Friday, April 13, 2012


Joy of all joys, today I got to drive the big bus! By "big bus", I mean a coach bus the same size as a Greyhound bus. I figured it would be rather different than my baby bus, and I was right! For starters, it felt like I sat down at the control panel of the space shuttle. For another thing, you push a BUTTON to put it into drive or neutral. But the most glaring change was that it had no front whatsoever, and it felt like my feet were sticking right out the front into the road. 

Mr. H, the school superintendent (my boss), rode along in the morning in case I had any questions. He sat up front and gave me handy pointers, and hardly laughed at all when I kept turning wide enough for a semi-truck around every single corner. 

After a few minutes, one of the students came and asked to sit in the front. It took me a moment to realize that it was Chad, our neighbor and one of Devon's best friends. "Sure," Mr. H answered, "but just don't scare her." He pointed at me. "We have a new bus driver."

A piercing shriek reverberated throughout the length of the bus as he saw me sitting behind the wheel.

Mr. H said calmly, "Um ... I thought I said not to scare her."

"Hey," Chad defended, "she scared me!"

A few more extra-wide turns, and we arrived successfully at the high school music festival in Plentywood, just in time for a whirlwind of performances. Musicians would be ranked as I, II, or III. Anyone who got a I would be going to the state music festival in Billings, three weeks from now. Damon was fairly early on the docket, with a successful introduction, just like I had hoped. "Hi, my name is Damon. I'm a freshman at Westby School, and I'll be singing Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child, accompanied by my mother."

Less nervous and more relaxed, his performance had all the good qualities you heard in the previous post, with very few of the difficulties. When I first started working with him, he would've made a fine ventriloquist., with almost no discernible lip movements. It takes real talent to sing with your mouth closed. Our work bore such fruit that the judge actually had him open his mouth less.

As she walked up to him, she said, "Please don't take this the wrong way, but you are the shortest bass I have    E V E R   seen!"

No matter how many attempts are made to organize an event of this magnitude, reality intrudes without mercy. The schedules serve as a rough guideline, and the attempt is made to carry them out, but during some stretches, time and accompanists are both in short supply. A certain amount of flexibility is needed, since no matter how much I try to give my children the impression, I can't actually be in two places at once. Apparently, neither can the other accompanists. Thus the rest of the morning was spent dashing from one room to another, sometimes waiting, and sometimes being waited for.

My last performance, just before lunch, was to accompany Chad as he sang, Go Down Moses. Until a few weeks ago, I didn't even know Chad could sing, and the community was surprised in turn at the concert. His performance at the festival went well, as I had every confidence that it would.

"The Mustache Judge", as I thought of him, had spent the morning helping one student after another learn to breathe correctly for singing. Which, oddly enough, is also the correct way to breathe for living. Most of us forget how to breathe properly as we go along. I know when I first began taking voice, it was a struggle to overcome my natural inclination to breathe with my shoulders instead of my stomach. Really, what girl wants to breathe in a way that makes her stomach stick out??? It took some getting used to, believe me, but now I breathe that way all the time, day and night, 365 days a year. (366 days this year.)

Chad was one of many singers who were also shoulder breathers. The Mustache Judge had a novel approach for anyone who was suitably dressed: to lie down on the floor until they started breathing correctly. As it turns out, it's impossible to continue to breathe incorrectly while lying on your back on the floor, though Chad came very close to breaking a record as the lone holdout. 

To pass the time while he waited for Chad's shoulders to get tired, The Mustache Judge told stories and chatted. Finally he asked Chad, "Are you a football player?"

"No," Chad replied without missing a beat, "but I was a champion in the Special Olympics."

The judge's jaw dropped. "That's wonderful," he said, clearly stunned. What started as a chance to help just another boy with a nice voice to improve, ended with a sense of reverence and awe at the Divine gift placed in a pure and loving heart.

Chad has autism, and at times has struggled to fit in. But when it comes to music, he speaks a language anyone can understand. He will have a chance to speak it to a whole new audience when he goes to Billings to perform at the state music festival. Damon will be there, too, along with the other Westby students who scored a I. 

The triumphs of the day were shadowed by tragedy, after the deaths of Carlie and Ty Anderson, who died in Medicine Lake on Sunday. They and three of their friends went out in a paddleboat. It's not clear whether the boat capsized, sank, or both, but when it was done, the brother and sister had drowned. 

In this part of the country, all the communities are so tightly knit that this has had a huge impact on all of us. Even Tiggy had met Carlie before, and was friends with a couple of the other teens who survived. At first the Medicine Lake students weren't sure if they would choose to come to the festival or not. No one would have blamed them for staying home. But they decided the best way they could honor the memory of their friends was to carry on, and perform the best they could through their tears.

During this last week, many students even attended school wearing cowboy boots and jeans, which had been a favorite wardrobe choice of Carlie and Ty.

As I peeked in through the door of the library, I thought of the courageous classmates and brokenhearted family, as they all prepare for the double funeral tomorrow. Oblivious to those watching, a slender girl stood in the front of the room, long blonde hair framing her elfin face. In a sweet, clear voice, she sang a song that traces its roots to the British Isles during the 1600's.

The water is wide, I cannot cross o'er,
And neither have I wings to fly,
But give me a boat that will carry two,
And both shall row, my love and I.

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