Miss McAfee taught fourth grade girls. Short enough to wear high heels all the time and stylish enough to feather her hair, I was most enthralled by her manicured fingernails. They curved down over the tips of her fingers so as to appear long while still allowing her to play the piano without clicking the keys. They were always painted.
Miss Langdon taught first grade. Wearing jumpers and clogs, with straight chestnut hair and bangs, she, too, was enthralling. Her lip-glossed smile and bobby-pinned hair were fascinating. She directed the elementary choir, which is where our paths crossed. I had been singing since second grade, and this year my sister, Deborah, would join the choir. She sang soprano. I sang alto.
Together we sang for our family and friends.
Miss Langdon and Miss McAfee were a musical team, one directing, the other accompanying. Both were superstars, in my opinion. The dynamic duo. Rehearsals involved us sitting in pews in the church sanctuary, in some kind of order, listening for our notes and echoing our director.
Miss Langdon would direct Miss McAfee to strike the interval on the piano, motioning the difference in pitch with her hands, singing each group’s note distinctly while leading into All things Bright and Beautiful or I Would Like to Know or Michael Finnegan.
Molding my arm to the curved, carved pew rest at the end of the row, I watched Miss Langdon’s directing pattern for whatever song we were singing. Sometimes she swayed back and forth, her long hair waving from side-to-side, a motion that I would try to imitate in front of a mirror at home while practicing conducting myself.
Music was a joy to me.
My dad was the minister of music at Capitol Baptist Church, and hymns were a big part of my background. So was church every Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday night. Special Music, Choral presentations, and favorite hymn night were all ways the monotony of church was broken up for me.
I was fascinated by the singers in their choir robes. Especially intriguing was the lady who sang tenor, which was obviously a man’s part in my childish mind. It was interesting to see her female face mixed in on the men’s side of the choir. I always listened for individual voices and vibratos, even though they were supposed to blend into one sound. I always watched the mouths as music poured out of them. Such expressions!
There was the male tenor whose voice reminded me of a sheep or goat’s bleating, the elderly soprano with shrill vibrato, and, of course, that woman who sang low like a man. All blended together to make a joyful noise. A joyful, slightly off-key, small church choir noise.
And I was fascinated.
Choir brought out my voice. It gave me confidence.
This confidence was further built one morning in that fourth grade girls’ classroom.
Miss McAfee passed out a song to our class for opening exercises. My Country Tis of Thee was photocopied from a hymnbook or other song book and placed into each of our hands. We began singing. I confidently read the alto line, blending a harmony with the voices around me.
Almost immediately a hand was raised or a voice was raised or some sort of alert was raised.
Miss McAfee, Julie isn’t singing the song the right way.
My teacher’s response was kind and endearing and wise.
Actually she is reading the alto line. Julie comes from a musical family and can read music and harmonize by ear, as well. She is musical.
Class continued. We sang. I felt affirmed and seen and recognized and heard.
I was musical. I was understood. Thank you, Miss McAfee.