They came from all over the country - New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington DC - as well as from just around the corner. Literally hundreds of young men and women, between 19 and 35 years of age. They are singers, actors, politicians, restaurant mangagers, firefighters, teachers, parents. But last night, on the stage of their high school auditorium, they were all students once again, gathererd to honor their music teacher at her last concert. My friend Pat directed her final concert last night, at the school where she has taught music and acting for the past 19 years. A long standing tradition at these holiday concerts is the singing of Handel's Hallelujah Chorus, for which any alumni in the audience are invited on stage to join in. Last night, the huge auditorium stage could barely hold all the singers, some of whom led their own children by the hand to be part of the event. There could have been no greater gift for her than to see all these "kids"- men and women now, pursuing their dreams just as she encouraged them to do.
Some people have a gift for inspiration, and Pat is definitely one of them. She has some magic way of prodding her students to give their best, try their hardest, take risks and accept consequences, and mostly to enjoy every experience of life to the fullest.
This gift isn't offered to just her students, however. When I started working as her accompanist 14 years ago, I was insulated in my own small world of being a stay-at-home wife and mother. I had let my music skills languish, hampered by a fear of performing. Within three months, I had played for her choir at a standing room only Christmas concert, and on stage at the University of Michigan. At the end of that first year, I traveled with over 100 students to New York City for a choral competition (my first trip "alone" if you can believe it!) where we walked the streets of the city en masse at all hours of the day and night, ending up on the observation deck of the Empire State Building at 12:00 midnight. There was a pay phone (this was long before cell phones!) and I called home to tell Jim where I was, knowing he would be incredulous that I had overcome my near crippling fear of heights and was absolutely glorying in the twinkling city lights spread out all around me.
That experience sums up quite well one of the most valuable lessons my friend taught me and all those people who stood on stage to honor her last night. You can overcome your fears, and when you do, the possibilities will sparkle endlessly before you. What a great gift, from a great teacher, and a woman I'm proud to call my friend.