The ad called for “People of good will and a Christmas spirit to join a caroling group, talent not important. I thought I’d fit right in.
But on the first rehearsal night when I was just warming up, they adjourned in mid-Tannenbaum and became evasive when I asked about the next meeting date. “Our plans are indefinite,” they said. “We might disband.”
“I don’t understand, ” I said. “Everyone was so enthusiastic and then we sing one carol and we might disband?” There was a lot of hemming and hawing about a city noise ordinance and then old Mrs. Higginbottom, our leader, asked me, “Would you classify yourself as a baritone, or a bass or, or …. what?”
“It varies, Mrs. Higginbottom. My voice teacher said I sometimes go from basso profundo to soprano on the same note.”
“You have a voice teacher? !”
“I did until her sudden early retirement, but what has that got to do with our disbanding?”
They all looked at Mrs. Higginbottom as she nervously twisted her tuning fork. “We find it difficult to work with your rather….er….unusual singing voice. Would you be interested in another part, like….like humming. We really could use a talented hummer.”
“Never could master that. Can’t whistle or play the kazoo either.”
I arrived ten minutes early at the next rehearsal, surprised to hear them in full swing. So I jumped right into the fa la la’s of “Deck the Halls” until I noticed I was singing a solo. I realized then the reason they’d stopped was that Mrs. Higginbottom had fainted and fallen into the piano. Another cancelled rehearsal and with Christmas just around the corner!
I received no more practice notices and began to think our little chorale was finished when I saw a tiny newspaper notice. The Higginbottom Carolers would be strolling that very night!
I caught up with them on Halsey Avenue singing “Good King Wenceslas” to smiling families standing on their front porches. I joined right in and at first thought we had a bass drum accompaniment, but soon realized the percussion sounds were caused by doors slamming. I was surprised to see when I looked around that Mrs. Higginbottom and the others were leaving, actually running down the road.
I decided to strike out alone, found a nice quiet neighborhood and began an emotional rendition of one of my favorite carols, “Silent Night”. I was just into the second chorus when I was interrupted by the arrival of several police cars.
I never found out what all the commotion was about with people running from their houses, dogs howling and policemen flashing lights around. Some said they’d heard the pitiful screams of a wounded animal. Others speculated it might have been a landscaper on a late leaf-blowing job or running his shredder, or both.
“Officer, you shouldn’t have used your siren. You frightened away whatever it was,” a woman complained.
“Ma’am, we didn’t use our sirens.”
“But I distincly heard a siren,” she replied. “In fact, I remember thinking it was off key.”