Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Mr L's Opus

Rick Lawrence taught choir, which includes chamber choir and madrigals, at Howard High for 33 years. Thirty-three years. My experience with him, in 1993-1997, included concerts, caroling, Fiesta-val in Myrtle Beach, adjudication, Trivial Pursuit, so many movies (yay 4-period day), thrown erasers, practicing piano before school started and during lunchtimes, and just an ongoing steady presence and expectation of superior performance, musically and otherwise. And grand champion at every competition. If I had gotten fully involved, and in retrospect I really wish I had, there was the spring musicals, and Showcase. Ahh, Showcase.

photo source: Metro Nashville Chorus

So when the call went out, fully a year in advance, that Mr L was retiring and we had the chance to properly laud him, decades of alumni started making plans. Plans to travel, and debates of how best to show our appreciation. Was there a favorite song? One we all knew? Perhaps one he wrote? (I voted for John Saw Duh Numbuh. Good times.) Once his spring concert was set, organizers Mrs L & Valerie made the decision for us to join his existing choir for their last two numbers. Thank goodness for Facebook! Scanned music and youtube links went out. Ongoing discussion and building excitement percolated in secret. And then the big day came.

Friday, May 6, 2016.
Howard High School auditorium.
(Although not the auditorium that was there when I was there. In fact, if I hadn't been warned of the second renovation since my graduation, I would have ended up at the far end of the school.)

photo credit: Amy Oaks LoPresti

It was better than a class reunion inside. Most of the kids I hung out with in high school were in the years around me. (I have always advocated multi-class reunions for that reason.) And the auditorium was packed. The current choir sang (I was surprised that I recognized most of their pieces, some from singing with Mr L and some from Heart of the Triad Choral Society.) We heard anecdotes from different facets of Mr L's time at Howard, including speeches from Gene Streagle, who was principal when I was at Howard, and from one of mom's former piano students. And then it was our turn.

The curtains were drawn and alumni singers were invited onstage. We swarmed the existing choir, squashed them closely together, filled out the risers, and just kept coming. Rows upon rows to the sides and to the front. (I was glad to be near the current altos, less glad to be behind three rows of adult males. All cues are now unseen. Oh well. Strength in numbers.)

Then Mr L came out.
The roar of welcome was deafening. He seemed overwhelmed. That's a GREAT surprise party.
Looking around at the lot of us, and realizing that we've not rehearsed this together, Mr L quipped, "I've been conducting since I was 19yo, and I've never had anything go to pieces on me before." And he took the stand.

Sing Me to Heaven
Videos posted by Cindy Neat Six. Thank you, Cindy!

Soon Ah Will Be Done

And because no one wanted to let the moment go, we pleaded for an encore. When does the chant for an encore come from the stage? Oh, it was glorious to be a part of this group! And Mr L gave us one that everyone knew, unseasonable as it was. And everyone joined in, in full harmony, without music, without individual rehearsal... some things have had enough repetition that it doesn't take work for the embedded memory to surface. And it's lovely to be part of a group that can just go.1

1 I remember watching Top Gun on the bus to Myrtle Beach and everyone sung along to "You Lost that Lovin' Feeling" in full harmony, just for fun, complete improv, diy harmony, but well. Later that weekend a men's choir took the stage wearing shades and untucked white shirts, turned their collars up, and sung "You Lost that Lovin' Feeling". We did better than they did, unrehearsed and on the bus.

Carol of the Bells

photo credit: Terri German Goodrich

photo credit: Tish Horney

photo credit: Ryan Hollingsworth

PS Big Frog says that the auditorium, which as you may recall was packed for the current choir's performance, was largely empty. We were all onstage and it was only spouses and current singers' parents out in the seats.

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