What are the defining moments of a life?  Turning points in your journey which have eventually brought you to where you are today.   Events with such a powerful influence that it almost seems as though there isn’t a choice as to where you are going next.  We’ve all had these moments.  Flashes of intuition,  opportunities provided,  doors opened or slammed shut, causing you to veer off from a planned path into something quite different,  and maybe better than you could have imagined.  Possibly even something as dramatic as tongues of flame,  spontaneously speaking in a language you don’t know, or hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit telling you to move in a certain direction.   

I’ve had several musical experiences which have heavily influenced my life.

The first such experience came when I was three or four years old.  My parents and I had just moved to Illinois and we were living in a suburb of Chicago.  At that time, early in the 1950’s WTTW, one of the earliest Public Television Stations was all done live. One of the things they broadcast was performances of Opera.  We didn’t watch a lot of TV then,  but somehow the station was broadcasting a performance of Madame Butterfly by Puccini.  Let’s just say that at that age I was known as a total wiggle wort.  Sitting still for any length of time was unheard of,  and yet, I sat down in front of the TV and barely moved during the entire performance.  I’m not sure where the love of opera came from,  but it has always enriched my life.  When I was twelve I went with my parents to the funeral of a favorite Aunt.  As I sat in the small country funeral parlor barely able to sit still, and feeling quite sad, one of the endless selections played during the long prelude of organ music totally riveted my attention.  It seemed like forever until the ceremony was over so I could rush up to that hapless woman and demand to know what it was she had played.  Luckily for me she was a kind and patient woman. She went back through her vast collection and played bits of everything until she got to THE one and wrote the name down for me.   At my very next piano lesson I practically demanded to start learning the Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven.   This small event is probably what eventually led me to a pair of college and grad degrees in music, as up until then I had taken piano lessons because it was expected of me, not due to a burning desire to learn music.  After that encounter with Beethoven in a humble funeral home, played on an electronic organ freely doused with tremolo, everything changed.
Everything changed again when I was fourteen or fifteen  and the Robert Shaw Chorale came to the college town where we lived to perform the entire of Handel’s Messiah.  By then I had sung in church and school choirs since I was seven, so I knew all about singing in choirs,  or so I thought.  The Robert Shaw Chorale performance completely ripped apart every conception I’d ever had of what a choir could sound like, and revealed to me right then and there that eventually I was going to be a choral director.  It was a real Holy Spirit, fire on the head, speaking in tongues moment for me which eventually led me to become a Church Choir director.

One last defining moment which changed my entire outlook came during a flute lesson. I was struggling to learn a Baroque piece which had rhythms I just didn’t understand.  Both my teacher and I were beyond frustrated, and both of us were ready to quit the other.  In desperation she pulled out the piano part and played it while making me play the flute part.  Except for playing in the school band, I had never played in ensemble with another musician.  All of a sudden the enchantment happened.  The piano was the other half of the music, which allowed what I was struggling to play to finally make sense.  The result was so beautiful that it made both of us a little emotional.   And, I never thought of not playing the flute again.   Making music with others is one of my biggest joys.  

There was divine nudging in all of these moments of my young life which sent me on to be a private music teacher for forty-six years,  and a choral director for the past thirty nine.  I can only rejoice and be glad in it.


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