By Jennifer Richardson
I literally love to see students honored for the good they accomplish. So I am sitting at one of the many wonderful awards banquets that I am privileged to attend as the wife of a school superintendent, and one of the ambient highlights of the evening is a talented pianist who filled the room with beautiful music throughout dinner.
I am humming and occasionally singing softly to many beautiful tunes from Les Mis and various Disney movies, when I hear the strains of one of my favorites, “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” a show tune from the 1959 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, The Sound of Music. It is an inspirational piece, to encourage people to take every step towards attaining their dreams.
As I am enjoying the song, and fighting down the urge to have a karaoke moment (which I am sure would have startled my well-behaved tablemates) I was transported. There I was, a 47-year-old—far from the high school years, suddenly right back on the stage at the old North Ward school building in Tuscola, standing with cast mates and singing.
Most of the words came easily back to me, “Climb every mountain, ford every stream, follow every rainbow, till you find your dream.” I am literally watching high school seniors receive awards for their potential and performance, and I am re-living a wonderful high school memory of my own. And it was the music that cut through time and space to beautifully harmonize those two moments.
You should know that despite my love of singing, I am not a musician. I really have no musical knowledge. I can’t read music, and have never written a lyric or composed a tune.
Yet music has shaped my life. My memories of home always include singing around our dinner table. Some of my most awestruck moments in life have occurred while listening to someone with incredible talent singing their heart out. A Whitney Houston song throws me right back to the eighties and I will watch any Youtube video that features a child singing. I have lost track of how many tickets I have purchased to watch high school musicals and school-based performances–and those performances that feature earnest effort and facing fears are just as captivating as technical perfection, every time.
And who was instrumental in connecting this marginally talented, musically untrained girl to the world of musical performance and appreciating others? My high school music teacher, Jeannie Weinland Craddock. I don’t think “music teacher” adequately explains her role. Who sat with me and plunked out the alto part of every song one note at a time? She did. Who put in countless hours outside of the school day to lead us through concerts, contests, and productions? Who put up with my immature, goofball, brash high school self in order to introduce me to music of all kinds? She did.
I surmise it was because of her love of music and her commitment to teaching. And because she knew what she had already lived, which was that music imparts meaning and expression gives life purpose.
Music bonds us to moments. If you can get a kid to pay attention long enough to emotionally connect with music, and the breathless accomplishment of working together to create a tightly controlled harmony—you can channel their energy and introduce them to the amazing outcomes of collaboration. Many voices, one beautiful result.
Reaching for meaning and the desire to express a creative impulse are fundamental bedrock of music, and any life well lived. Long before we understood, she was building a connection between our lives and the vast, meaningful, life-affirming, awe-inspiring creature that we know as music through the ages.
Music is bigger than all of us, but everyone can be a part of it. This giant experience transcends time, age, race, and culture. Participation in the creation of music transformed us from students who simply listen to songs we like, to the people who buy tickets to high school musicals, and finally into the people of higher ideals—the keepers of the cultural values that see and encourage the creativity in others.
I see now that she is one of the reasons I enjoy seeing students honored for the good they accomplish, because they are part of something larger than themselves. So, thank you Jeannie, it took me thirty years, an awards banquet, and a great piano player to realize you gave me so much more than music.