There can be no magic without leadership
December 19, 2005
We straggled into the choir room, clutching bags loaded with papers to grade that evening, wearing coaching uniforms from practice. Many of us were armed with water bottles, lozenges, reading glasses.
We were the recently instituted faculty choir at Carson High School, and with all that can be wrong in the world, this was one group that was definitely right.
There, each Wednesday afternoon from 3-5 p.m., we arrived from our varied backgrounds. A very few of us were at home, knowing how to read music, how to keep our pitches regardless of the booming basses or the trilling sopranos who sat so near to us. Others were simply in love with music, and though our alto voices often caught the trail of those darned tenors and followed helplessly, we persisted. We knew we would catch on … eventually.
Though the music moved too quickly, though our mouths moved too slowly, though the notes slid up to the rafters or down into the dregs, we stayed with it. For what? For the sound. For the learning. For the camaraderie. And, mostly, for the fun.
Music is part of every person’s soul, in one way or another. I see that in my classroom. Often, I have music going when the kids arrive. And whether it is Paul McCartney or Green Day, Jack Johnson or Eric Clapton, Mozart or Puccini, the response is instantaneous.
“I have that CD, Mrs. Quinn-Davis. Where did you get yours?” or “What’s that, Mrs. Quinn-Davis? You actually like that stuff?” or “I have their new CD, Mrs. Quinn-Davis. Do you want a copy?” (I quickly move to my lecture in opposition of burning CDs. “Support creativity. Pay,” I tell them.)
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I often tell people that my dad wouldn’t allow any of his kids to get out of the house without the knowledge of some type of music. For most of us, it was the piano, and despite my whines, my lessons continued from grade school through high school and into college.
Though I blamed Dad as the instigator, it was Mom who had the talent. A best friend I have had since grade school tells what I’m sure is an exaggerated account of entering our home in Butte, Mont. And she tells it to any new audience when we are together – those few times we are.
“Don’t you remember, Patt? Your mother was either playing the piano, singing, or giving some voice lesson. And Ed (my dad) had some orchestra blaring out of his stereo. He did! He sat in his purple chair with his eyes closed and that pipe in his mouth. And one of the kids would be doing cartwheels across the front room. And then he’d say, ‘Hi, Kath, how are you?'”
“Oh, Kathy, it wasn’t like that,” I would say.
“It was too!” she insisted.
She told that story again in the last year or two. I think she added the cartwheels then.
It is Mom I often think of when I sit in those practices each Wednesday afternoon. Stewart Peeples, choir director at CHS, graciously took on the job of the faculty choir. He loves what he does. He loves that incredible talent he has of pulling together this motley bunch of sometimes-too-serious teachers and making us sound, well, not bad at all. In fact, quite fine!
Mom had that love. She knew she was very good, as a choir director, as a pianist, as a singer. And though arrogance is so possible with great talent, Mom never had it. Mom honored her gifts like a precious jewel that she kept to herself when not needed. Flash them around? Not Mom.
The first faculty choir performance was on a recent Tuesday at the annual CHS Christmas choir concert. Although Stewart said we could wear one of the outfits of the kids, WE decided we would dress distinctly, as the faculty choir. The theater of the community center was packed. We’d like to think it was more packed because WE were there for our premiere performance. It was a magical evening and one I wish all of you could have seen.
Back to some things being very right: Under the leadership of Stewart Peeples and Gina Kaskie-Davis, the various high school choirs and musical theater groups performed with an expertise, a responsibility, a pride any of us can hope to emulate. Math teacher Mary Ann Weaver’s signing during one of the Christmas songs moved many of us to tears.
Then it was our turn. We climbed the steps to the stage and took our places amidst the students. Many of those students, ones we had in class, helped us find our spots (who’s the teacher?), and we were off. Music clutched in our hands (the kids had theirs memorized), there was no note too high or speed too great. We sounded just fine … just fine.
The audience exploded in applause. For the faculty? For the kids? For all of us?
Next door, the school board was meeting. On the agenda was a review of school Superintendent Mary Pierczynski. What irony! Her success as a superintendent in part was being played out in that Christmas concert. Without a leader, who knows how to empower others, something like the magic of that Christmas concert would never happen. Ever.
n Patt Quinn-Davis is an English teacher at Carson High School and former editor of the Nevada Appeal.