Fiction  •  August 4, 2002

To Party

So, I went to a party a friend of mine, Alison, hosted at her loft in Tribeca. She loves having big parties. Her friends are very diverse; sometimes too diverse. The party started at 7PM but I arrived around 8 with my friend Mark. I brought a steel-string acoustic guitar, and Mark brought a clarinet. As soon as we walked in we can hear a variety of songs people were singing softly. It was, as usual, a diverse mix of styles and genres. Alison greeted us at the door and started singing Donna Summer’s “Nice To See You”. Mark and I picked up our instruments and played with her.

There were already about 20 people. We put down our instruments on a big table. I noticed that someone had already brought a steel-string guitar and it looked better than mine. Everyone loved Mark’s clarinet. It’s a funny yet practical choice. There were, on the table, a violin, a set of tablas, an electronic keyboard, a trumpet, a saxophone, a harmonica, a sitar, and, of course, several electric guitars and basses. Alison provided a piano and a drum kit.

Here are some of the people who came to the party:

Nathan always sings top-40s. I usually hate top-40 singers, but he makes up for his mundane choice of songs with his performance. He is a good singer. Even though I’ve heard his songs many times before, it’s still amusing to hear Nathan sing. I didn’t really play with him that night, but I walked by him when he was singing some song by Sting. His girlfriend Karen was singing along with him and someone else was playing a guitar.

Brian is always very inappropriate with his choice of songs. We were singing some uplifting songs, and he suddenly started singing a song by Henry Rollins. We tried to play along with him to be polite, but we started dropping out one by one until David got stuck playing an electric guitar with him for a few songs.

I see Kurt and Yi at every party jamming with each other in some corner of the apartment. They bring their own laptop computers and play electronic music all night long without even looking at each other. They make some electronic noises that no one can understand, and since they have their own specific way of making music, no one else can play with them.

Darci was born and raised in France, moved here for college, and has been living here for over 10 years. She sings French songs, but many people have a hard time relating to her songs, which often makes her feel bitter. Whenever this happens, she starts singing teenage American pop music in a very sarcastic way. That night, I saw her start to sing some French song, but after she noticed that no one was playing along with her, she suddenly switched to Britney Spears’ “Oops!...I Did It Again”.

Amy is a nice girl, but in an annoying way. She grew up in Woodstock, never wears makeup, never had a real job, and lived on her father’s trust fund. She loves to sing the Beatles’ songs. What annoys me is that she always finds people at a party who haven’t been singing, pull them by their arms, and try to get them to sing along with her. If someone doesn’t want to sing, let them just be an audience, I say. At this party, she tried to pull this guy who was working there as a helper to sing along with her. He hardly spoke English and when she found out that he had never heard of Smashing Pumpkins, she finally gave up.

Kevin recently moved here from Baltimore. He tries very hard to be accepting of everything that goes on in New York, which is sweet, but can be very annoying. At the party, I saw him playing with Jamal who sings nothing but Reggae. When it was Kevin’s turn to sing, he started singing “Ebony and Ivory”. Jamal was at a loss how to react.

Kenji is a Japanese guy who has been living here for a few years. His English is still very poor and he doesn’t know any songs in English, so he usually never sings. That night, Amy put him in a spotlight to sing. Everyone cheered him on. Under pressure, he decided to sing some traditional Japanese song. It was quite strange and sounded like a funeral song and no one knew how to play along with him. After the song was over, everyone clapped their hands for brief seconds and went back to singing Western songs.

Stephanie has no talent for singing, but her good looks makes up for it. She also likes to sing by herself. She doesn’t want anyone else playing along with her. Whenever someone tries to sing along, she gets annoyed. She can also be very rude and keep on singing a song after another, and after the party, she criticizes those who did not sing at all.

Fred is like one of those restaurant singers who go from one table to another to sing. He is constantly walking around singing and playing with different groups of people. He is quite proud of his versatility.

Rebecca, I believe, is tone-deaf. She simply cannot sing. I can see that she is full of anxiety at parties. She always comes with a good friend of her who is a great singer, and plays a castanet. I’ve always felt bad for her. It must be very difficult in this society not to be able to sing at all. Naturally she fears Amy since she has embarrassed her several times before at parties.

Towards the end of the party, Alison’s boyfriend who is an opera singer, got everyone’s attention and started singing some song by Puccini. He is a master of public singing. I wish could do that. Perhaps I should take some public singing lessons.

When I went home that night, I started thinking about how deceptively difficult partying is to master. Those who can sing naturally take their talents for granted, and don’t understand why other people can’t sing well. Only those who have mastered the skill of singing can fully and thoroughly enjoy parties. For others, parties become a challenge, or even a battlefield. Put in a situation where there is nothing else to do but to sing, not having the skill can be quite stressful or even frightening. Often this skill leads to success in your career and personal relationships. We are constantly measured by how well we can sing. Even with the advancement of the communication technologies such as the Internet and cellular phones, in the end, we still tend to regard singing as the “real” representation of a person. So, no matter who you are elsewhere, if you can’t sing, you are not for real.