I have always had an unreasonable fear of singing in public. While I dream of being the one who vaults in front of the microphone to entertain the amazed masses, I am instead the one who blunders to the back of the room, making panicstruck attempts to blend into the curtains, foliage or profiterole displays whenever there is any call for a song.
Ironically, my attempts to avoid such assumed public humiliation have, in fact, lead to far greater humiliations. Like the time I was forced to perform at the Saint Peter’s of Partick talent show and somehow thought that playing the flute would be less embarrassing than singing.
I watched, mired in envy, as the opening act, a trio of giggling 15-year-olds from Notre Dame High clattered onto the battered stage in mini-skirts, hints of what had once been fishnets and yards of mascara. Their belligerently teased hair brought them six inches closer to the sputtering yellow brown strip lights and tired beige chipboard church hall ceiling above. The three sniggered and elbowed each other into position beside the bacon roll hatch and held a precarious pose while they waited for Sister Margaret to press play on the tape recorder. Then it happened; electronic drumbeats snapped them into action, jerking the girls in approximate time with the tinny, synthetic strings.
“Your eyes tell me how you want me!”, they screeched discordantly. “I can feel it in your heart beat”, they belted over The Pointer Sisters’ 1984 disco anthem. “Oh, baby, I’ll take you down, Where no one’s ever gone before…”
Monsignor Rossi coughed uncomfortably. In terms of Saint Peter’s church hall, this truly was where no one had ever gone before.
“Your love burns inside…” bellowed the girl with the pink batwing blouse.
A nun to my left gasped. This was not what she had envisioned when she invited the young ladies of the parish to show their talents.
“And if you want more, if you want more, more, more…” the three chorused with glee.
I wished so badly that I’d had the nerve to get up and sing tonight. That I owned mismatched turquoise and orange socks. That I’d been brave enough to use three to four cans of hairspray for one night of splendour. I watched, transfixed.
“Jump!” they screeched, out of synch.
I wanted so badly to be as bad as them.
“If you want to taste my kisses in the night… Then jump! Jump for my love!”
A ripple of outraged mutters and tuts from the West End parents, priests and church ladies swelled through the room, and reached a loud collective breaking point of indignation that drowned out the trio as they gyrated, flounced and guffawed their way towards the second chorus.
Sister Margaret rushed over to press a stop to this travesty and called, “Aefa Mulholland will now give us…” She scanned her ruffled papers, “The Sound of Silence.”
As Monsignor Rossi frogmarched the disgraced trio out of the hall, a blur of batwing sleeves, fluorescent ankle socks and smirking defiance, I straightened my freshly laundered, hand-me-down school blazer. If only I could make it on stage without those girls seeing my flute. There is no getting round the fact that in the eyes of people who will brazenly sing songs about sex to a roomful of religious Glaswegians, that playing such an instrument equals social ridicule. I walked, hunched, toward the stage, trying to hide the flute inside the blazer, praying that they wouldn’t see me. I nearly made it. Just as Monsignor and his charges reached the door, the one with the most vertical hair and the most daringly ventilated tights glanced round and saw me.
“Oh ma goad, that lassie’s gonny play the flute!” she shrieked as the three dissolved into helpless peals of mirth.
It was social death. In the front row, my mum sat up straight, smiling and proud of me and my stupid flute. I had rarely felt such shame. I took a breath, chuntered into a ragged version of the song and vowed that next time I’d sing.