June 14, 2012
Thursday, 6:00 p.m.
Letter #229: The La Palma Glee Club
Since January, I have been working with a group of guys on a couple of songs to sing for the big GED graduation here. (You may recall I played/sang for three graduations while in Florence, Arizona, and this would be my third in the year I’ve been here.)
I went through so many guys—poor singers, transfers, dropouts, and even Phillip, who paroles in a few weeks. The main issue was that the graduation, originally scheduled for February, was delayed worse than my puberty. Every month, we were told it had been rescheduled for the following month. I had to keep a group prepared, which was crazy-difficult.
Every Saturday morning I worked with a group of five to eight guys, learning a tough a cappella arrangement to “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and my brother Brian’s spectacularly creative and stirring rendition of our national anthem. This latter one we learned—since I don’t have a print version of the music—by listening to the live concert recording of my brothers and me, and I’d teach each part as I picked it out.
Phillip had memorized my high tenor part before he left, which I had to switch back to when he left. In order to appeal to the prison’s desire to benefit all inmates, I invited a former musician with his master’s degree in vocal performance to join our otherwise all-church-choir-member group. That way, when asked about our group, I could tell how I’m teaching any inmate who would like music instruction, every Monday morning (once Cognitive Behavior class is finished).
The guys sound great, a couple of them really improving their vocal skills these past several months. My goal—as always, with these events—is to glorify God by making my authorities look good. Dr. DelSordi, the principal over our compound, works for Ms. Carr, a sweet church lady who always says nice things about me.
I helped Dr. DelSordi choose the order of the program; when he balked at having “two old songs” sung by our group, I gently reminded him that they are patriotic songs and we’d been working for hours on them since January for him. He finally agreed to both when (1) I told him “The Star-Spangled Banner” is our national anthem and (2) “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” is sung or played at every major U.S. patriotic event “when President Obama is there.” Immediately, he said: “Perfect! Let’s do it!” I spoke to his little liberal heart. 🙂
As I’d suggested, we performed Battle Hymn as the graduates filed in. Very moving. Then our group of six hit a home run with our national anthem. Everyone was stunned. The main warden, who wasn’t scheduled to speak, popped out of his chair like he’d been bitten and rushed to the microphone, telling the graduates how honored they were to have a music group like ours to sing for them. “We didn’t have music anywhere near as good as this at MY high school graduation!” he gushed, among other accolades.
Ms. Carr followed him up and repeated his gracious thoughts. Then our amazing volunteer, Sister Peggy, sang a song honoring the teachers that was beautiful. They loved it.
Afterwards, Ms. Carr approached me and asked if I teach music. I explained how blessed I am right now to be able to teach in my unit and that I’ve filed a broad proposal for a music program of sorts that hasn’t moved forward, including a proposal to allow keyboards—notoriously used for smuggling in cell phones—to inmates who get no write-ups for a lengthy period.
She said she’d like for me to teach a music class through the school, and when I reminded her that I don’t have a teaching credential—though I taught piano for nineteen years before prison and taught four years of music instruction while in prison—she smiled: “No problem! Dr. DelSordi or I will sit in on your classes to make them official!”
She asked me to write a proposal for her about it. Dr. DelSordi is thrilled, saying we could have a “La Palma Glee Club.” Riiiight. They were both glad I’d been including others besides church guys in the singing group, and they remarked that the graduation music keeps getting better.
I thank God not just for Chick-fil-A (who sponsored the graduation lunch!) and favor with staff (who brought in a Red Velvet Cake for my birthday!) but also for the ways He always seems to expand His work in me and through me here.
Thanks for praying!