I’m not sure I can convey in words (but of course I’m still going to try!) how proud I was of my four high school voice students who competed yesterday in Racine’s Solo & Ensemble contest. Each of them managed to earn the highest possible award – six top ratings in all, since two of the guys competed in two different solo categories – which is very exciting and gratifying. (My three private students in Kenosha did the same one week ago at their contest, so by now I’m feeling a little like Vince Lombardi in the dynasty years of the Packers.) But even more than those top ratings, I am so proud of these four guys for being such nice young men and good human beings – and guys that I just enjoy being around and working with. I sometimes teach high schoolers more out of sense of moral and civic obligation than anything else – and I’ve had a student or two over the years who have been teeth-grindingly frustrating or even infuriating. But these four high school boys are just the opposite. I am happy to see them at my doorstep and sorry to see them leave. What more could a voice teacher ask for?
And each of them earned resounding successes yesterday in various ways. One of them is a young man who has risen above some very tough – even downright awful -personal circumstances to be adopted by a loving couple who have given him the kind of life that would have been an utter impossibility. When this young man sings, it is as though he is taking wing – and leaving far behind him the sadness and heartbreak of his early life. He sang “Dancing Through Life” from Wicked and just filled the room with utter joy- and did the same a few minutes later with Henry Purcell’s exuberant “I’ll Sail Upon a Dog-Star.” And I’m sure that as I sat on the piano bench playing for him, I was beaming, because his is the Feel Good story to beat all Feel Good stories. And I’m privileged to be one little part of that.
Another young man had an incredibly stiff challenge this year because his voice has begun to make its final change – and for him it has been the vocal equivalent of riding a bucking bronco. From one day to the next – and almost from one minute to the next – you don’t quite know what’s going to come out. And for someone who one year ago could pour out gorgeous, seamless sound almost without thinking about it – and for someone who is also quite the perfectionist in almost everything he does – this has been incredibly frustrating. But Nick has persevered through all of this and managed to sing quite well – in Schubert’s “Standchen” and in “Bring Him Home” from “Les Miz.” (Neither piece is a piece of cake under the best of circumstances, let alone when puberty is screwing everything up.) On top of the two one-star ratings, Nick deserved some sort of medal for valor.
Another student, Mike, is about the same age but underwent his voice change some time ago – so his voice has settled beautifully and he had none of those issues to deal with. But his story this spring has been one illness after another – and his mom was telling me that ever since he had mono last summer it is as though his resistance is down and he is easy prey for every bug that comes along. And this is an otherwise healthy young man who is as athletic as he is musical. But fortunately, he recovered from his latest bout of Yuck to sing gorgeously at yesterday’s contest. And I was so happy that from an array of five different songs I suggested and played for him, he chose to study an exquisite song by Roger Quilter called “Go Lovely Rose” rather than one of the lively songs that you might expect to appeal to a high school guy. He chose this gorgeous song and absolutely made it his own.
And then there’s Brian – a freshman – who I have seen grow up at Holy Communion from a rolly-polly little boy into a strapping young man who plays football, throws the shot put, and loves to sing. He just started voice lessons with me a couple of months ago but has already made very exciting progress and is throwing himself into voice lessons with the same gusto he demonstrates in the weight room. Brian sang “I Wonder as I Wander” and impressed everyone in the room with his rich, warm baritone sound as well as his commendable efforts at singing expressively and gently.
So everyone sang wonderfully . . . and what made me even more pleased was that these guys carried themselves with such class and grace, cheering on each other as though they were teammates (and I suppose they were that, in a way) and genuinely interested in something besides themselves and their own ratings.
And for all these reasons and more, I need to stop talking about them as boys and refer to them instead as men.
pictured: Brian is about to begin singing his solo, as Nick and Mike (in white and black, respectively) wait to listen.