"This is Tim", says Nicole, presenting me to Vroni.
"Oh good!", she smiles, "we are many many women!"
We are indeed "many many women" ̶̶ around 50, of varied ages ̶̶ and just a handful of men. What strikes too is seeing so many people gathered for a mid-week social event. We're in a part of Bavaria where after-work social life seldom supersedes letting it all hang out once a year at Shrove Tuesday fancy dress parade.
Vroni directs The Wolperdinger Singers, ("Wolpis" for short), a local a-capella group. I saw their concert last weekend and enjoyed it so much that I'm attending practice night. Germans take their singing societies dead seriously. Munich alone boasts over 200 such choirs, including special line-ups for policemen, postmen, sailors and even a group by the name of "Bad Mothers".
We kick off with some voice-tuning exercises. Vroni leads with "ooooh!", "aaaaah!" and "jaaa!", which we have to repeat, holding our voices fever-pitch high, as long as possible. I soon start to enjoy it, in a funny sort of way. It's all a bit like a tough workout in the gym. Sport à la a-capella. But the only things moving here are vocal chords. Next up we're into a medley of Udo Jürgens hits ̶̶ "Mit 66 Jahren" and "Aber bitte mit Sahne". Suddenly though I feel Markus prodding me gently in the ribs. "You're eight octaves too low", he whispers. To be honest, I'm actually relieved. I feared I might sound like the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever.
All of a sudden Vroni halts us in full flow. "Stopp!", she cries, "One of the tenors is singing the wrong tone”. Our choir mistress is not looking at anyone directly, but it’s quite clear who she’s referring to. I don’t dare look up or around, fearing I'll see everyone staring at me. That's how it must feel at school when you don’t want to answer the teacher’s question. You keep both eyes glued to the floor and pray the moment will pass.
Still, I'm soon back in the swing of things. In fact I'm enjoying it so much I'm swinging, quite literally. Suddenly, as we're singing a Scandinavian song with the chorus "Seidamadei doo doo dooo", it's Claudia's turn to prod me. "One 'doo' is longer!" she giggles. That immediately sets me off giggling too. Moments later Vroni calls us all to order, announcing we're finished for the night. I heave a huge sigh of relief. It's been fun but don't think I could have kept that up very much longer.
Afterwards there's fingerfood and drinks ̶̶ some of the members are celebrating birthdays. I’m just standing at a high table, chatting to my new colleagues, when suddenly all of them break into song. It must be a surprise performance for the birthday children. Not everybody’s singing, however. Only the very best singers. The rest are all seated watching. I'm caught up in a flashmob no one's bothered warning me about. A bit like Mr Bean in the scene where he’s in church singing with no hymn book, and can only join in for two words ̶̶ “Hallelujah, - lel-ujah!”. I don’t even manage two words. Totally out of my league, I gently slide sideways and then edge backwards until I’m out of sight. Then I make a run for it.