Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Musical Memories, a Reunion, and a Tribute

For once I will not be writing of knitting, running, books, recipes, or some cool math-related topic. For most of you that read this blog, you probably know nothing about my musical side. For all that knew me prior to teaching and knitting, they know me primarily as a musician. Music has always been the most integral part of my life and a major descriptor of my being. This weekend I get the opportunity to reunite and celebrate with many of my fellow musicians as we come together for a choral event at my old high school. We will be celebrating decades of service to the local musical and theatrical arts by Mr. and Mrs. B and supporting the funding for a community performing arts center that has long been a dream of theirs. The arts center will be located in Old Hilliard where the old silos, longtime familiar landmarks, used to be. This tribute concert will feature alumni who have made it on Broadway and off-Broadway. I look forward to seeing many familiar faces and songs from the past up there on stage on Saturday!

For those arriving into town early, we are all meeting on Friday night to join up with the monthly alumni meetup. I don't know about anyone else's frame of mind going into this weekend. Are they feeling a mixture of happiness twinged with underlying sadness as I am? You see, it will be a celebration ...and, though no one may directly address it, it will also be a goodbye. My heart is heavy just thinking about it. The timing of this event is sensitive and meant to celebrate life while Mr. B. is still around. I have been told that he has Stage 4 lung cancer and am not certain of his present condition.

For those who don't know, besides playing the flute and, much later, alto horn, I was primarily a piano accompanist for choirs and instrumental soloists throughout my childhood and into college. There were children's church choirs, middle school choirs, 9th grade choir, and finally Senior Choir and Madrigals - a traveling choral group. I got to sing occasionally, too, when it was something a cappella or when I chose to be in the chorus or snag a bit part rather than play in the pit orchestra for the high school musicals. But, mostly I sat at the piano while Mr. B directed the Senior Choir and Madrigals. I remember his coffee-and-cigarettes breath from being in close proximity as we went over vocal parts and how he could quickly - amazingly quickly - put a person in his or her place during practice with his high expectations and zero tolerance for immaturity. His sharp-witted and sometimes humor-laced sarcasm would cut you to the quick, and deservedly so. He demanded and commanded respect. But, I also remember his reverence for the beauty and sacred nature of choral music. That respect and love for achingly beautiful music was contagious, and, just for one period during the school day, we would quit goofing off, forget what cliques everyone belonged to, and seriously strive to achieve something meaningful together. I remember how there were not just music kids in the choir; there were jocks, nerds, many of the coolest kids in school, and several who weren't a part of anything else in school but who absolutely loved choir. Mr. B, though temperamental as all get out at times, attracted ALL the kids. Everyone wanted to be a part of Senior Choir.

Mr. and Mrs. B put on a spring musical each year, and they also co-directed summer community musicals which brought back many talented and loyal alumni. Once or twice I played in the pit orchestra for those summer shows. That was definitely not as fun as being part of the chorus, but it was still a unique and memorable experience (playing in a hole in the ground where you can't see the audience!). I loved that there was always a good turnout of alumni each summer. However, my favorite performance memories are of the spring musicals. We put on Anything Goes, in which I had a minor part as one of the angels with singing, dancing, and maybe two lines; I got to be a nun and briefly lead off The Sound of Music in Latin (in the dark and unseen, but who cares, it was exciting!); we had an extremely talented senior play Tevye for Fiddler On The Roof. I so loved singing alto in the chorus on Sabbath Prayer and sneaking into the back of the dark auditorium during rehearsals to hear Jess sing as Tevye. He also played Harold Hill in The Music Man the previous year. We had so much fun doing musicals that immediately following their close most of us went through a minor depression from missing the camaraderie, joy, intensity, and fun of it all. Mr. B was the musical director while Mrs. B was the theatrical director. Quite a team, those two! The assistant choir director and technical theater director for all those years under Mr. and Mrs. B will both be leading the tribute concert.

Most competitive high school marching bands go to or hold band camp. With choirs it is less common, but we did it. Every summer we would go to Hocking Hills and stay at a horse camp that had large cabins up in the woods, a lake, and a mess hall that acted as our practice room between meals. Since my high school band didn't go away for band camp, choir camp was the only opportunity for me to do camp away from home. During that week, we would get to know each well, have loads of fun, and get a head start on the music we would be singing in the fall. Besides meeting and making good friends there, I will never forget the last night of camp. Throughout the last full day there, alumni would show up one by one. Following dinner we would put on an informal concert for them under their unwavering and appraising gaze. To close the evening, we would circle up and join hands, young and old, to sing what we always sang a cappella at the end of any concert: The Lord Bless You And Keep You.

When the tribute concert comes to a close on Saturday night with many old musician friends in attendance, I am certain, even with no knowledge of the program, that we will end it with The Lord Bless You And Keep You, and I can guarantee that there will not be a dry eye in the house. I found the version we sing on YouTube. If you watch the video below and see the alumni surrounding the audience, then you might get a feeling of how meaningful this will be for us on Saturday since we'll be singing it for the very people who began this tradition and created many wonderful and lasting memories at our high school.

ETA: Oh my goodness! How could I forget that it was Mr. and Mrs. B who took the Madrigals on a trip to New York City?! If it weren't for them, I would never have experienced Cats, Central Park, the World Trade Center, etc. I HAD to get back on here and mention that NYC trip owning a place among my many fond memories of being in choir.