I have moved. It was time. I had been in Los Angeles for 17 years – longer than I have lived anywhere else. I was born in Chicago, and only a few months later, spirited away to Eugene, OR, where dad was getting his Architecture degree. When I was five, we moved to Billings, MT for a cool six months – literally. This was where I stood waiting for the school bus at snowdrifts taller than I was. It was where my first, beloved cat, froze to death. My parents didn’t enjoy Billings much more than I did, and we moved to Kearns, UT (well, first to a small cottage on a large estate on the outskirts of SLC, that had been a sister-wife house back in the day) and I spent my school-aged years the only brunette -ski amongst a sea of tow-headed -sens. Right after puberty, we moved to a suburb of Chicago, an experience nearly as fraught as the season in Billings. It was not a good time for me, but I survived my teen years in suburbia, spent a few years of young adulthood in New York City, and a few in Milwaukee, before ending up in LA.
Seventeen years is a long damn time. I would never have guessed I would have survived that long, but I did. Eventually though, the cost of living, my aging out of young adulthood, my consistently quiescent job, and the growing economic disparities became wearing. De’s stretch of unemployment didn’t help, but ultimately it was her job that got us out of the downwardly-mobile trajectory we had begun even before the corporate mismanagement came to a head.
And now I am here – nearly back where I started. She gave me the same offer she did when she got the job in LA: want to move and split the rent? It wasn’t a difficult decision. My industry is circling the drain. I surely wouldn’t have my job more than a few more years, and even had I continued, rents were rising so fast I would have been spending a huge portion of my income to live in a bad apartment in a bad neighborhood, knowing that no future job would come close to paying me enough to live on. Besides, I’m never sure what to answer when someone wants to know where I’m from – what’s my home town – maybe the greater Portland area could be that town? After all, it’s not like I had any attachments to LA.
Except… about six years ago, I went with a friend to a concert by Vox Femina Los Angeles, in which another friend was singing. It was a singular experience. This was no glee-club, or barbershop chorus, or bunch of well-meaning ladies singing their hearts out – which I am not disparaging – the world could use a good deal more group singing; it’s healing and inspiring and everyone should get to experience it. But for myself, as a trained musician who studied musical theatre performance, and has loved choral music since I was a wee toddler in Eugene, hearing a professional group is always a revelation. While the singers are all volunteers, Vox is a professional-caliber group, who with the leadership of Artistic Director Iris Levine, and pianist Lisa Edwards, sing of women’s experiences, so often dismissed, bringing beauty and harmony and enlightenment to their audiences. I was touched…
…So much so that about five years ago, I auditioned for them. Reader, I did not get in. I gave it an extra year off to get my shit together, and thought I’d give it another try. Three years ago, I succeeded. I was on my way to joining them for their 20th anniversary year. As much as the chorus meant to me as an audience member, it was increased at least ten-fold as a participant. Every woman in the group is a wonderful singer, better than me. As a musician, being an an ensemble that out-classes you is a great way to challenge yourself to get up to that level. I had not been musically challenged in years. But even more than that, there is an ineffable strength in a group of women. There was a social comfort I felt in that group that I rarely got anywhere else. When the 2016 election results came in, we were in a rehearsal. We spent time mourning, crying. And then we rehearsed harder through the sobbing. What would I have done that week without them?
The music, as well as being diverse and challenging, always had something to say. For several years I sang in a church choir, and was always fascinated by how singing something in a group, with intent, sometimes felt like it opened the universe to me. For someone who has wobbled along the path of agnosticism-gnosticism-atheism-secular-humanism for the better part of two decades, having a non-religious message we were all focused on was like spell-craft.
We sang at the 2017 Women’s March. We sang on stages that are usually occupied by world-class symphony orchestras and chorales, jazz ensembles and cabaret artists. We sang in a hollywood recording studio for a Grammy-winning artist’s record. We sang with three other womens’ choruses from around the world. There were some moments that were so transcendant that I was certain the constellations themselves would be rearranged the next time I looked.
(I suppose right here I should offer a small apology/explanation to my fellow choristers. If I have one regret, it’s that I didn’t let people get to know me for at least half my time. I am a natural introvert, and also, had just a little bit of the exact right kind of trauma at just the most appropriate age that I learned to hang back, get the lay of the land, and observe for about a year before getting involved. If I had realized how limited my time was going to be, I would have pushed past my wariness a little faster. You are all super-cool, intimidatingly interesting women, so please don’t consider it snobbishness on my part.)
Iris has pointed me to a women’s chorus in this area, led by a composer whom I’m pretty sure we’ve sung at each concert since I’ve been in Vox, and I will be looking into it as soon as their season starts up again in the fall… but of course it will not be the same.
The worst part about this move was the timing; if it had been three weeks different in either direction, I would have been able to sing in the last concert of this season, in which Vox will share the stage with our immensely talent trans and non-binary siblings in the Trans Chorus of Los Angeles. But the stresses and requirements of a long-ish distance move do not allow for much time to be given to practice, to rehearsal, to commitment. And I am bereft.
But I am here now, listening to frogs croak a dissonant and intermittant chorus, instead of with my sisters, hashing out the last regular rehearsal before the concert. Aside from the amphbians, it’s quiet. I’m surrounded by green, by fresh air. There are no helicopters hovering meters away from my balcony. This morning I got up, opened up my laptop, and continued the process of slowly fading away from my job as I trained my successor. Since we passed the Shasta National Forest – once we were near Crater Lake on the drive up here – I’ve felt… something. A “rightness”. Portland is not so far from Eugene – was I homesick all this time? Maybe this can be my home-town – and a little piece of my heart always in that LAFCC rehearsal room.