It was my junior year of high school, a rather stressful year for me. It was junior year that I had to take Geometry, a subject full of concepts that were difficult for me to grasp as a blind student. Sophomore year when signing up for the following year’s courses, I decided to sign up for an International Relations course which I thought would be very interesting, and it was. But it was almost at a college level in terms of the amount of reading it required. I was required to take four semesters of science to graduate, and my teachers and I decided I should take Earth Science since a lot of the other science courses offered were visual and thus hard for me to grasp. I did well in the class, but let’s just say watching paint dry would have been more interesting. The gym class for special needs students I had to take was heavy on swimming: my class had to swim three days a week, while the regular gym classes had one swimming unit that only lasted two weeks. On a summer day, I love nothing more than swimming, but swimming for a grade is nerve-wracking. The demands of these classes meant I often had to do homework during the lunch hour, and on top of it all, that was also the year I had to prepare for the ACT test and start thinking about college applications and scholarships.
But I love to sing. I was the girl who would sing on the bus to the point that it annoyed the other kids, or sing in the hallway between classes and occasionally get so lost in song that I missed a turn. A couple times, teachers even had to ask me to stop humming in class. So naturally, I joined the choir as soon as I was old enough, and in past years when times were stressful, choir was the brightest hour of my day, a beautiful chance to release my stress through singing. What made choir even more exciting in high school was the fact that in my sophomore year, I was accepted in to the Chamber choir, a huge honor since it was the top choir in the school and required an audition. In fact, I think I was one of only four sophomores to get accepted in to this choir. Mastering the more complex level of music for this choir was a challenge, but when I got discouraged, I would remember back to freshman year when I heard this choir sing at our concerts, and how blown away I was by their talent. Just stopping to realize that this teacher had chosen me to be a part of this competitive, stunning choir was all it took to restore my confidence, and come concert time, the choir’s sound stunned me just as much as it had freshman year.
But for some reason, in February of my junior year, no matter how many pep talks I gave myself, I dreaded choir rehearsals. The hour that once brought me so much joy now felt like a neverending mountain that the stress of the day left me too tired to climb. I knew deep down that I still loved to sing, and that my loss of enthusiasm was just a temporary thing that would pass when the dreariness of winter lifted or when the demands of my other classes had eased. Thus, I never dreamed of quitting this choir, and did my best to maintain a positive attitude. Even so, when the teacher would make us stop, sometimes after only singing one or two notes to teach us stylistic techniques to make the sound better, or drill notes we were singing wrong, I had to clench my teeth furiously to stifle sighs of frustration. Looking back on it now, I realize the teacher must have noticed this since I was sitting in the front row. But what she had noticed was that I was gradually leaving earlier and earlier than I was supposed to in order to catch my bus.
School let out at 3:07 every afternoon and choir was the last hour of the day. The bus home would leave around 3:15, but since the halls erupt in to chaos when the final bell rings, and trying to negotiate them and catch the bus in time would have been dangerous if not impossible, my teacher’s aid and the choir teacher agreed that I should leave class at 3:00 so I could get to the bus while the halls were empty. But gradually, so gradually I honestly don’t think I realized I was doing it at the time, I started leaving at 2:59, then 2:58, then 2:57, and the choir teacher had started to notice. This was revealed to me on a Tuesday in February when just after gym class, the teacher’s aid asked me to meet her in her office for a minute. This was nothing out of the ordinary as she often had me come to her office to work out computer issues or help me with Math, so I wasn’t concerned by this request. But that changed after I pulled up a chair and she closed the door, sat across from me and said with a concerned voice, “what time have you been leaving from choir lately?” “Like 2:57,” I admitted. “Yeah,” she said, “the choir teacher asked me to talk to you. She has noticed you have been leaving earlier, and feels like you are not enthusiastic about singing anymore.” I was not facing a punishment, just a gentle but firm reminder that I was not supposed to leave until 3:00. But my crushed spirit and the cold sweat that started forming on my hands and forehead was much worse than the detention I received in sixth grade for not doing my math homework.
At that moment, I remembered a day in my freshman year when the choir teacher was telling the freshmen women’s choir about the high expectations of Chamber Choir, and that in the past, she has not hesitated to kick people out of Chamber Choir if they were not carrying their weight. The teacher didn’t have to say anymore. Though it wasn’t stated directly, I knew this was my warning: “if you don’t improve your attitude and continue to leave early like this, the teacher may kick you out.” I promised to stay until 3:00 from then on. But the rest of the day, this teacher’s words kept echoing in my mind: “she feels like you are not enthusiastic about singing anymore”, and I was starting to wonder if maybe there was some truth in that statement. Should I just drop out of this choir and never sing again, and not risk disgrace by getting kicked out? I had always thought I loved to sing, but maybe this love wasn’t as pure as I thought it was. Was it possible I just chose to audition for this choir for the wrong reasons like the prestige of being able to say “I’m in Chamber Choir”, instead of a true passion for learning challenging music? Even when I sing on the bus, was it possible I was just singing to show off my voice, but misread this as a love for singing?
That night, I was supposed to sing the National Anthem for a basketball game, something I had done a few times throughout high school, and an opportunity I was always excited about. But although I don’t think I told my mom this, when I got in the car to go to the game that night, I was not excited at all, and even wondered if I should have called in sick or something to give me time to reflect on whether my enthusiasm for singing all my life was pure. But then when Mom had started the car, the car was filled with the beautiful music of one of my absolute favorite CDs, a CD I had forgotten was in this car. It was the Allen Jackson album “Precious Memories”, a collection of old Christian hymns that I loved and listened to seemingly every day since Christmas when I received it. But despite how many times I had sang along to this CD before, I don’t know how to explain it except to say that that day, a day when I was in the depths of despair and self doubt, something just came over me. Every earthly word in my vocabulary seems inadequate to describe it, but I guess the closest I can come to describing this feeling was that it was like a wave of joy washing over me, and I sang as if I had discovered singing for the first time. “Blessed assurance Jesus is mine! Oh what a foretaste of glory divine…” “Softly and tenderly, Jesus is calling. Calling for you and for me…” “I love to tell the story of unseen things above: of Jesus and his glory, of Jesus and his love…” “Have you been to Jesus for the cleansing power? Are you washed in the blood of the lamb…” And with each of these songs, this wave of joy grew more and more intense, until by the time Mom pulled in to the parking lot of school, I was overflowing with this joy! While people say they love my singing after every game, I don’t think my heart has ever been so much in to my singing as it was that night.
I continued singing in Chamber choir until I graduated high school. I am in college now, and still in choirs that sing challenging music. There are still days when rehearsals feel like mountains, and I still catch myself sighing in frustration now and then. But whenever I feel discouraged, I just think back to this divine experience, an experience that taught me how much I really do truly love to sing. And by concert time when I have reached the top of the mountain where all of the notes and dynamics are learned and I can sing from my heart just as I did that night in the car, I realize that the mountain was well worth the climb.