Once upon a time, I was in All-State Choir. I don't have a voice that really makes me stand out, so a lot of people don't realize I sing at all, but I'm a solid choral singer, and I worked very hard for that audition. My work paid off, and I got in.
Musically, it was a fantastic week. I got to make gorgeous music with a lot of talented people. I got to spend whole days singing--somehow without getting hoarse. We were directed by probably the best musician I have ever met. He could sing in any style you could imagine, and he could get 450 teenage singers to stay together with precision and really sound good on really challenging pieces of music. He even had me singing much higher than I had previously thought possible (by working with the whole choir, not just me). Would you believe that my vocal range used to be 2 1/2 octaves? It's true.
He was funny too. He was balding, but he would shake his head as though he were shaking out long hair and make comments about his luscious "Fabio hair." He did Elvis impressions and, in various ways, made really hard work fun.
But none of that is what really made a lasting impression on my life. You may have noticed that I don't have a career in music, and I can't still sing 2 1/2 octaves--my range doesn't quite span 2 whole octaves anymore. I'm an okay singer, but no one will ever be blown away by my voice (except possibly my husband, but he's hopelessly biased).
What really stuck in my head and made him important to me had nothing to do with music. He told us repeatedly during our rehearsals that, even if we forgot everything he taught us about music and singing, he wanted us to remember one thing: "There is always hope. Always!" He said it very forcefully, and I think he even made us repeat it out loud.
I'm sure he wouldn't remember me because, when you only have a few days with 450 new students, you can't get to know them individually, but I wish I could tell him that I've remembered what he said. That it has helped me through some of the dark times in my life. That it has been keeping me going lately.
His name was Paul E. Oakley, and he passed away almost 4 years ago. I wish I had ever had the opportunity to get to know the man for whom, "There is always hope. Always!" was the most important thing he felt he could teach us, despite vast musical talent and training. I hope that, where he is now, he knows what a difference he made, not just to me.