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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Boy Who Refused to Sing

           "Sing, Lee," Mrs. Toomb pleaded with exasperation on her face.  If I had continued to look at her, I might have seen a sad disappointment in her eyes.   But I did not look.  Instead I looked back down to the notebook where I had been scrawling cartoon-like drawings.

             And so it went for a while, until eventually she no longer paid attention to me.  While the joyous sounds of the eighth grade choir raised voices in song, I sat there reading, writing, or just wishing I weren't there.  I figured I had fulfilled my part of the deal, now she had to give me the good grade that I was expecting just for being in the class.

           All seventh graders were required to take a general music class.  Mrs. Toomb took an immediate liking to me when she discovered that I played violin and I participated in one of her choir programs.  Later that year one of my musical compositions was featured in a musical Mrs. Toomb produced with the combined efforts of her classes.  In the same program my next door neighbor and I presented a juggling act.  I became almost like the proverbial teacher's pet.

             At the end of that school year she convinced me to take choir as an elective class the following year.  Somehow I got the impression that as long as I was in the class I was guaranteed an easy A grade.  What I didn't realize was that I was going to be expected to sing.   As far as I was concerned I was not going to sing.  I stubbornly stuck to that throughout the entire year.

            Looking back, I'm not sure why I was so stubborn at times when I was younger.  Sometimes I would just adamantly refuse to do something if I didn't want to do it.   I was goth before there was goth.  It was early mid-sixties and I was typically dressed in black pants and black turtleneck.  I was often absorbed in reading or writing.  I did what I wanted to do and singing was not on my list.  Or so I tried to convince myself.

         The truth is that I was just afraid to let anyone hear me sing.  I loved singing then and I like to sing now.  Mrs. Toomb gave me my A for the first grading period, but thereafter she gave me Cs.  I guess she figured that she had talked me into choir and didn't want to fail me like I deserved.  I decided not to sign up for ninth grade choir class.

          Not long after that I began writing many songs.  I would often hide myself away in my bedroom quietly singing the songs I was writing.  As the years went by, I would occasionally make crude recordings of some of my songs.   At gatherings with some of my musician friends I would sometimes add vocal harmonies in our jam sessions together.

         When I was in my forties I began singing in the church choir.  A few times I sang solo parts in choral presentations.  On a few occasions I even performed duets with a friend before the entire congregation.  I was nervous, but it was an exhilarating experience to sing before an audience.   I couldn't help but think of my old eighth grade choir teacher.   Sorry, Mrs. Toomb, but you knew what I needed and I just didn't recognize it at the time.

17 comments:

  1. Thank God for those who see something in us that we don't or can't. Bummer we recognize it long after it would have served a purpose. Thank God for the thousand's of Mrs. Toombs. Some 40 + odd years I am still thankful for a Mrs. Hill!

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  2. You remind me of myself, As I told you before at school I dested poetry and now many years later am writing it and also had a book published.
    Enjoyed the read it good to find out bits about one's blogger friends.

    Yvonne.

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  3. Looking back, there are so many teachers whohave positively affected my life I am so grateful for. I have a list of some I'm going to send a copy of my book too with a nice note and signed of course.

    Stephen Tremp

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  4. Would be nice if we always listened. My niece writes songs and plays several musical instruments.

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  5. I had a chorus teacher who retired when I finished 9th grade. I loved her. She said to me: "Beautiful sweet-voiced Liza. Always keep singing." I assured her I would, but after high school I stopped...well, other than around the house. I still feel like I disappointed her...and perhaps myself.

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  6. Yes looking back, we wonder why, we were so shy?? I was this way also. I now have gotten less shy....so glad you overcame your singing shyness.
    kim

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  7. Oh, I knew better than to sing and still do. We all had some teacher whom recognized something and encouraged us to reach beyond our little arms. The fact that years later we realize this is a testament to their insight.

    Great story, Lee.
    Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

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  8. Singing is so hard for me. It is very difficult for me to put myself out there like that.

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  9. Ever tracked her down and let her know?

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  10. To paraphrase Humphrey Bogart:
    "You'll sing and LIKE it!"
    [*slaps your face*]

    ~ "Lonesome Dogg" McMe

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  11. you see, Lee, unlike many other writers in this blogosphere of ours, you really do have a natural and flowing talent for easy and charming storytelling, something that only real writers have and wanna-bes don't. Short, concise and easy sentences, not overly spiced up, with a nice dose of natural humor.

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  12. Gregg -- Yes there were teachers who cared. And back then they had more flexibility to add their personal touch to their teaching style rather than being regimented by state dictates.

    Yvonne -- Perhaps we are resistant to things that we really would like to do but lack confidence.

    Stepen Tremp -- Your idea of giving them personally signed books would be very thoughtful.

    Carol -- Unfortunately it's usually too late when we realize our errors of youth and often our kids won't listen to us either.

    Liza -- That's another sad thing-- letting go of passions and talents of our youth.

    Kim -- I was often terribly shy and missed out on some really good opportunities.

    Jules -- Teachers have a wealth of experience that can often enable them to see in their students what others haven't seen. Teachers can make a big difference.

    Debbie -- I was like that too.

    Alex -- I've tried to find her through the internet to no avail. If I could go back to Indiana, where she was, I might try to find out what happened to her, but it might be difficult where I am.

    StMc -- Mrs. Toomb should have pulled a Bogart on me. In fact, when I was a kid I probably needed a good slap every now in then instead of being so coddled and getting my own way.

    Dezmond -- Thank you very much. I consider that an especially high compliment coming from you.

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  13. I am probably the shyest person I know (even at 49) but somehow never had a problem singing in front of people.

    Interesting that you went on to a career as a performer....

    >It was early mid-sixties and I >was typically dressed in black >pants and black turtleneck

    You were just a late-blooming beatnik!

    Larry

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  14. When reading your story Arlee, You sounded like my daughter is now. Exactly. So thank you, there may be hope for her stubbornness yet!
    Truthfully, singing is almost a spiritual experience for me. I'm o.k., I did do a solo once too. Just a few years ago, oh the nerves! But I made it through. And now, I don't care what I sound like, I sing loud and proud! I'm glad that you changed your mind about singing. I'll bet you are too! Love Di ♥

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  15. Hi Arlee .. singing - would love to sing and would love to be musical - but it's great to listen to friends who are musicians .. and appreciate their talents ..

    Glad you found your voice .. long may it last .. Hilary

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  16. I wouldn't have uttered a word, either. I can't sing at all. Through Kareoke Revolution, I've learned pitch, but I still sound awful doing it.

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  17. Larry -- I'm sure I was influenced by the beatnik look

    Diana -- I'm still shy sometimes, but as I get older I'm more apt to put myself out there without worrying too much.

    Hilary -- I think a lot of my musical friends were a big influence on my getting out there.

    L. Diane -- Maybe "awful" is your self-critical opinion. Others may enjoy hearing you.

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