Of Thee I Sing

We Engels aren’t singers. I would say we sing off key, but no evidence of any recognizable key has ever been discovered coming from a mouth in my family. If the four of us became a barbershop quartet, audience members would be frisked for aptly-themed hidden razors, due to a real danger of their being used to slit our throats — or to slit their own. Even singing in the shower was forbidden at our house, since it amplified our tone-deaf crooning, and our dog Bobo would often howl in agony.

Now that I have clearly established that there were no Sinatras nor Streisands within the Engel clan, it seems all the more interesting that many of my friends have been wonderful singers. I have attended more chorales, ensembles, choruses, and vocal recitals than you could shake a conductor’s baton at. 

And before you email me stating that you can’t end a sentence (like my last one) with a preposition, forget it — now you can. That old prohibition was dubbed in 2005 “an outdated grammatical concept” by no less than the Cambridge Grammarians. My personal favorite authority on the subject was Winston Churchill. When asked by a snooty English professor if he scorned those ignorant types who ended sentences with a preposition, Churchill replied: “Yes, that is the kind of impertinence up with which I shall not put!”  

Now, where was I? Oh, yes, I wanted to introduce you to my favorite singer friend, Suzi, whom I met as an undergraduate in college. She was a music major at the single finest music school in this country. Perhaps you’ve heard of it: Indiana University? Trust me on this — my alma mater is the best. The academic Mecca of Music has always been located in the corn fields of southern Indiana. Suzi went to high school in Oregon but traveled to IU because of its world renowned voice department.

We actually bonded over our love of animals (and of punning). She helped put herself through school by working part-time at a pet shop at the University Mall. Suzi adored every kind of creature, from ferrets to parrots, with the exception of one: mice. They always elicited a tiny shriek of terror, no matter how hard she tried to like them. I would visit her at the shop occasionally and would find her humming the most lovely tunes to her menagerie of happy creatures. She claimed that the puppies seemed especially taken by “You Ain’t Nothing But A Hound Dog,” and the kittens favored Cat Stevens. I told you we loved punning, not that we were good at it.

One of the great perks of attending IU and knowing Suzi was that all music majors had to perform a recital before graduation. They would be evaluated by the professors, but the event would be open to the public. How much wondrous free entertainment my friends and I enjoyed at these events! We were treated to the best young musicians and singers, and Suzi always urged us to applaud wildly, hoping that our ovations might just sway a hard-nosed professor to bump up a final grade to a solid “A.”

Not surprisingly, Suzi’s recital was the best of the best. She put together a fantastic medley from West Side Story. With a mezzo-soprano range, her rendition of “Gee, Officer Krupke” was hilarious; her “Tonight” was haunting; and her “Somewhere (There’s a Place For Us)” was heartbreaking. She graduated with honors and moved to New York to pursue Broadway musicals.

Unfortunately, the musicals never pursued her back, but she soon became a popular vocal coach and earned enough income to live almost comfortably in Manhattan. In retirement, she once again found work at an upscale pet shop — this time “Bark Avenue Spoiled Brats.” 

I’m still chuckling over her last email. She told me that her pet shop recently received their first shipment of white mice. These conveniently tiny creatures are the trendy new pet for New Yorkers in their cramped apartments. Suzi admitted that she still occasionally squeals in a hushed tone when she passes their cages. As only my pun-loving pal could phrase it, she says that even now in retirement she is forced to “eek!” out a living! 

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