Today was Election Day for the Carthage Choir – that is, the day when the choir elects a new slate of officers for the coming year- and they really take this seriously. Nominations are gathered from the floor for each of the offices: President, VP, etc. – and two days later (which was today) each of the nominees speaks to the choir, giving what amounts to a short campaign speech in which they explain how they would serve in their respective office, should they be elected to it. Eventually, votes are taken and tabulated, and the choir has its new officers. . . but it is neither easy nor quick. Nor should it be, some would argue. By the way, I would probably favor a process that clips along a little more quickly. (Not that anyone has asked for my opinion on the matter.) Whenever the matter of choir officers comes up, I am taken back to the unbelievable moment in the spring of my junior year when my name was announced as the president of Nordic for the next year. I had never been elected anything in my whole life. . . not even treasurer of my Luther League group. So I was completely flabbergasted just to be nominated – and was completely stunned and amazed to be elected. And it’s a good thing that we didn’t have to give little campaign speeches, telling people why they should vote for me, because I would have had to say “I have NO idea why you should vote for me. If you’re smart, you’ll vote for Brian Leeper instead!” But for some strange reason, they voted for me. . . and I am grateful to have been given the honor because it meant a whole year of working closely with Weston Noble – and I learned a gigantic amount during that year about all that contributes to the well-being of a choir.
The fact is that choir officers can make a very big difference, for good or for ill, depending on their effectiveness. The first year of my interim tenure as Carthage Choir director, I was blessed to have two strong officers in Derek Galvicius and Shauna Olson. (For some reason, I still remember that Derek beat out Shauna by one single vote: 25 to 24.) We went to Europe that year, which always presents a plethora of challenges, so I was very grateful for all that they did to help me and the choir. The second year was not nearly so happy a situation, but I’ll leave the specifics of that – including the choir president’s name – to the dust of ancient history. What’s done is done.
One of my most vivid memories from that first year of the choir and my officers is a moment I wish I could take back – or at least revise. We were in the Czech republic one night and had dinner at a winery where the alcohol was no extra charge and flowed quite freely. . . and the way the place was laid out, we were not all in the same room and there was no way for me to closely monitor how it was going or who might be over-indulging. Actually, there wasn’t too much excess drinking going on, as far as I could tell, but for various reasons we were seriously behind schedule in getting to the bus and thus on time to our concert that evening. (If we had been altogether, it would have been easier to herd people on to the bus- but we weren’t. . . and there were too many people trying to make quick stop at the gift shop or doing other things that slowed down their exit.) As the seriousness of the situation became apparent, I began running around the place, exhorting people to get the move on. . . but by the time I was getting on the bus, we were already twenty minutes past the time we should have been driving away. . . and the students were not quieting down so roll could be taken, and Derek was getting seriously upset and starting to yell at them – which got some of them riled and they yelled right back . . . and when I got to the bus and heard this shouting, I knew that something drastic had to happen and I had to do it. I stepped up on to the second step and in the loudest, deepest, sternest voice I could summon from the depths of my diaphragm, I said “THAT’S ENOUGH.” And the bus went almost instantly silent, except for a couple of guys at the back of the bus who were in mid-yell and who finished their sentence – and when Derek yelled back at them to quiet down, I said with equal force “I’LL TAKE CARE OF IT, DEREK.” The capital letters make it seem like I myself was yelling, but I wasn’t . . . I was speaking in my most resonant, intimidating “teacher voice” – a voice which none of them had ever heard before, especially from me. . . and in that instant the whole choir knew how serious the situation was and how deeply upset and disappointed I was. And that entire bus and all 49 choir members went absolutely silent – except for Derek’s soft, pained, displeased muttering under his breath as he walked past me and took his seat at the front of the bus. I conducted role – instructed the driver to get underway – and for quite awhile, we rode in absolute silence. . . until I finally went on the mic to say something to gather the choir back into my good graces and to get them thinking about the singing we had yet to do.
When I think back to that evening, I think I handled the situation decently well . . . but I have regrets. I wish, first of all, that I had insisted that the tour manager/planner Vernon Sell had either scaled back or even eliminated all such events where this sort of thing was likely to happen. I wish, second of all, that I had more sternly laid down the law on what sort of conduct I expected at such an event. But my third regret is the greatest. . . that in the moment on the bus when I spoke to Derek in essentially the same tone of voice as I used to quiet down the choir ( a voice frightening enough to make the Packers front four cry) I seemed to be chastising him – when all I was really trying to do was step as decisively as possible into the middle of the fray, in the middle of a situation which was already ugly and getting uglier by the moment and which he was not in a position to resolve, especially given how upset he was. Still, I wish I could have that moment back. . . and every so often when I cross paths with Derek, which is not that often, I am tempted to say something to him about that moment during the choir’s tour of Europe. There’s a chance he has no memory of this at all – but on the other hand, if he’s anything like I am, that moment is burned in his brain and will be for a long time to come. That’s how I am with any moments like that where we find ourselves digging deep into our souls for strength and resolve that we didn’t even know was within us. Those are the kind of moments that remain with you forever, I think. (Didn’t Barbra Streisand sing a song about that in “Yentl”?)
Anyway, I hope that whoever was elected today – (I didn’t need to be there) – finds it to be a sweet honor and a great pleasure to serve . . . and will do all they can to help the choir and Maestro Garcia-Novelli build on all that has been accomplished this year. That’s what it’s all about.