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October 25, 2005

High Anxiety

Washington Post Magazine (DC)

"Drop your jaw, Nick!" Ms. Boley is saying, standing indomitable at the front of the chorus classroom. "Nick, drop your jaw!" But Nick, a fresh-faced underclassman wearing jeans and a long gray polo shirt, isn't dropping his jaw. At least, he isn't dropping his jaw enough to suit Ms. Boley.

"If muuuusiiic be the food of loooove, sing on, sing on!" he sings, working his way through a complex vocal arrangement that students in Ms. Boley's upper-level concert choir class are expected to master. Even as Nick sings, his jaw remains clenched, so Ms. Boley takes hold of it, grasping his jaw and tugging it downward while Nick, gamely, keeps singing.

Before long, Ms. Boley is scanning the room for someone else to call on. And the person she spots is: Katy Haddow. Katy has been dreading this possibility since she got to school this morning. A blond, sweet-faced junior, Katy very much likes concert choir, an advanced choral music class at Stonewall Jackson High School in Manassas.

But she hates having to sing by herself in front of some 75 classmates, many of them strangers. It makes her so nervous, standing there singing while Ms. Boley assesses her diction, her breathing, her pitch and, often, her ability to sight-sing an unfamiliar song, cold, from looking at the score. So nervous does it make her that she's adopted a strategy to reduce the likelihood of this happening. Nestled halfway up the risers among the second sopranos, Katy has been sitting with her hands demurely in her lap, her eyes carefully directed floorward so as to avoid making eye contact whenever Ms. Boley sweeps the room with her gaze.

That strategy having failed, Katy obediently makes her way down the riser steps, along with several others similarly summoned. "If music be the food of love, sing on!" they sing, and while they are singing Ms. Boley goes up to one girl and pokes her abdomen so that the girl stands up straight and sings louder. And then Ms. Boley pokes another girl's abdomen, and this goes on until, mercifully, the song ends before Ms. Boley gets to Katy. Even so, the whole experience raises anew, in Katy's mind, the question of whether she should drop concert choir, which, just weeks into her junior year, is turning out to be her most anxiety-producing class. Even IB history, Katy is starting to think, might be less stressful. IB history! Less stressful! This lengthy article continues here.

Posted by acapnews at October 25, 2005 12:01 AM