It was the fall of 1973 when I moved into a communal house on Bancroft Way. Very soon I secured a job teaching art and craft lessons to seniors at the Shattuck Hotel, then a boarding house for the elderly. After getting a business license, I joined the vendors lining Shattuck Avenue to sell my drawings and paintings.
The Berkeley Community Chorus was several weeks into their fall semester of rehearsals when I was invited to join them. Trying to find the rehearsal room that first night, amidst the collage of towering classroom buildings on the Berkeley High School campus, was challenging. I followed a friend into the crowded room where fifty to sixty other choristers were sitting and standing. The chorus would sing Handel’s ‘Messiah’, a work I was familiar with. Eugene Jones would conduct.
At the next rehearsal, the chorus moved to an auditorium to rehearse. Renovation work on the classrooms prompted the change. It was much nicer spreading out in the large room. As Eugene Jones directed from the stage below, his rich solo baritone voice would embrace the hall. I learned that Eugene often sang the bass solos. That particular rehearsal night, Eugene was having sopranos try out for the Messiah solo, “Come unto Him”. I knew the piece, so I gave it a shot. Eugene asked me to sing the solo at the concerts.
Being given the opportunity to sing the concert solo was a gift and honor. However, I never returned to the BCCO rehearsals that fall and did not sing the solo. I just vanished into the Berkeley scene with my eyes focused on a certain young, rugged and brilliant civil engineer. There was a meeting held weekly at his place on the same night as the chorus rehearsals. Being swept off my feet by a growing infatuation, I chose to go there instead.
It was twenty years before I rejoined BCCO. That first fall rehearsal night in the early to mid-90s, I entered a sanctuary with walls clothed in dark wooden panels and moldings that were topped by a ceiling decorated with wooden beams. This beautiful setting was the Unitarian Church at the corner of Cedar and Walnut Streets. During the rehearsal break, I made my way to our conductor, Arlene Sagan. To confess my irresponsibility of twenty years prior, when I walked out on a solo assignment, was very important to me. I believed that an apology was better late than never.
Arlene’s response surprised me. ‘Well? What happened?’ She asked, ’I mean with you and this young man?’ I told her that I had been happily married to that young man since August of 1974, then totaling around twenty years. ‘You did the right thing,’ Arlene said, and she warmly welcomed me into the chorus.
It was five years later that the chorus was performing Handel’s ‘Messiah’ at St Ambrose Church on Gilman Street. Eugene Jones came to hear the concert. During the concert intermission, I made my way to Eugene, introduced myself, and brought up my irresponsibility of years ago. After trying to remember that fall semester, like Arlene, Eugene asked me, ‘Well? What happened with the young man?’ By then, Alan and I had been married for twenty-five years. ‘You did the right thing, yes, you did the right thing.’ We laughed and smiled.
As I write these words, I reflect thankfully on nearly 20 years of singing with a large chorus, the powerfully expressive musical masterpieces created by the most gifted composers that have ever lived. I also thank God for forty-one years of marriage to Alan Kropp, a gifted geotechnical engineer and wonderful, charming gentleman, with a terrific sense of humor.