New songs were easier. All the choir started from scratch and learned together. Dyce’s first was Evening’s Pastorale, an unaccompanied evocation of country life at the end of the day. Within a month or so it was taking shape and the choir sang it at a couple of concerts. It seemed to go well enough but Dilwyn dropped it from the repertoire. When it reappeared six months or so later, it was obvious that Dilwyn hadn’t consider it up to performance standard.
‘Baritones, you’re not all on the right note. Do it again,’ said Dilwyn.
Familiar froth appeared at the corners of his mouth and his voice took on a strangled quality, restrained but on the edge of losing it, ‘One of you is flat. Again.’
Several of the baritones, including the culprit, opened their mouths but made no sound. The solo in question was in tune at last, but rather quiet. Dilwyn stood motionless, looking down at the floor as if weighing up his next move. He then pulled a face as if to say he had no option and it would hurt him more than them.
‘We haven’t time to keep on at this. I know who it is and he’s spoiling the piece. I’ve been thinking about auditions for a while now. A week on Wednesday. Just the baritones.’
At the break, the small groups formed and reformed, but more hushed and animated than usual, if that were possible. Dyce noted those who seemed to be leading the discussions, the opinion-makers. They talked out of the corners of their mouths and kept looking over their shoulders. Bill came and sat with him, ‘Quite a stir’, he said.
‘Well yes. Is someone really singing a bum note?’
‘Dilwyn’s the pro’, said Bill.
A fresh-faced forty odd year old detached himself from one of the groups. Dyce had spotted him, chirpy and putting himself about, ‘I’m Peter,’ they shook hands, ‘Dilwyn can’t do this. Someone has got to say something’.
‘Are we out of tune?’ Dyce asked.
‘Its Cedric’, Peter looked over his shoulder and indicated one of the men Dilwyn had brought to the evening class. He’d sung a lovely version of Molly Malone.
Dilwyn played a piano chord, but before he could get the second half underway, Bill had put his hand up, ‘Can I ask a question? Is it really necessary to have auditions?’
Dilwyn looked as if he might have a stroke. Dyce sensed those around him stiffen.
‘I say what happens here. I’m qualified and you’re not. If I say we’re having auditions, then we’re having auditions. Alright?’
Bill’s face tightened and clearly it was not alright.
A soothing low voice came from away on the left, ‘Dilwyn. We’re not questioning your musical prowess. We’ve never had auditions. Is there another way?’
Dilwyn stuck his jaw out and made the challenge, ‘If there is then you can get somebody else to conduct.’
Nothing was said and no one moved or breathed.
‘Right,’ he said, ‘let’s get on.’
He kept his word. Eight days later, Dyce and Bill sat with six or seven others in a back room waiting their turn. It smelled of polish and was full of small wooden tables and chairs apart from a couple of bookcases containing large thin hard-backs. Faint sounds of singing and piano leaked in from the rehearsal room.
The door to the main corridor of the school opened and Boyd walked in smiling, ‘Lost and late again. How’s it going?’
‘Just started,’ said Bill.
‘Not many here. Where are the rest of the tossers?’ Boyd enjoyed choosing his words unwisely. His middle names were political and incorrect. Rumour had it The BNP refused him membership for being too right wing.
‘Don’t suppose the front row think they need to come,’ said Riggs, ‘they’ll be combing their ‘air in front of a mirror instead.’ Riggs used to be short and fat until his wife saw him at a concert. She said he was too conspicuous and put him on a diet. So he got thin and inconspicuous. Didn’t stop him from deflating the odd overblown baritone.
‘Cedric won’t be here. I bumped into him yesterday,’ said Gerald. ‘I think he’s a bit sickened by all this.’
‘Strange,’ said Bill, ‘but I feel nervous.’
Rick flinched, ‘Don’t feel too nervous or you’ll start fainting. Last time you finished up in hospital with a pacemaker.’
‘I’m not picking you up off the floor again,’ agreed Dyce.
Bill chuckled. They swung round as the door to the rehearsal room creaked open. Bob came in and swapped with Rick.
Bob was permanently puzzled. Very little made sense to him. He wore two watches, one on each arm, ‘What a carry on.’
‘Anything happen?’ asked Bill.
‘I did bits of two songs, Gwaholiadd and that solo from Pastorale, and that was it.’
‘Did you pass?’
‘Don’t know, didn’t ask.’ He shook his head and put on his coat. Then he wasn’t there. Like a butler he’d withdrawn.
They each dutifully underwent their audition, sat between two baritones with strong and reliable voices, members of the front row. Presumably Dilwyn didn’t need to check them out.
Dyce couldn’t manage the top notes, but what he did was in tune. The two sidemen were helpful. Less of an ordeal; less exposure with them there. Bert and Cliff. Cliff left soon after to turn professional. Bert was more difficult to work out because he rarely stayed in one place long enough to be worked out. He was lost, busy, alone, and tired. Committed to the choir and yet committed elsewhere. He could sing but too often for Dilwyn’s patience he asked questions about the music and for it to be replayed, ‘We don’t need to go over all that now. Have you listened to your tapes?’ Whatever Bert replied, Dilwyn would go incandescent, ‘I’m the only professional here and I will not have my opinion questioned.’ Bert went through phases of wanting to leave but never did and here he was, a sideman at an audition.
The audition became part of the folklore that grew up around Dilwyn. Dyce often wondered why they’d turned up and not others? The front rowers would have been too good. Had Dilwyn asked them to stay away? There’d be those who didn’t go just for narks. But ten or so had gone. Admitting they were weak singers, needing the reassurance of a humiliating audition? Strange, Evening’s Pastorale was a peaceful piece and yet it had blown up such a storm.
No one passed or failed. Dyce never heard Dilwyn refer to it. An unexpected shared rite of passage and they’d survived, and had a laugh. Dyce felt more accepted. Finally getting to feel at home.
Cedric never came to choir again.