ysabetwordsmith: (Fly Free)
[personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
This poem is spillover from the February 7, 2017 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] callibr8 and [personal profile] stardreamer. It also fills the "be here now" square in my 2-1-17 Platonic card for the Valentines Bingo fest. This poem belongs to the LIFC series. You have new prompter [personal profile] mirrorofsmoke to thank for the second freebie.


"Their Old Familiar Carols Play"


Phil sat in the common room,
practicing with bits of code.

Steve was working on a big pile of
fleece scarves in various combinations
of red, white, and blue. Meticulously
he clipped out little stars and fringed
the ends, tying some in knots and
leaving others plain. As he finished
each one, it went into a charity box.

Bucky and Natasha collaborated on
a dance piece they intended for
the Stark Industries holiday bash.

Holiday music played softly in
the background over the speakers,
and Steve hummed along with it.

"I heard the bells on Christmas Day

Their old familiar carols play,

And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on Earth, good-will to men!"

Phil worried about Steve and Bucky,
because even though they seemed
to enjoy the music, it made them sad
for some reason that Phil did not
understand but could still see
quite clearly on their faces.

Natasha jumped in with
more enthusiasm than
social skill. "Are you doing
anything fun Saturday night?"

"Well, all the guys from
my barbershop quartet are
dead, so … " Steve said,
"... no, not really."

"Gently, please," Phil said.

Natasha winced. "Sorry,"
she said quietly.

"It's been seventy years,"
Steve said. "Not your fault."

Tony came in then,
towing Bruce behind him.

"Hey, did I hear something about
a barbershop quartet?" Tony said.
"Because Pepper asked me to find
her some more volunteers for
the Stark Industries caroling."

"Steve sings real pretty,"
Bucky said, whereupon Steve
groaned and tried to hide himself
under his pile of scarves.

"Great," said Tony.
"What about you, Bucky?"

"Don't look at me, I already
have a part," Bucky said.
"Natasha and I are doing
the duet of Clara and
the Nutcracker Prince."

"I'm not always in much of
a holiday mood these days,"
Steve admitted. "It's hard for me
to stay focused sometimes and
not get lost in the memories."

"Believe me, I know,"
Bruce said. "You can't
live in the past, though.
You need to find ways
to be here now."

"Bruce has a point," Phil said.
"If you don't like singing now, you
can always quit; but if you don't give
it a chance, you'll never know."

"Yeah, I guess,"
Steve said. "I'll try it."

So the next day, Steve went
to the practice session for
the Stark Industries carolers.

Phil followed for moral support, along
with Bucky and Natasha who brought
a Starkpad to work on staging their scene.

Tiffany from Publicity was there,
so at least Steve would know
one other person besides his team.

Without a doubt, Steve knew
all of the carols by heart --

but when he tried to sing,
his voice broke and squealed,
making him blush scarlet.

Steve was all for quitting
then and there, but Bucky said,
"I bet I know what happened.
Your voice changed, and
you didn't account for that."

"What did you sing?"
the choral leader asked,
although he had wanted
to hear people's voices
before sorting them out.

"Countertenor," Steve said at
the same time Bucky said, "Treble."

Steve glared at Bucky and said,
"I do not sing treble, men with
high voices sing countertenor."

"Yeah, whatever," Bucky said.
"My point is, you're a lot bigger now
and your speaking voice is different.
"When's the last time you sang?"

Steve looked away. "A long time ago."

"Well, you're way deeper than you
used to be, like baritone or even bass,"
Bucky said. "Why don't you try
singing in a lower range?"

"You know I can't do that, it
makes my chest --" Steve broke off.

"That's different too," Phil said.
"You can sing now without risking
your health in the process."

Tiffany put her hand on Steve's shoulder
and whispered something that Phil
couldn't hear, but it made Steve
straighten up and smile a bit.

The choral leader talked to him too,
led him through a few exercises, and
then urged him to try singing again.

Steve's voice wandered and wavered
for the first few verses, struggling through
unfamiliar territory, but then it settled
into a delicious deep baritone
that bordered on bass.

The choral director moved him
to a new spot, then went on
sorting the other volunteers.

Soon they started exploring
Christmas carols in harmony,
voices rising and falling
in imperfect accord.

It wasn't good yet,
but Phil could tell that
it was heading that way.

He took out his Starkphone and
made a note to recommend caroling
as a teamwork exercise at SHIELD.

By the time the practice session ended,
Steve was grinning and flushed with success.
He even agreed to let Tiffany announce that
he was joining the Stark Industry carolers.

In the elevator on the way back
to the common floor, Steve said,
"Thanks for making me try this."

"I knew you'd do fine," Bucky said.
"You always do, one way or another."

"Yeah," Steve said. "It's different --
I don't have the same rapport with
these people that I used to have
with my barbershop quartet,
but it's better than I expected."

"Give it time," Bucky said.
"You knew those guys from
growing up together, and
this group is new."

"New can be good,"
Natasha said, leaning in.

Steve hugged her, then threw
his other arm around Phil.
Bucky squeezed in too.

"Sometimes what people need
is to hear their old familiar carols play,
even if it's in a new way," Phil said.

"Yeah," Steve said, smiling.
"Merry Christmas to all."

* * *

Notes:

“I heard the bells on Christmas Day; their old familiar carols play, and wild and sweet the word repeat of peace on earth, good-will to men!”
-- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

"I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" is a holiday carol but also a war song, written during the Civil War, so it resonates with Steve and Bucky. Listen to it online.

Fleece makes excellent scarves. Steve is actually making a combination of these reverse-applique scarves (which require sewing) and these knotted ones (which don't). The star scarves look something like this.

Black Widow: "You doing anything fun Saturday night?"
Captain America: "Well, all the guys from my barbershop quartet are dead, so…no, not really."
-- Captain America: The Winter Soldier

The Nutcracker is a famous Christmas ballet. Watch the duet of Clara and the Nutcracker Prince.

Going around singing Christmas carols is an old tradition. The Stark Industries carolers break into teams of varying sizes to perform at hospitals, parks, and other public venues as well as calling on the homes of fellow employees and providing entertaining at SI events.

Male voices change over time. The treble is a boy's voice before puberty. The countertenor is the highest adult male voice, above the tenor which is the highest male voice in common use. Tiny men may hit the same notes as a boy, but they don't call it by the same name. Before Project Rebirth, Steve was very small and thin for a man, which pitched his voice high; so when he had enough breath to sing, he took the highest part in a song. Project Rebirth added at least a foot of height and a lot of mass. Afterwards, Steve's voice settled into a much lower range. Currently his tessitura, or most comfortable range, falls right at the bottom of the baritone. That means his functional range spans the lower part of the baritone and upper part of the bass. Steve knew that his voice had changed during Project Rebirth, but he did not account for its effect when singing, because he didn't have much opportunity for that. So when he started caroling, he naturally tried to take the same part as before, which did not work at all.

A lovely surprise

Date: 2017-02-12 08:32 am (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
Despite the melancholy feel to both the holiday carol/war song, and Steve's mood, there was plenty of reason to smile, shown first-hand rather than simply presumed like in more mainstream holiday stories.

Steve insisting he sings "countertenor" rather than "treble" made me think, very strongly, of the conversation between Bucky and Steve outside of the movie theater in the first movie. That's an interesting accomplishment, as the two scenes have almost nothing but the 'voices' of the two characters in common!

finding one's voice

Date: 2017-02-12 08:33 am (UTC)
callibr8: icon courtesy of Wyld_Dandelyon (Default)
From: [personal profile] callibr8
Loooooove it!!!! I hope that as Steve gets more familiar with the voice timbre he has now, that he'll enjoy using it. That might make it easier, too, if he can be coaxed into getting back into barbershop; he'd be on a completely different part, which could reduce the painful reminders of the past, as well as requiring increased concentration to "hear" where his part fits. Since SPEBSQA is alive and well, I'm sure he'd have *no* trouble finding a quartet, or a larger group if he'd rather go that route!

A personal note (so to speak): while my natural range is soprano ("lyric" would be the operatic voice designation), I'd almost always rather be singing descant. If that's not available for some reason, I'll go find a lower harmony; I have a decent mezzo range. When I get asked to sing melody, I try to be gracious about it, but inwardly I'm usually thinking, "Aww, mom, do I gotta?" :-)

Re: finding one's voice

Date: 2017-02-13 12:06 am (UTC)
callibr8: icon courtesy of Wyld_Dandelyon (Default)
From: [personal profile] callibr8
>> Do what works for you. <<

It's a balancing act between my preferences and the needs of the many. If there isn't anybody else, or not enough others, to provide a strong lead, I'll put my efforts there rather than see the music suffer. The very strength of choral music lies in people who are willing and able to learn (and hold onto) particular voice parts, after all.

Re: finding one's voice

Date: 2017-02-16 04:30 am (UTC)
technoshaman: BMW Motorrad (beemer)
From: [personal profile] technoshaman
while my natural range is soprano

Tessitura, a word I learnt just a few days ago.

I remember finding out that a couple of people known for being out in front are AWESOME as backing vocalists over the last little bit... SJ Tucker (who, come to think of it, has been doing backing vocals for herself for almost two decades)... and
[Error: Irreparable invalid markup ('<a [...] parton</a>') in entry. Owner must fix manually. Raw contents below.]

<em>while my natural range is soprano </em>

<u>Tessitura</u>, a word I learnt just a few days ago.

I remember finding out that a couple of people known for being out in front are AWESOME as backing vocalists over the last little bit... SJ Tucker (who, come to think of it, has been doing backing vocals for herself for almost two decades)... and <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oYCoyUxY2HY"Dolly Parton</a>

Hmmm. Cap is an ambivert?

(no subject)

Date: 2017-02-12 05:30 pm (UTC)
mirrorofsmoke: Text icon: I can't believe we're still protesting this shit. (Default)
From: [personal profile] mirrorofsmoke
This poem made me grin. Thank you.

-Someone whose name also happens to be Natasha

PS: I can so seriously imagine Steve singing holiday carols. And the one mentioned is one we had to do in our chorus class back in high school. Vocally we're a low alto/high tenor.

Re: Thoughts

Date: 2017-02-15 03:45 am (UTC)
mirrorofsmoke: Text icon: I can't believe we're still protesting this shit. (Default)
From: [personal profile] mirrorofsmoke
The arrangement we used was particularly nice, also. Instead of being happy all the way through, it started in a minor key and only when the lyrics got more hopeful did it swell into major. It was beautiful.

The Steve I know surely would sing holiday carols. In fact, I'm pretty sure he does, even in the middle of summer. :P

-Nat

voice changes

Date: 2017-02-12 05:51 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I fall comfortably in the alto/contralto range but often get sucked into singing the higher ranges of the countertenor if there's a particularly belty countertenor in the group...drives the choral director NUTS

(no subject)

Date: 2017-02-12 06:23 pm (UTC)
alatefeline: Painting of a cat asleep on a book. (Default)
From: [personal profile] alatefeline
*smiles*

(no subject)

Date: 2017-02-13 03:39 pm (UTC)
redsixwing: Picture shows a red-winged angel staring at a distant blue star. (Default)
From: [personal profile] redsixwing
This one's really sweet. I'm glad Steve found a way to reconnect with something he likes.

Those scarves sound so warm. <3

(no subject)

Date: 2017-02-14 02:15 am (UTC)
stardreamer: Meez headshot (Default)
From: [personal profile] stardreamer
This is nice. You took it in a different direction than I was thinking about, but it works very well as is. I'd like to see Steve get back into singing, because it's a good place to vent emotions that often don't have any easy place to go.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-02-14 05:31 am (UTC)
mdlbear: the positively imaginary half of a cubic mandelbrot set (Default)
From: [personal profile] mdlbear
Finally got around to listening to the carol. My inclination would be to sing it -- all of it -- somewhat faster. It's not my religion, but a good anti-war song deserves to be heard in full.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-02-14 05:01 pm (UTC)
johnpalmer: (Default)
From: [personal profile] johnpalmer
Flash comment (before I've read much) the fleece scarves brought back a memory of the comic book Steve getting a van that can change color to (I think) red, green, blue, or white, "I reckon I won't use the green very much" was just such a Cap thing to think to himself....

(no subject)

Date: 2017-02-15 11:56 am (UTC)
artsyhonker: a girl with glasses and purple shoulder-length hair (Default)
From: [personal profile] artsyhonker
Just a note -- it's not always possible to generalise an association between "small and thin" and "high male voice": some of the best counter-tenors I know are very large indeed, and I've known some very convincing, rather petite basses. Essentially, small people can still have large larynxes and vice versa, the way you sometimes see someone who is small but has very large hands or a huge nose or something, or the way my feet are a bit on the small side for my height. (My own range is getting on for three octaves, which means I end up singing tenor, alto or, occasionally, soprano, depending what's needed; but I don't practice enough for my soprano range to actually be good.)

Vocal range also usually increases with practice, especially in the upper register of a given voice, so if Steve does lots of singing he may well find that some of the tenor range comes back.

Re: Thoughts

Date: 2017-02-15 01:05 pm (UTC)
artsyhonker: a girl with glasses and purple shoulder-length hair (Default)
From: [personal profile] artsyhonker

Yes -- it is extremely likely that Steve's voice would deepen. We also know a bit about this from the experiences of trans men. My (very minor) quibble was with the notion of it being due to body size generally rather than larynx size specifically, but perhaps I only got that impression because I was reading too fast.

Re: Thoughts

Date: 2017-02-15 07:33 pm (UTC)
artsyhonker: a girl with glasses and purple shoulder-length hair (Default)
From: [personal profile] artsyhonker

That makes a lot of sense! :-)

Re: Thoughts

Date: 2017-02-16 04:35 am (UTC)
technoshaman: (schroeder)
From: [personal profile] technoshaman
One of my favourite musical people when I was in the early stages of college looked *and sounded* like a California Raisin. Somewhere in the five-foot-even range, very round, brown-skinned, and DAYUM. His speaking voice was tenor but he could run from baritone to the High C's...

(no subject)

Date: 2017-02-16 11:16 pm (UTC)
mama_kestrel: (Default)
From: [personal profile] mama_kestrel
And sometimes the contrast is a bit startling. One of my favorite people to sing with is a tiny woman, 5'3" on her best day and built like a sparrow...who sings baritone. (I'm a classic lyric soprano.)

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