I recently attended my son’s end of the year choir concert. He has, uncoerced by his music driven parents, become drawn to music and has followed in his mom & dad’s footsteps of being a “choir geek”. We let him find his own path there. One of the best parts I remember about high school and the only real place I felt I belonged or had friends who were at least a little more like me…artistic, a little bit freaky, and loved music, was in choir. My teen years were really tough. A lot of bad stuff was going down at home and now that I’m a mom of a teen, I understand a little bit more how crazy hormones and the tug between being a child and becoming an adult are trying to balance themselves out. Identity is being formed in its extremity which can change every other week. One week you’re this, the next week you’re that. I think that having a rough childhood and teenage years helped me to be a little more relaxed and let my kids become who they wanted to be, to show support and withhold my opinions and judgment, and to allow them to choose what they wanted to be or do and not to force them to be what I thought they should be as I experienced that struggle from at least one of my own parents. This is Jaden’s first high school year of choir and I’m super happy to see him feeling so accepted and at home there. He is also a math & science genius. Whatever path he ends up choosing, I’m so proud of him and will encourage him either way.
This concert took me back a little to the angst and turmoil filled years of high school. There were probably only two or three real things that kept me grounded and not following the teen suicide route with how devastated I was feeling inside with everything that was going on at home with control, abuse, and feeling worthless. Those things were music, my church youth group, and the boy I dated that eventually became my husband. I met him in choir. We’ve pretty much known each other now for most of our lifetime and except for a short time apart, we’ve been together since we were 15 years old. Hard to believe in times like these where so many of the friends and people we knew called it quits after even 5 years of marriage. And although I experienced a devastating blow when I got dumped for a short time, I still had the last word of this relationship and my prophecy of “I will marry that guy” came true. We still joke about it almost three decades later.
One thing that really impressed me about my son’s final choir concert of the year that paid special attention to the graduating seniors was how the choir teacher made everyone feel equally special and important. Everyone got the same identical gift from her that included a note to all and were recognized individually, without hierarchy. They each got to write their own quote that was shared with everyone as they came up to the front of the stage to be recognized. No one felt insignificant or was given any less recognition. This immediately took me back to my own high school senior choir concert. I remember that we were all given different kinds of awards. There was a hierarchy that kept us on the edge of our seats hoping that we would receive the “special” award that set us above the rest of the crop. I remember how disappointed I felt after receiving mine, not really grateful. It was a let down for all the hard work I did, how hard I tried to improve, and my passion for music that was going to be my life’s calling. Although I was shy and didn’t call attention to myself, not many of the other kids had that kind of passion for it or aspired to do anything with it beyond high school. I knew that I had a real fire inside me to continue in music to affect the world, despite how I didn’t toot my own horn. I was secretly wishing that someone in charge would toot it for me, would recognize me for who I was and the potential that I had in me. I knew that music was my life’s calling, not just a hobby or an extracurricular class I attended. And I put my all into it and worked just as hard, if not harder than most. But I didn’t really get that recognition in the end as I had hoped. Instead, I received some insignificant honorable mention plaque along with two other people who had such mediocre ability and effort and who barely tried compared to what I knew I possessed. It was extremely humbling. I remember my face was flushed as I walked up to receive this award right after the other two who could barely hold a tune. How could that teacher put me in the same category as them? I just didn’t understand.
I remember sitting through that awards ceremony feeling embarrassed that I was put in the same group as the guy who was practically tone deaf. I felt cheated as the teacher’s favorites who were a little more outgoing with chumming up to her got the big awards. I felt dismissed, unrecognized, and humiliated. It wasn’t fair. It put a damper on my overall experience to know that no matter what I did, how hard I worked and improved, and how much natural talent I had, I was not going to get the lead role in the musical, the special solo, the acknowledgment or the award that equaled my spirit. I just got an honorable mention. It was a real bummer. I thought I deserved better than that. And now that I see how my son’s choir teacher puts the same value and recognition on all her students, I realize how wrong, unfair and skewed that whole system that I had lived through was. There was too much emphasis put on how well you chummed up or brown-nosed the teacher and talked to her a lot, or if you were her accompanist, or your parents knew her well, or if your parents volunteered or donated or supported in any way. There was jealousy and competition with the students in something that should have just been about doing it for the pure joy of loving music. I never really thought about this whole thing all these years until I realized how unfair it was compared to my son’s choir teacher and how she chose to place value on everyone, reached out to those who tended to stay hidden in the crowd, and encouraged all her students for the love of music. That’s what it should be about.
But despite what I experienced personally, somehow it made me fight harder for what I knew I was going to do in this life. And no stupid choir plaque saying honorable mention was going to keep me back. To this day, I know of no other touring recording artist in my graduating class that attended choir. I am however thankful to know that there are several music teachers in that group. I just hope they don’t make the same mistake of playing favorites and encourage all their students equally because you never know who the next Elton John, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash or Dianne Warren or Carole King is sitting in your class.
As I sat in my son’s choir concert, these thoughts filled my mind about how we can stifle people by categorizing them with some kind of hierarchy system. I realize that not everyone should be awarded equally all the time. There is a time and place for both sides of the coin; to be on equal footing, and to be recognized for the extraordinary composition that is you. People with talent and who have worked hard should be recognized for what they do. Regardless of whether they’re in a special circle, clique, are more subdued than those with more bravado in making their greatness known. Some people know how to call attention to themselves, cozy up to those who can get them the shout out they’re desperately seeking, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re better than the guy sitting in the corner writing the next brilliant masterpiece known to the music world. Putting value on someone means a lot to a person. Public recognition and affirmation gives them a boost that validates who they are and what they do. But it can create egos and humility at the same time.
When all is said and done, I think it comes down to knowing who you are and acting on that. You have to know if you’ve got something really extraordinary that moves people and you’ve also got to know that you’re not really cut out to do something despite how much you love it. I see this in music a lot. There are some people who are oober talented and they have no idea how great they are, and there are people who are ridiculously untalented and think they are rock stars. Know yourself. Something that’s hard for all of us to truly embrace when it comes right down to the truth of it. It’s taken me a long time to admit it out loud, but I know that I am so much more than an honorable mention. What you do and continue to do will tell people who you are. Not what you “intend” to do or pretend you are. In life it comes down to two things; either you do, or you don’t. YOU decide which one you are, not a stupid choir plaque that reads honorable mention.