The Fiddler Narrator

I stared into the dim sanctuary, throat dry, and mind going blank.  My cue was coming, and I was not ready.  Why, oh tell me why, did I ever audition for this?

But I am getting ahead of myself.

My family had not belonged to the state homeschool group until my sophomore year of highschool.  Although we attended the homeschool convention sponsored by the group, we had not felt a need to be a part of it till that year.  We joined for a couple of reasons, one being that my oldest brother wanted to play his clarinet in the homeschool band before auditioning for the local youth orchestra.  Another was that I wanted to sing in the homeschool choir.

I’ve always liked to sing.  When I was little, I would even make up songs and tunes of my own, simple and repetitive.  I sang a duet with my father when I was only eight or nine.  So when I heard about the homeschool choir, I was very eager to join.

The rehearsals were in the choir loft of a church.  It was a half hour drive for us, but I gather that most of the other kids were from that area, so the location was actually almost central.  I remember being very shy the first day, but one of the other girls, we’ll call her Chelsea, introduced herself and some of the others.  We hadn’t much time to talk since our director was getting us organized by voice, but I did feel better to have someone reach out to me.

I have to smile every time I remember the bunch of us lining up by height.  Our director did that to help her get us in some semblance of order as we would be sitting.  I was the fifth tallest.  Chelsea’s brother and Chelsea herself were the tallest in the group, with two other boys just topping me.  I’ve since figured out that I was older than almost everyone, too.  Chelsea was a senior, but though I pegged two or three others as older than me, I later learned that they were my year or younger.  It’s a tough age to gauge.

Half way through the semester, our director held auditions for several solos.  She was going to have a small group sing “Amazing Grace,” and she needed a couple of people to do single lines in our “Fiddler on the Roof” medley.  “Fiddler” also had an opening narration.

I auditioned for the soprano part, though I was also slightly interested in the narrator part.  I did not want to try out for both, and I preferred to sing.  As soon as I finished singing, however, I knew that I had not done very well.  I went first, for one thing, and in front of everyone else I was extremely nervous.

The next week, our director announced the people who would be singing “Amazing Grace.”  A group of three girls had gotten the soprano part.  Chelsea and another girl were going to do the alto line together.  Then she said that they were going to re-audition for the narrator part because they could not decide who to give it to.

I quickly realized why they were re-auditioning for narrator.  The first week, three or four of the younger choristers had tried out, the oldest being eleven and very shy.  The most personality was shown by the eight year old, but he spoke too fast to be understood.  I resolved to audition unless someone from the bass section did.  The part was supposed to be a guy, anyway.

When our director asked for a show of hands of who was interested in auditioning, I raised mine.  She asked if I would start off, but I shook my head.  I had learned the previous week that I needed a moment to collect myself.  The younger kids went first, and then I was ready.  I stood up and read out the lines quite convincingly.

“A fiddler on the roof.  Sounds crazy, no?  But in our little village of Anatevka, you might say everyone of us is a fiddler on the roof! … ”

I doubt anyone was surprised when I got the part.  None of the guys stepped up, not even the director’s brother, who was on the debate team.  I guess I’ll always wonder at the lack of nerve they had.  And I thought I was inclined to be shy and reserved!

The director told me the week before our performance that the younger kids were imitating my rendition of the lines.  I’d been working hard on projecting and on keeping the narration within the time allowed – it had to finish before the first lines of the first song – so that piece of encouragement was welcome.  I was more confident on the day of the performance that I would have expected to be.

Then I developed nerves backstage.  I fought it to some extent by helping out.  We all wore white shirts and black skirts, pants, socks, shoes, etc., and the guys all wore red ties while the girls had red roses to pin on.  I pinned roses on for several of the other girls after figuring out my own.  It helped as a distraction.

Then we lined up to go on stage.  I wound up leading the procession of students.  I was the tallest soprano (Chelsea sang alto), so I had been placed on one end to help balance the height of the basses.  We had the sopranos on one side, basses on the other, with the altos in the middle.  Being on the end made it easier for me to walk forward to do my narration.  Well, easier physically.  Mentally was a whole different ball of wax.

“Fiddler” was our last piece, so I had time to calm down and be confident.  Then it was time to step forward.  All the nerves came back.  Somehow I made it up to the front, took a deep breath, and started on cue.  I remember noticing that my voice sounded strange, but I just kept going, trying to be as loud as possible.

I got to the end and went back to my place as the rest of the choir started singing “Tradition.”  Once back where I belonged, I could relax and sing again.  We finished the program on a high note, and we were generously applauded.  The soloists and I were applauded specifically, and I got several comments afterward from audience members and from other choristers.

I say the lines over every once in awhile.  I could do it so much better now if I had to do it again.  But wonder whether that would have been true if I had never bitten the bullet and auditioned, never put all that practice in to get ready, and never stood on that stage and fought my fear to speak my lines.  Interesting thought.  Wish I had thought of it as a shy, nervous sophomore on that stage!

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