I stood up and walked to the front of the room, my eyes on the floor. I could feel the other eyes in the room on me, boring into me like lasers. For a brief moment I prayed to spontaneously combust.
I reached the front of the room and took my place behind the black metal podium. My hands shook as shuffled through the papers and found the one I needed.
As I looked over at the lady sitting at the piano, I realized the rest of me was shaking as well. Prior to this moment I had always thought the phrase “knees knocking” was a metaphor. I now knew it was something that actually happened as I felt my knees hitting each other so quickly it could be considered a spasm. Or a seizure.
I felt nauseated as I gave a nod to the lady. I barely noticed her smile, meant to comfort me.
I stared hard at the music in front of me, but nothing on the page made any sense to me whatsoever. It did not matter. I knew what I had to do.
I heard her give the three notes: first soprano, second soprano and alto. She then gave the second soprano note again.
I reached up and grabbed the podium to steady myself. I gripped it with white knuckled tightness and took a deep breath. The podium shook along with me.
Then, much stronger than I could have possibly imagined, the second soprano part of Ave Maria rose a capella from my soul and rang through the room.
I looked over the heads of the other contestants, the choral teachers and the judges present and focused on the window above them. I never made eye contact with anyone. I concentrated on pulling my voice from that place deep inside me and pushing it out through the window. Each note was hit dead on and with a solid strength totally belied by my shaking body.
I sang out strong and held the last note.
Still not looking at anyone, my only reaction as I finished was to let go of the podium and wring my sore hands as I walked back to my seat.
The applause came slowly, but then rose and washed over my aching soul like a balm. I would literally be sore later from the deep trembling during that performance.
Later, after the judges had called my name out as one of the chosen three out of the fifty hopefuls, my teacher came up to me.
“That was the most amazing thing I have ever seen,” she said quietly. “Your entire body shook with such force I thought for a few seconds that you were going to pass out cold in front of everyone. But, and I truly don’t know how it is possible, the voice that came out of you never wavered. Not even for one note. Congratulations, Marnie. You did it. You made the 1987 Alabama All-State Chorus.”
And in that moment, I said my own prayer of thanks to Ave Maria for granting me a moment of her grace.