The Final Act

Dyce had not been paying attention.

‘Why are we singing at that opera do?’

‘What are you on about?’

‘It hasn’t been passed by the committee you know.’

‘So what?’

A different accompanist was seated at the piano.

‘Lets do the Nabucco, ready for Friday,’ suggested Dilwyn after the warm-up.

‘Oh, what’s happening Friday?’

‘Its been on the board for weeks.’

‘But its not an official choir concert.’ Dilwyn was aroused.

‘How many are coming?’ he demanded. Eight hands were raised.

‘That’s it then, the job’s gone. I’ll have to get some other singers in.’

‘But you knew the numbers would be small; there’s a list.’

‘I thought I could have relied on you. You’ve let me down.’

As a number of people speak at once, he rounds on the choir, like a cornered animal.

‘I only want those who are singing Friday.’ The rest were dismissed. Some went home; some hung around for a drink. The following day, twenty choristers signed a petition and an Extraordinary General Meeting was convened.

The choir sat in rows as if at rehearsal. No piano.

Instead a table covered with a red cloth stood in front of the rows. Darren, the secretary, Bernard the new chairman (Baz has resigned) and Dilwyn. Dilwyn has sheets of material on his knee. Darren is his own man, the choir’s man, a detail man. Bernard has always been part of Dilwyn’s mafia, along with Bart and others from those dim days when the choir was founded. Darren hands out paper.

Up jumped Tony, ‘Its not appropriate to have Dilwyn sat in on this.’

‘Why not?’ asked Bernard.

Several opinions on points of order were raised, with increasing confusion from Bernard. Dyce could see that Bernard was no chairman. Tony in particular had him on toast. And Bert who for once was not asking futile musical questions. Dilwyn rescued him and offered to leave, to return later to put his case. Bernard wasn’t happy. Darren studiously remained silent.

The case against Dilwyn was contained in the paper handouts. The immediate issue was the escalation of rude behaviour culminating in the fracas at the last rehearsal. The members were getting tired, some frightened to attend for fear of angry outbursts, and this was at least the second time it had gone way over the top. He must resign.

Bert was the most eloquent in reply. Value the professional background, the singing expertise. The choir would never had got this far without him. Sure he was grumpy but the choir could stomach that for the sake of the other.

Crime of crimes, this was new, someone suggested he wasn’t a great conductor – expert in singing maybe. Some of the songs were naff. So it went, back and forth. Dilwyn’s mafia, Tony, Bert the silent majority listening on, undecided.

Then it was Dilwyn’s turn.

‘I took twenty or so ruffians off the street, and made them into a male voice choir. We started with twelve or so, soon increasing to 20. We got a repertoire going some Welsh hymns and a spot of Verdi. A few bookings.’ Dyce knew it wasn’t a virtuoso choir, but it was something. Dyce could see it just there, the bullying, the pride and the passion. He’d lead and others had followed. He’d the vision, the inspiration and the drive. He expected an uncritical loyalty based on hero worship possibly – or whatever you call it. He wasn’t going to back down over the question of throwing people out of the rehearsal, though he was apologetic the first time when he’d been rude. This unrepentance was directly against the support he’d relied upon all the life of the choir.

Then the coup de gras – ‘This is the worst committee I have ever worked with’

That moment of dismissal, as the Greeks say, was ‘hamartia’, the false step. Right there, right in that moment, he lost what good will he had left. His beef was with the committee, but he took it out on us. A politician he isn’t.

It had to stop, of course, and last week it did. In the final act of our tragedy, Len resigns, following a vote of no confidence by the rank and file. It started innocently enough, though some seeds had been sewn.

The great tragic parts, for example, Oedipus and King Lear, are moral and courageous characters – neglectful maybe, but not wicked. Their scripts have a common theme. Within an ordered world, events do not occur by chance. Whilst defying order is a magnificent gesture of the human spirit, it will result in suffering. Overconfidence (‘hubris’) will be punished by downfall (‘nemesis’).

Was Len simply neglectful, out of touch with members’ feelings? Or was he ambitious, using the choir to further his own fame and fortune? Maybe the real question is ‘Who is Len?’ – few of us know him well. Bald and portly, he is an unlikely looking vehicle for conflicting and tempestuous behaviour. He’s sung with many opera stars in many far-flung places, so he’s streetwise. Then there’s the supportive and encouraging teacher and parent. Does this describe a man who cuts his own nose off to spite his face? The choir was his project, and he is one of the few founder members that remain. What do founders think and feel about their projects? Ownership and jealousy are a powerful twosome. But where does the brittleness come from? His musical credentials are impeccable, so why the anger and insecurity? Endings are sad events whatever. The fall of the great man, the collapse of a dream, the ruin of ten years work should therefore be mightily saddening. Yet it doesn’t appear to be. Len’s ‘hubris’ is still in tact. Is he really Walter Mitty, not King Lear?

However, without Len noticing, the choir has ceased to be solely his.

Dyce and many others were as sickened and saddened as Dilwyn must have been – Dyce had no evidence. The tantrums, the singing expertise and the leadership. Sometimes a struggle to follow, the route obscured, often when the terrain was at its most arduous. But there’s always you sidemen. When you slip they support you and when you fall they help you up.

Midlife is a wonderful and cruel time. Many have adjusted massively, following events beyond their control. Yet most will admit they had a hand in their misfortune. There was a retreat and friends and there was some healing, a sort of survival which some say is the better for our experiences.

Len’s demise is very public. There’s a lot of vulnerability here as any football manager would attest, particularly if you’ve assembled the players, trained them and got them into the league. Football managers and musical directors seem to tolerate reversal as part of their lot, soon bouncing back somewhere else. Maybe this is the part of Len’s story that is missing for me – his history of resilience in adversity. Maybe this has all happened before and he was prepared for it to happen again. His closeness and commitment to the project were tempered by a remoteness from the people. I don’t know, but maybe being out of touch protected him from the mutiny he knew somehow would happen. He forsaw the end and was ready.

Dyce does not think it can happen twice.