Wednesday, September 14, 2022

A Musical Journey (or Time Machine Silliness)

I've loved, and been involved in, many things throughout my life. Some mattered more than others. Some lasted longer than others. Some were intensely important and vital to my identity early in life, but not so much later in life. Others are extremely important to my life today, but were barely a blip on my radar while I was growing up. 

Of all the things that have come and gone during this time, very few have lasted my entire life and continue to this day. One of those things is my love for music. I've talked about it some in previous posts, but I wanted to dedicate this space to discuss my musical journey, and why it is a constant in my life.

My earliest memories of music come in two flavors. First is my parents listening to music at home, usually folk and singer/songwriter artists, with some now-classic rock to round out the selections. Second would be the hymns that were sung at church. Not long after I started school, I remember enjoying music class almost as much as recess.

The next memory that comes to the front of my brain is from either first or second grade, where I'm singing a solo during the Christmas concert. I wish that I could remember what the song was. It wasn't a standard song, like Jingle Bells or Deck the Halls, it was a decidedly kid's song, that may have had something to do with an elephant or some such animal. Anyway, I just remember being scared out of my mind to do it. But once I was up there and actually singing, I had a lot of fun.

After a successful Christmas solo, I recall doing additional solos, not only for concerts, but at least one school talent show. By this time, I was also singing in the Sunday School choir in church. During any given week, I was involved with music in some way every day but Saturday, and at least part of that day would still be filled with music (usually 8-track tapes) at home. I will be forever grateful to my parents for instilling an appreciation of music in us at an early age, and continuing to reenforce it while we were growing up.

During 5th grade, we moved from Nebraska back to Minnesota. This brought with it a number of changes, not all good. The change of schools was a mixed bag, at best. But one of the best changes was my music teacher, Mrs. Hill. I can honestly say that, without Mrs. Hill, I would have turned my back on making music. 

You see, as a young boy, I had a very high voice. Most boys of a certain age will start with soprano or high alto voices. But, while other boys' voices started to drift down, mine stayed relatively high, a high alto, down a bit from my soprano starting point. The high singing voice came with a fair amount of taunting and teasing from my classmates, with a common comparison to Michael Jackson. Mrs. Hill would take me aside after class and reassure me that my voice was not something that I should be ashamed of, that it was a gift and something that I should cultivate. It was that encouragement that helped me to ignore the mocking and enjoy music time.

Enter 6th grade, and a new challenger enters the arena: the musical. This particular musical was something that was written by Mrs. Hill for our class to perform during the Christmas concert. I secured my first musical role, with solos and dialog and everything. It was a great experience, and quickly cemented my love for the genre.

Galavanting into junior high school, with all of the changes that come from going from a single teacher and room (primarily) to multiple teachers in multiple rooms, I immediately gravitated to the arts. Our choir and band director was Mr. V. His last name was a long Czechoslovakian name that I won't even try to spell. Everyone called him Mr. V. And while Mr. V. was an excellent teacher, he didn't have the time to give a lot of extra one-on-one attention to a seventh grader. Fortunately, Mrs. Hill, due to the fact that the school from elementary to high school was in a single building, was right there in the music department. She offered to work with me on the side as I continued developing my voice.

Junior high brought with it new music opportunities, like honor choirs, contest, and more theatre roles. This was my first taste of a proper musical theatre experience, when I was cast in the role of Winthrop Paroo in the production of "The Music Man". It was so much more involved than the sixth-grade musical, with so many more people and moving parts. The music was also a fair bit harder that I was used to. Of course, "Gary, Indiana" was nothing compared to "(Ya Got) Trouble", but it was a challenge. And I loved every minute. It still lives on a VHS tape somewhere...

My school's theatre department wasn't big enough to do a musical every year, so they would alternate with a play every other year. Eighth grade was when I discovered that, while I could sing, my acting was mediocre, at best. I was relegated to a largely non-speaking role in "Flowers for Algernon". It stung, but I held to the fact that I could still be involved with the musical every other year, and other music activities in the mean time. These included music contest. It is ironic, for all of the teasing and bullying that I endured at school, when it came down to choosing people for small group and quartet members for contest, everyone wanted me. It felt good. It was something I could look at during times outside of the music department and say to myself "I'm good at something, and people realize it". And I've got the medals to prove it.

And then, like a giant cave troll, ninth grade comes lumbering in, bringing with it the bane of every young male singer: puberty. My normal vocal range came crashing down around me, leaving me with barely over an octave on a good day. And, of course, it was a musical theatre year. I was forced to accept a chorus role in "Bye Bye Birdie" that year, and I was barely able to sing those parts, as it was. Outside of the theatre, I concentrated on instrumental music as I branched out from my B-flat clarinet to the alto, bass, and contra-bass clarinets in instrumental ensembles for contest that year. I knew it was only a matter of time before my voice settled into its new register, which it did by the time 10th grade rolled around.

Tenth grade was my first honor choir. It was my first time singing with students from other schools, under a director that I didn't know. The music was more challenging than we were used to in choir, and getting to know the style of a new director was very interesting. Ultimately, I was glad for the experience, as it prepared me to sing with just about any group and for any director.

In what turned out to be my last year in Kiester, eleventh grade was another musical year. I'm glad that I was able to have one more year in this theatre department, because my decided lack of acting chops would limit my opportunities in the future. I landed the role of the Cowardly Lion in "The Wizard of Oz". Although the costume was, as you might expect, extremely uncomfortable, it was the most fun that I had doing a musical, at least until I got into college. My year ended with more success at contest, but a failed run at All-State Choir in Minnesota, a state choir that was notoriously difficult to get into. I was disappointed, but I tried not to let it get me down. A new adventure was waiting for me back in Nebraska.

But. that's a story for a different entry.

To the strips for this month, we pick through the flotsam of gallery strips that I dumped last week and present the story-related strips here.

Strip 104/166 - Wormhole. Har, har, har.

The term "wormhole" was first coined by theoretical physicist John Wheeler, based at least partially on Einstein's theory of general relativity. This wormhole is reminiscent of the one shown in Star Trek: The Motion Picture which, ironically, has very little to do with the more well-known theories surrounding the phenomenon. A giant space worm has nothing to do with Einstein's theory of general relativity, and more to do with the giant space slug in The Empire Strikes Back. But that one didn't talk.

Strip 105/166 - Aw, just let 'em sleep

I mean, you gotta sleep some time, right? Just so happens it was the third pane of a comic. Happens to us all, eventually. At least, that's what I've been told.

Strip 115/166 - The wind-up time machine

You didn't think that a cardboard box time machine was going to be powered by a quantum singularity, or a warp drive, or even a Cuisinart, did you?

Strip 116/166 - I swear, this wasn't political commentary, just a bad pun!

I figured, if you're going to have a time machine, you may as well actually go back in time at least once. Having rats ratifying the US Constitution was in no way meant to be a political statement. Again, the furthest thing from my mind at that point. Don't worry, more cringey social and political commentary was yet to come.

One more week, and then it's Pat Sajak to the rescue! See you next week.

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