The second Saturday in February is legion here in Michigan - at least for high school singers and their teachers. It's Festival day, the day singers all over the state gather for adjudication in solos, duets, quartets, or small ensembles. Today was my 15th year accompanying high school students at District Festival. It's a day that's at once exhilirating and exhausting, inspiring and innervating, surprising and predicatable. It's a day I've come to dread, but also anticipate, a day I wish would never come, but then one I hate to see come to an end. At 6:30 this morning, the dark road leading to Eastern Michigan University was practically deserted, the few cars headed in that direction most likely carrying teenagers caterwauling in all sorts of vocal gymnastics in an attempt to work the morning frogginess out of their vocal cords. They descend upon the Alexander Music building like a busy group of locusts, all nervous energy and wide eyed enthusiasm.
My schedule today was lighter than most years - I accompanied 10 events, which included three ensembles and seven solo singers. My soloists ranged from a confident young man who has already won scholarships to the two most competitive music schools in the state to one who was so petrified with fear, his hands shook convulsively when giving his music to the judge.
My role on this day becomes so much more than just the provider of "background music." For a period of 24 minutes - 12 for warm up and 12 for performance - I'm like that kid's backup in a war zone. Especially for those that are insecure and unsure of themselves, one wrong note from me and they can completely lose their fragile hold on the music. I make sure the judge's copy of their music is all together, measures numbered, that they get to their room on time, that they do the proper warm up exercises, that I have plenty of water, kleenex, aspirin on hand, and generally provide moral support for whatever happens when they go in that room to sing. That's the exhausting part.
The exhilirating, exciting, inspring part is when a group of kids finally get it all together for the first time on stage, and what comes out of their mouths is so "luscious" (the judge's word, not mine) that you feel as if some musical fairy has sprinkled magical dust all over you. And no less emotional is the feeling you have for that petrified kid, who's barely able to open his mouth to talk to you, but somehow gets through two entire songs (one in Italian!) with notes and rhythms intact.
During the past few weeks, I've been trying to figure out how to simplify a life that's way too busy, overcrowded, demanding, and just plain out of control. I decided that this would be my last year doing this "part time" job at the high school. It's demanding, it's time consuming, and the pay is virtually nothing. Simple decision, right?
Not really. Not after a day like today, a day that reminds me of all the rewards I get from being around young people who are so passionate about their art, and who are willing to take risks in the pursuit of that passion.
On the way home, I was listening to this CD. Just six years ago, the artist was one of the students I accompanied at Festival. He now lives in New York city, has traveled the world as an entertainer, is writing and recording music for a new Disney TV series, and is up for the lead in the new touring company cast of Movin' Out, the musical based on the life and music of Billy Joel. Talk about magical fairy dust...
As much as I crave more time and space in my life, I am loathe to give up the experiences I have with these young musicians. I guess it's back to the drawing board in my quest to simplfy life...maybe I need a little fairy dust of my own.