Episode 13

The Missing Singers of the Universal Harmony Choir: Andre Singer Part 2

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A Thursday night, early spring 1998, in the Nave of the New Moon Church. The Universal Harmony choir is rehearsing their repertoire for the concert at the Spring Tulips Festival, which will take place in the backlot of the New Moon Church, during a weekend in the middle of May.

Andre Slinger had just finished singing his solo part, and no matter how lousy his voice sounded, the choir pretty much loved it. Some of the singers were even clapping and cheering, which fuelled Andre’s next move, a trip to the conductor’s podium, where he asked John Smalls to step aside for a few songs.

After taking the baton from John, Andre started up Micheal Jackson’s Man in the Mirror, went through it a few times, and then moved on to Jackson Browne’s Running on Empty, another one of his fine selections.

The music wasn’t normal for a classical group to sing, but Andre had supplied the sheet music, and the songs made everyone raise their hands and shake their bodies, so in the end, the experience was positive.

And about the conducting – Andre didn’t do a half bad job. Though his arm was a little stiff, he waved the baton around like he was writing sweet nothings on an invisible chalk board. He always knew where he was in the songs, though he never stopped the choir during the rough sections so they could go over them.

About halfway through the rehearsal, the choir took a break, and most folks headed over to the education center where beverages and snacks were being served. This included Julie and Harry, two singers in their early thirties, and good friends – though they made an odd pair. Julie was tiny and cute as a beaver, loved her flowery dresses, and liked to chit chat. Harry was about a foot and a half taller than her, maybe a bit chubby, and dressed sleek like a downtown trendy. He was a little pensive at times – but not introverted.

Also, Harry was a cousin of Grace, who along with her friends Chasity and Hope, had just supposedly quit the choir. This really bothered Harry after Grace told him, that they’d been pushed to quit by John and Elissa because Andre’s so-called charm was more important than their talent.

So back to the choir rehearsal break. While Julie and Harry were waiting in the beverage line, Julie brought up a strange experience that happened to her the Saturday night before. It caught the attention of the local news, who’d received many calls from several residents that had witnessed the same phenomenon.

Apparently, while Julie was walking her pet Beagle on the crisp Spring evening, a flurry of strange lights appeared over the Mysterious Bluffs.

Now, Julie is not a star gazer, so she has no reason to look up above. But the dancing lights were incredibly obvious, so along with other people, she watched them zig zag back and forth over the Mysterious Bluffs for almost ten minutes. A few people even captured the lights on video, but they were zippy, so the quality was kind of blurry.

Anyway, in the line up for snacks, Julie told Harry the lights looked wonderful and made her cry with joy. They gave her the same inspirational feeling she’d had from speaking with Andre. Then she claimed that Andre must know something about the lights that nobody else did.

But Harry was a UFO buff. He collected books on the subject, watched every documentary ever made, and even attended a few conventions. One could say that the idea of alien life visiting earth was sacrilegious to him.

So add this up with his cousin Grace and her friends getting pushed out of the choir because of Andre’s charm, and right then Harry could have said that Andre’s voice sounded like a hair dryer in bathwater,

and Andre’s conducting skills reminded him of a beekeeper trying to swat a horsefly with a tennis racket.

So, how exactly did Harry react after Julie told him that Andre might know something about UFOs that nobody else did?

This is what Harry said:

“The lights were a meteor shower that happens every spring. You had a special feeling for rocks burning up in the sky.”

Well, Julie’s cutely modest face turned gargoyle grey, then she grabbed the cuff of Harry’s blue button-up shirt and dug her cherry red nails into it. Harry shook his arm hard before she finally let go.

The livid singer gave him a deep frown.

“How dare you say the good feeling Andre gives me is like rocks burning in the sky,” she cried.

Well, for Harry, this statement was a complete stretch of the imagination. In utter silence, he pouted and lowered his head.

A singer named Frank, who was standing right behind Julie and Harry, turned white in the face, as though he’d been living in a wine cellar all his life.

“Julie, calm down,” he said. “We all know the spring tulips festival is near, but stress is no excuse to pick on poor Harry.”

“This bigot insulted Andre,” she said. “How will the choir prepare for the festival with this kind of ignorance on the loose.”

“I thought you guys were good friends,” Frank said. “There’s nothing complicated about a little disagreeance here and there.”

It must be noted that through this joust, Harry would have liked to interrupt and say anything possible to discredit Andre,

but he was worried about losing his spot in the choir since words like disagreeance were being tossed around.

Getting back to Frank, well he couldn’t help but notice that Julie’s face had turned from gargoyle grey to swollen sapphire.

Man Frank didn’t know what to do.

So Harry let a little lie slip off the tippy tip of his tongue.

“I never meant to insult Andre,” he said. “I only meant to complement him on the spectacular job he’s been doing. It’s spectacular to see rocks burning in the sky.”

Now Andre Slinger had an ear for complements like no one else. He could hear them from half a room away, yet not pick up another word in that conversation.

In this case, Andre was pretty close to Julie and Harry, as he had made sure that he was the first one in the beverage line. So while he was pouring a tea, he overheard nothing else except Harry mentioning that he was doing a spectacular job. These kind words inspired Andre to hear more, so he approached them right away.

“You have my attention,” Andre said, with a smug grin.

“Why should we have your attention?” Harry asked.

“I heard that someone’s been doing a spectacular job around here.”

At this moment, Harry caught a glimpse of the tea in Andre’s cup. He saw that Andre had poured milk into it, and forgotten to mix it. Harry swore the milk had formed into the shape of a flying saucer.

The out-of-this-world sight ignited flames of jealousy in Harry’s eyes. Every time he’d poured milk into his own tea, he only saw a nebulous glob. For all the UFO books he read, the seminars he attended, and documentaries he watched, he’d never seen such a thing. His passion for the unknown seemed all for nothing, as Andre might have a true connection to extraterrestrials.

Well, a plethora of insults flooded Harry’s brain, and it took all his might from letting them out.

But then he realized a strange circumstance of the jealousy on his face – that Andre had a jealous look on his face as well, yet he didn’t have a reason for it.

And something inside Andre seemed disturbingly super-human to Harry, as though Andre’s jealous face was too believable to be real. If you combined the acting talents of Spencer Tracy, James Cagney and Carry Grant, you’d get Andre’s jealous face.

“Andre must have something to do with aliens,” Harry thought. “Why else would he seem so real?”

Harry decided to try a little experiment. He stretched out the widest smile on his face. The smile was so overbearing, that the most unintuitive dolt could not know it was fake.

Guess what happened? Andre mimicked Harry with the exact same smile, as though to do so was a virtuous gesture.

Harry desired to find out more about Andre, so he gritted his teeth, and did the last thing he would ever want to do. He complemented him.

Harry told Andre that it was great to hear him sing in the choir, and that his conducting skills were wonderful as well.

Andre’s eyes sparkled like Venus in the morning – but this bliss seemed overly pure, as though nothing could be more pivotal to him than a compliment.

Harry turned his attention towards at Julie. She was also smiling, though he could tell by the tint of self-satisfaction in her eyes, that it was not simply because of Andre’s happiness, but that his happiness was a result of Harry’s kind statements about him, which, of course, she had swayed Harry to say by calling him a bigot.

Strangely, Harry trusted Julie’s smile over Andre’s. At least Harry knew what she was thinking, while Andre’s lack of ego seemed utterly inhuman to him.

But this cold-blood behaviour gave Harry an idea of how to deal with Andre.

At the next rehearsal, when Andre was about to conduct, Harry, who was standing on the risers with the rest of the choir, looked at his neighbour and whispered,

“Man, Andre is the greatest conductor in the world.”

Without a doubt, the complement caught Andre’s attention. Instead of starting the song, he gazed at Harry with the utmost care.

Harry frowned like he’d just seen a dead swan on the side of a road.

“You’re still going to conduct at the Spring Tulips Festival?” he asked.

Mimicking Harry to the tee, Andre frowned with dark fervour.

“Yes, I’m going to conduct there,” he said.

Now, the choir had given their full attention to Andre, so they didn’t see Harry frowning. Andre appeared to be the only one in the room disappointed about the Spring Tulips festival.

There were a few gasps from the choir, but Andre didn’t seem to notice them. Ready to hear some more empowering words about himself, he focused on Harry.

And Andre got exactly want he wanted.

“You’ll be singing at the festival as well?” Harry asked, while the frown remained on his face.

“Yes, I’ll be singing a solo,” Andre said, frowning oh so naturally.

Almost every choir member sighed with disenchantment. Even John and Elissa let out groans.

Since the very day Andre sang with the choir, his charm and ambition had made him an asset – and without those two qualities present he wasn’t such a big deal anymore.

Anyway, nobody knew how to speak about the awkwardness in the room, so the rehearsal continued with Andre conducting his favourite song, Man in the Mirror.

And he was self-absorbed with waving the baton around, instead of noticing how mediocre the song was going.

By the time he finished his other two songs, the choir was exhausted with dissatisfaction. There was even enough time left for more rehearsal, but nobody felt like it.

Of course, Harry noticed that Andre had the same so-so look on his face as everyone else, so he went up to him with a wide smile and said, “You’re the best at ending a rehearsal quicker than normal.”

Andre smiled like a champ, and said, “Yes, that’s me.”

If Harry had a compliment up his sleeve that could persuade Andre to leave the choir and never come back, he would have said it right then. But Man, Harry didn’t need to think up the perfect compliment.

Andre’s smile caught the attention of several choir members, who couldn’t understand why he was glowing with satisfaction.

They just been through a rehearsal that sounded like a porcupine eating corn nuts in a wind tunnel.

A few of the singers that saw his smile had wild imaginations, so when they went home, they cooked up some juicy rumours for the next rehearsal.

It’s a couple nights later at the New Moon Church. Andre, as always, was one of the first singers to arrive in the nave for choir rehearsal. The smile on his face had a concrete air of confidence, as though Harry’s compliment about his voice could never be outmatched.

While everyone entered the building, Andre stood by the conductor’s podium, a gesture that he was ready to rehearse Man in the Mirror and his other picks.

The singers who came near him were polite to his face, and some even chatted with him about this and that.

But two singers in particular, Debbie and Bryan, purposely avoided Andre. Their wild imaginations had spawned juicy rumours about him, and they could hardly keep the fresh stories from the ears behind his back.

Debbie, a petite, porcelain skinned alto, found a couple of other altos, who were named Jenny and Tamara, and informed them that Andre was sent by an adversary to disrupt the choir, so they’d perform poorly in the Fall Harvest vocal competition.

Now Jenny and Tamara, who happened to be attending the same nursing school, swallowed the rumour without question, since they both witnessed Andre frown at the previous rehearsal.

Bryan, a lanky guy who sang tenor, told his tale to a group that consisted of three bass vocalists – Giovanni, a bearded pediatrist of Italian decent, and Theo and Ronald, a pair of sweet sounding exchange students from Zimbabwe.

Now, Bryan rehashed the old suspicion that Andre was responsible for the disappearance of Jan Nibs, because he closely resembled the abductor’s description.

Bryan’s theory was that Andre had heard Jan perform somewhere and envied her voice so badly, that he’d become obsessed with replacing her as a singer. Now, a lethal lunatic couldn’t find better satisfaction than abducting his prey, offing her, then joining the choir she once belonged to.

This story, however far-fetched, was readily accepted by the group of men, as they firmly believed that Andre had overstayed his welcome.

By the end of the rehearsal, both rumours had spread around the choir, and though only one might be true, nobody discussed which story was most likely real. Even Julie, who once had readily defended Andre, listened to both stories without a word of disbelief.

Over the weekend, these rumours simmered in everyone’s minds, and by the Tuesday night rehearsal, nobody wanted Andre around anymore. In fact, all the singers frowned during his solo, and the songs he conducted. Of course, Andre frowned back, but strangely he never showed any discomfort about the awkward situation.

The rehearsals continued with many singers irritated by Andre’s presence, though nobody knew how to get rid of him. So the rumours about him grew more vicious.

The story about him being a disrupter took a darker turn. Now, apparently he was trying to break up the choir so another group could secure the rehearsal spot and funding from the New Moon Church. But nobody could figure out which choir it was. And the rumour that he had abducted and killed Jan Nibs grew further as well. It was now believed he joined the choir to find another sweet singing victim.

Finally, the last rehearsal arrived before the Spring Tulips Festival. It was a fine tuning session the night before the choir’s Sunday performance.

Though outside the church, the month of May had brought cheery weather and greenery, the singers gave their gloomiest effort ever. Their hearts were filled with disappointment that Andre’s voice sounded lousier than anyone could remember, and his conducting now looked like he was shaving a gargoyle.

John Smalls was deeply worried that the concert was destined to sound vile. And though many of the church members would believe that Andre’s lousy voice was a gesture of fairness and equality, the Spiritual Leader and other VIPs would probably find the performance unacceptable. John thought his tenure as conductor was kaput, and all because he had been open minded about Andre.

Then a strange occurrence happened – even though Andre was one of the first and last singers at rehearsals, he left quickly after the final song. John took advantage of the anomaly and called a quick meeting with the choir.

He tapped a finger on the podium, and wondered what exactly to say. Everyone stared at him, their faces muddied with doubt about Sunday’s performance.

So he nervously gulped, and admitted that unless Andre disappeared somehow, the choir was in for an embarrassing setback.

The silence was profound, as many of the singers didn’t dare ask what devious plan the next guy might be considering.

“I know what to do,” Harry said, from the third riser. “Just before the concert starts, I’ll tell Andre that we’ve made a last minute decision to let him go.

Harry, then offered to learn Andre’s solo overnight, and perform it at the concert.

The only noise that could be heard was John hesitantly sighing, but then he said the plan might work, because what else could they do

He also said that if Harry went through with it, they might as well cut Andre’s songs from the performance, including Man in the Mirror.

A few sighs of distress arose from the choir. Some singers feared the quick change, though they knew it was for the better.

One of those singers was Julie, who asked Harry what he planned to do in case Andre caused a scene after he’d been let go.

“It might be a worse embarrassment than letting him sing and conduct,” she said.

Harry promised her that if Andre got out of hand, a few of the guys in the choir would be near by, and they’d escort him off the premises. And if that wasn’t enough, the police would be promptly called.

Then Harry assured everyone that Andre wasn’t going to cause a scene, as it would prove one of the rumours about him to be true.

Harry knew that Andre had always come across as the good guy, so he’d rather not show that he was either trying to break up the choir, or that he was a mad dog killer who was only singing so he could find another victim like Jan Nibs.

The confidence in Harry’s voice lightened up the choir mood. A few smiles appeared on some of the singer’s faces, and the room became chatty.

But John wasn’t about to smile and chat so easily, as he had a second thought about the plan.

“Harry, what happens if Andre does get upset, and nobody can stop him from causing a ruckus, and the police can’t show up in time?” He asked.

Harry promised that he had a trick up his sleeve, and that it was best left undisclosed until the situation was at hand.

Of course, Harry planned to fire Andre with a big smile on his face, and a positive voice that would feel better than Julie Andrews singing in Salzburg.

Harry had a hunch Andre would walk away smiling. After all he frowned when other people frowned at him, so why wouldn’t he smile when someone else did? For some unknown reason, Andre had the personality of a mirror.

The next afternoon, around two pm, most of the choir had arrived in the busy lot behind the church, where the Spring Tulips festival was underway. The gorgeous blue sky and warm temperature generated a comfort that hadn’t been felt in ages.

The attendees thrived while they visited stands that offered tulip bulbs to deep fried ice cream. A few stands even had fair ground games, where some did their best to win a tee-shirt with a new moon emblem on it.

The choir members headed behind the risers, which were set up just past the stands. Then each of the singers did their own individual warm up. Though they went through the motions, a discomfort could be heard in their voices, as Harry’s inevitable face-off with Andre was on their minds.

The festival attendees caught on to the warm up and filled the seats in front of the risers. Of course, the spiritual leader and a few VIPs were amongst these attendees, and they all looked slightly impatient, as they hadn’t heard the choir perform for months, and were intrigued about the new material.

The singers should have felt butterflies about the performance, but they were worried for a more concerning reason. Everyone of the singers was present except for Andre.

Harry, who’d been one of the first singers to arrive, warmed up while pacing back-and-forth, almost fearing the task ahead of him. Other singers kept their eyes in his direction, counting on him to can Andre’s butt when he showed up.

By the time the choir was ready to file onto the risers, Andre still was nowhere to been seen.

But this relaxed John Smalls, as he assumed that Andre had somehow gotten the hint to skip the concert. And even if didn’t, and showed up late, John could simply say, “Sorry Andre, but you’re not warmed up, so you can’t perform.”

John double checked with Harry to make sure he’d learned Andre’s solo. Unbelievably Harry admitted that he hadn’t gotten it down because he’d been so worried about confronting Andre.

“We were counting on you to save us,” John said. “Now we’ll have to cancel another song.”

“Well, why don’t we replace it with Man in the Mirror,” Harry said. “We all know that one, even though you took it off the set list.”

That’s when the UFO’s appeared in the sky. Every attendee watched the blueberry and strawberry shaped objects fly in zig zag patterns over the festival. Some attendees panicked and ran back and forth, while others gazed at the patterns, trying to grasp a message from their movements.

Then the strange objects disappeared – gone without a trace. Some attendees asked if they’d just seen a surprise fireworks display, while others left the festival in a fearful hurry. But one thing everyone had in common, was that nobody had taken a picture of the mysterious crafts.

911 was called, and soon the police and fire department were on the scene. By the time the police had all the statements they could handle, an hour and a half had passed, and many attendees had gone home.

After waiting around the risers for such a long time, the choir was too anxious to sing. And besides, not a single attendee was sitting in the seats, waiting to hear them. John Smalls cancelled the performance, out of mercy.

Andre Slinger was never seen again. And nobody in the church ever asked what happened to him, as they all feared his disappearance had something to do with the ufo blitz. But everyone did know that Andre had almost succeeded in singing a solo, and conducting at the Spring Tulips Festival, which made him the second missing singer of the Universal Harmony Choir.