What in the world brought me to this place? The other night Judy and I were at a University of Minnesota Marching Band concert at the Civic Center. It was a great concert, but it got me to thinking. Given my family history, why would I be at a music event?
Music, theater, and the arts were not part of my life growing up. Some families have pianos, fiddle, or record players to keep themselves entertained on long North Dakota winter evenings. Not us. The closest thing to a musical instrument my grandmother could play was the radio. It was on just for the news and weather.
As Judy and I were listening to the great band music I continued thinking about how I got to this place, liking music, but with no background and no ingrained talent for music. A number of things came to mind, and most of those interests continue to shape my life today.
One person I thank for my interest in the theater is the father of one of my first girlfriends. Patty’s dad was a professor at Jamestown College. He was quite the guy, and probably good for another post. Something about a TV remote control and a 1958 Rambler station wagon. Back to the story at hand.
Professor G approved of my dating his daughter, but he apparently thought I needed a little culture. He often gave Patty and me tickets to the Shakespeare series at the college. They were well done productions, and gave me a lifetime interest in the Bard. Every year Judy and I now go to at least one play at the Winona Great River Shakespeare Festival. That’s almost fifty years of seeing these plays, and I eagerly await next year’s festival.
That doesn’t explain how I got to a concert.
My interest in girls got me interested in the theater, but my shyness kept my off the stage. One day in high school I learned about all the things that went on behind the curtain. All things electrical had my interest, and the light board in the Jamestown High School auditorium caught my eye. I had never seen that many switches, dials, and sliders in my life. All I had to do was agree to run the lights for the concert. Singing or playing an instrument in the concert were completely out of the question. I was laughed out of junior high glee club and church kids choir because I couldn’t tell which note was higher. I’d go down when they went up. So, light board here I come!
That concert led to me running lights for the various school plays, including me being the only underclassman as part of the Senior Class play. That didn’t win any friends for me in the class of ’67, but it was fun. Then the summer was coming around and the Jamestown Choralaires were looking for a stagehand who could run the lights for their concert and road show.
The Choralaires was a men’s a capella group, with about fifty men, and maybe a half-dozen performances that year. They are still an active group, with a good number of performances annually. Their music choices certainly expanded my knowledge and interest beyond the traditional teenage fare.
One Choralaires performance still rings loudly in my memory. We had a concert date in Medina, a little town just west of Jamestown. We were in a little auditorium, perhaps a grade school? Maybe the high school? In either case it was quite small. There may have been more people on the stage than in the audience. The audience was mostly farmers and their wives. Men’s a capella music was not their favorite. I don’t know why they were there. Neither did they. At the end of the concert, there’s usually a standing ovation, or at least a lot of applause. That evening it was polite applause. Barely polite.
Besides running the lights, I was in charge of pulling the rope to close the curtain. As I was pulling the rope, the director was encouraging me to pull harder, faster! Then, just before it closed completely, and the audience had a chance to run for the doors, the director frantically waved for me to open the curtains for the (clearly unwanted) encore. He knew that our encore song, a country tune, would be the audience’s favorite! It was. They finally gave us a good ovation, and we ended a successful performance.
There were two big influences that got me to that band concert. My interest in my girlfriend, and my interest in technology. Those two influences are still shaping my life. At the evening that started this conversation, I was at the concert with my best girlfriend, Judy, and as I was sitting there waiting for the band to come on stage, I was looking around the auditorium counting the wi-fi transmitters bolted to the catwalk above us. Girls and technology. Blend in a little music and I’m in heaven.