The Paper

A piece of white printer paper hangs on a cork board outside the chorus room. It reads:

My eyes scan the paper once, then once again.

Four sopranos, four tenors, four basses, four altos. A perfectly balanced chamber choir. The same chamber choir I was proud to be a member of since freshman year of high school.

Four sopranos, four tenors, four basses… and three altos.

Tears begin to run down my face. My hands begin to shake. My eyes scan the paper again and again as if the innocent, white printer paper is playing a trick on me.

Surely, there was a reason why my name was missing as the fourth alto in my high school’s elite audition-only choir. After three years in this elite, audition-only choir, after five years of singing with the same director, surely there was a reason why my name, Zoe Katz, was left of the sheet of paper that listed the names of the sixteen– fifteen– members of this elite, audition-only choir.

Zoe Katz, a senior, the senior, the student president of the North Oconee High School Choir Program, a devoted singer who spent thousands of hours rehearsing with the same students, the same director, over and over again. Who spent ten years of her life working towards college auditions to become an opera singer, who spent the summer in a choral intensive in Pennsylvania, was left out of the group that would surely book her ticket into the best conservatories in the country.

My choir director rounds the corner, stacks of paper in her hands. I look at her, openly weeping, hot and angry, my face red and swollen. She sighs. She seems apologetic. “Come in my office,” She says. “Let’s talk.”   

I sit in the same grey chair in which I have always sat. I have chosen sheet music for concerts here. I have practiced for All-State and Honor Choir auditions here. I have napped here. I’ve even babysat my director’s children here.

I’m still crying. Renee Costigan, my choir director since seventh grade, looks at me. She still seems apologetic.

“You had a bad audition, Zoe.” She says. Her voice is atonal and pitchy, like a missed note on black keys. She has wild, black, tangled hair and a lazy eye that seems to follow you when you mess up a measure of sight reading. When she talks, spittle forms on her lips, and when her back is turned, focused on the piano or sheet music, teenagers mock her relentlessly about these attributes. I used to defend her or tell them to knock it off. Now, I want to stand alongside my peers and make fun of a grown woman who seemingly doesn’t brush her hair.

I tell her I don’t understand. She knows I have audition anxiety; she’s heard me sing for five years, it’s my senior year, come on, Mrs. Costigan, please, you know me.

She remains resolute. I gave a bad audition.

I tell her it makes no sense. Why have an unbalanced group? Why four sopranos, four tenors, four basses, and three altos? The same sixteen people sang together last year. We received awards and praise. Why the change now? Why fifteen?

“You can still remain involved in choir. You can still be president.” She says as if this consolation prize is not using my time and talents to take advantage.

I look at her. The same face I have looked at for five years, the same face that has smiled at me as I win a solo or receive an award or nail an audition. She had held my hand when I dumped my first boyfriend. She has promised to write me letters of recommendation. Those letters are the key to college applications. The key to my college auditions. The key to my future.

Wetness has dampened the collar of my shirt. I can barely see her face– the face I trusted– because of my vision clouding with tears. It’s my senior year.

Later, I will regret the next few minutes. Later, I will feel pride when I think back to what I am about to do. Later, I will find new passions, evolve and grow not only as a student and as a human, but as an artist. Later, I will feel grateful that I spent my senior year discovering playwriting and directing and European History, rather than agonizing over the approval of a woman who would never matter, in the long run. Later, later, later.

Now, I look at Renee Costigan. With my voice thick, stuck in the back of my throat from mucus and anger, I call her a fucking bitch and leave.

A fucking bitch.

There go those letters of recommendation.