In seventh grade, my first year of junior high, I was allowed to pick one "elective" course. There was no question in my mind about it, no pondering, no confusion. I was born to sing nearly as much as I was born to act and born to write. I had a passably good voice (I would never claim to be a diva, but I could hold my own) and thus began my school singing career.
My first chorus teacher was Mr. Phillips. He had bright red hair and a bright red mustache and when he got mad at us, his face went bright red, too. But he was loony and knew his stuff. He gave me my first musical role, as the Rose in Alice in Wonderland.
Next came Mrs. McAllister, who used the piano as a percussion instrument and occasionally threw chairs across the room when her temper got the better of her. She was raw and crass and demanding and brought us together to sing under the iron fist of unwavering perfection. I didn't always like her, but I loved the way she made us sound.
And then there was high school, and Mr. Thorp.
On the heels Mrs. McAllister's screaming, came Mr. Thorp's gentle voice and even temper, his keen ear for harmonies and his deep love of music - all kinds of music. He had a ready smile and bright eyes and he congratulated you on even the smallest bits of happiness that you shared with him from your day-to-day life.
I never had a bad day in Mr. Thorp's class. It just wasn't possible. And in Mr. Thorp's class, I learned some valuable life lessons:
1. Listen to each other. Really, really listen.When we all listen to each other and work together, we can create magic.
2. Sell yourself. You might have talent spilling over you like a waterfall, but if you don't sell yourself and what you're doing, nobody's going to notice.
3. The good stuff is always worth working for, and you don't get better by giving practice half your effort.
4. Always do your best, because those judging you will always have their own agendas. You may not be able to predict how anyone judging you is going to rank you, but at least you can hold your head high and know you gave it your all.
5. If you need help, tell somebody. This was born from singing in overheated rooms across the Southwest, where fainting on the risers was a regular occurrence at competitions and performances. Mr. Thorp always told us to raise a hand and sit down immediately, right in the middle of the risers if we had to, instead of trying to soldier on. The truth is, in life, sometimes you just need help, and you need to let people know. Don't gloss it over, and don't be embarrassed.
6. Louder isn't always better. Sometimes a softer voice or deliberate silence can make a much larger impact.
7. Celebrate the diversity of many voices. No two voices sound alike, no two people interpret things the same way. Don't belittle someone for their unique perspective.
8. Have fun. What's the point to all that work, if it's not feeding your soul and making you feel good when it pays off? Enjoy it - every second of it.
I recently reconnected with Mr. Thorp again via Facebook, and I was thrilled to see he's living his life with gusto and still making music.
And of course, still gently giving out the life lessons, just by being who he is.
So thank you, Mr. Thorp, for the memories, the music, and all that I still carry with me today.