Tuesday, January 15, 2013

"I didn't know you could sing like that."

My high school choir director said this to me right after I auditioned for a solo for our Broadway tribute show my junior year (yeah, we had a Broadway tribute show and it was awesome.  I was the emcee for two years, too!).

I didn't know you could sing like that.

He was always a very blunt, very to the point kind of guy.  He wanted things a certain way, he always wanted us to be better, and he never hesitated to tear us a new one if we were doing something wrong.  For the first two years of high school, I stayed pretty under-the-radar when it came to chorus stuff.  I'd been in chorus since the 5th grade, done a few of our city's All-District ensembles that you had to audition to get into (yeah, I know, fancy right?!?), and helped others stay on rhythm when they needed it by clapping at an obnoxiously loud level.  

I'd also always been fairly comfortable with my singing voice (my talking voice, though, is another thing).  Finding the right notes is about as easy as breathing for me, I can stay on key pretty much all the time, and lately I've gotten into harmonizing with the same 5 songs the radio plays over and over and over.  

Singing has always been something I was comfortable with when I was in a group, but never alone.  Not until junior year, when I auditioned to sing a song from Thoroughly Modern Millie.  Had I been writing a book about chorus kids, my song choice would totally have counted as foreshadowing for my character.  It was "Not for the Life of Me," and it was the MC's intro.  She moved out of a "one light town, where the light is always red," and moved to New York City to start a new life.

She also moved there to find a rich husband, but I'm going to ignore that part.

Anyways, it took everything I had to stand there in front of my choir director and a few other people and sing the song as well as I knew I could sing it.  Practicing by myself in my room was wayyyyyyyy different from actually auditioning, especially in front of someone who absolutely wouldn't hesitate to tell me if it was horrible.

I finished the song, shaking from both adrenaline and nerves, and turned to him, totally expecting him to tell me I had no business being there and that he wasn't sure how I'd stayed in chorus this long.

Instead, he looked at me, smiled, and said the words that were both a compliment and a challenge.  Words that, until I started writing, I didn't even know had stuck with me through the years.

I didn't know you could sing like that.

I responded by shrugging and saying that I didn't know, either.  But I kind of did.  I just didn't want to admit it to myself and I've always been a little self-deprecating when it comes to singing (or just life in general haha).  Long story short I got the solo and it was awesome.  

Some other awesome things we got to do because of our choir director?  We went on countless field trips to NYC, competed nationally and internationally (and won!), saw more Broadway shows than I ever thought I would see, we sang IN Radio City Music Hall, and during my tenure as a high school student, I was lucky enough to be in five musicals.  

I was always in the ensemble because 1) My stage fright is and always will be something terrible, so being in the ensemble was the safest way for me to perform 2) I was really shy in high school 3) My peers were way better than I was/ever will be.  A few of them are making their livings as performers now, and a part of me is jealous that they get to sing and act every day.  But I'm a terrible actor, so life on the stage was never meant to be.

The point, in all my rambling, is this: Our beloved choir director, Mr. Donald Nultemeier, passed away this morning.  My chorus friends have all been posting statuses and reminiscing, and are probably blasting showtunes at this very moment.  I've got our graduation song on repeat - a song I got to perform with my peers, for my peers, as we were all getting ready to leave high school and move on to the next part of our lives.

I found out about his death a few hours ago, and the one thing I keep coming back to is what he said to me after my audition.

I didn't know you could sing like that.

Like I said before, it was both a compliment and a challenge.  And it's also become a little bit of a life mantra.  I had a skill, a very good skill, and I hid it away because I was too shy to share it with others until that audition.  The same can be said with writing.  I've always loved writing, and I knew I was a decent writer, but I never thought I was a good enough writer to win awards, or grants that let me go to conferences, or just have someone else say that they loved my story.  Never in a million years would I have guessed I'd be honored enough to have someone else say they loved my story.

So yeah, Nulte, you didn't know I could sing like that.  I didn't know I could write like that.

And it's your honesty, your very blunt statement of fact, that drove me to prove myself.  I wanted to prove that I could, indeed, sing like that.  I wanted to prove to myself that I could write a book, and then that I could write a better book.  I don't think I'll ever stop trying to prove that I can do something, because I'm always going to want to be better.

I'll always want to learn, to grow, to push myself, and to change for the better.

You've been one of the voices in the back of my mind, always pushing me on, always challenging me to be better, because you knew I had it in me.  You knew all of your students had it in them.

Because we did.  We still do.

And, as we move on without you, we'll always remember the lessons you taught us, the trips you let us go on, how you were a second father to many of us, and how damn lucky we were to have you in our corner.

Even if you were yelling at us most of the time.

As our graduation song said, 
"A new world calls across the ocean.
A new world calls across the sky.
A new world whispers in the shadows, 
'Time to fly.  Time to fly.'"

You helped so many of us fly, even if it wasn't in the direction of performing on-stage.  I think we're all very thankful for that.

As for me, well, thanks for lighting that fire under my ass by inadvertently showing me how much I was underestimating myself.  I totally needed it.

Rest in Peace, Nulte.  Thanks for drilling those routines into us so much that we can still do them, six years after getting out of high school.

Oh, and challenge accepted.  I can sing like that.


Just for funsies, here's a pick of me and some of my high school friends getting ready to do Sweeney Todd (hands down, my favorite musical to perform out of the five we did!)

Yeah I looked twelve.  This was my senior year of high school haha :P  Also, that costume had so many layers to it, I'm pretty sure I sweated all that make-up off by the time the first song was done...


  1. Awwwwwww!!!!!! I have to admit I had to choke back tears reading this post. Awkward hugs.
    But his praise and challenge rings like something that helped you move forward and that's priceless.
    Plus that picture is adorable!

    1. haha sorry I almost made you cry!!! I might've cried while writing it...

      He definitely pushed all of his students - I'll always be grateful that he was my teacher and mentor for four years!

      And :P I try, I try! I miss doing musicals, but I dont miss that costume hahaha

  2. So sweet and what a great message! Also, that photo of you is adorable :)

    AND...how the heck do I follow your blog (am not finding any ways to sign up for email updates or anything...or maybe I'm just not seeing them? #technochallenged)?

    1. awww thank you! And that picture of me shall now forever live on the internet :P

      There should be a little thing at the end of the right hand column that says something like: "Want Updates? Click here!" and you should be able to follow that way.

      OR since you're on blogger too, you can go into your homepage and add me to your reading list :) You just have to copy/paste the URL!

      If that doesn't work, let me know! I'm not super tech savvy, but I have a few tricks up my sleeve :P

  3. This was a lovely tribute. Every time I see high school students, I think they look younger and younger... I never looked that little, right?

    Allison (Geek Banter)

    1. aww thank you!!! I hope I did ol' Nulte proud :P

      I had probably juuuuuuuust turned 17 when that picture was taken, so this might explain why I'm STILL getting carded for R-rated movies haha

      And of course you never looked that little ;D