Episode 12

The Missing Singers of the Universal Harmony Choir: Andre Slinger

Hi I’m Micheal Midas, and this episode is about Andre Slinger, the second singer in the Universal Harmony Choir to disappear.

First of all, before we start with Andre’s story, I should mention that, well, he wasn’t a good singer. But under strange circumstances anything can happen, including that he was able to join the choir. To explain how this came about, I’m going to return to the end of the previous episode, the Jan Nibs disappearance, which happened in late September of 1997.

After only a week of investigation, the police could not find any new leads in the search for Jan Nibs. It wasn’t because they stopped trying. They did everything possible to dig up new information, knocking on the doors of many houses around her college, the area she went missing. And they got her story on the news of multiple TV stations, which garnered them many volunteers who helped search wooded areas and fields for clues. Unfortunately, nothing was found.

The only witness to Jan’s abduction, the college student who saw her get into a white van, was even put under hypnosis. His description of the driver was a bit better than in his original statement, which only specified that the suspect was a balding male with a thick moustache.

Now the suspect resembled a white, middle-aged male with, as the witness said, an everyman’s face. The police artist represented the account appropriately in her sketch, drawing a moustached mannequin mug.

Also, the suspect was wearing a dungaree shirt, but so were many others driving a white van.

In the end, Jan Nibs would be better off abducted by aliens, as the police had a description of the suspect that was vaguer than if the witness had spotted a little green man driving the man.

The lack of solid leads caused pessimism around The Mysterious Bluffs, and the Universal Harmony choir was no exception. The singers were all plagued with an eery, guilt-ridden air during rehearsal. They were almost waiting for the music to fall apart, and thus relieve themselves from Jan’s disappearance with self-abasement.

The rehearsal breaks were a step deeper into the unknown. Small talk was shrinking by each conversation, as Jan Nibs was forever on everyone’s mind, yet not a soul had new news to offer about her case. And the sadness that every member was aching to speak about, had been vented many times already – but the pressure inside themselves persisted.

And the few singers who peddled wild theories about Jan, only made the mood worse at rehearsals. Those who listened to them were brought to tears. They scolded a gossiper for spreading that she’d been abducted by a millionaire who thought he could sing better by replacing his vocal chords with hers. They scolded another gossiper for spreading that she’d gotten amnesia, then joined a cult that forced her to work on a farm for 18 hours a day.

Fortunately, the dismal mood of losing Jan Nibs waned after about six months – but the experience left the choir longing for a benevolent way to fill their empty hearts. This desire opened the door for Andre Slinger to sing with the group.

Andre was a polite, charming man of average height and build, who became a regular at the New Moon Church around the beginning November, 1997. He dove into the program, showing up to all the sermons, and social events. Most members readily accepted him, which was a feat at a time when unfamiliar people caused them discomfort since Jan’s abductor was disturbingly fresh in their minds.

And Andre should have aroused suspicion, as he was a close match to the abductor’s description. Besides his telltale moustache, he was a middle-aged, white male with a face typical of an everyman. If one were to view him driving a white van, he’d look as common as Jan’s abductor.

This similarity was the only reason a few church goers wondered if Andre could have abducted Jan. But he was getting along well with everyone, so they kept the suspicion to themselves out of courtesy.

But even the few suspicious members fell prey to Andre’s charm and good conversation. At the Christmas bake sale, he showed up wearing a tie under his v-neck sweater, then worked the room like a politician running for office. By the end of he night, he’d met all his doubters, and curtailed their hunch he was up to no good.

Getting on their good side wasn’t a big feat for Andre. With the right attention, the skeptics turned out to be well-meaning suburban folks who were enjoying the holiday spirit at a bake sale.

So what was the right attention that Andre gave these easy-to-crack skeptics? While they spoke, he had the ability to opaquely mirror their emotions. They came to believe he was authentic, like a long lost relative who was worth a pat on the back.

Bill Meyers, an older church member who felt that Andre might be a dangerous person, met him in the education centre, in a line up for beverages and snacks. They chatted for a while, then when they reached the front of the line, both ordered cranberry upside-down cake and tea.

Man, they were almost best buddies already, so they sat together at a table. Of all things Bill bought up was how much the cost of living was bothering him, which seemed a bit open for speaking to someone he’d just met. In fact, he admitted that his water bill was bothering him. Well, Andre’s blue eyes moistened with concern, as though he could feel every penny slip out of a hole in Bill’s pocket.

Margret Brown, who was also skeptical of Andre, had a positive experience with him as well. She was a sweetly decent bank teller in her late twenties, who didn’t like Andre from the moment she saw him at his first church service. In fact, she poked her husband in the shoulder, pointed Andre out, and said in a slightly offended tone, “Now there’s a cad if I’ve ever seen one.”

Who used a word like cad in 1997? And what proof did she have that he was dishonourable? Sounds like her intuition was running wild, because it was riddled by an obsession with old time cad movies. She’d seen flicks like, ‘Pillow Talk’ until her eyes were sore from squinting in disgust.

Andre, who had no idea that Mary didn’t like him, struck up an innocent conversation with her and her husband, asking them how long they’d been members of the New moon church. In a matter-of-fact tone, she answered four years. Right then, Andre’s face turned serious with respectful understanding.

Unable to rest on his goodwill, she burst out in a joyous voice that she was three months pregnant.

Strangely, this announcement was not impulsive. Since the first moment she saw Andre, she had an urge to inform him that she was immune to cads. With this golden opportunity to act on the urge, she near bragged to Andre about her commitment to family life.

Well, she could have never expected that Andre would reward her announcement with a smile that stretched from Pluto to Mars. If there is a universal law that dictates who Mary can like, it was amended by his pearly whites. From that smile on, he was good old Andre.

Now, here’s a strange thing about Andre’s hobnobbing at the New Moon Church. I mentioned before that he had the ability to opaquely mirror emotions, which made him appear to be a perfectly empathetic friend. To you, the listener, it might sound like he was using this appearance to persuade a bunch of gullible church goers to go along with everything he said.

The persuasion worked to Andre’s benefit, but he had no self-awareness of it. So he was perfectly empathetic to Bill Meyer’s water bill, or Margaret Brown’s pregnancy, yet he couldn’t clue in to his own actions. And, in the first place, he wasn’t even conscious of their emotions when he absorbed them. If he didn’t seem so humane, you’d guess he was a robot.

Anyway, if a few church goers had been wary of Andre, on the other end of the spectrum, there were some church goers who liked Andre more than everyone else, and two of them happened to be John Smalls and Elissa Williams, the leaders of the choir.

They met him together at one of the church services he first attended, and thought the same thing, that he reminded them of a famous actor, though when they spoke about him later on, they couldn’t recall which one.

The next time they saw Andre, a week later, they approached him and asked questions like how was he getting along at the church, was everyone treating him okay, and could they introduce him to anyone he’d like to meet.

In a modest tone, Andre thanked them, and promised that everything was fine for the time being.

After he brushed off the golden attention, their eyes flooded with amazement. To them, he seemed like an athlete they hoped would make the olympics, though they didn’t know which event he’d be in.

So they invited him to the Holiday Season Concert, and he accepted the invitation with a warm yes, then he bowed with honour. John and Elissa were a little weirded out by his overt display of gratitude, but the gesture also felt comforting and trustworthy.

The night of the concert arrived fast, and appropriately, during the first snow fall of winter. Performing in the packed nave, the choir sang holiday tunes like doves in love. Dressed in a charcoal suit, starched white shirt, and red tie, Andre sat on the front bench, stirred up to heaven by the familiar songs.

Perhaps his claps, cheers, and singing-along were bombastic for the rest of the audience. But for the appreciation-loving choir, the extra effort was more than welcome. He even caught the attention of performers once in a while. They couldn’t help but joyfully glance at the upbeat man.

At the end of the concert, after the choir’s last bow, Andre hurried to the conductor’s podium and shook hands with John Smalls, then raved about the first class performance.

“It was vivacious,” Andre said.

Now, John has received accolades from important businessman to popular politicians, but never did a simple handshake and complement make him feel so appreciated. Andre’s magical grasp seemed out of this world with positivity.

The nave lit up with chatter, and soon John was surrounded with audience members that offered him congratulations. Andre went on to mingle with other singers, until the room began to clear. He then returned to John, who was speaking with Elissa Williams.

The choir chiefs readied themselves for a sparkling conversation.

Andre blushed a little, then admitted his passion for singing along with his favourite songs. He also mentioned that he read a little music, and relished the idea that he may one day sing with a choir.

John and Elissa beamed like boy scouts on a fresh adventure. Not only were they impressed with Andre’s courage, but also excited for an opportunity to hear his voice. Andre’s face brightened then he offered to sing them a few bars of “Man in the Mirror,” by Micheal Jackson.

The choir leaders chuckled a little before they indulged in silence.

“What,” Andre said, “you wouldn’t like to hear my song?”

With a promising smile, Elissa stated that she’d like him to sing something classical, but at an appropriate time. She recommended he attend the next Friday Night Tea Gathering, which was being held in the education center of the church, during the first week of January.

******

Unlike many people, the January deep freeze didn’t keep Andre back from the first Friday Night tea gathering of the New Year. In fact, he showed up in the education center before the hot water dispensers were set up for the evening of chat and backgammon. He was determined to sing for his important new friends, John and Elissa.

The choir leaders appeared nearly an hour later with frosted faces and striding a bit stiffly from the biting cold outside. Elissa noticed Andre right away, so she pointed him out to John and smiled.

Andre was holding a cup of Peppermint tea, and chatting with a few church members by the stage. Elissa called out his name, so he broke off the conversation, hustled over to them and shook their hands with glee.

Andre announced that he was eager to sing, so the three of them slipped off to a side room, and settled down at a table. John and Elissa’s faces beamed with eagerness to hear Andre’s voice, and he didn’t keep them waiting.

He crooned out a classical melody that sounded recognizable, though John and Elissa had never heard it before. An insecure feeling came over the choir leaders. No, it wasn’t that Andre sounded like a veal cutlet in a milkshake machine.

It was that they both desired to ask the name of the song, yet felt they would be breaching the precious unknown that underlies the beauty of Andre’s effort.

As he continued to sing, a few tears ran from his eyes. It was as though he was assuring John and Elissa that nobody else in the whole wide world could create such a meaningful experience.

John and Elissa warmed to Andre’s significance, and without the slightest sign on their faces that he sounded like a burping turkey. Andre was about the good nature, and therefore he deserved to be heard by the choir leaders.

When Andre finished his tune, John and Elissa were pensive for a moment, trying to believe it was a great performance. But then they realized how much ambition he had, so they cheered and clapped for him.

In the most innocent tone, Andre declared that he had a dream to join a choir.

Elissa asked why, when he was better suited for bigger challenges. With his ambition, he could climb the highest mountain, or dive the deepest sea.

Well, Andre declared that his singing wasn’t about achievement, but rather survival. He explained that he’d once came down with a rare strain of the flu that had a reputation for killing some of those infected with it.

Now, before he realized the seriousness of this virus, his wife, a beautiful, vibrant woman, contracted it from him. Though he recovered in a week or so, she wasn’t as fortunate, and wound up in the hospital, hardly able to breathe.

The constant medical attention was of no help, however. A bacteria that was resistant to antibiotics grew inside her lungs, then spread throughout her body. The doctors had no choice but to tell Andre, that his wife had only a week to live.

That day, when visiting hours were over, Andre couldn’t help but take the pain home with him. He sat in front of the television, aimlessly turing from channel to channel, unfit to see or hear a thing.

Finally a music video caught his attention and brought him out of the slump. It was song he heard many times at the grocery store, and in elevators, but he’d never seen the light in it.

That song was ‘Man in the Mirror,’ by Micheal Jackson.

John and Elissa smiled compassionately, though their eyes were squinting with discomfort. Andre analyzed their faces, and concluded that they were a bit adverse to this kind of music.

Now, Andre said that even if they didn’t like Man in the Mirror, it was played in public enough that the odds were they would hear it during a vulnerable moment in their lives.

Andre heard the song during his vulnerable moment, and whatever the hell the lyrics were supposed to mean, well, it didn’t matter much to him. The good feeling he had from the melody, helped him find his own personal message in it:

As the man who gave his wife a deadly flu, Andre felt trapped in a mirror that only the virus could transcend. Everything else that happened between them seemed like a helpless reflection. She wanted flowers, so he brought her flowers. She wanted to hold hands, so he held her hands. She grew too tired for conversation, so he yawned as though he’d worked a twelve hour shift as a used car salesman.

The day came when Andre’s wife passed away. In the heart of his despair, he felt the mirror was finally broken. He asked himself, “Did the virus cause this relief?”

His answer was no – never in a million years. The song itself ‘Man in the Mirror’ caused the relief. From then on the widower sang it everyday to embrace the helpless feeling of being trapped in a mirror while his wife was dying.

Well, Elissa was miffed that Andre thought she didn’t like Micheal Jackson, which wasn’t true at all. Why, she’d even moonwalk to choir rehearsal, just to prove him wrong.

“So you’re open minded,” Andre said.

“Of course”, Elissa answered, with a nod that begged for acceptance.

Andre nodded back, though with a slight pout of skepticism.

But the tiny gesture emitted a wave of tension that sunk into John and Elissa’s hearts.

Unable to control himself, John invited Andre to sing in the choir.

“Thank you,” Andre said.

Now, there weren’t any choir openings at the time, but John assured Andre this was to his advantage. He could sit in as a guest, and thus avoid an audition.

Most singers would be a little apprehensive about an opportunity out of ‘open mindedness’, especially in a choir that was serious about performance.

A singer should feel like they’ve succeeded with talent and hard work, thereby giving them the confidence to live up to challenges – but in Andre’s case, he didn’t seem to notice that his voice sounded like a hyena choking on sandpaper.

So Andre attended rehearsals and here’s what happened. Most of the choir were fine with him singing along, as he wasn’t an official member, and he did his best to keep his lousy voice quiet, though at times he sang a bit loud out of passion.

Unfortunately, his outbursts annoyed three exceptionally talented singers who were younger, blond women, and, by the way, decedents of Scottish Royalty, so they claimed. They were named Grace, Chasity, and Hope.

During a private meeting after a rehearsal, the trio of singers complained to John about Andre’s lousy voice. It came as no surprise to the choir chief.

He already thought this trio was narrow-minded, cause they had nothing to do with the church other than singing. They never went to services, and social events were out of the question. In fact, they stuck with each other during rehearsal breaks, and therefore never discussed the music with other singers, which was kind of expected.

Guess what they spoke about during breaks?

How to find handsome, well educated men who could supply them with a comfortable life raising hardy children. And they spoke loudly about it, intending the other choir members to overhear that they expected more from life than singing.

So, Perhaps Andre’s lousy voice brought them back to earth about the choir. The man who sang like an Ogre in a lava bath had opened them up to the shortcomings of planning a perfect home life at rehearsal.

John Smalls pointed this out to the trio, saying that Andre’s lousy voice helped them overcome their self-absorption. John promised it would tighten the choir as a unit. They agreed, and abandoned the complaint against Andre.

At the next rehearsal Grace, Chasity, and Hope were surprisingly social during the break. From the choir risers in the nave, to where the beverages and snacks were served in the education center, they mingled freely with other singers.

They spoke constructively about the music they were rehearsing, and with smiles on their faces. For everyone, the new attitude was an instant improvement, and could only benefit the choir’s performance at the Spring Tulips Festival, the next concert on the schedule.

That was until Grace ran into Andre, after she’d returned to the nave for the second half of the rehearsal. The smile was still on her face, but the comment she made to him about his voice, came across as a little insulting.

Here’s what she said to Andre:

Your voice sounds like a school bus sinking in a crocodile pond.

Smiling along with her, he said, “Yes, you’re right.”

This interaction caused discomfort for the singers who overheard it. Andre’s charm had deeply influenced them, so they saw his participation in the choir as a positive force. One of the discomforted members told John Smalls what happened, and before he started a song, he had a word with Grace.

He assured her that she was over top of her head, and she disagreed, because she thought that Andre should take his lousy voice and…well, you know the rest.

So they agreed to a meeting after the rehearsal, which was held in John’s office, and for support, Grace brought along Chasity, and Hope. They squeezed onto his love seat while he sat at his desk. The atmosphere was a little tense, but nobody got around to mentioning Andre. It was all chit chat about singing and other things.

Then Elissa entered the office, and asked what was going on. John stood up and told her about the trio’s dislike for Andre’s voice. Elissa, who at first was so so about him singing, had since fallen for his charm. She said that seeing Andre at every rehearsal was a relief from the loss of Jan Nibs.

His presence soothed her fears that darkness ruled the world. He gave her hope that Jan would eventually be found alive.

Now, before Andre sang with the choir, enough time had passed that all the members learned to cope with Jan’s disappearance and moved on the best they could. As Grace knew this, she told Elissa that Andre’s charm was no excuse to bring up Jan Nibs again, as it would reopen a wound that had barely healed. She assured Elissa that Andre was causing more harm than good for the choir, so he should go.

Elissa smiled meekly, and promised that John and her would consider asking Andre to stop attending the rehearsals.

That’s where the meeting ended.

After the trio left, John and Elissa laughed, then brushed off the complaint as nonsense. They drank a cup of hot coco, went over some music charts, then wished each other good-bye for the night.

Later on that night, while they were trying to sleep at their respective homes – a strange high pitched sound was projected into their heads. Who knows where it came from, but for a few moments it caused them severe dizziness.

Then just as fast as the sound came, it disappeared, and so did the dizziness. But John and Elissa, who lived about twelve blocks away from each other, were then overcome by the same idea, that they might lose Andre.

The same questions popped up in their heads. What if Andre finds out that a few singers want him removed from the choir? What if he quits the church altogether? What if he never forgives the church? John and Elissa couldn’t answer these questions, yet they were kept awake for hours by them.

The next morning John called Elissa, and though they were both half-asleep, they managed to work themselves into a frenzy about Grace, Chasity and Hope. They convinced themselves that the trio must have a menacing reason to hurt Andre, besides something as innocent as his voice. So they agreed to uncover why.

The next rehearsal took place on a Tuesday night during a dreadful winter storm. The bleak weather prevented part of the choir from showing up, but it was a good thing for John and Elissa – less singers had to wait while the choir leaders held a special meeting with Grace, Chasity and Hope.

In his office, John made the trio squeeze onto the love seat. Then he stared them down like an KGB interrogator, while Elissa asked for the real reason they were bothered about Andre.

Though Chasity and Hope went pale from nervousness, Grace held her composure, and assured Elissa that only Andre’s voice was the issue.

“Does his moustache scare you?” John asked.

Grace, Chasity, and Hope stared into John’s eyes, as though he knew a dark secret about moustaches.

But this dark secret was explainable – John believed that Grace, Chasity, and Hope weren’t really complaining about Andre’s lousy voice, but releasing anxiety because they suspected he had abducted Jan Nibs. Both Andre and the suspect had notable pigeon roosts under their noses, which for anybody with a narrow mind, might mean they’re the same person.

While Grace, Chasity, and Hope felt like sardines on a Love Seat, John put this idea out to them and finished off by saying they were discriminating against men with moustaches.

Well, John wasn’t quite finished – he told the trio that they had an opportunity be open minded, and apologize to Andre.

Grace laughed generously, then assured John that she would never ever apologize to some guy who was wrecking the choir with his lousy voice. And if she was freaked out about men with moustaches, she’d have asked the organist to shave his off or quit playing music.

Then Grace brought up the delicate oil paintings of the moustached men in the church foyer – who were they again? She could only remember one of them – Count Fredrick Baldinger of Bavaria, one of the founders of the New Moon Church, and author of The Flying Saucer Parables, a book about the virtue of alien technology – but that’s another story.

Anyway, Grace meant to say that if she truly feared moustaches, she’d bring a can of orange spray paint to rehearsal, and turn the artwork into markings for a waterworks project. And by the way, she’d have done this long before that moustached charlatan sat in with the choir.

One more thing Grace had to say – she claimed to have always suspected that the man who abducted Jan Nibs was wearing a fake moustache while he committed the crime. So for her to fear Andre was the abductor, his lip broom would have to be fake as well.

John and Elissa were near convulsing with anger. Did Grace not understand that ultimately they were in charge?

A utopian idea burst into the minds of both choir leaders, as though their heads were conjoined: order Grace, Chasity, and Hope to leave the church immediately and never return.

The prospect of instantaneous joy soothed John and Elissa like a spindle of candy floss.

Elissa boiled over, and spurted out to the three singers that Andre’s charm was a cut above their singing.

The irrational dig set Grace’s face ablaze with contempt. Chasity’s cheeks flooded with tears, and Hope sat stiff in shock, her mouth open like a pig about to be stuffed with an apple.

“We quit,” Grace announced.

Without further word, the trio hopped off the couch and left the room pouting.

The departure was exorbitantly victorious for John and Elissa. They cocked their torsos upward with certainty, and lost themselves in the fulfillment of their smiles.

A few moments edged by before the choir leaders caught the quietness of the emptier office.

“I think we’ve made progress tonight,” John said.

Elissa shed a few tears, then hugged the conductor. It was the first hug she’d given someone in fifteen years – Andre was vindicated. He could live free of any devilish criticism that might upset him, and subsequently sway the choir in the wrong direction.

Back in the nave, John called the choir into a huddle, and announced that Grace, Chasity, and Hope had quit. An alto named Tracy asked why.

“The winter is getting them down,” John said. “They need a cheerier hobby, like husband hunting.”

A few singers laughed, remembering the trio’s loud discussions about the perfect man.

Anyway, the rehearsal finally got going, and a few tunes were sung, but then the storm knocked out the power. It was the end of the night since nobody could read the music. With the aid of a few flashlights, everyone safely found their coats and left the building.

Outside, John was locking the front door while engaging in a shivery chat with Elissa. Andre approached them and smiled confidently.

“I’m sure the singers who quit tonight knew they were helping the choir,” he said without a sign of chill in his voice.

Impressed with their own faith in the lousy singer, John and Elissa’s faces beamed with pride.

A couple days later, on Saturday afternoon, John was lying on his living room sofa, listening to some classical music. He fell in an anxious and giddy mood, then found his way an old bottle of champagne in his closet. Now, John drank about four glasses of wine a year, and only during holidays, so it was incredibly odd that he uncorked the bottle and had a swig. He felt a bit dizzy at first, then got his balance straight, and headed to the kitchen, where his phone was located.

None-the-less, she was glad to hear from him. They were both single, and enjoyed each other’s small talk.

But after a little while, the conversation became intimate, and John felt like asking Elissa out on a date – except at the same time he worried he’d be disrespecting his recently departed wife.

Then a safer question came to John’s mind.

“You know, the spring tulips concert is coming up,” he said. “Why don’t we celebrate the underdog, and give Andre Slinger a solo part.”

“Of course,” Elissa said, as though she already knew it was the inevitable.

“I know the perfect solo for him,” she continued. It’s from that musical ‘The City of Angels’. The song is called, ‘You’re Nothing Without Me’.

John felt passionate that Andre should hear the great news right away. He ended the call with Elissa, shuffled through his Rolodex a bit, then remembered that he’d never asked Andre for his number.

And why would he? Since Andre met John and Elissa, he was a flurry of personality who never mentioned anything personal about himself – like a place someone could contact him.

So John grit his teeth, and held the good news in his heart until next rehearsal, which was Tuesday evening.

The early March night was a little warmer than usual. All the singers showed up, except for Grace, Chasity, and Hope, of course.

While waiting for the warm up to begin, the singers chatted on the risers in the nave.

John, Elissa, and Andre were gathered around the conductor’s podium, and deep into a discussion.

Coming to an agreement, they gave each other a round of affirmative nods. Then John caught the choir’s attention, waving his hands in the air and whistling.

The following is the announcement he gave them.

Dearest members of the Universal Harmony Choir, I have some important news for you.

As I told you at the previous rehearsal, the zealots have quit the choir. This should be entirely good news, except, they were good singers so they will be missed for that – but not for their petty hated. By now, you must be asking, did they really quit, because they’d rather be hunting the perfect man? It’s worse, actually. Much worse. They were on the run from a man they deemed imperfect. Yes, they couldn’t find a place for Andre in their hearts. We’ll leave it at that.

How about some good news everyone! The Universal Harmony Choir is starting a new chapter in its history – one that calls for diversity and equality. Now that Grace, Chasity, and Hope are gone, we have space to fill with the harmony this choir is known and loved for. So let’s top up with no better a person than Andre.

Yes, Andre is a shining example of courage and character in the face of narrow-mindedness. For our upcoming performance at the Spring Tulips Festival, he has graciously agreed to perform the male solo in the song, ’You’re Nothing Without Me’ from the musical, ‘The City of Angles’.

The choir clapped with unanimous approval, and a few singers even shed a few tears. One would suppose that Andre was a brilliant singer, though his voice sounded like a squeaky door in slow motion.

The rehearsal was an audacious experience that focused on Andre’s solo. He stood proudly at the front of the choir, learning his lines with the help of John Smalls. After a few tries he knew them like his mother’s middle name. Then, during the next few run throughs, Andre maximized the bliss by shaking his head and waving his arms.

When the solo was perfected, Andre bowed in thankfulness. Then he moved to the podium and asked John Smalls to step aside. The conductor looked a little perturbed, but then gained his composure, squeezing a smile onto his face, and getting out of the second-rate singer’s way. Andre then announced he will only sing his solo part at the concert, though he would like to conduct a few songs as well.

John chuckled anxiously.
“I think your solo will be great,” he said, “but we may need to go over a few things before you conduct.”

Andre let out a modest giggle. He looked towards the centre of the choir, into its heart, and said “You see everyone. John is all about equality.”

The room froze with discomfort, though every singer was searching within themselves for a smile of approval. John Smalls was unquestionably their leader, though the charm of Andre conducting was near irresistible.

John Smalls waved at the choir with both hands.

“Andre has offered us a diversity challenge,” he said. “Guess what? I’m going to take him on, and sing while he conducts.”

After a little hesitance, every member of the choir clapped softly. But the comfort of Andre’s wish grew inside them, so the clapping grew louder, and they cheered as well.

The night ended in a good mood. Everyone felt ready for the road to the Spring Tulips Festival.

End of Part 12 The Mysterious Bluffs.