Our music class consisted of one of two things. Either we sat around and sang church hymns while Mrs. Brennan lead us on an old piano that was wheeled into our classroom by some lucky older boys, or we marched down to the public school to be taught by a real music teacher. That year, in preparation for a fancy recital, we walked the 3 or 4 blocks down to the public school for about 8 weeks in a row. Sister Dolorita led us along the route, with strict instructions not to talk, play with dogs or pick up anything along the way.
Our music class was in a tiny room above the gym. Until that year, I had never been in the room, but I knew it existed because we often climbed up the fire escape chute that led from the room. When we were older, on those wonderful days when we didn’t have school but the public school kids did, we sometimes climbed up the chute and banged on the little door to the room, thinking it would be funny to disrupt some music class. It turns out that the room was only used by either the Catholic kids from down the street or basketball referees.
Our class had been assigned two numbers for that famed recital, and I’d never heard of either of them. The first was “Hello Dolly” and the other was “Whistle a Happy Tune”. I should be clear that I hated music class, and there was no way I was going to sing in front of a gym full of parents and grandparents. We learned the songs quickly. The music teacher was especially proud of the part where we all whistled along. Of course I couldn’t whistle, so she told me to just pucker my lips and no one would ever know.
I don’t remember much of the performance itself. Too traumatic, I guess. I never opened my lips to sing, and never puckered up to fake whistling. I just stood there, alternating between staring at the floor and staring at the basketball hoop that had somehow been raised to the ceiling. My mom was furious. On the way home, she told me that she was never going to another school recital again if all I was gonna do was “stand there like a retard”.
When I got home, I hid in my closet and cried, while humming the words to “Hello Dolly”.