Thursday, August 15, 2013

Helping to Lift the Lamp

I distinctly remember the name of my first choral teacher. Mr. Armentrout.

The first song I remember learning in the choir was, "Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor".

We assembled in the muggy, musty gym, a motley crew of teens just getting back to school again in the still hot days of early September. Our small private school had just moved into a brand new-to-us building and my best friend and I had volunteered time over the summer to paint the girls bathroom a faint shade of aqua. If I concentrate, I can still smell that paint job, that building, and I can still remember the excitement, both the agony and the ecstasy of being fourteen.

The words to the song, enhanced by a lovely melody and masterful chord structure, entreat the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free...promising that America, the global mother, will lift her lamp beside the golden door to light the way in. The ideology of that song was beautifully inspiring to me then, and brings a sting to my eyes still, as I type this. And back then, on the eve of my fourteenth year and my first experience in a choral group, it drew me in as well to the magical power of music. In a way, music itself welcomes the tired, the poor, and all of us who need to catch a breath of fresh air in our busy lives.

Today I had the privilege of witnessing seventy-plus middle schoolers in their new choir class as I accompanied what was for some their first choral experience. I listened with an inward chuckle as the teacher, whose name shall remain anonymous for reasons other than that it happens to be just about as amusing as "Armentrout", urged the students to open their mouths and exaggerate their pronunciation.
I remembered hearing that very same thing several decades ago, and thinking I was doing just that, got a jolt when we watched ourselves on video later. I had barely opened my mouth!

So, I must admit to being just a little jealous of these unsuspecting children who do not yet realize what a great privilege it is to be able to sing to the world, to woo an audience, and to learn the language of music. But, the lamp is being lifted, the door is opening for them all.

Although they sometimes look and act as if the experience is not reaching them by maintaining that deer-in-the-headlights look, I know better. Their lives are about to change forever.