For My Middle School Choir Teacher

15 Dec

When I was a kid, I was pretty sure I was going to grow up to be a world-famous singer. My parents’ record collection was almost entirely Broadway musicals, and I spent hours acting them out in the living room. I was doubtless the only kid at my elementary school that knew every single song from “West Side Story,” “Oklahoma,” “My Fair Lady,” and “Fiddler on the Roof” by third grade.

(I also knew all the songs on “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” when my mom went through a country music phase, but unless you want to go to “Fist City,” we won’t talk about that.”)

I was just waiting for my big break.

Then in 8th grade, which is probably the most awkward year of life for anyone, I switched schools to a private school where everyone else had known each other since kindergarten, it seemed like. It was a miserable, bumbling year. During spirit squad tryouts I kicked with the wrong foot and whacked another would-be cheerleader in the head. I got in trouble all the time for having a messy locker. I told my parents I wanted to go back to my old school.

But, there was choir. And one day, the girl who was supposed to be singing a solo in some song we were doing was out sick, and our choir director needed someone to fill in so we could practice the song. I volunteered.

I wish I could tell you that when I opened my mouth to sing, the angels themselves fell silent to listen.

But something went really, really wrong. I came in on some note not found in nature, and the choir director stopped the song and said:

“Some people are just not meant to be soloists.”

He picked someone else. Class went on.

Even 30 years later, I can still feel that moment in the junior-high choir room where my cheeks got hot, and I blinked hard not to cry, and decided maybe, I wasn’t going to be a singer after all.

And when it came time to sign up for electives the next year, I didn’t pick choir.

Oh, after a couple years, I went back to choir, then sang in my school’s small ensemble which was most memorable perhaps for our matching shaker sweaters from the Limited.

1980s Shaker Sweaters

I'm seventh from the left. There's some super-serious singing for Jesus happening here.

And yes, I even sang a few solos here and there. I’ve sung in friends’ weddings, and still sing in my church choir every Sunday.

But sometimes, I still hear that middle-school director.

Last year, when Neil from Citizen of the Month invited bloggers to participate in a virtual Christmas concert, I really wanted to do it.

But I remembered, “some people are just not meant to be soloists.”

So I didn’t send anything in. But  I watched all the performances of these people having a great time, some singing like angels, some definitely human, and realized something.

We are all meant to be soloists.

So, the night of the deadline for the concert submissions, I hid in the bathroom with my iPhone, in the dark, and recorded my song. Twice. Because the first time I was shaking so hard I sounded like I was singing on top of a washer on the spin cycle. The second time, I thought it was ok.

You can click here to hear it:

In The Bleak Midwinter

And then, go and, listen to everyone!

The Fifth Annual Blogger Christmalhijrahanukwanzaakah Online Holiday Concert!

Neil, thanks for putting this together.

Merry Christmas, and sing as loud as you want.

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6 Responses to “For My Middle School Choir Teacher”

  1. Emily December 15, 2010 at 12:48 pm #

    I have been there… and done that. Singing has never been easy for me, which is kind of funny since I have been doing it my entire life. I always seem to sound better when no one’s around… go figure!

    I will definitely listen to your big performance on Neil’s blog later – can’t wait! Go Dawn 🙂

  2. Shari B December 15, 2010 at 2:06 pm #

    I am living my dream vicariously through every episode of “Glee.” (Mommm, shhh, stop singing.)

    • Patty Vela December 15, 2010 at 8:19 pm #

      That was beautiful! I would give anything for a sweeter, gentler singing voice. You sound amazing….and what a lovely song! Good for you….my high school drama teacher told me, “You can’t act.” In college, my theater professor said, “You should have chosen this as your major!” It’s funny…isn’t it?

  3. Beth December 15, 2010 at 10:23 pm #

    As a passionate middle school counselor, I wish I could give that choir director a verbal smackdown for shattering you like that. That was SO inappropriate, especially for a young girl at such a challenging and formative time of life. Jerk! Major kudos to you for rising above and recording your song. Let your voice be heard, girl!!! You’re awesome! Cheers!

  4. Lovely Mrs E December 16, 2010 at 11:08 am #

    I think your singing is just beautiful! I’m so proud of you for believing in yourself and not giving up after that horrible middle school experience. I would love to be able to sing…but I am practically tone deaf. I don’t let that stop me, however. Even the music teacher told me not to sing with my students when I taught elementary school. I’d rather sing and show that everyone can enjoy music…it’s not dependent on how well you can do it that counts.

  5. Kathy December 16, 2010 at 11:22 am #

    You have a great voice! Sometimes teachers in middle school either don’t know or don’t care how much weight a few words could have. I was in the same place but for track when a coach said “you are not a long distance runner.” I was happy to be a sprinter, ran the 800, but just mediocre. From age 12, I then told myself not only was I NOT a long distance runner, I WAS UNABLE TO BE A LONG DISTANCE RUNNER. When I would work out, I couldn’t run close to a mile at a decent pace and I thought “wow that coach was right.” Enter Spring of 2010 when I wanted to lose weight, fast. The “Couch to 5K” program came across my iPhone and I said “what the hell.” After a few months of training, on Oct 30 I ran my first 5K at an 11:25 pace.. Turkey Trot the next month 11:05. So who’s not a long distance runner? I’m now training for a 10K. As adults, it’s up to us to switch the context and not be in 8th grade. Sometimes we know, sometimes we don’t, but when we do find we are living as a 12 year old.. it’s time to grow up. SO EXCITED for you.. keep singing if it makes you happy. I’m gonna keep on runnin’ 🙂

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