I was lucky to go to a fairly good junior and senior high school growing up in suburban Upper New York State. My fellow students were intelligent, friendly and, for the most part, artistically inclined. I was active in theater early on and felt comfortable on stage, doing the lead in The Importance of Being Earnest in 9th grade, moving on to other shows in high school, including the World of Carl Sandburg, and another musical of which I forget the name.
It was this particular play in my junior year that I had to audition for a singing part. I had sung in church choirs but became disenchanted when my voice changed and couldn’t find the notes. Too high, too low. So I was called in to sing some scales with a teacher on the piano. I had no idea of pitch, so I was lost trying to even find the beginning notes. It was pretty devastating at the time and I figured that I couldn’t sing. Funny thing about that, looking back.
But, what came out of that experience is I picked up the character parts, in the case, the southern diplomat, complete with accent. (I spent three years in South Carolina in ES). I had a blast performing in these types of roles and it went a long way in keeping me on stage, and having a creative part in the production.
I also had the chance to be active in Debate Club in my junior and senior years, which forced me to think on my feet, speak in complete sentences, be intellectually challenged, and all at the same time. I owe a lot to these experiences as well. My friend Cliff Saber and myself even finished second in the NY State finals, much to the great surprise to both of us, even beating out our nemeses from the big catholic school in Albany to win that place.
It wasn’t until I picked up guitar again at Lehigh in my sophomore year that I gained confidence in my singing again. It was the beauty of jug band music and its innate freedom that set me back on the path of singing and flinging once again. Powerful stuff, and often think about how many kids’ voices are shut down at an early age by experiences similar to mine. I survived. Many haven’t and it remains at the very core of what I do with audiences (kids and adults) today. Our society and culture isn’t set up for this empowerment and it is quite sad..
But, both theater and debate set me up at a crucial point in my development to shape my stage intuition and skills that I lean on every day. Amen.