I Have Crossed The Bar

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Sean
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I Have Crossed The Bar

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In my Public Speaking course, for our final speech, we were tasked with giving a ceremonial speech. It could be either a Eulogy...commencement speech, farewell...whatever we wanted. I chose to write mine on the grave task of saying goodbye to the class that keeps me going day to day, Concert Chorale. I thought it turned out rather well (I have yet to give the speech though) so I'll post it here.
____________________________

I have Crossed The Bar
Copyright Sean, June 2010

“And May there Be no sadness of Farewell when I embark…” these were words that I never thought could apply to me. I have performed them with others, for others, to honor my friends and send them on to a prosperous future, but never in a million years did I ever think that they would apply to me. I mean…I mean, I knew they would eventually have to, but I refused to believe it.

Not too long ago, I gave my final performance as a member of the Hamburg High School Concert Chorale. With the final, tear filled chord of our traditional final song, Crossing the Bar, the most significant and meaningful chapter of my life thus far came to a close. I have no problem admitting that I cried, probably more than most. I didn’t even wait until the final song to tear up…my emotions were already beginning to bubble halfway through the concert. But I honestly have no problem with knowing that I cried more than some of the girls did. I’ve always been an emotional person, and chorus has played such a big role in my life over the past 4 years that the mere thought of not going to rehearsal every day is inconceivable to me.

There is really no easy way to express in words how much not just music in general, but concert Chorale, and Mr Zogaib specifically, mean to me. However, there are some things that I feel need to be said while I still have the chance, so I’ll give it my best shot. I’ll warn you now…this will be long, and I may get emotional.
Coming into my first chorus rehearsal here at the high school, back in 9th grade as member of the Mixed Chorale, I was a completely different person than the one standing before you today. Sure, I was intelligent (or so I’ve been told), a hard worker, and a musician who was always ready to learn something new and give a good concert. And I use the term musician lightly. Knowing what I do now, there is no way I could call myself a musician…but that sounds better than “Person who can kinda sing in tune and plays violin somewhat proficiently.” For lack of a better explanation, I was a musician who didn’t make music. Chorus, even the lower level groups, is a totally different beast than chorus in the middle school. Middle school chorus is just an excuse to get out of D.E.A.R. Sure, there are some people who care, and actually put forth some effort, but even in the select groups, most people are only there because it’s something to do, not because they have any particular love of music. Here in the high school, I’ve found, a good 80% of the singers in any group are there because they want to be, not because it’s an easy grade. Even those who join purely for the grade eventually discover that they like it. I was one of those people. Yeah, I knew I could sing, and I knew I liked music, but the real reason I joined chorus was because every year since 3rd grade I had been in a vocal group. It was just part of life, like your morning coffee. And you never know how much your morning cup of joe means to you until it’s gone. Thankfully, I was not one of those who took the program for granted. By the end of my sophomore year, I had discovered how much Concert Chorale really means to me, how music had changed from being just a part of my life to the driving factor of my existence.

There’s more to singing in a group than just producing the right notes and rhythm. There has to be an emotional connection, not only to the music being performed, but also with each other. As Mr Zogaib has said many times, chorus is the ultimate team sport. No one is ever sidelined in chorus though. Each member serves a purpose, and if any one of them screws up, it affects the sound of the entire group. It is extremely hard to coordinate the actions of 87 very unique individuals, but when everyone manages to connect with the music, and each other, the results are indescribable. The first time I felt such a connection with my fellow singers was during a performance at the University of Buffalo. It was the first ‘showcase concert’ that I performed with the chorale. We had rented out Slee hall for the evening, and the program featured only the ninety of us, and a select group of featured musicians that included Alumni, teachers, and current students. It wasn’t our first major performance that year, as the entire music department had travelled to New York City to perform at Lincoln Center, a true honor. That concert, however, was more of an eye opener than anything for me. Being in such a historic building, where so many other professional groups had performed made me realize that I really did enjoy singing. I knew it would take me places. Anyway, the concert at UB had a totally different effect on me. It was a very emotionally charged event, as it was the final concert that the graduating seniors would give as members of the group. That night, everyone was a bit solemn, but excited at the same time, because this was our last hurrah…our last chance to give a good show. The concert was near flawless, and even left Mr Zogaib speechless. I felt as though I was part of something bigger than myself. It was wonderful. I had tears in my eyes by the time the audience gave their final standing ovation. Mr Zogaib said the next day during school that if there was one thing he wanted us to learn from his class, it was that the high you get from touching people with music, and giving a good performance was better than that of any drug or alcohol. He was right, and from that day forward, I was hooked.

By the time the close of summer rolled around, I was a choir addict. If Mr Zogaib had groupies, I’m sure I would have been one of them. He scheduled a few summer rehearsals, to give us a head start in preparation for our performance at the New York State School Music Association’s yearly conference in Rochester. We had been invited to perform as a featured group. He told us that while it was an honor, and that only the best choirs are invited to participate…but that we shouldn’t expect much in the way of applause. The audience would be filled with music teachers. For those of you who haven’t spent much time around music educators, they have a tendency to be quite harsh when it comes to other groups, and too forgiving when it comes to their own. They can always find something wrong with another group’s performance. Thankfully, Mr Zogaib is not like that. He has no problem telling us that we suck when underperform, and always has a list of points we could improve upon. I’m glad that he does that though. It shows that he cares. As Dr. Randy Pausch once said, “ When you see yourself doing something badly and nobody's bothering to tell you anymore, that's a very bad place to be. Your critics are the ones telling you they still love you and care.”

I loved those summer rehearsals. They were easily the highlight of my summer. I still have the letter we all received in the mail, in fact, asking us to attend these rehearsals. I don’t know why I kept it…perhaps I’m just sentimental. It was so nice to see that wonderful group of people again, and plenty of new faces as well.
NYSSMA came upon us quickly, and before I knew it, we were on a school bus to Rochester. We left late on a Friday night. A Friday night that just happened to foster one of the season’s worst snowstorms. A ride on a cramped, damp bus that should have taken an hour ended up taking two and a half.
The majority of the next day was spent in our concert garb, tuxedoes for the men, and black gowns for the women. They aren’t the most comfortable attire to wear all day long, but in my mind, any day spent in my concert clothes must have been a good day. We performed at around 11 o’clock. We are a well known group, so there was already a nice sized audience of music teachers, and a few parents. We’d been told that since it’s a busy conference, it’s normal for people to file in and out of performances…no sign of disrespect, just an urgency to see as much as one can before the day is over.

I could tell that this would be a good concert. I just felt it deep within my being. And truth be told, it was the best concert I have ever had the pleasure to be a part of. If in my lifetime I never give another concert as fantastic as that one, I’ll have no regrets. We’ve sounded better in recent performances, but the entire group, even Mr Zogaib were just so in sync with one another. We were building off of each other’s emotions to create an atmosphere of pure music. We didn’t just sing notes and rhythms that morning, we made music. No one from the audience left that room. In fact, many sent text messages to other conference attendees telling them to come and watch us. By the end of the performance, the 200 seats in the room had been filled, and people were lined up in the back of the room, just to be there and listen to us. After Mr Zogaib cut off the final chord to our last song that day, “If Music Be The Food of Love”, the audience, by this point at least 300 music teachers, and a few parents gave us a roaring standing ovation. We were told they never do that. More noteworthy, most of them were crying. And so were we. I don’t think there was a single person on those risers that wasn’t shedding tears from the joy of the pure raw emotion in the air, and from the connection we all felt with each other right then. As he lead us off the platform that the conference officials had designated as a stage, I saw tears in Mr Zogaib’s eyes. That was a sight I never thought I’d see. That concert was recorded, but he never made it publicly available to us...a part of me wishes he had. The other part knows that that moment is better left to be replayed in my memory for all of eternity. As for that final song…he refuses to perform it again. We had performed it in such a way that he never wanted the memory of it to be blemished.

Why did I just spend 5 minutes telling you this? This speech is supposed to be about farewells, moving on to the future, not staying behind in the past. Well, it is my belief that to fully understand why I will miss this one, simple class and this wonderful group of people so much, you needed to hear that. And my words really don’t do the experiences justice…you had to be there.

Music has a different meaning for everyone. For me, it is an escape from the real world. Not just from the drama of every day life, but from the prison that is my body. Some of you may know what I’m getting at here, but for those of you that don’t know me very well, I’ll explain. I have Tourette Syndrome. It’s nothing life threatening…just means I’m not always in control of my own body. And that gets frustrating sometimes. While at this point in my life, I have no shame in admitting it, and there’s obviously no sense in trying to hide it, it still does bug me sometimes. Music…Concert Chorale especially, gives me a release from all this. For the 42 minutes of each rehearsal, or the hour or two of every concert, I am so focused on making beautiful, sensual, joyful music that I am not plagued by the tics that set me apart from others. I am free. I have no idea why or how this occurs, but I really don’t care. All I know is that without the outlet that Mr Zogaib has given me by allowing me to be a member of this group, I would certainly be a different person. I’d be less confident, and I’d certainly be a heck of a lot more frustrated with myself. This group gave me a purpose in life! In other speeches, I’ve alluded to medical issues during my sophomore year. I bet you can guess what they were related to. Needless to say that the medicational side effects were so bad that at times, I really didn’t see the point of waking up in the morning. Things were only going to get worse, after all. If not for the fact that I knew I had a place where none of my troubles mattered, and where I was free, I can confidently say that I wouldn’t be here today. Many can claim that chorus changed their life in one way or another…but I bet very few can say that it’s the reason they’re alive.

Will I find other avenues of performance later in life? Yes, of course I will. After 4 wonderful years under Mr Zogaib’s wing, it would be a crime for me not to. Will they be as therapeutic, joyful, emotional, insightful, and musical as this group of high school musicians is? No. No, I seriously doubt they will. What goes on in room 115 is something…unique. It can never be replicated.

So now, as I finally get the chance to see my pilot face to face, I am left with nothing but the fondest, most joyful memories any graduate can ever ask for. Although it’s like tearing off one of my own limbs, I reluctantly think I am prepared to finally move on from this highpoint in my life, to where ever the future may lead me. I have finally crossed The Bar.

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I'll probably end up giving him a copy of this before school ends. He enjoys reading this stuff, and I've kinda ended up giving him some sort of written expression of my gratitude every year I've had him. :blush:

Thoughts?
"The difference between a violin and a viola is that a viola burns longer."-Victor Borge

"I have been busier than a one armed worm caught in a tape dispenser."- Astrosmurf, Tuesday July 22, 2008
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RJDiogenes
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Re: I Have Crossed The Bar

Post by RJDiogenes »

I often find it hard to believe that you're as young as you say you are. :lol:

This was a great speech, evocatively capturing Concert Chorale in the stories of the shows at University of Buffalo and for the New York State School Music Association. It also amply demonstrated how and why it means so much to you on a personal level. It is certainly well structured, with the historical narrative used to build up the emotional arc of your own story. And Mr Zogaib is well represented indeed; he'll probably miss you even more than you miss him. It's also a nice touch tying in your traditional closing song to the closing of the essay (and in the title). This is nice work. I think I've said this before somewhere, but you have a nice natural talent for writing. :thumbsup:
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Sean
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Re: I Have Crossed The Bar

Post by Sean »

thanks RJ. I know it will be hard to leave...he had me observe and video tape his special Ed. music class (which he has turned into an African Drumming class- the kids really like it!). the way he works with them...just as supportive and encouraging as with us, but just so much more...I don't even know how to describe it. Cute almost fits. He really enjoys teaching that class though, and it shows. :)
"The difference between a violin and a viola is that a viola burns longer."-Victor Borge

"I have been busier than a one armed worm caught in a tape dispenser."- Astrosmurf, Tuesday July 22, 2008
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Re: I Have Crossed The Bar

Post by RJDiogenes »

He really sounds like a great guy. :yes:
Please visit My Store and My Gallery and My YouTube Page. :)

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