

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Herb Benham

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By HERB BENHAM, Californian columnist hbenham@bakersfield.com

I tried out for the Bakersfield Master Chorale recently. It is Bakersfield's pre-eminent chorale, it's almost impossible to get into and only the truly gifted and musically brilliant even think about auditioning.

I made it, but what would you expect?

I was anxious despite my impeccable credentials. During the first rehearsal, after the scales, we began singing the "Messiah."

The "Messiah"? How about something hard? I'm surprised we didn't tackle Berlioz's "Requiem" or Wagner's "Ring Cycle."

"You want to sing with the tenors?" a friendly-looking guy asked, when I walked into the Blue Room at the First Assembly of God.

"Sandy will never know."

"Sandy" was a reference to the late Sandy Venturino, the woman from whom I took voice lessons.

Sandy pegged me as a bass but I told her I wanted to be a tenor because while there were many recordings of The Three Tenors, The Three Basses have not received similar billing.

"No, I'd better stick to the bass section," I said, thinking that Sandy might use musical migration as an opportunity to pay the chorale a visit and sort out my bass/tenor indiscretion.

I had another reason for not joining the tenors. I wanted to blend in and mind my manners. Although choral director Robert Provencio struck me as an affable man, who knows what might set him him on a baton-throwing rant.

I was a provisional. I might as well have been sent by a temp agency. I was on probation.

Auditions lay ahead. Not everybody would make it, Provencio warned us. If I started jumping sections, I could be one of one of those people pushed off the back of the risers.

The competition was formidable. Everybody had a good voice. I found myself complimenting one choir member after another.

"God, you have a great voice."

They must think I'm strange. Of course they can sing. They're in a choir.

The I'm-new-to-the-choir jitters evaporated after the first few measures of the "Messiah." I fell in love. Head-over-heels love.

There is nothing like singing in a choir. Even if you aren't singing accurately, in key or on time. The sound is magical and you want to open a vein and have the magic flow in you.

Auditions were scheduled after the second rehearsal. I lined up on the side of the room, where we would await our turn to sing "America the Beautiful" or "Amazing Grace." Our choice.

I chose "America the Beautiful" because I didn't want to sing one more forgettable version of "Amazing Grace."

I started in on "America the Beautiful." I wasn't as nervous as I thought I would be but I probably wasn't as good as I thought I was either.

"You're musical," Provencio said. "You're pretty good."

"Pretty good?" Robert Preston is my godfather and John Prine is my son. If my writing career wasn't going so well, I'd join a traveling company, like a circus.

A few days later, I received an email. I was in. Before I cerebrated my brilliant audition, I read on. The choir was short tenors and basses. I could have brought the mailman and a technician from the Kern Mosquito and Vector Control District and they would have made it.

The Christmas program, scheduled for Dec. 7, includes "Carol of the Drum" -- also known as "The Little Drummer Boy -- a piece that has the tenors and basses singing "prum pum pum prum," while the altos and sopranos carry the melody.

To quote a Waylon Jennings song, "Are you sure Hank done it this way?"

That song makes me want to jump over the tenors and join the sopranos.

Sandy might not approve. I'd like to make her proud. Even if I have to sing "prum pum pum prum" while the women have all the fun.

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