Friday, May 1, 2009
Sometimes I wonder ...
1980 -- FAME!
This movie basically encompassed my high school days. It managed to say everything I felt about my love of music and singing. It saddens me that it might be bastardized with a remake. Stop screwing with the originals!! Leave my fondest memories alone, would ya? News of this remake has left me on reminiscing plaza. Take a walk with me, will you?
Being a child of a musical family, I was destined to embrace the arts. Due to financial restrictions (and lack of motivation) I didn't learn to play piano. I took lessons for about nine months, but they were with a neighborhood lady. I was either a dreadful student or she was slow on the uptake. My friends who'd been in lessons for the same amount of time were excelling and I grew frustrated. With frustration comes defeat. At least to me it takes on that role. I quit.
I also quit gymnastics because I was placed in an accelerated class with girls older than me. I wanted to be with my friends. Rather than embrace my abilities, I quit. I remember running to my room and crying because in my eyes, I was cast out of the group with which I was familiar. In time my lanky legs would have pushed me from the gymnastics realm.
I loved to dance, but that took dedication and financial will that my parents didn't possess. I wanted to stand out from the rest of the Rapier brood so desperately.
Turning to what God had granted me, I focused on singing. I loved choir and managed to take criticism from my directors. I learned to sing. Yes, a lovely tune might have eeked from my body when I was young. Yes, I could remain on key and harmonize with little effort. I wanted to produce a sound that starts from my toes and works its way out ... it doesn't begin at the vocal chords.
I remember my first music teacher: Mrs. Krauss. She didn't just teach us folk songs or how to use a recorder. She taught us to sing! In third grade, she awarded me the role of The Dew Fairy in the downsized version of Hansel and Gretel operetta. It was a major undertaking for a group of 3rd graders, but my memory of it is grandiose. The gymnasium/lunch room/auditorium seemed enormous to me then. My mother had fashioned a light blue angel costume complete with silver glittering wings. With the tinkling in the highest octave on the piano, I made my way from the back of that huge gym with my arms outspread -- taking flight to awaken Hansel and Gretel from their slumber. It was my first taste of glory. Embarrassed at the attention, I still lapped it up like a kitten to a bowl of milk.
I admit that I had hoped to be Gretel. Who doesn't want to be the star? I'm sure my parents gave me a pep talk and focused on the fact that my character made the most spectacular entrance of all. My costume had sparkle! To my family I was the star of the show. My gymnasium flight was captured on local television. Clearly it had great meaning to me.
As I made my way through school I always had chorus. I wasn't the brightest student, but I was a good kid. Choir always brought us together where we might otherwise be divided.
When I entered junior high school, the opportunities were greater. Statewide contests would be entered and I did rather well. Mr. Hertz was my vocal and choir director for 6th and 7th grade. He had an enormous voice and I looked up to him. He left (the reason escapes me) and a new, young female choir director would lead us in our 8th grade year. I was hesitant because I liked Mr. Hertz. Then, I would learn this young woman also sang in a barbershop choir with my mom. To me, a capella singing is sublime. Such masterful skills. I love it.
It would be Ms. Elroy who'd convince me to tackle songs I never felt my voice could handle for competition. Eastridge High School had done "South Pacific" as their yearly musical. So, several of us had opted for tunes from that song book. Ms. Elroy insisted on "Cock-eyed Optimist" because it had a greater difficulty level with its triplets. In addition, she worked with me diligently to perfect, "Somewhere My Love" from Dr. Zhivago. I felt silly singing such a dramatic song at the age of 13. Of course when singing for solo and ensemble contest, you're not allowed to stylize. It must be sung as written. I was scared to death. What made it all worse on the day of contest is the presence of my piers. Two boys whom I'd had crushes on chose to be present when I sang. Wanting to die then and there is an understatement. What surprised me is they were there to cheer me on and encourage me. They might have had no interest in my dorky self, but as I said earlier, choir developed a kinship where friendships might otherwise not exist.
With knocking knees I sang and those two boys applauded. I scored a perfect. Another major feat in the life of Marissa.
High school would bring an entirely different level. So many kids with much better voices than mine. Our mascot for Eastridge High was a Raider. The image of a Native American atop a horse with a spear in his hand making his way for battle. Our choir was called Raider Choir. Pretty creative, huh? Anyone could be in this group. No auditions were required. All freshman enrolling in chorus were lumped together. Just your basic choir.
In my sophomore year I could audition for the show choir, Celebration Singers. Ever since I was a little girl I only wanted to be a part of that elite group. They not only sang contemporary songs, but they danced, too! Woo!! Satiny dresses and high heels! I would audition in my sophomore year but not make it. Talk about a major let down. I did get into the all girls choir, "Treble Choir." We danced a little. The most modern song we sang was "Blue Bayou." But I promise you I sang the hell out of that. It was then that I learned I could sing every range. Need a voice in second alto? I'm your girl. Oh! You need another voice who can stay in key in fist soprano? I'm your girl. I loved it.
By the end of my sophomore year, audition time for the Celebration Singers would approach. We had to prove that we could read music. I CANNOT read music. I fake my way through it fairly well, though. We'd do a little dance routine taught to us on the spot. We had to prove we could pick it up quickly. That is unless you were male. Guys were pretty much guaranteed a spot since so few auditioned and we needed an equal girl to guy ratio.
Our vocal audition took place in the evening and in front of all the other girls auditioning. Existing members had to re-audition. It was highly unlikely they'd be replaced by a newcomer. The song we had to sing was "Babe" by Styx. Ugh. Every time I hear that song now I think back to that nerve wracking moment. Again, my knees knocking as I attempted a current pop song. My voice had been trained for more heady tunes. ACK! I figured as long as I stayed on key, I was a shoe in, but having all those eyes staring at me made me a wreck.
Mr. Gross was the director then, but he'd announce his departure by the end of the school year. We'd wait in limbo over who'd be our director. I think a notice was sent out that a young woman would lead us: Miss Schroeder. I had such a fantastic time over the following 2 years of high school. This was also a time when two formerly rival schools would come together for the Arts. Westview and Eastridge were both Kankakee high schools, but on opposite sides of the tracks, so to speak. I loved the idea from the first time it was proposed. It was thrilling to have the prospect of an arts school similar to the one in FAME! At least in my pea brain that is what I'd envisioned. The bottom line was that it afforded us greater opportunities to compete and show off what we worked so hard for. In that time, we'd tackle a FAME medley. Yeah, there's a theme here, people.
Grants were given to increase the quality and money put into the fine arts program and improve our yearly musicals by infusing city wide talents. Several programs were available to students: Dance, piano, drama, concert choir, show choir, etc... Concert Choir was Eastridge and Westview's show choir students brought together.
If memory serves, we could blow the roof off that auditorium. This union of schools would also bring me back to my 8th grade mentor who challenged me to stretch my vocal abilities. Ms. Elroy. While she had her hand at the director's stand we performed "People." Ms. Elroy was a big Barbra Streisand fan. Miss Schroeder would select more standard concert choir material with Handel's Hallelujah Chorus. Holy moley! The harmonies in that bugger were killer. I loved every note of it. Naturally we sang more songs, but those two hold the strongest memory.
My senior year would come to a close with graduation and Fame would once again lend a hand in expressing how we felt about our youth, high school and music. Eric Mann, Karen Robinson, Tommy Nelson, Jessica Madsen (also on piano) and myself would serenade our classmates and families with "Starmaker." Each of us singing a line just as they do in the clip below. (Far better vocals, I can assure you.)
But not all things came to an end that day. Along with many other 'kids' who grew up with us and shared our good times and heart breaks, Tommy, Jessica and I remain friends today. We remain bonded. They might not have realized it then, but my life was internally tumultuous. Music and my friends saved me from ... me.