Candy blogs: Today I take a personal point of privilege. I’ve been browsing through time, reflecting on times past, remembering young love and beautiful music. I spent the last weekend of June, 2011 at, of all places, a high school choir reunion. This was not the usual class reunion where you come with high expectations and leave disappointed. As it turned out, my expectations of this event couldn’t even touch the beautiful reality we experienced.
When I first entered the choir room after 35 years, it took my breath away. I had to stop and just look around the old, familiar room. I had spent most of my high school years in that room. I had met the love of my life there. Under the excellent and caring direction of our beloved director, Glenn Patton, I had worked hard, learned life skills and lessons like: never be late, always have good posture, listen to those around you, do what you said you would do, don’t let the team down, work hard, don’t settle for less than your best, you can do more than you think you can, take care of your instrument and, most importantly … sing and play for the utter joy of it. We traveled on buses and planes and competed in festivals and bonded with friends.
We had all felt a sense of belonging, of community, of having created something meaningful together. It all came rushing back.
A committee had been formed, a website and Facebook page were created, our music had been mailed to us. Several “Rust Removal Rehearsals”, as Mr. Patton so aptly dubbed them, were held from April through June in two different cities, each directed by our very spry 85 year old director, Mr. Patton. On the choir website, a technically talented choir “kid”, Mike McCornack, himself now a high school choir director, posted recordings of each individual part plus the piano accompaniment for each song. We had the capability of rehearsing by ourselves from our laptops! For those who weren’t able to attend any of the rust removal rehearsals, this was a God-send.
After a coffee and mingling and “which class are you?” time, we all settled into our chairs in the choir room at the very first reunion rehearsal; the anticipation was literally bursting out of us. The first song we sang together was our high school and choir favorite, “The Old Irish Blessing”. (We were the Sheldon High Irish!) The tears began to flow at the first familiar notes of the introduction and Mr. Patton’s skilled hands brought us all in, all together for the first time. Choir kids had come from Washington, Oregon, Idaho, California, Utah, Wisconsin, Iowa, Texas and the Carolinas to experience this moment. The song begins gently and builds with stunning harmonies, only to end gently again praying that God would hold us in the palm of His hand. The thought came to me during that song that God had indeed held me in the palm of His hand through all these years and I had come full circle.
“I wasn’t prepared for the grand sound of our now-mature voices, gathering once again in that familiar space! WOW, those first few bars put a look on both of your faces that I’ll never, ever forget. Heaven on Earth, for sure. How could the tears not begin to flow?
Max Lucado once said that tears are the silent witnesses to life’s deepest emotional moments. So true. Our tears were a mixture of startling awe, humble pride, pure childlike joy, and honest thanksgiving for the truly once-in-a-life privilege to be present, and to participate in such a magical event. I know we’ll all treasure the sweet memories for the rest of our days.” choir kid, Kathie Saunders
The power of harmony and music and joy only grew with each rehearsal session. All the reasons we had come together were a joyful reality.
We gathered for lunches in smaller groups more centered around friends in closer classes in old, familiar gathering spots.
We talked of the past and caught up on each other’s families and careers. We shared and laughed and cried and hugged and took pictures.
We also made new friends. We found out we had brothers and sisters from other classes in Sheldon choirs. But there were no classes at this reunion. We were all choir kids there. We had different individual memories but we all shared the same heart and love for Mr. Patton and our musical experience. Cliques and popularity and drama were no longer an issue. This reunion was even healing somehow of some of those old youthful wounds. We liked each other even better now.
One choir kid, Mark Agerter, said it this way: “Amazing, incredible, inspiring, surreal, great music, great audience, old friends, new friends, spiritual, emotional, once-in-a-lifetime. You can write down all the descriptions you want, but they all fall short of what this weekend felt like and what the concert truly meant to all of us. No class reunion has been like this.”
Dinner & Open Mic
We enjoyed a catered dinner on that Friday evening in the cafeteria. The dinner conversation all around the room was giddy and delightful. An open mic show followed, with anyone who wanted to performing for everyone. There was everything from folk music to opera to oldies to rock to stand up comedy. It wasn’t about being perfect; it was about enjoying hearing each other perform again. The Pattons and their family had a front row table, enjoying all the accolades and tributes in many genres of music.
It wouldn’t surprise many of you at all to know that on Saturday morning I presented Mr. & Mrs. Patton with a keepsake photo album of Mr. Patton’s musical career. I had been working on it for several months. He had given me all his pictures and memorabilia and I had read and sorted and arranged everything into a meaningful photo album showcasing and documenting his life of music. It was important to me that the story of the impact of his life on his students and his fellow man was told and preserved for the next generations of his family. It was my labor of love for this great man. It was a powerful few moments in the choir room as I spoke of his life and his music and his greatness. I shall never forget it. Later, after he’d had a chance to look at it, he asked me if I had gotten information from sources other than himself for the album. I told him all the information had come from what he gave me. He had forgotten much of his early life. All the more reason for his story to be told.
The days passed too quickly and the concert was upon us before we knew it. We waited excitedly in the very hot choir room for the clock to click 6:00 p.m. We filed in as we always had, but this time to a packed auditorium and welcoming applause. The concert began with a powerful rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner”. This was why we had come. The sweat trickled down our necks and backs under the hot performance lights but our smiles never dimmed. The ten musical numbers went far faster than we wanted them to and too quickly it was over.
Why did this choir reunion, encompassing all classes of choirs, have such an impact on all of us? Even a week later we are all still basking in the glow of the experience. The FB chatter and email are buzzing. None of us wants it to be over. As Mr. Patton said in a television story of our reunion, “Music has been my life, and I think that this is an example of what music can do for people. It can still draw them together and we hope to create some beauty here this weekend.”
Music’s gift is that it can mysteriously touch places in our souls where nothing else can reach. Whatever your story, whatever your opinion, whatever your circumstance, there is a melody to express the inexpressible. Music is a quality of beauty, and beauty forces one to stop and take notice of the moment.
Beauty is powerful. Beauty speaks. Beauty invites. Beauty nourishes. Beauty comforts. Beauty inspires. The heart begins to quiet and peace begins to come. There is room for your soul; it expands. You can breathe again; you can rest. It is good. All is well. That’s what beauty says: all will be well.
– adapted from Captivating by John & Staci Eldredge
Is it any wonder then that this musical reunion captivated our souls? We always want beauty to linger because we love how it makes us feel. It takes us out of the mundane and into the glorious.
A reunion is a reuniting of segments that have previously been together. How fitting.
Thank you for indulging me in my personal point of privilege.
Friendship, music and beauty to you, my friends. May the wind be always at your back.