This is a love story of sorts.
Last week, Hilary (you know her from Camp registration, special events, and less fun things like BMF billing issues) lost a dear old friend and mentor, her first singing teacher and choral director. This woman was much more than just a music teacher to Hilary. This person guided Hilary through her early teenage years and set her on the path of becoming a professional musician. I asked her to relay a story so I could better understand her relationship and how special this woman was. What she shared made me cry and smile. I have shared the email exactly how she wrote it. Please take five minutes to read and share with friends, it’s well worth the time:
So, this is the story I should’ve told you yesterday when you so kindly asked me to tell you about Janet Stotts, my first music teacher. Flashback: I’m 13 years old, and it’s my first big concert with the Alaska Children’s Choir. I have a solo: “Who Will Buy?” from the musical “Oliver.” The first note of the first phrase (“Who will buy this beautiful morning?”) starts on a D a 9th above middle C. I was just beginning to develop my head voice, and this note is right in my passaggio. It’s a part of the voice that requires some real finesse and I am PETRIFIED.
The music starts. My cue. I glance over at Janet, and she gives me this smile that she reserved for these occasions, a smile that means, “You’ve got this, and I’m right here, and it’s time to be a pro.” The first note of my solo wobbles, but she’s giving me that smile, and she motions for me to relax my jaw. My voice steadies, and I finish the solo. Even though I wasn’t listed in the program, some reviewer from the Anchorage Daily News was in the audience and found out who I was, then wrote in the paper the next day that “the evening’s finest solo work was found in the voice of Hilary Gardner.” My first review, and my first lesson that a performance does not need to be perfect to be noteworthy. And here’s the gift that Janet gave me, when she saw the review. She told me that she was so proud of me and that I deserved that praise….but that she had heard the wobble, too, and we’d work on it. What a gift: to be 13 years old and have an adult who refused to bullshit me, who was committed to making me a better singer rather than just pat me on the back–in short, Janet treated me like a musician.
Which brings me to this video, which I came upon today. At about 1:16, a young girl of about 13 starts singing a solo to “Goin’ Up a-Yonder,” which is a song I also sang with the choir. Hell, I probably sang this very solo at one time or another. Anyway, if you watch this video full-screen, you’ll see the girl glance over at Janet, and Janet gives her that same “You’ve got this” smile, then motions for her to relax her jaw. The already-lovely sound of this girl’s voice blossoms open and you can see the kid visibly relax into the music.
I’m not totally sure why I felt the need to tell you this, except that I knew you’d get it. This woman gave me my sense of Self, a sense of belonging in the world. And 25 years after she did that for me, she was still doing it for kids like the girl in this video. Aha. Now I know why I’m sending this to you–it just occurred to me this second, as I type (this is pretty stream-of-consciousness). You are contributing to young musicians’ lives in ways that they will undoubtedly remember with immeasurable gratitude 25 years down the road, too, Nate. Glad to know ya.