On Tuesday night, after a rehearsal I wish had gone a little better, Rich said, "Do you know how thankful I am for having music in my life?"
Stephanie was getting ready to leave. I approached her and said, "This entire week, I have thought about what you said at our last rehearsal - taking ownership for not being prepared as well as you wanted to be. I want you to know the commitment you have, to bring your best to a rehearsal is just one of the things I love about you." She then told me, "we need to hug that out!"
Last night, Liam arrived for his 7:00 PM lesson. In addition to his mom, he had his friend Ahbi with him. Seems he didn't want to sing. He and Ahbi wanted help arranging a song for their upcoming holiday concert.
After eating the pizza Cara requested I pick-up on my way home, she handed me the score for The Marriage of Figaro…"want to look at it?" This will be her first leading role in an opera.
Just a few minutes ago, the bride and I finished a phone conversation about dinner plans for today. We really have an amazing partnership - instinctively knowing when the other needs help.
I am so very thankful for the opportunity to work with singers who search to find the joy in making music. I am thankful for those moments when I witness a young person, understand and keep commitments. I am thankful for every student and singer with whom I get to work. But my spirit soars when they bring me something outside the lesson or rehearsal that seeks to understand the process of creativity. I am beyond thankful when artists see that creating life changing moments is a collaborative and committed process.
I am thankful for those who share my passion for the performing arts. Those whose impact I feel outside of a rehearsal, concert or performance. The incredible angels that not only sing, pay membership dues and buy tickets, they keep the lights and heat on, the pianos tuned, serve on committees, help with fundraising events, and make sure we can pay the rent and staff. You know who you are. We would cease to exist, if not for you. I owe you more than I could ever adequately say or re-pay.
On a day when aromas from the kitchen re-kindle memories: I am thankful looking at lines and dots on a page puts voices in my head. I am grateful that a song title can bring back a flood of memories and sound. While I shall be eternally thankful for the two ladies who hold my heart: I am equally as thankful that God, in infinite wisdom, knew I would never truly know beauty and love without the arts.
In 1996, Hillary Clinton penned a book: It Takes a Village: And Other Lessons Children Teach Us. While some may think a book written 20 years ago has little relevance today, I would like to offer a 2016 perspective from a Dad who had a child born in 1996.
First, my viewpoint is influenced by the fact that my wife and I had some real challenges conceiving Cara. After 7 years, various procedures and injections we had all but given up hope. She was and is a TRUE gift.
Sunday afternoon, I sat in a theater on the campus of Western Michigan University and reflected on the love and dedication of a village to bring the best out in a child. I had contacted one of her High School teachers to join me for the show. Sadly, at the last minute, due to illness she just couldn't make the trip. To my delight, prior to the curtain going up, Greg Jasperse, one of her college professors came into the theater. I invited him to take the empty seat next to me. We had a few minutes to catch up on politics and his work with Gold Company.
I don't want to bore you with accolades from the performance of Show Boat. You would be justified to view my observations as biased. (After all, my child is in the show.) But something happened at intermission. A former voice student at Western heard I was on campus. When I heard "Mr. Gross," I knew instantly who it was. I went to shake his hand but a handshake wasn't enough. Ryan gave me a huge hug followed by, "I'm learning some strange little things here that I know you would love." I quickly introduced Ryan to Greg by referencing one of Greg's compositions, one I thought Ryan would know. Ryan shared his admiration for the song. Ryan had no idea that the composer of a song he knows and likes happens to be a Professor of Jazz Studies at his university.
On the drive home, something came over me as I began to reflect on the events of the day. Had everything gone to plan, sitting to my left was one of Cara's current instructors, to my right would have been Cara and Ryan's high school drama teacher and all of us would have been experiencing the work of the Village. This is when it became emotional. I began to think of all those villagers with whom Cindy and I have entrusted our greatest love. I realized I should have told Greg how much I value the knowledge, skill, musicianship and dedication he works to instill in our child. I want Shannon to know the lessons she taught Cara and Ryan go beyond the hours she spent on her own time, outside the classroom. I want Dr. Kness to know her instruction and encouragement continues to shape a voice longing to be heard. I want Dr. Gauthier to know the gentle spirit and the beauty she shares extends beyond a rehearsal or performance, it gets instilled in the performer. I want Cara's dance teachers to know she still moves gracefully and with beauty. I want Madame Bellanger to know every time Cara sings French, it honors her devotion to teaching.
I want Grandma to know Cara will always remember you made every recital, every concert, every show, even when you didn't feel up to it. I want Sherrie, Keri and Tim to know she stands in the spotlight because you bought that special dress or costume, loaned and gave money when it was needed and cheered louder than appropriate. I want my BeckRidge family to know, when you let her stand on our stage and sing her first solo, you opened a door that allowed her to see the future.
Every time a child succeeds, we see a village at work. Every time a child struggles, a village rises to help. Every time a child can see their future, a village holds lanterns lighting the way.
If raising a child ever feels like a solo or duet, take a look around. Standing beside you is a village wanting nothing more than to help your child find their passion and purpose. Sometimes living in a village is tough. However, there is no greater reward than watching your gift to the village mold and shape the next generation.
Go hug an educator today. Call and thank a relative who is always there for you. If nothing else, go light a torch and illuminate the path for someone in your village.
I was standing on the 9th tee at a golf course. With driver in hand, it was my turn to match the efforts of my three co-workers. The cart path was lined with other employees and customers waiting their turn. When I hit the ball, it went about ten yards right, hit the biggest oak tree you have ever seen and soared into the cattails directly behind us. I remember the owner of the company, shaking his head as he got back in his cart and drove off to the next tee. If only I had continued to play golf after my uncle had given me his used set of golf clubs in my senior year of high school. I should have spent seven days at the range prior to the outing. Obviously, six days just wasn't enough.
I truly enjoy playing golf. Unfortunately, I am not as good as I would like to be. I play once or twice a year and ultimately embarrass myself. I understand why people don't enjoy playing golf with me - my scores are multiples of my age.
Usually once a year, one of my BeckRidge family members will arrange an outing. They know my skill level yet are kind enough to subject me to at least four hours of humiliation.
I can drive the ball pretty well. But, like the blind squirrel who occasionally finds an acorn, I rely on luck for the remaining shots.
I need to be fair to my golfing friends. While they do make a number of comments at my expense and to their shared amusement, they are consistent in offering suggestions and encouragement. John reminds me to keep my head down and remaining yards to the pin. Mike reminds me; John should be presented the Camel card. His last ball landed in the sand trap. While the three competitive golfers might be concerned about their scores and who gets bragging rights for the next year, I feel their real focus is on helping me. When I hit a terrific drive or make a great putt, these guys are my cheering section. I sincerely believe they would like nothing more than to help me shoot a lower score. In fact, they would like to see the day when I could beat them, making it more competitive for them.
I don't like my golf scores but I love those guys. They remind me why I love the performing arts.
I have yet to meet the perfect performer. Fortunately, I don't know a true artist who won't admit they are still working to improve their performance. I am constantly reading the latest book or article about the voice. Often times an author gives me new insight on a situation or problem one of my singers is experiencing. I have been blessed to work with some amazing choral directors. Thank goodness there are still others who have forgotten more than I know and are willing to share their successes and failures.
If you love performing, you will always be your own worst critic. However, the arts don't require us to be perfect. In fact, it is our own unique imperfections that make our "art" stand out from everyone else. Every singing and speaking voice is unique. We work to strengthen our weaknesses and perform to our strengths. We seldom hear ourselves objectively. Just as John recognizes I have a tendency to lift my head when I hit a golf ball. If not for John, I would not know I have that habit.
On the other hand, the arts do require life-long learning. I remind singers there is no magic key. There is no one person who has all the answers. There is no substitute for technique, commitment, hard-work, tenacity and a passion for communicating truth.
It seemed no one remembered me sharing a kiss with Patricia Penta on the playground in 4th grade. At the time, I thought everyone in the world had witnessed that PDA. Boy, was I wrong.
I remember the name calling starting in Junior High School. I sang in the school choir and performed in all the school musicals. I didn't understand why other guys didn't like me. They felt compelled to try and embarrass me in the halls or gym class - even waiting for me after to school to "beat me up." Seems that playing piano, singing and acting was membership criteria for the Queer club.
As a community, we had not yet named this behavior. In hindsight, I think it was encouraged to help societal conformity. Unfortunately for me, the only place I felt at home was in the arts.
As the old adage goes, "hindsight is 20/20." First, I was two years younger than most of the other kids in my class. I had started school in England. When we came back to the United States, my parents were told I was ahead of other kids my age. The district decided to "double promote" me. Second, by nature, I would consider myself somewhat introverted. School was relatively easy. Making friends was a bit more of a challenge – I was younger than everyone else. The arts had a natural bonding mechanism based on the need for "creative teamwork." The arts were my respite. Music gave me a voice I would never have found on my own. When I was happy the music continued to lift me. When I was in pain, I could find solace in lyricists and composers who understood my situation. If something mattered to me, I wasn't comfortable sharing it as a single student in a classroom. Put me in a choir and suddenly I knew a strong and eloquent voice, able to express feelings, experience empathy or look at my life and purpose in a new light. The arts reminded me I wasn't alone. Even when things weren't great at home, I had friends who were counting on me. I was important to them and they were important to me. I was connected to the world - not lost in my own thoughts.
I wish I could say the "bullying" went away as I got older. It didn't. But it did shape how I look at my students, singers and actors. Certainly not every student is an introvert or gay. It is individuality that gives each singer or student their own unique voice - literally.
As a director, I get to choose music or theater pieces important to me. Something I feel needs to be, or I want to say - to find common ground in our human existence. If the message touches me, I can be fairly certain someone else shares the same emotional space. Music helps me feel connected to the world of yesterday, today and tomorrow. Students and even adults can feel disconnected when they sense they may be different. I believe the arts offer a place where being different is accepted - recognizing our greatest need is to be loved and accepted – somewhere.
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We share our love of the arts through study, practice and performance.
We strive to be educational, entertaining and inspirational.
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We seek to build fellowship on a foundation of dignity and respect.
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