For the summer I’m going back to the series of pieces mythologizing my growing up in Cape Breton. Check the Village Stories page for links previous pieces.


at the cathedral there were four choirs

all boys all girls

one made up of the best voices out of both choirs

plus the sub-choir

those who didn’t quite have it

but if one of the boys or girls

with good voices were sick

we would get the chance to step in

as there was always something going around

thanks to the fission plant miasma

one of us not so good

not so bad voices

would get a chance to be in the good choir


the good choir master was

Sigmund Callahan

Siggy was a short thick man

who always needed a shave


we of the lesser voices

were stuck with Siggy’s accompanist

one Mary Margret Francis

a tall red faced woman with thick glasses

who wouldn’t hesitate to hit any of us

with a ruler she carried

just for that purpose

if someone sang b not c

her harsh voice would sharpen

the ruler flashed through the air

to hit someone on the head


she walked around us

while we sang and sang

in fear

as loud as I sang

I never got a spot in the good choir


whenever I hear now choral music

I automatically rub a spot

on the back of my head

There was a children choir at the United Church I attend for a time in my youth. I did try out for it once but had no ear for music – I can’t tell one note from another. Is that C major or B major? Don’t ask me. So I didn’t get into the choir.

In Choral I was delving more into the choir, it’s role in the Village society. Music is important on the East Coast. I grew up in a very Catholic neighbourhood. The was a convent down the street from us & the nearest church was St. Teresa’s. I often heard the nuns singing in the evening. There were several families whose several children had been herded into  singing groups – mini-choirs of girls in matching outfits who sang on TV. There was often a single boy, a brother, in the middle of back row with had expression of ‘get me out of here.’

The ‘sub-text’ is how talent buys acceptance & respect while the lack of it results in punishment. The smarter kids in my classes were always singled out for praise. They were held up as examples for us stupid kids to emulate if we expected to get anywhere. I can’t recall ever being encouraged for doing my best.


One time I did win an art prize the teacher said something to the effect – ‘too bad you don’t put as much effort into your maths.’ There’s also a nod to how what happens to us as children stays with us as adults – though when I hear choral music I don’t rub the back of my head.



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