Thursday, February 23, 2006

Influences for Life

My experiences have taught me that you can never be quite sure when you are actually influencing someone and possibly sharing a life changing experience. Most people who know me know my love for music. My parents provided every opportunity they could for my exposure to various forms of music including piano lessons and guitar lessons. Mrs. Keeton was my piano teacher and I believe just about anyone my age in western Colbert County took piano lessons from Mrs. Keeton. She had that special patience to guide each of us into the world of music.

Later my interest turned to singing. While I may not be the next star on American Idol I have done my fair share of singing. But singing is a little different from the piano or the guitar. You must learn to hear the music. To sing harmony you must be able to find where you fit into the combination. Most of us growing up in Cherokee regularly attended church and most churches have some form of music. I happened to attend First Baptist in Cherokee where for some reason I was invited at a rather young age to sing in the choir. Mr. Brown, our music director, and the choir decided to let me join. To this day I still hold that there is a purpose for everything that happens in life and here is one of the finest examples. At the time I know I was the youngest member of the adult choir. Here is where I found the mentor that would teach me the fine art of harmony.

I joined the men on the back row of the choir and most Sundays I took my place right between Mr. Lyle and Mr. McManus. Mr. Lyle was my elementary school principal and a very good one at that, but I don’t think he realized where he would actually influence me the most. Each Sunday we would have our regular list of songs to sing and maybe the choir would sing something special. For some reason Mr. Lyle took an interest in sharing his book or sheet music with me. As we stood back there I could hear Mr. Lyle singing the bass harmony. While I knew about the various notes played together on a piano and I had heard the various instruments play their part in the bands, it was on that back row of the choir that I first learned how individual parts blended to become a song.

Mr. Lyle was quite patient showing me what notes we were singing in the books. Most people might not have noticed his guidance because we were in the back row. While I couldn’t necessarily reach the low notes that Mr. Lyle would, I learned to follow his lead and hear where we fit within the harmony. Now one of the most sung songs of our church was that famous hymn, “Just As I Am.” After singing it with Mr. Lyle I was soon able to sing the bass line for that song without even looking at the music. To this day I can sing the bass line for at least the first three verses totally from memory. In fact, it would be almost impossible for me to sing the melody since the harmony is so engrained in me.

From that time spent with Mr. Lyle I went on to enjoy other moments of song including a brief stint in the high school choir. My senior year I was the only boy in the school choir. I don’t think the other guys in my class realized the benefits. I keep telling my sons they should be so lucky. Every time a duet or male part was required I was the sole choice. That situation gave me the opportunity to sing quite a few songs with some of Cherokee’s finest young ladies. After that I spent time in various other choirs including the annual Christmas presentation of a portion of George Handel’s oratorio “Messiah” at the University of North Alabama. I also have taken leading roles in music at various churches as I have moved around the country.

I don’t think Mr. Lyle ever really knew what he actually did for me. I do know that Mr. Lyle’s actions had a more important lesson than learning about the harmony of music. Never forget to take time with the younger ones of our community. Be patient. Show them what you are doing whether it is singing, fishing, reading, or just mowing the yard. You will never know what flame that small spark actually created.