July 18, 2010

The Gift of Song

A few weeks ago, a lovely woman named Billie from our church died. The choir quickly got together a rehearsal and learned Billie's favorite arrangement, "The Lord Is My Shepherd" from the BBC Comedy "The Vicar of Dibley"


It was beautiful and moving, and it was amazing that our choir, (a largely self-taught and by-the-seat-of-our-pants group), learned it so well after just one practice.

Choir call-time was an hour before the service, and I was on my way up to the church. It's a 20-minute drive, a time which I often try to center my mind, but today I needed to warm up, so I started singing in the car. With the radio at first, but then I turned it off to sing alone. After a few minutes of vocal free-association, I started singing "If Ever I would Leave You" from Camelot. I hadn't sung this since my final recital my senior year in high school, but out it came, complete and without a hitch. And just to see if I could do it, I sang the rest of my recital, nearly perfect from memory: "Everybody Says Don't", "Rainbow Connection" and even a little German for Beethoven's whimsical "Song of the Flea. And even more amazing is how different my voice sounded compared to then.
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I had one year of voice lessons, my senior year in high school. One of my best friends' mother helped out with the school's spring musicals and also gave voice and piano lessons. Her name is Judith Patterson. I have a long list of things that the Patterson family has done for me over the years, but Judith game me an incredible gift in that single year of lessons-- a foundation that I have slowly built upon since then.

Before that I'd dabbled with instruments. two years of piano gave me the basics of music theory, six years of playing tenor saxophone in the school band, even a year in the percussion section. At the end, all of these left me wanting. I wasn't very good at them, and I really didn't feel the desire to continue. My junior year of high school, I left the band to join the choir with my friends. At that point, I was barely above shower-quality singing, but their support and lots of practice got my foot in the door.

After that, it was just a matter of sticking with it. By the time I finished high school, I had sung in the school choir, was the Bass in the school quartet, performed with the county summerstock theater and even did an 8-month stint in a college a cappella group called B Natural. (It was for the local community college, which was in dire need of singers. I and several others were found in high schools and we insisted we were all "freshmen".) Once at the University of Georgia, I immediately joined their renowned Mens Glee Club and got a coveted slot in their a cappella group, The UGA Accidentals. Later I sang in two other independent a cappella groups, Local Vocals and LiveWire. From High school on through college and to this day, I have been a part of my church's choir. Of course, "My Church" has changed over the years, but I've almost continuously been a part of *A* church choir since high school.

From each of these groups, I have gained knowledge and experience, met incredible people and gone all sorts of places. And one event after the other has brought more joy into my life. Because I joined the chorus, I was told about summerstock theater. Because I was in summerstock theater, I met up with Brad Maffett, who directed me in B Natural and Local Vocals. Because of my work in B Natural, I was able to move the UGA Accidentals towards touring and recording CDs. Because I was in the UGA Accidentals and Glee Club, I met my lovely wife Melissa, who sang in the Women's Glee Club and Concert Choir. After Melissa and I were married, we moved to Flowery Branch, where we found St. Gabriel's Episcopal Church, and were drafted into the Choir upon our first visit.

My life could have been so much more ordinary, but that single decision to start singing and that single year of voice lessons from Mrs. Patterson set in motion the events that have defined all the key moments of happiness in my past 20 years. The fact that I can still remember--and sing--nearly every piece of music I've learned, given my limited training, is a testament to how much it means to me, how much a part of me singing has become.

So thank you Mrs. Patterson. You have changed my life in countless blessed ways and made such a difference that I cannot imagine my life without your music in it.

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