In a recent facebook posting, I challenged the apathetic, the uncommitted and the disinterested in voting to de-friend me, because they just don’t seem to understand that what happens in government affects people I love. And, I believe these people I love need my help, and I need my friends to help me to help them. Pretty simple, in my mind. And, if you are a friend, you help. And, if you don’t help, you aren’t a friend.
My former high school choir teacher with several choirs, J. Michael Frasier responded humorously by injecting that he was sorry, but he was still on my friend list.
And, in his mirth, he reminded me of something I want to share with my friends. It is about my choir teacher, Mr. Frasier.
First, Mike, I never expected you would accept me as a friend on Facebook. Yet, with your comment and smile, I admit I was hoping you would remain.
In truth, I cannot imagine how many students discoverd how to sing under your direction. You were Glee decades before Glee. You made it cool for football high school students and farm boys to join the choir. You had the cool and the geeks talking to each other rather than at each other. You taught harmony, but the real scare was that each would have to perform and depend on the other. Who can do that? Well, you.
One of the first introductions to you was in the late 70’s and I was attending a May Music Week festival in La Grande, Oregon. One of my babysitters from La Grande First Baptist Church was one of the May Music Week Courth and my sister (I am sure that picture is somewhere here) was attending as part of the Queen and Court, I believe.
My grandmother, with a critical evaluation, during intermission described your conducting style as a maddening dancing little hen. I laughed, stunned by her description, and found myself mesmerized by the way you kept a huge acapella choir focused. She just recognized you infused your entire body with musical direction. I’m also pretty sure she was simply distracted by your backside in black trousers, directing the sides of the choir from your discoteque dapper look and the gyrating to keep the tempo going. It was the 70’s, after all.
I cannot imagine whether the students appreciated your abilities, your intensity or your vast reserves of energy and imagination. You taught me to cherish harmony, blending of voices, pitch, the value of varying the tone and volumes, and of course something I never felt comfortable doing, movement. Your vision even had me on stage singing “Hand Jive” in Grease. No one today could possibly think that would have been me. (Secretly, I can still do the entire song word for word, for fear you might challenge me to do it on stage, with none of the other kids, just to make sure I could do it, just sayin.)
I first sat in a choir under your direction in 7th grade, one year. You never commanded respect, you simply held it in class. You taught us to appreciate and expect something from chaos and with your help, we delivered entertainment, confidence and even stage presence. You taught us focus and appreciation for languages we would never understand and we spoke powerful words of faith that today still give me goosebumps when I hear them.
In music, you examined all sorts of emotions with us, you demonstrated emotions safely for us, you allowed to express emotions safely in that large choir room. It became for some one of the rare rooms of peace, safety, and hope.
Your interest in our voices, something you craved for us to give you to mold, no matter how meek we were challenged us. You demand that we get beyond ourselves emboldened us. And, many of us found our voices for the first time and some of us have never let that value leave us. In a conservative little town, a music teacher was teaching a Conservative Baptist teenager to find his voice, move his feet, and care about his world – through songs, languages, harmonies, varying styles, without supporting tunes, and sometimes with intermittent changes simply to throw life at us. You were creating voices and filling the minds with the possibilities of other cultures, other languages, other people, and other ways. And, what is funny, is that I didn’t know it at the time – and that is when I realized how great an educator you truly are.
Others have heard me sing in choirs for years, yet I rarely set aside time to share in those community events. When someone in a church suggest I sing in their choir, I simply say thank you, and you and my Aunt Wendy are the two people I thank for the education and voice control.
I may very well continue to sing until my last breath songs you taught us – some which gave me hope and a smile since 7th grade. You taught the choir a song, “Come along with me, I’ll show you where the grass is greener.” And, from that point in time, you gave me that song. It could cheer me out of any cruel place and every situation that was uncomfortable. Hopelessness has little ground with me when I have songs from Church and songs you shared and helped us to memorize.
You may have been the first teacher who let me know through song what many in the LGBT Youth today crave to hear desperatelly. In La Grande, Oregon, you were teaching students that “It Gets Better”. I realized when reading a Rolling Stones article early last year that shared the awful devastation of LGBT Teen Suicide in Rep Bachman’s district. The combination of events over the last 15 years in that district could have been in La Grande when I attended. I, too, would have been one of those horrible statistics. Then, I remembered that in La Grande the school board at that time valued Orchestra, Choir, and Bands. They maintained a music program that enhanced my soul, my learning experience, and became a critical part of my education in the public schools when I was there.
In those songs, you shared words, rythmn and phrases that encouraged, drew me out, made me boisterous, and even able to move – a little. What other teachers taught me were facts and possibly how to arrive at a conclusion from information, history and fact. What you taught me was what I could do, who we could be, and what Truth could be for anyone.
In the last 25 years I have fought for equality for those in America who do not share all the benefits of being American. I have worked in civil rights movements, attended parades and rallies being picketed by others. I have advocated equality, peace, and diversity for those years. And, while doing that volunteer work in communities, I have worked in the financial planning area.
Why do I mention this? Because if it was not for the many rythmns and voices you managed into a cohesive presentation, my brain could not possibly and so effortlessly provide powerful plans that include complex economic issues with their competing personal interests. Your class taught my brain how to see a multiple of competing voices, crafting them into areas of common strength, to create a symphony of answers to an audience who craved a music with a message of hope, solutions, and possibilities. I may call it a financial plan, but more than one client has called it “music to her ears” when I told him to go retire from work.
Today, while I would enjoy being in a choir, I have no cause to blend more than I do, so that others might more easily listen, even if it might bend their ears a little. And, frankly, sometimes, I do wonder whether I could direct. My family may think that I have always been opinionated. I will let you know that you gave me a tune that encouraged those opinions out to allow a scared kid to find his voice, find a path, and sing others onto it to a better place. I’m just afraid that someone might get distracted, because I might put my entire body into the effort to direct that particular music, if given a chance.
I think it was time to again say Thank You.
Your efforts at music in La Grande High School leaves impressions on people in many places, facing many issues, yet from songs you taught to teens growing up in Farm Country in Eastern Oregon, they share those truths every day, they multiply your energy, the continue the truths you shared, the hope you dispensed, the comfort you had us explore, and the music that was planted with all of it. Your value can never be measured. Not even on Facebook. But, it would be fun to know on one ay how many voices still would come under the direction of your hands. And, what possibilities would flow from those voices! It defies even my imagination.