I got to hear my daughter at all-state choir this weekend. Yes, I am proud of her – she has really excelled in an area where I did not know she had talent. We always knew she was a good artist and a wonderful writer, but music has kind of snuck up on us and now is one of her greatest loves.
It is especially gratifying to see this as it echoes me when I was young. As a boy, my voice took a long time to mature, so I had a later start than she did; but sometime in 10th or 11th grade, I discovered I could sing. I had always liked music, playing the piano, cello and self-taught guitar. Music was a major part of my family, with my father playing classical music for us, taking us to concerts, insisting on all kids having piano and one other musical instrument they could play. I was the first, however, to excel at singing.
Perhaps it is the fact that there has to be a degree of ego to go up in front of a group and sing – no matter how much practice you do, if you don\’t have it, you don\’t have it. My attention-loving personality played well into that, and I found myself singing in school musicals and taking voice lessons. As a senior, I auditioned for NY state all-state choir and made it in. What a thrill.
All-state was wonderful. We were under the direction of a nationally-recognized conductor who had us in the palm of his hand from the first practice session. We spent eight hours each day practicing for our performance, but that practice went by incredibly quick. The comradery among the musicians was part of the appeal – a bunch of my friends had also made the trip, and we had much less adult supervision than most of us were used to – but the real appeal was the thrill of working under a great conductor.
This event had such a big impact on me that I actually entered college as a voice major. I am not sure what I imagined I would do (the image of teaching a Jr. High music class was enough to scare me back to the sciences), but I am very thankful for the opportunity I had to sing under Dr. Donald Bailey.
Dr Bailey was the director of the a capella choir and the Madrigal group. I was able to make it into both as a freshman. He was an imposing figure in many ways – very demanding of his singers, very laborious in his attention to every detail of a piece we were singing – yet the work done for those groups was nothing but pleasure for me. He would kid around with us a good amount, but the overall tone of our work was serious. We needed to be completely prepared. When we went to perform, there was never any room for guesswork. All ends of words would occur at the exact same time for all 80 of us. All harmonies were on pitch and all singers knew exactly how loud or soft to sing at any point of any piece of music.
There is no experience quite like having a great conductor. The ensemble (choir, orchestra, band) acts as a single instrument in their hand. All of the musicians know exactly what to do. The product is something beyond good sounding music – it is beauty. You are like a brush in the hand of a master painter. You are like a knife in the hands of a skilled surgeon. Yet as a musician, I feel something transcendent about beautiful music. The experience of being at the creating moment of such beauty is really close to that of holding your child in your arms.
Perhaps that is why the term "conductor" is so appropriate. A conductor is something that carries current. The better the conductor, the better the current is carried. As you are creating beauty through the arms of a great conductor, you are joined with the power they carry and become the filament that produces the light.
So, my dear E, I hope you continue on your trek and have many wonderful experiences. Savor them. Cherish them. Remember them.
I will live them through you and enjoy them almost as much.