At Washington Grade School, the fourth graders made up the Glee Club, and Miss Hunnefeld* was the director. We practiced after school on Tuesdays, and everybody in the class was encouraged to join. Miss Hunnefeld gave us points which counted in our progress toward becoming Gold Star Generals, so participation was high. Our efforts for the entire school year were focused upon our scheduled Spring Concert for the Lion’s Club at the Menominee Hotel. In appreciation for our performance, the Lions Club offered the children free movie tickets to the Menominee theater, and that only added to our already high motivation.
Midway in our second rehearsal in September, Miss Hunnefeld got a strange look on her face. She stepped in closer to the group, cocked her ear, and began moving down the row. Finally, she stopped squarely in front of me. She told us to keep singing. Then she told us to stop. She looked at me and said, “You’re out of key, David.” The whole glee club looked at me. Miss Hunnefeld pulled out her pitchpipe and tooted the key of C. I tried to duplicate the tone, but my voice cracked, and I made an unworldly, breathless sound. Miss Hunnefeld tooted again. I tried my best, but I could barely make a noise.
Miss Hunnefeld took me to the cloakroom. She told me, quite apologetically, that she was very sorry, but I wouldn’t be able to continue in the Glee Club. I did not seem to be able to sing on key, and I would ruin the class’s performance at the Lions Club. I may have started crying at that point. In any case, I made a fuss. I said that I wanted the points so badly. And I wanted the movie tickets. Most of all, I would be the only fourth grader who wasn’t a member of the Glee Club. Miss Hunnefeld didn’t know what to do. I begged her some more. Finally she decided that I could remain in the Glee Club as long as I did not sing out loud. She said that I should move my lips and pretend that I was singing, but I should not utter a single note.
Our class practiced every week after school, and twice a week as our spring concert approached. I went faithfully, but it was very boring. I carefully mouthed the words to each number, trying to look like an authentic singer. Every once in a while, I would even toss in a note out loud. However, only one note, out of fear that Miss Hunnefeld would hear and expel me. My favorite song was “Centa, Sweet Centa.” It went like this:
Centa, Sweet Centa,
Refuses her polenta.
Don’t scold her, don’t hold her.
She’ll eat never a bite today.
Gather buds yellow and red and blue,
Twist a knot yellow and blue and red.
Patience, lads, cheerily bide your time.
Girlish moods are quickly fled.
A couple of years ago I did a Google search on “Centa”, and I ran across a psychoanalytic interpretation which said that the folk song’s lyrics are instructions to males on how to successfully seduce women. This, of course, never entered our minds as fourth graders, nor I’m sure did Miss Hunnefeld think about it that way, but now it makes a lot of sense.
The Spring Concert finally came around, and the Lions applauded us with great enthusiasm at the end. I sang two notes out loud, no more, no less. I did get my free tickets to the movie theater. I was really happy when Glee Club came to an end. It was a good life lesson though. Sometimes you have to put in a lot of effort and then fake the whole thing. What I learned is that success occurs when you manage to get away with it.
*Pseudonym used in this story.