Determined to do a Wild Unlikely Thing

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ETERMINED TO DO A WILD, UNLIKELY THING by Natoma (Nash) Noble, (9) 63-65

The condition is End-Of-Tourishness. One gets short-tempered, irritable, and anxious for a change of scene. In April 1965, Joan Kral, (10) 64-66, and I, volunteers in the Midwest Region, were at a University of Nigeria at Nsukka music conference when we recognized we had End-Of-Tourishness. We decided the cure would be to do something really different, stimulating, and enjoyable—we would put together a formal concert for voice and piano.

Neither of us had a piano or any music. But by the end of the conference, we were determined to do this wild, unlikely thing. We wouldn’t do its for altruistic reasons. We would do it to maintain sanity.

From idea to actuality, I traced the concert in letters I wrote to my family every Sunday, right after ingesting two chloroquine phosphate tablets along with strong hot tea (rainy season) or a half bottle of Star (dry season).

Nsukka, Apr. 30 The music conference is over. I'll be leaving Nsukka in an hour to travel back with Barton Dozier. Last night I sang two songs from Camelot and one written by Joan Kral. It's been a wonderful week—hardly any rest. Joan and I have decided to give a concert.

Ughelli, May 30 Joan came from Abraka yesterday to plan our concert for around the first of October. We worked out a program of Bach, Mozart, Schubert, Schumann, and several things in English and want to present it in Warri at a school which has a good auditorium and piano so Joan can also perform solos.

In the meantime, my music professors at Florida State kindly sent music and recorded accompaniments, so I began rehearsals in mid-May.

Ughelli, July 18 What a wonderful week this has been! Joan came and we bicycled to Government College in the rain and practiced there for three hours. It was wonderful to sing again.

We went over to see Clara Isenberg, (10) 64-66, (Marge Wilkinson's, (9) 63-65, housemate) who leaves within the month for Louisiana. After dark, we discovered neither bicycle had a light. Marge tied a little kerosene lamp on the front of my bicycle and we inched our way home, through the blackest and longest two miles I've ever traveled.

Ughelli, Aug. 7 Last night I had a good practice. No one was near, except the flying insects. I sang as—ah—forcefully as I wanted to!

Warri, Aug. 11 Joan, her roommate Sally Kinkel, (10) 64-67, and I came to Warri Friday afternoon and haven't stopped since. Joan and I have been practicing steadily and hard, and the results are promising.

Warri, Aug. 13 Mother, see if you can find in my music cabinet Cast Thy Burden Upon the Lord, O Sacred Head Now Wounded, and at least two more good Bach hymns because I want to replace Agnus Dei. It is too esoteric for our audience.

Warri, Aug. 22 Joan and I practiced yesterday and things are moving right along. She's leaving for a visit to Liberia for a few weeks where her sister, Barbara, was a PCV. Barbara was one of five girls who crossed the Sahara. You may have read about it in Life Magazine.

Ughelli, Aug. 27 This has been a beautifully quiet week—no one here but me. I've been reading, eating, sleeping, walking, and every night I practice for at least two hours. It's the best part of the day. If you could find Schubert's Ave Maria in the key of F or G, it would be a tremendous help. I have it in the key of B flat, which is just too high.

Ughelli, Sept. 5 Yesterday I recorded four songs for my professor Mr. James and sent them to him for critique. I'm so excited about this concert. I've had encouragement from many people.

We found a better piano at the Warri British club. They would let us borrow it if we could move it ourselves—no small thing, that. We hired two men with a large handcart to take it from the club to the auditorium. Joan hopped up into the cart to steady it and played as we rolled along.

Ughelli, Sept. 20 School starts today and this term will go by in a hurry. The concert is three weeks away. People can't believe we're going through with this.

Ughelli, Sept. 27 Last weekend, Joan and I went to Eka to practice on a new piano one of the nurses has. I wasn't in very good voice after a strenuous week, but we got a lot accomplished, taping the things we did on a trial run through and listening to the results. I am anxious for everything to go "well-well".

Sunday night I caught a ride home with the Seismic crew's water truck. They had to lift me into the cab it was so high. Roads were in bad condition because of rains. Three lorries mired in mud two or three feet deep blocked the road completely. At 11 p.m. all the local gentry, fretful babies notwithstanding, were out to watch the proceedings.

One of the many Nigerians riding on top of the water tank had a transistor radio. No doubt he was looking for high life music but found the BBC playing Beethoven's 5th Symphony. The crowd quieted down and listed to the whole thing— all four movements—a golden moment.

Ughelli, Oct. 3 I'm having a dress made for our concert. The seamstress, Mrs. Ubredi, has done a lovely job with white lace over pink cotton. Yesterday when I was trying it on in her open-air shop, quite a crowd gathered and one man craned his neck so far as he drove by that he nearly swerved off the road.

Singing for the first time in well over two years is giving me stage fright. This weekend while we were practicing, a lot of little kids gathered outside. When I hit a high note in the Mozart aria, one little boy began to cry.

Ughelli, Oct. 7 Tomorrow I go to Warri for our final weekend practice. I still have a few qualms—I guess that's natural. We’re giving two performances. The first is the 16th at Government College for students of three schools. Paul and Jane Hoover, (8) 64-66, are coming along with Mr. and Mrs. Pincetich, (staff) 66-68, Ginny and Ann, and the doctor and his wife. Many people express interest, and that helps a lot, as well as your encouragement.

Ughelli, Oct. 15 I'm really excited about the concert tomorrow night. My dress is finished and fits fine. A lady in Warri is keeping the dress in her air-conditioned bedroom so it won't mildew. Marge is lending me some glittery bracelet and earrings, and Judy (Olmstead), (9) 63-65, has a surprise—a decorative hair clip, I think.

Ughelli, Oct. 18 Saturday morning— the big day—I woke up with laryngitis! All day was a nightmare of Vicks vaporizing, cough drops, brandy, massages and hot tea. I could hardly utter a sound and was really broken up because so many people had come so far to hear us. Finally, the PC doctor, Mike Taylor, came, took my temperature (101 degrees), and encouraged me to go on in spite of everything, so I did.

It was a success! We left out two songs, transposed one up since I couldn't produce any low notes at all, and still people enjoyed the performance. Dr. Taylor sat in the front row, with smiles and smelling salts in case anything happened.

Mr. Pincetich said that he wished more PCVs would display their skills in ways like this concert. Alice Loeffler made me a corsage and brought it all the way from Uromi. Helen Kale sent a bottle of perfume. At the end of the performance, we received a standing ovation. I was truly overcome.

Next weekend we are giving the concert again in Ughelli at Government College. A lot of our friends are coming from other places. Joan, Sally, and Helen Kale will spend the night here and we’ll all socialize afterwards. Sunday I'll fix pancakes for everyone and we can play softball.

Ughelli, Oct. 25 I started Saturday in leisure, proceeded in turmoil, and ended at 5:00 a.m. Sunday morning in total collapse. Saturday morning Joan and I went to Government College to rehearse in the auditorium where the concert was to be that night. I sounded a bit creaky, not having sung all week, but felt 100% better. Bob Finlay, (9) 63-65, Jack Poons and Ray Engelke, (both 10) 64-66, PCVs at Government College, came to listen.

Soon after we got back to the house, Helen Kale, arrived with suitcase, two huge paw paws, a pineapple, and a lovely carving I'd ordered in Benin. We were just finishing lunch when Dave Pritchett, Carl White, and Ray Engelke, (all 11) 64-66, zoomed up, all on one Honda. Things really started moving then.

Soon Paul Kerschner, (13) 64-66, and Dave Head, (11) 64-66, arrived after a ten-mile bicycle ride—really hot and tired, but bubbling over. Everyone came to the kitchen to talk while Helen and I started making pumpkin pies. Helen mixed and I rolled out dough on the top of the refrigerator, the only clear space. Then everyone had to take a bath, me last, and Joan and I simply didn't have time to get nervous. Sally's friend Arthur drove us to the concert in his Landrover; we rode in style, long dresses trailing in the breeze.

The concert was a tremendous success! We performed better than we ever had and enjoyed every minute of it, me especially. After I introduced the song The Wonderful Month of May the audience of 500, largely students, began talking. When they didn't stop, I muttered to Joan, "Well, I shouldn't have said anything," and the tape picked it up! Then, after introducing Das Fischermaedchen I turned to Joan and said, "Quick—play before they start talking"—that's on the tape, too.

Ughelli, Nov. 19 In spite of our resolution to the contrary, Joan and I are going to give our concert in Benin the night before I leave. Benin has never had such an event. No other volunteers in the world have done this sort of thing. The new Regional Director, Mr. Holmes, and Dr. Taylor, think this concert can be held up to Peace Corps Volunteers everywhere as an example of cultural achievement! We finally consented to do a command concert.

Jackson, MS, 1999 In Benin, on December 19, 1965, the night before I left Nigeria, Joan Kral and I were taken to a huge auditorium by police escort! We were rushed into the building to find it over-flowing—people were sitting in the windows. And we gave a wonderful, final performance.

We never told anyone it all started as a cure to End-Of-Tourishness. Until now.

Editor's Note: After returning to Mississippi to teach in the Jackson Public School system for several years, the author went on to earn a masters and doctorate in music arts, and has taught at Jacksonville State University (AL) and Presbyterian College (SC). She now teaches at Millsaps College, (Jackson, MS), gives folk music concerts across the south, and has just retired from 25 years of choir directing. In addition, she fosters animals, which have been injured or abused—eleven are in residence at the present.

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