Sunday, April 08, 2007

Truth (hurts) in Advertising

We have a bottle of tablets that claims it can fend off the common cold. A few weeks ago I was desperately trying to prevent the onset of a cold that ominously was beginning to tickle my sinuses, inconveniently right before our stake choir was scheduled to sing The Messiah. Both my wife and I had solos in the performance, and I was NOT going to be sick. Without realizing one had to immerse the tablet in water before consumption, I took a cautious bite out of one of the large, quarter sized orange chunks. I chewed it for a few seconds, wondering why I was salivating like a dog surveying a juicy prime rib, until I noticed the pill was fizzing in my mouth. They used to make candy that was called something like 'sour bombs' that I would eat, only to spit them out, trying diligently not to gag. These were a distant, bubbly cousin. I spit the little bit out, and, having failed at plan 'A', I commenced plan 'B' and dutifully began reading the instructions. Oh.... you dissolve it in water.

I dropped the tablet in a glass of water, which immediately began hissing and spitting at me like an angry cat. As I waited for it to do it's thing, I picked up the bottle and read the advertisements emblazoned on the wrapping. "Guaranteed to stop a cold in its tracks!", "Say goodbye to colds!", and, almost as an afterthought: "Designed and formulated by a second grade teacher!". I paused. Was this their attempt to inspire confidence in their product? Why would I be impressed that a pill I was taking for my health was designed by an elementary school teacher, (and only a second grade teacher at that)? I could just imagine the other situations in which you might hear that statement, and wish you hadn't:

Brain surgeon: "Don't worry Mr. Smith, these surgical instruments were designed by a second grade teacher!"

Army chief of staff: "Don't worry Mr. President, the nuclear weapon we'll use in our counterstrike was designed by a second grade teacher!"

A high school teacher- even that would be a little better. Probably not a middle school teacher (at least, not MY middle school teachers). Not that elementary school teachers are dumb, nay, I respect anyone who can handle a classroom full of ritalin dependent smelly children, but lets face it- smelly children are their specialty; not designing the chemical makeup of a product designed for general consumer use!

I remember when I was in elementary school, I thought my teachers were pretty smart. They knew everything: math, science, spelling, random facts meant to impress us into silence, politics, you name it. My music teacher was especially cool. In fifth grade we all had to choose to join either the choir, the orchestra or the band. I picked the trombone and stayed with it for two years. I remember thinking my teacher must have been REALLY smart because he knew how to play ALL the band instruments. I ended up doing very well- those two years were my first hint that I would later develop a talent with music. That did not come for several years, however, since I thought only nerds stayed in band (I had not embraced my nerdiness as I do now).

I quit band in middle school- middle school has that tendency to suck the life out of anyone; and I did not resume it in high school even as I began to teach myself the piano and realized that I had an ear for music. My big break came at the end of my junior year when I became involved in the stake musical. My friends and I didn't take it too seriously, and for our audition a friend and I "sang" Michael Jackson's Billy Jean. My friend hummed the bass guitar background while I shrieked out in my loudest falsetto possible: "Billy Jean is not my lover. She's just a girl who says that I am the one, but the kid is not my son! WHOOO HOO!" That last part was not accompanied by a patented Michael Jackson crotch grab, but that did nothing alter to the look of shock (and awe) on the stake youth committee's faces. I did not get a major part. They put me in the dancer section.

As the rehearsals progressed through the next few months, I began to be appalled at the complete lack of talent among the guys who had been picked for the major parts. One of them couldn't even hold a tune! I knew I could do better than that. So one day when one of them wasn't there, I grabbed the microphone and showed the youth leaders what they had missed out on. The notes came out pure and true, even the very high ones. I shocked even myself. By this point in my life, I had never, NEVER sung out loud before (the Michael Jackson thing was NOT singing). I was far too introverted to even think about raising my voice, especially in song. Singing is what either cool people (or people too nerdy to care) could do. So after all those long 17 years of not singing, I was surprised to learn that I could. When I finished the song, there was silence, with most of the people there staring at me. The jaw of the play's director hung open. Then there was one of those sappy movie moments where everyone claps for you, a la Hagrid at the end of the second Harry Potter movie. It was rather embarrassing for an introverted lad like me.

The next year, I joined every choir that my high school offered- Jazz Choir, the advanced Chamber Choir, the beginning choir- all of them. I soaked it up. I learned how to read music, I learned all the vocabulary, I desperately tried to make up for a decade of lost time. In my freshman year of college, I started my own a cappella group that performed as far away as Santa Monica (about 30 miles from my school). I was a music machine- nearly every minute not spent in class or on homework was spent on either writing, directing or planning something for the music group.

Then, after my mission, nothing. I sang in church, I had a few a cappella singing experiences occasionally (one with Jared as we tried to woo prospective girlfriends), but nothing like what I had thought I would be doing at the height of my brief a cappella career. Now, ten years after those initial High School and college experiences, countless opportunities have been squandered and valuable time wasted that will never come again. I think of all the BYU choirs I could have joined, the nearly free music and voice lessons in the form of college credit that passed me by, the Provo city choir, Orem city choir, Sandy city choir, Utah Chamber Artists, even the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, all gone.

Gone, but not quite. There was still ward and stake choir. Our current stake performs The Messiah every two years. The first time two years ago was a great learning experience as I had always heard of the song, but was only familiar with the Hallelujah chorus. This time, I came prepared to try out for a solo (dragging Jenny along with me). I got the one I wanted, and spent two months sneaking in times when I could practice alone at home with no one but Lucy to hear me (and maybe a few annoyed neighbors). I decided I would pretend to be an opera singer, since I had now squandered my chance to actually BE one. I listened to the CD literally a hundred times, and tried to mimic the bass soloist to the last intonation and diction. The work paid off. Both Jenny and I (who also worked very hard for two months) did very well.

After the performance and standing ovation, A lady approached me, introducing herself as a representative of the Sandy city chorus and orchestra. She wanted me in the chorus. I knew I would be leaving Utah soon and didn't want to start one more thing I had to commit time to in the middle of writing a doctoral dissertation, but something was calling me. The feeling of missed opportunity had been building for months now as I was practicing the Messiah, and seeing another friend, only 17, commit to paying hundreds of dollars for opera lessons after barely discovering his love of music arose in me a sense of profound regret. Why had I not done that? How could I find something I was really good at and by all accounts in love with, and then virtually ignore it for ten years? I accepted her offer and joined the Sandy city choir.

As I played catch-up (again), trying to learn the Verdi Requiem, I was struck by the beauty of the bass solos and wanted to try out as the soloist, however, I did a little research and discovered that the tenor soloist already chosen was the head of the opera department at the University of Utah. A little out of my league. No, I said, enough wasted opportunity. No more. The worst the conductor can say is no. I called him. Can I try out for the bass solo for the Verdi Requiem? Sure, I'd love to hear you sing. Do you have something prepared? Yes, I've been practicing the Confutatis solo. Great! Now, lets see... What can you tell me about your background? Where did you study? Um... I didn't really study. I'm kinda self taught. Oh... I see. Well, I've already got someone who I had planned on giving the solo to, but I'd love for you to come in and let me hear you anyway....

His voice did not trail off, but my attention did. I realized that while the past ten years weren't exactly a waste (heck, I got married, had a kid, served a mission, got a degree, and almost got a graduate degree (not in that order)), but one of the parts of my life that I feel real passion for and could have been much more developed was, sadly, not. For the next few years, I will have to advertise myself to choir conductors as a person who missed opportunities, who could have been great, but is now merely good. And that hurts.


Julie C said...

But hey - who are you really trying to make happy here - the conductors? or a newborn baby in a hospital at Christmas, the nurses who applauded and kept asking for more, and your very own family. You may feel that you missed out, but we (your family) are just glad at your willingness to share everything you've got.

randy said...

There is one way you can make up for lost time. Can you say "American Idol"???? :-)

Nick, in all seriousness, you've actually been a good example to me of someone that actually seeks to develop their talents. And you're doing it again with this month of writing nonsense. Anyway, make sure that some of this singing gets recorded so I can enjoy it sometime too!

Nick said...

Who am I trying to make happy? Well, me. In the essay I tried to show two periods in my life where I was given a glimpse at something I could have been really good at and loved, and both times I let things get in the way, the first time was fear of being a nerd, the second was complacency.

Whenever we learn about the three degrees of glory in church, it always feels like the greatest punishment of those not in the celestial kingdom is knowing that they COULD have had it all if they just had have seized the day when they had the chance- and then living with that knowledge for eternity, unable to change your past choices.

I don't mean to degrade the good experiences I've had with music thus far (like caroling in the hospital), but just mourn the opportunities for improvement that I neglected, and hope it teaches me to not let future opportunities pass me by (both in music and in other areas of life).

Nick said...

Oh, Randy- We did record our solos at the Messiah. When (if) you come up you can hear them (the recording quality was really bad, though).

Jenny said...

Correction. Randy may hear Nick's solo. Mine is not for public consumption.

(PS The best thing about doing the Messiah is that now Nick will sing around me sometimes instead of waiting until I'm out of the house and just singing to Lucy.)