My daughter has been singing some strange songs around the house lately. By strange, I mean unfamiliar. If that’s the case, why didn’t I say “unfamiliar” instead of “strange”? I don’t know. They are unfamiliar to me, not to her. If they were unfamiliar to her, I doubt she would be singing them. Like Czechoslovakian folk tunes – I never hear her singing those, because she is not familiar with them. Nor am I, so if she were singing them, I would not know. Maybe those are the songs she’s been singing. I don’t think she’s Czechoslovakian. I have never seen her wear a babushka.
It wasn’t until a day before my daughter’s chorus recital, when ex-Mrs. Rub told me it was the following day and we needed to have her to the school by 6:30 in the evening that I realized my daughter was in the school chorus. I think I may have been aware of this fact, but honestly, I pretend my way through life so much, I’m not always sure what is reality and what is that giant potato in the shape of Abe Vigoda doing on my couch! Oh, no worry, he is merely petting the dog. This, the chorus recital, not the Abe Vigoda potato, explains my daughter’s singing behavior of late.
I arrived at the school multi-purpose room (MPR), with the son by my side, at approximately 6:45 pm on the night of the recital. The MPR, as some call it, is basically a gymnasium with fold out cafeteria tables built into the walls, so that the room can serve as a food oasis during lunchtime in addition to being an incubation center for the athletes of tomorrow. I asked the Principal about this exotic building naming convention. She informed me that if the children knew they were eating their lunches in a gym, they would be scarred for life and would never be able to dine in public, rendering the future of the restaurant business doomed. I doubted her claim, but she was wielding a yardstick, so I did not argue. To change the subject, I asked her if she minded being at the school at such a late hour in the day. She suggested a tour of her office to show me how, in the good old days, they used to administer corporal punishment to the naughty, naughty students. I took my seat.
After enduring some inane chit-chat with the son, where we both decide the other is an idiot (and both correct), a scope of the room for hot moms and a discussion of some kid scheduling details with the ex (about exactly what, I’m not sure – some things don’t change), the chorus, all dressed in white tops and black bottoms (some pants, some skirts), entered the MPR gymnasium food court. Mr. Hoek, the musical director, dressed in the same manner, only larger sized clothes, led them in.
The chorus consisted of two boys and about twelve girls. Boys of that age (fourth grade) aren’t into singing much – not in front of people, anyway. Peer pressure ridicule looms large for them. There are not many other afflictions worse than getting ribbed by the guys for doing something seemingly “girly”. Boys don’t realize that the payoff of singing could be an in road to the affections from the ladies. They don’t realize it because they don’t care at that point in their lives. In a few years they will care, and they won’t care so much about getting the business from the fellas. Weird, huh?
Mr. Hoek, a very tall and slender man, with short brown hair, Jimmie JJ Walker facial hair and wearing black Converse MPR shoes, welcomed us to the performance. He explained that their first number, The Concert Etiquette Rap, was a lesson to the audience on how to behave during the show. Apparently, there has been a history of unruly and horny parents causing distractions. The song preached the basic etiquette: be quiet, pay attention, applaud thunderously, etc. I think they went a little too far with the refrain, “Keep your pants on, Daddy-O, that school marm just ain’t no ho!” I stopped searching the room for hot moms when I heard that, so maybe they know what they’re doing.
The children’s performance of this song was adequate. It was a rap song. Honestly, I cannot tell the difference from a good rap song and a bad rap song. It’s hard for me to give you a judgment of their performance on that song. I CAN tell you that their singing during the rest of the show was pretty bad. Most of them were out of tune. Their tempo, as a group, was off and inconsistent, for the most part. Any attempt at harmony was ear hell. The two boys were lip-syncing. Thinking back, I should probably have thanked them for that. Overall, it was pretty much terrible, by adult standards. We were subjected to a kazoo orchestra performance for one song, which sounded like a bunch of bees with speech impediments. Considering bees make their buzzing sounds with their wings and not with their voices, you can imagine how atrocious that sounded. Some members of the chorus, during one song that my mind has blocked out of my memory so I don’t commit suicide, played soda pop bottles containing water at different levels to produce different tones, while the others sang. Fortunately, the soda pop bottles were in tune. Unfortunately, that only exacerbated the inconsonance of the singers. The show was the longest forty-five minutes I ever suffered. None of this, of course, applies to my daughter. She was wonderful, but you couldn’t hear her very well. Why is it that the untalented ones are always the loudest?
The highlight of the evening was when they were about to sing Dona Nobis Pacem. Mr. Hoek, who evidently doesn’t teach singing, and is merely baby sitting fourth graders after school for an extra grand a year, asked the audience if anybody knew Latin and could tell everyone what the English title of the song was. I waited to see if anybody was going to answer. I had been secretly translating the title since I saw it on the program.
The translation of Latin into English is no easy task. You must follow stringent guidelines. First, you have to figure out what all the words mean. It helps to have memorized each Latin word’s English meaning. If not, you need to, at least, know the meaning of similar English words derived from Latin words. I favor the latter method. In this example, “dona” sounds like donate, donor, donation, etc, so there is a good chance it means “give”. “Pacem” is similar to pacify, pacific, pacifier, etc., which are all words relating to “peace”. As for “nobis”, who the hell knows? Although, I did remember that “nobis” meant something like “our”, using the former method described above. Once you have determined the possible meanings of the words, start mixing them around and manipulating their forms, if needed, to form some sort of legible sentence, and then hand it in.
I must warn you, some Latin teachers will tell you that each Latin word in a given sentence has a specific suffix that will tell you what part of speech it is, and where it belongs in the translated English sentence. However, I speak English, and that is not what suffixes do in this country. Nice try, Mrs. Latin teacher. You can’t always trust them. They’ll even make up English forms of words, like gerund, just so they can give you extra useless endings to have to remember. I’m not buying it. Gerund. I’ll believe that right after I believe the buying of the Brooklyn Bridge from a guy in the street is a good investment.
I had determined that the three words in the sentence were “give” “peace” and “our”. “Give peace our” didn’t make much sense (although I had turned in goofier sounding sentences back in high school). I jumbled the order until I ended up with “Give our peace”, which sounds better, but not quite correct. So, I added “to us” to the end to get, “Give our peace to us.” That version didn’t sound quite complete. I added, “you bastard”. “Give our peace to us, you bastard”. That was it. I did it. It was during the kazoo mess that I figured it out. I was prepared with the correct answer, in case the question came up.
The last thing I wanted to do was to blurt it out immediately after Mr. Hoek asked the question and look like a bigger dork than I am. So, I sat back calmly. Once I realized there were no other scholars in the group, or at least none that needed to show off as much as I did, I declared for all to hear, “Give Us Peace” was the name of the song. Luckily, I had forgotten the sentence I had determined, and at the last second, made something up. Mr. Hoek gave me a verbal A+ (I’m not sure what he said, exactly, since I was basking in my insolence, but he probably said something like, “What are you doing here, you should be at Harvard or curing cancer or something!”) Finally, four years of sitting in Latin class in high school had paid off. I could tell by the look on my daughter’s face that she was thinking, “Oh no, that’s my dad. I wish I was dead!” I’m kidding of course…
Abe Vigoda Potato: Excuse me, Mr. Rub.
Moist Rub: Yes, Abe Vigoda Potato?
Abe Vigoda Potato: First off, I’m not a potato.
Moist Rub: Rutabega?
Abe Vigoda Rutabega: No.
Moist Rub: Then, what are you?
Abe Vigoda non Potato nor Rutabega: I’m Abe Vigoda, himself.
Moist Rub: Oh. Good. I thought you were a potato.
Abe Vigoda: Well, I’m not. I can’t help the way that I look. I’m very old. I’d like to see you when you’re my age.
Moist Rub: Not if I looked like you, you wouldn’t. Are you sure you’re not a root of some sort?
Abe Vigoda: I don’t think it was very nice of you to have criticized your daughter’s chorus the way you did. They worked very hard on those songs. They’re young and learning. Learning the capacity of their voices. Learning to sing together in a group. Learning how music can be meaningful in their lives.
Moist Rub: I understand all that. But, you weren’t there. It was pretty bad.
Abe Vigoda: Some people think that a child singing is the most beautiful sound in the world.
Moist Rub: Sure, if that child happens to be in The Osmonds or The Jackson Five…
Abe Vigoda: No, regular children. Their voices resonate with the beauty of innocence and sincerity, of love and compassion, of humanity and a carefree existence – all which is lost in adulthood.
Moist Rub: That must be why everybody was clapping. I guess I was too busy translating Latin to have understood the true magnificence of their performance.
Abe Vigoda: I guess you were. Next time, try to experience it for what it is, and not for what you expect it to be.
Moist Rub: I don’t think I will be able to.
Abe Vigoda: Sure you can. Try.
Moist Rub: OK, Abe Vigoda. Thanks for setting me straight. Now, can you please do me a favor?
Abe Vigoda: Certainly, Mr. Rub.
Moist Rub: Please put some clothes on. You’ll be less apt to be mistaken for a potato.