In the middle of my 8th grade year, my world was shattered. My parents announced to us that we were moving away from everything I knew and loved in Milwaukee to a tiny little backwoods ‘burg in Ohio. I was devastated. But, considering I had no choice, I decided to try to make the best of it.
Eighth grade was difficult in my new town. To the kids, I talked funny. They called me “Old Milwaukee.” Nice. So for the rest of my 8th grade year, I hardly talked. I’d go to school, do my work, eat lunch alone…basically try to be invisible. Just surviving, in a very pre-adolescent sort of way. You know the feeling, I’m sure. This is my 8th grade picture (no toothy grin – had to hide the braces).
Well, I got through the last 4 months of that year without too many humiliations. The summer got better. I had more friends, and I felt like I might someday belong. I changed my accent – right danged now. I made it my business to talk like all the other kids. Fortunately for me, I was good at the dialect thing, and I blended in pretty easily. Anyway, I was looking forward to my freshman year, which was to be a vast improvement over 8th grade.
When 9th grade rolled around, I was still at the junior high school (that’s how they did it in my district) and a couple of my friends told me I should join the choir. My thoughts were, “Why not? I get to be with my friends more.” I then met a man who forever changed my life.
Michael Jothen was my junior high school choir director. How lucky was I? Under his direction, I realized that this singing thing was what I’d been missing in my life. I wanted to be a singer more than anything else in the world now. What Jothen got out of a bunch of 8th and 9th graders was nothing short of amazing. We sang SATB arrangements; there was a men’s ensemble; we did sacred stuff, madrigals (stock arrangements, not watered down SAB versions), and contemporary things, like Godspell, with a rhythm section. He brought in guest soloists, and featured a bunch of us on solos as well. It was more music than I had ever been exposed to before. I had to be a part of it — and I was, in my high school years, with some interesting (and some nasty) outcomes, as we shall see on the next episode of History of Me….