Two years ago I wrote a post that explained why I did not become a mathematician. It was a negative story about a negative experience with a negative person. But it suddenly occurs to me that I ought to tell you the story of why I became a musician. This is a more positive story about a positive experience with an awesome person. You see, just because I suddenly gave up on math didn’t mean that I had to go into music. I suppose I could have done anything I wanted to do. But as awful as my math teacher was, my high school chorus director was that good, and more.
Her name (although it has since changed) was Windy Sitcom, and I believe I first encountered her in the 6th grade. Being in middle school is…well…what is the opposite of fun? I guess…not fun. But there I was in the chorus, singing soprano, having the time of my life thanks to this woman who was funny, smart, very musical, and knew how to deal with middle schoolers, which is not a universal skill I’ll have you know. Although we had a different chorus teacher for 7th and 8th grade, Mrs. Sitcom always stood out as one of everyone’s favorite teachers.
In eighth grade I was encouraged to audition for the high school’s musical. They were doing “The Sound of Music” and they needed some younger kids to be various Von Trapp children. I had never really performed for real before, although I was always wandering around singing and making up songs. I still have no idea why I wasn’t more popular. But the point is, I was nervous. I had been going to the high school for my Geometry classes already, but this was something else entirely. My very first audition. Ever. And I almost didn’t do it. I moved from nervous to flat-out terrified, and was ready to just go home, when Mrs. Sitcom, who was playing for the show and the auditions, asked me if it would help if everyone else left the room. I will never forget this moment for as long as I live. She encouraged me to sing, and had all of the high schoolers leave the auditorium and press their ears and faces up against the crack in the door so that I could sing my song. At least that’s what my future cast mates later told me they were doing. As far as I was concerned, they were gone. It was just me, Mrs. Sitcom, and the director in the room, and I stood on stage and sang.
I got the part and entered the world of the stage for the first time. And I loved it. I knew that the following year, I would definitely be joining the drama club and singing as much as possible. And when I angrily quit Math League, it made it so much easier for me to attend all of the rehearsals. Of course it wasn’t just the musicals that she helped me with. Once I was in 9th grade I had Mrs. Sitcom for four fabulous years of chorus. The music we were exposed to was diverse and exciting. The feeling that I was there, a part of something bigger, alongside dozens of other student trying to fill an arts requirement, was amazing. And what Mrs. Sitcom did for us didn’t stop at the classroom door.
Sure, we put on concerts and rehearsed during school, but there were the festivals that she prepared us for. Each of my four years of high school I auditioned for, and sang with, our District Festival Chorus, the Vermont All-State Chorus, and the New England Music Festival Chorus. This meant many extra hours of rehearsal, often at Mrs. Sitcom’s house. She prepared us tirelessly, and brought us to the next level, ensuring that her students knew what it meant to be a part of something excellent.
Mrs. Sitcom retired this year, after 40 years of teaching. I went to an almost-surprise celebration dinner this past weekend in her honor, and the restaurant we had it at was so full of former students, fellow teachers, family, and friends, that there were not enough seats for everyone, and I saw people finishing their dinners and then getting up to give their seat to somebody else wandering around with a plate of food looking forlorn but hopeful. It was very clear that she touched a lot of lives, and I just wanted to let everyone know that mine is included in that tally.
What would my life be like today if my physics teacher had been the most awesome teacher in the school? Or my 9th grade English teacher? I’m not sure. But we’ll never know, because no one else made a difference in my life the way that my high school chorus teacher did, and thanks to her I am now a professional singer. So actually, maybe I should not thank her after all. Maybe it would have been better if she taught banking, or stock trading. But no matter the outcome, she was, above all, fantastic, and what I am today is, at least in part, due to this woman. And that is the impact of a great teacher.