Saying Goodbye a Little at a Time

The artistic director of Oberlin Choristers, Jennifer Call, asked me to speak during the annual Showcase of Choirs concert this year.  The Showcase concert is one of the few times a year that all of the choirs are together in one performance.  It is a very special event, and this is the last one my daughter will sing in as a student.  My girl graduates high school in less than three months.

Mrs. Call asked me to talk about why I chose Choristers for my daughter, and what the Choristers experience meant to me as a professional musician.  This is what I said:

For Showcase of Choirs Concert 3/6/16

I have always loved music. Even though I chose to get my degrees in viola performance, singing was my first love. Until our family moved to Oberlin in 2008, we lived in NYC. I made my career as a performing and teaching musician, working with some of the most incredible artists of our time. Because of this, I had the chance to start my daughter on violin at age 4. She got to play concerts all over NYC, and she got really good. Even so, perhaps like her mama, my girl loved to sing even before I put a fiddle in her hands. 

Once we made our move, I looked for musical opportunities for both of our kids. I wanted them to have a high quality musical experience where they would learn to be technically proficient, artistically savvy, and – well – happy. It was Imani who brought Oberlin Choristers to my attention when she wanted to audition. 

It was serendipity. 

I was impressed from the very beginning. I first heard her group, at the time called Concert Choir, at the end of their day-long retreat. In just a few hours, these children were not just singing. They were making music. At the Songs for the Season concert a few months later, my husband and I were blown away. I was jazzed that my daughter was a part of this beautiful thing called Oberlin Choristers. I wanted to be a part of this magic, to help it grow and thrive. 

I’ve made volunteering for Choristers my personal mission. I’ve done everything from selling carnations, to raffling baskets, to singing with the parent choir and the Divas, to serving on the Board. I’ve even performed with the choirs on violin and viola, and taught music theory and ear training classes to help further improve the students’ musicianship. My title for a while has been permanent chaperone, for just about every concert for the last four years. I’ve come to know many of the kids and their families really well. 

Choristers has given Imani a chance to see the world. She’s gone on tour to Ireland, Chicago, Nashville and New Orleans, and France and Spain. Not only has she gotten to sing in these international venues, she’s also gotten to play violin with her colleagues – including onstage at the Grand Ole Opry. Choristers has given her the chance to use all of her musical skills. 

In April of 2013, my dad passed away suddenly. His funeral was in Philadelphia, the day before a concert with Canterra. Mrs. Call was understanding, but we knew she wanted Imani to be a part of the performance. I didn’t want Imani to miss it either. So we got in the car in Philadelphia early Sunday morning, and we drove the seven hour drive straight to the concert venue. 

The kids in Canterra knew where we’d been. They surrounded Imani and hugged her before she joined them in rehearsal. They were singing the song she’d sung the day before at her Granddaddy’s funeral – Goin’ Up Yonder. I sat and listened and wept. So, the same kids who had embraced my girl came over and held on to me too. Their compassion was amazing. 

Oberlin Choristers is not just a bunch of kids singing and a group of parents volunteering. It’s more than an extracurricular musical activity. Choristers is a family. These kids are our children and they are loved and nurtured above and beyond simply learning to sing. Like any family, there are disagreements and misunderstandings, but there is also love, loyalty, friendship, and fun.

This is my daughter’s seventh and final year in Choristers. My role as choir mom and permanent chaperone is drawing to a close. But even after my girl has graduated and gone on to college, Choristers will still be her family – and mine. I’m secretly hoping that my son will want to audition someday, just so that I don’t have to stop being a part of this beautiful, magical thing called Oberlin Choristers. I’m not ready to leave. No, not yet.