I grew up in a culture that had stripped itself of most forms of release. We were not to drink alcohol or take drugs, dance, use language of any extreme, have pre-marital sex, or dress what was inappropriately. Our churches were not even adorned with the usual accoutrements such as crosses or gold-plated fixtures or figurines. The church I attended while growing up had white walls, a plain wood cathedral ceiling, no crosses, no incense, and no foreign languages, aside from the occasional German hymn. Our plain brown hymnals did not even have gilded lining in the impression of the title on the cover. When we got a new pastor, he suggested putting up tasteful wood carvings of the letters alpha and omega, and it took a lot of committee discussions and a vote before they materialized on either side of the sanctuary. Even then, some members of the congregation never came to accept such a showy display.

Every culture needs some kind of outlet, and the Mennonites afforded precisely two: work and singing.

The work end of things never did endear itself to me. I much preferred long afternoons curled up with books or daydreaming on the roof. The singing did not seem to do all it could, either, but I think that was mostly due to the confines of the genre. Work being the nonstarter that it was, singing it was for me. And I did. A lot.

From Sunday to Saturday, I sang before Sunday School, in Sunday School, during the church service, in Junior Worship (a kid-centred thing during the last half of the adult worship that I think was an excuse to keep us from seeing our parents drink the communion wine), at girls' club, at choir practice, at youth group, at home with my parents, and at certain times I also sang at summer camp, church retreats, youth conferences, in a recording studio, and a variety of other events populated by fellow Mennos.

We didn't drink with, dance with, or fornicate with each other, so we sang our anabaptist lungs out.

After graduating from the Mennonite high school I boarded at for two years, I used the transition back into city life as an excuse to weed out that old-fangled religion, and that put an end to most of my singing opportunities. There were no more choirs or conferences or church services at which to harmonize with my polite alto voice. I now spent Sunday mornings swaddled in a salvaged quilt (I used to be a fox of a dumpster diver), and I was more apt to be found playing games of Scrabble over pitchers of beer than learning to knit Christmas stockings in a bible study cum craft class. I did not miss the religion part in the least, but the singing, oh the singing. Something inside felt a little lost, a little neglected, without the regular exercise of my young vocal chords.

I found my own opportunities to let the singing out of me. In my early twenties, I learned every word to Camper Van Beethoven's "All Her Favourite Fruit" and sang it loudly whenever I was left alone in the house. I worked obsessively to learn the words and music to Joni Mitchell's "The Last Time I Saw Richard", which I would belt out under a bridge in the middle of the night if the drunk was just right. I secretly composed my own songs in the bathtub, humming bubbles of tune into the bathwater to hide it from my awkward roommates. At one point, I attended a couple of choir practices at my old church, but I felt there was too much of a divide between who I was becoming and the past the people there saw me through to continue going. I lied about other commitments and never went back.

As time has moved on, I have sung less and less. I no longer sing while drunk, I have stopped reading cd liners to find out about those muffled lines in the third verse, and the last time I composed a song it was a farcical bastardization of Sir Mix-A-Lot's "I Like Big Butts". It is a sad state of affairs for a soul that grew up singing day and night, but that is going to change. Soon.

I was at a friend's cd release party on Friday night, and the opening group was a female barbershop quartet. They did the Andrews Sisters and some other barbershop standards, and I was enthralled. The harmonies, the feelgoodness, the jazz hands: I was on the edge of my seat anticipating the next verse. In between performances, I met a woman who sings in a larger group with the women from the quartet, and she invited me to join them at their next practice and check the situation out. I was completely goofy with the thrill of possibly singing with a bunch of older women and almost gave her the wrong telephone number in my excitement.

All the women in the group seem to be anywhere from their mid-fifties to their seventies, and for some reason, this makes the whole thing that much more enticing. It won't be a fashion show or bellyaching about five pounds here or there or women bemoaning their lack or inadequacy of their man. At least I hope not. Oh gawd, am I stereotyping older women as interesting human beings? Forgive me.

I haven't sung in a group in a long time, so I am all nervous about whether or not I will show myself well. Will I be able to hit the notes properly? Will I be able to follow sheet music after so long? Will they want me to sing them something alone as some kind of audition? Will they like me?

I'm off to eat some aspirin, put on my lucky shirt/sweater combination, and do some deep breathing, because the woman who invited me is picking me up in half an hour. Wish me luck!

Barbershop Rawks My House