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#WhereILivedWednesday: The Risers

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One summer afternoon, a year ago, I time-traveled on the risers in the music room of my high school. I took my place in the soprano section–again, after twenty-plus years, my friend Molly standing to my left. She couldn’t remember if she sang alto or soprano, and as we muddled through the first run-through, Molly realized that during our choir years she must’ve sang whichever suited her measure by measure. Alongside us on the risers stood current students—aged 16 and 17–and alumni as old as…us. These generations of West High School Theater Department students came together to rehearse for our theater teacher’s retirement party; the song “Morning Glow” from the musical Pippin.

Matt, who played Pippin 23 years ago, started the solo

Why won’t my hand stop shaking, when all the earth is still?

Matt’s singular sweet voice beckoned us back into the wings, candles lit waiting for our entrance—on to the stage, into the song and our future. My eyes met Claire’s, and Sonja’s,  and I could feel Molly’s in front of me (she deemed herself a soprano after all) and Sascha’s behind– all of our chests hugging ghosts of younger selves, our eyes brimming with the recreation of old harmonies.

Mike, the music director, had provided sheet music, but I knew ninety percent of it by cell, soul, and spirit. I let that music take me. I sang full-out without a care for the quality of the sound or state of my vocal chords. My cowboy boots danced on the risers, my hips did the rocking-my-baby-while-waiting-on-line sway. My mouth opened wide with vowels—the width of a woman versus the lower case “o” of a girl hampered by an ambition too big for her self-conscious mouth and pegged jeans.

The following evening, Matt-Pippin-1991 sang the lead, alternating with Richard-Pippin who played the role in 1999. The rest of us–once again and all-too-fleetingly–became the chorus of players. We did not wear unitards, thank God, nor ill-fitting costume pieces nor grease paint. No one waited by the stage door, in the hall, by the Girls bathroom with flowers for us.  We sang in honor of our teacher– once mentor, now friend– and in honor of the passion we unleashed on that West High proscenium.

Morning glow, all day long, as we sing tomorrow’s song, we should be so strong…Morning glow is almost here.

I learned in 9th grade biology that the human body replaces itself entirely every 7 years—each molecule shed for a new one. Yet, somehow, miraculously,  music and memory transcends.

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5 comments… add one

  • Ellen June 11, 2014, 6:21 am

    While I was writing my entry, I kept thinking, oh Ann will appreciate this one, but it turns out to be an even better fit than I expected. Theater reunions are the best kind.

  • Anna Whiston-Donaldson June 11, 2014, 6:54 am

    Thank you! I always love having a chance to look back at “the house that built me.”

  • Angela June 11, 2014, 6:54 am

    I really love the section about widening your vowels and taking ownership of your voice in a way you didn’t in high school. It’s funny how you don’t realize how much you held yourself back until you start doing it differently.

  • Lisa June 11, 2014, 11:27 am

    “…by cell, soul and spirit”
    Words to live by.

  • Aussa Lorens June 13, 2014, 8:33 am

    This was just lovely.

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