Sentinel High School Spartanaires and the Big Screen Dream


Sometimes I think I’ve been living in Hollywood too long.  I expect my life to be like a movie.  In movies, everything has a setup and a payoff.  Well, good movies do.  Bad movies have setups and special effects, or setups and full frontal nudity, which, for 14 year- old boys is a huge payoff.

But life isn’t like the movies.  That doesn’t really hit you in the face though, until you get older and can look back at all the things you did in your life that didn’t amount to anything.  And you go, “Wait a minute.  All those things I did didn’t amount to anything!  Son of a…”

But there was one thing in my life that did have a payoff.  It was my singing.  The setup started in grade school, singing in city choirs.  And the payoff was something called Sentinel A Cappella Choir.  A cappella means you don’t get any instruments playing along to help you stay on key.  You get one note from a harmonica and then it’s over the cliff, without a parachute.

If you were a soprano, which I was, you prayed to God that the altos didn’t start singing sharp, because you were already singing at the top of your range, and there was no way you could go any higher to meet them.

But, altos are an unreliable lot – sopranos’ frenemies.   Rub ‘em the wrong way, and they’ll go sharp just to watch you squirm.  And squirm we did.  The whole front row of first sopranos would be side glancing each other with a look of terror, that silent communication that screams, “It’s too late for me.  Save yourself!”

Yet none of us shrank from the battlefield.  No.  We stayed.  We stood there, dug the heels of our sensible shoes into the risers, squinted our eyes as tightly as they would go, and went for that high note.  The pressure of it about blew our eardrums out.  Dogs in the surrounding three counties howled with pain at the sound of it, but we hit the note … and then were partially deaf for a week and a half.

Sentinel Spartanaires Practice. From Left to Right: Beth Jensen, Mark Danuser, Carol Chrest, Tom Polsin, Terri Stetka, Paul Schiedermayer, Ken Boyd and Laurie Mullen.

But A Cappella choir, as prestigious as it was, wasn’t the top of the mountain.  There was a peak that towered above it.  Spartainaires.  It was an ensemble group, hand picked from A Cappella choir.  No Latin was sung in this group.   It was pop music, accompanied by a piano, with choreography.  And, if that wasn’t enough, all of the girls wore matching, polyester, wraparound disco skirts.  Words have not yet been invented to describe how cool we were.

I still remember my very first performance as a Spartanaire.  It was a small room, tough to maneuver, considering the piano took up half the floor.  So, it was no shock that I, with my limited spatial skills, managed to collide head on with that piano.  I was mortified, but I kept going, because I was a PROFESSIONAL.

After the performance, Mr. Narum, our choir instructor, the man I admired most in the whole world, even more than my father because he never made me do my homework or rake the yard, pulled me aside and said, “You’re a real ass to this group.”

I was stunned.  I could feel my internal organs break forth from my body and splatter onto floor.

“Wh-wh-what?” I stuttered.

“You’re a real asset to this group,” he replied.

And, at that moment, the clouds parted, the sun burst through, and I knew there truly was a God, and He created me to do more than homework and rake the stupid leaves.

Now, you’re probably thinking that I went on to make a living as a singer.  Nah.  To me, Spartainaires was the end of the movie.  I’m working on a new life movie now, one that involves actual movies.  It’s a tougher group to get into than A Cappella Choir, possibly even tougher than losing 25 pounds, but I’m a soprano.  I dare you to try and kick me off this riser.

Missing Missoula,

Missing Missoula,

CC the Trained Monkey


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BIO:  Carol Chrest is a bitter old spinster living in Los Angeles. When she’s not working ridiculous hours at her cruddy day job, she writes screenplays.  She drinks.