On Writing & Storytelling: Well, It Took a While, But I Eventually Came Up with 1K Words (and Eight to Spare)


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An excerpt from “The New Story” – No Really Big Spoilers, & It’s Based on a Real-Life Incident.

Interlude

South Miami Senior High School, December 8, 1981

1

Every school year, the choral groups at South Miami High worked hard to prepare for two concerts. One was the Winter (or Christmas) Concert in December; the other one was the Spring Concert in April. The advanced singers (I wasn’t one of them.) also went to the countywide competitions in the second half of the year. Thus, unlike members of the varsity sports teams, we singers only had a few chances to shine in front of our fellow Cobras.

As a result, we spent each semester practicing for our limited number of concerts. Usually, Mrs. Quincy would have us try as many as six or seven different songs per group, then whittle the number down to three or four based on how well we performed them in class.

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Most of us, including me, were content to just sing the songs in the program and not “do” a solo, even though we could earn extra credit if we did. I felt comfortable singing in the relative anonymity of the bass section, but the idea of standing on stage and belting out a song by myself terrified me. I had stage fright ever since I was a kid, and I hated being the center of attention.

So as the march of time progressed and the Winter/Christmas Concert loomed nearer on our horizon, I dutifully rehearsed along with the young men and women in our ensemble and left it at that. My philosophy on solos was clear – there was no way on Earth that I would do one.

However, I wasn’t counting on my chorus teacher’s determination to push me out of my comfort zone.

Mrs. Quincy didn’t threaten, cajole, or plead with me to pick a song for a solo performance in the December concert. She had casually asked me once or twice if I was interested in doing so, but I gracefully declined. I was terribly shy, and I also didn’t think I was a good singer on my own.

“Come on, Jim,” she would say. “You have a lovely voice. You should share it with the world.”

“Thanks, Mrs. Q,” I would reply. “But I’m happy just singing with the group.”

She would smile and nod, but I could see a glint in her eye that told me she wasn’t giving up on me.

Elizabeth Joan Quincy, however, wasn’t a woman who took “No” for an answer, and yet she wasn’t going to force me to sing a solo if I didn’t want to. She was a smart teacher and a keen observer of human nature, though, and she believed that I could do it. So, with great skill and subtlety, Mrs. Quincy tricked me!

Since most of us were not future music majors or members of the other music ensembles at South Miami, we didn’t have to study music theory or take long written mid-term or final exams in class. We were graded on attendance, conduct, and – of course – how well we learned and performed our assigned repertoire. Sometimes, for purely academic reasons, Mrs. Quincy would grade us on how well we mastered certain aspects of vocal training.

One day, she announced that we would have a test on vocal range.

“Mr. Garraty,” she said sweetly. “Would you mind singing the first lines of that song, please?”

I figured this was part of the midterm exam, so I said, “Sure, Mrs. Quincy.”

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I eased into the singer’s stance we’d all been taught in class, took a deep breath, then sang the opening lines of “Jingle Bell Rock” in a passable baritone:

Jingle bell, jingle bell, jingle bell rock

Jingle bells swing and jingle bells ring

I thought that was the extent of it and prepared to go back to my seat in the bass section, but Mrs. Quincy kept playing the piano. “Please sing the next line, Mr. Garraty.”

I raised my eyebrow quizzically at this, but I did as I was told. I listened to Mrs. Quincy as she replayed the first line of “Jingle Bell Rock” on the piano, then I joined in at the start of the second line:

Snowing and blowing up bushels of fun

Now the jingle hop has begun

I hoped that was enough, but Mrs. Quincy had other plans for me.

She stopped playing the piano and scribbled something in her notebook. I sighed with relief.

Okay, I thought. That was an easy mid-term exam! Once again, I made my way to my folding chair and silently congratulated myself for not messing up the vocal exercise.

“Okay, that was nicely done, Mr. Garraty,” she said, looking at me with a smile. “I’m putting you down for a solo in next week’s concert.”

“Whoa!” I exclaimed, almost falling off my chair.

I said that singing “Jingle Bell Rock” in class was one thing and singing it in front of several hundred spectators was another, but Mrs. Quincy would have none of it. “You can sing it, Jim,” she said with the quiet but firm authority that the best instructors seem to have.

“But the concert is only a week away,” I protested even as I felt my resistance begin to weaken.

She saw that I was wracked with self-doubt, so she sweetened the pot, so to speak. “Okay. Here’s what we’ll do. Just sing it during the first assembly. I won’t make you sing it at the other assemblies if you don’t want to. But do it once because I know you can do it.”

My mind reeled as it tried to come up with reasons why singing a solo was a bad idea, but I knew there weren’t any valid ones. “Jingle Bell Rock” is not a complicated song, it’s within my vocal range, and it is a nice, upbeat holiday song. And I only had to sing it once. For these reasons, I reluctantly agreed.

As I sat back down on my chair, I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. How in the world, I wondered, did she trick me into this?

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Published by Alex Diaz-Granados

Alex Diaz-Granados (1963- ) began writing movie reviews as a staff writer and Entertainment Editor for his high school newspaper in the early 1980s and was the Diversions editor for Miami-Dade Community College, South Campus' student newspaper for one semester. Using his experiences in those publications, Alex has been raving and ranting about the movies online since 2003 at various web sites, including Amazon, Ciao and Epinions. In addition to writing reviews, Alex has written or co-written three films ("A Simple Ad," "Clown 345," and "Ronnie and the Pursuit of the Elusive Bliss") for actor-director Juan Carlos Hernandez. You can find his reviews and essays on his blogs, A Certain Point of View and A Certain Point of View, Too.

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