A legacy to be proud of.
Music has always been a big part of my life.
I guess that would be an understatement.
Again, as pointed out in previous columns, my memory has not always been the best. I do, however, have some musical milestones etched in my mind when I choose to envision a flashback timeline.
In elementary school we wandered behind a big cardboard cutout and sang “Yellow Submarine” in an enthusiastic manner.
In junior high school it was the knowledge gained from “Schoolhouse Rock” that taught me to musically ramble with the U.S. Constitution Preamble in Social Studies class for some much-needed extra credit points.
In high school there was a vivid memory enveloping unfortunate circumstances as I sang the solo in the Beatles’ “The Long and Winding Road” in a concert the same evening legend John Lennon was murdered.
Later on, I took a concert tour with my high school chorus to Russia where we were treated to a heartfelt singing tribute by a group of Soviet World War II veterans. That robust, emotional sound made me yearn to learn to sing with that passion and richness of an all-men’s ensemble.
While at Buffalo State College, I was lucky enough to be selected to participate in a choir featuring college students from 11 countries. We performed Handel’s “Messiah” in Dortmund, Germany.
As far as influencing my life — musical or otherwise — they all pale in comparison to my time at Miami University. It was there I was fortunate enough to create a bond with the two loves of my life — my wife, and Miami Men’s Glee Club.
As a graduate student in Miami’s college student personnel services program in 1986, I wasn’t really thinking about music. I had sung baritone in a high school chorus and in Buff State’s choir while working on my journalism degree. But between Masters-level course work and a graduate assistantship in residence life, I had no time for singing.
Then I attended my first Glee Club Concert.
The very next day I went to the office of the group’s director, Dr. John ‘Doc’ Wabrick, and auditioned. I expected him to let me down easy and tell me there weren’t enough openings. Instead, he asked me to sing first tenor. A baritone almost my entire ensemble-participating life. I thought he was kidding.
But that is when I first knew Doc had a plan for me — just as he had for everyone who has ever sung for him. From that point on, he told me, the club would be a part of who I was and who I would become.
Obviously thinking he was called Doc due to the advanced degree he earned, I soon learned it was for other reasons. My first practice with ‘Club,’ Doc brought the dozen or so first tenors up to the stage. He had us collectively sing a musical scale. Although singing the same notes, it sounded like a jumbled mess. He then had each of us sing five notes individually. Finally, in a move that would make a shell-game-running sidewalk shyster proud, he quickly performed musical surgery on our group — arranging us in a completely different order from how we began.
He instructed us to jointly vocalize what we had attempted just a few minutes earlier.
What occurred was a sound I will never forget. While all individuals, he had us sound as one voice. After that point, I tried to soak in every piece of knowledge from our passionate leader.
One of Doc’s favorite sayings was, ‘The eyes don’t lie,’ often gesturing to his own, reminding us that they connect every singer with the audience.
And while the eyes are important, Doc’s greatest message to me was how he role modeled as a director how true music comes from the heart as much (if not more) as the vocal chords. He continually told us that our job as Club was to move the audience — that is how we cleanse the soul.
I return to Miami for Alumni Weekend for the every-three-year Glee Club Alumni Concert — needing that much time for my first tenor notes to rejuvenate. Ten years ago was the 100 year celebration, which assembled a chorus of close to 400 men.
At that point, my eldest son Aaron was just discovering his passion for music. I saw myself in Aaron as he shook the hand of the genius as Doc extended an arm of friendship to Aaron as my mentor had to me those decades earlier.
When he was getting ready this June to meet with his academic advisor to schedule classes for the first time as a freshman at Ohio University, I had one simple request.
Audition for the men’s glee club.
It likely was a wish I did not have to express because since his handshake from Doc, Aaron has soaked in all of the traditional Miami Men’s Glee Club songs.
Last Friday we traveled to Athens to attend Aaron’s first concert with the Singing Men of Ohio. While I have been proud of both of our boys immeasurable amounts of times over the years, this was definitely different.
From the first note the harmonious camaraderie could be felt throughout the venue. Aaron has already formed a bond with his talented director Dr. Bradley Naylor as they are both new to OU this year. Early indications are that Dr. Naylor is the type of man who will continue to fuel Aaron’s passion for music — and life — as Doc did for me.
For their closing number, the Singing Men performed “Brothers, Sing On,” the song we would traditionally start our concerts with at Miami. And while I tend to sing along with songs I know, all I had the urge to do for those few moments was to listen, observe and reflect.
It was like seeing myself again at that pivotal time in my life.
My hope is he has found his Glee Club … and his Doc Wabrick.
My best advice is — Aaron, sing on.
Jeff Gates has been a free lance writer for The Madison Press since 1996. His column ‘Life Happens’ appears weekly in The Madison Press.