At the foot of the stage

James Monroe School

I last stood in the wings of this stage when I was in the sixth grade in 1978. But I didn’t particularly want to be here. I would rather have been singing with the choir at the foot of the stage.

As part of a concert, a few of us entered the stage from here and danced our way across, strumming ukuleles while the choir sang Fascinating Rhythm. I hated to dance! But Mrs. O’Hair, a teacher who helped with the vocal music program, had considerable will. When she decided you were going to be in a production, there was no discussion.

And so I danced, badly. Then with great relief I returned to the choir.

I loved to sing. I could carry a tune, and I sang out loud. I joined the school choir in the second grade, a year before students were normally allowed to join. Miss Seidler, the music teacher and choir director, wanted my strong voice in the choir and so she asked my parents if they’d mind. They didn’t.

Practice was a lot of fun. I enjoyed mastering new songs and hearing my voice blend with others. I never really enjoyed performing, but the joy of singing every day was worth the two concerts each year. My dad never missed a concert. He still tells people that I carried the choir, but I think he suffers from too much fatherly pride. I was proud to have him in the audience, and I’ll never forget looking out over the dark auditorium trying to find him in the crowd.

James Monroe School

Dad liked to sit in the balcony where he could get the best view.

James Monroe School

I stuck with choir through middle school, where we sang in four parts. I sang tenor, but had enough range to cover the alto and often the soprano parts, much to my fellow tenors’ surprise. Then as my eighth grade year drew to a close, one morning I woke up and found that my voice had changed and I was suddenly a baritone. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to relearn a dozen songs quickly enough, so I just quit the choir and its early-morning practices. I found I really liked sleeping in, so I didn’t join the choir in high school. (It’s funny how things turn out – not being in morning choir practice freed me to spend time in the school’s computer lab instead, which led to my career in software development.)

But I didn’t stop singing. I couldn’t; it just felt too good. It soothed me when I was upset and lifted me when I was blue. When I was out of sorts I’d take long drives in the country, singing along at the top of my lungs to my favorite tapes until I’d regained my peace. And later when I found Christ, I was part of a congregation that sang a cappella in four-part harmony. I found great joy and pleasure in singing powerfully with a group again.

The only time in my life when my voice was still was during the last few years of my marriage, as things got really bad, and in the first couple years after my wife and I separated. But as I began to put my life back together, I found my voice, too. When I wanted to sing again, I knew that the worst was over.

I still sing nearly every day, mostly as I drive around in my car, accompanied by whatever music I’m playing. If I’m ever behind you on the road, if you look in your rear view mirror you’ll probably see me belting out a tune! My sons riding in the back seat are the only audience I ever have. Sometimes they sing along. That’s just how I like it.

Originally posted in November of 2010.


6 responses to “At the foot of the stage”

  1. tina Avatar

    Brings back fond memories; I was also a choir singer in school, and then later in church. I also used to play guitar and sing; I learned to play guitar just so I could have a portable accompaniment – singing was the main thing for me. I think my 14 year old son is feeling lost since his voice changed. He’s been struggling to sing the songs he loves and used to belt out quite nicely.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I always wanted to learn an instrument for the same reason you picked up guitar, but I never really enjoyed playing anything, so I always gave up. I hope your son figures it out as I did and returns to being able to belt ’em out. When my voice changed, so did my range, and there were simply songs I could not sing anymore without having to drop or raise an octave here and there. It was kind of a bummer. If I had come from a wealthy family perhaps I could have gotten voice lessons that would have helped me stretch to keep some of my range. Alas. What I did instead is looked for new songs to sing, ones that fit my range. It turns out that 95% of what Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart sing fits my range and it is a big reason I became and remain a fan of their work.

  2. vanilla Avatar

    Thumbs up for singing! Enjoyed the tour of your old auditorium, too.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks David! The photos come from an open house the school had after it was thoroughly renovated and modernized a few years ago. I made a special trip home for the visit. I loved my time at that school. I felt safe and cared for there. It was a special place. And the building was gorgeous — it looked like a castle.

  3. Nancy (Roe) Stewart Avatar
    Nancy (Roe) Stewart

    Hi Jim. Enjoyed seeing the old auditorium again and remembering the fond memories from back then. When Michael wasn’t on stage in something, he was running the lights from up in the balcony. I think he liked doing that. We sure enjoyed all the programs and plays over the years there. I was a room mother for 10 years at Monroe and you are right. I was a very special place.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks Nancy! That’s Michael in the first photo, by the way. 10 years a room mother – you deserve a medal!

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