Origins: 3 Year Plan Part 2

The Beginnings of my ‘formal’ Music Education

Let me tell you a little bit about church jobs. They ask for a 2 day/week commitment from most singers (usually a weeknight rehearsal and a Sunday morning/afternoon, depending on your contract, etc.) One thing that’s expected out of singers is that they must be available for Christmas Eve and/or Christmas Day. A singer at my church jobs wouldn’t be hired if they weren’t available for those days.  I mean, after Easter, that’s the most important day of the year. 

This means that every year since 2007 I’ve had to fly home AFTER my services on CHRISTMAS DAY. Which meant packing up my things the night before, getting back into the city from the burbs, making my way to O’Hare and, counting on the 2 hour time difference between CST and PST, hopefully getting onto a flight which would arrive in the Bay Area around dinnertime. (One year the snow was particularly bad, and my original flight got cancelled. I ended up hanging at the O’Hare Miller’s Pub and drinking Bloody Marys with all of the other folks delayed by their cancellations as well. I ended up flying into San Jose Airport around 845-9 pm.  Yeah that sucked big time!)

I decided that I would stay from 12/25 until early February. This gave me a lot of time to sit back and start to really think about what I was doing there in Chicago. Like I said in my earlier post, I was singing. Quite a bit actually. But was this the type of singing that justified me moving away from family and friends?

A little about me: I feel a bit lucky to have been born into a musical family. My paternal grandmother was a singer. My dad is a classically trained jazz bassist. My mother played violin at a young age. Both of my brothers are musically talented as well (and I admit are even better than me at some musical abilities. Note: SOME musical abilities!) I started out on piano, then SF Boys Chorus, then played saxophone throughout Middle/High School and even Junior College (I wanted to be Charlie Parker in my former music life.) It was in High School that, after listening to a friend’s recording of some a cappella (no instruments, voices only) stuff, I decided that I wanted to put an a cappella group together, mostly in the effort to get girls. So I rounded up my two younger brothers, and along with two family friends, formed an a cappella quintet. We practiced once a week and even got a few gigs. Our problem was our stage fright, which always got the best of us. However, I digressed…

Allow me to backtrack a bit (more like 14 years, to 1999)….

When it came time for figuring out what I wanted to major in in college I had no idea. I applied to UCLA and I thought I’d try Asian Languages but got my first life PFO – Please F*@k Off Letter (I should’ve just put ‘Undeclared’ instead of putting a real area of study, but then maybe my life path wouldn’t have taken me where I am today.) I put in 3 years of Junior College before I decided to just go to San Francisco State University, where, because of my interest in history, I decided to do Asian American Studies, with an emphasis on Filipino American History. I purposely avoided music, because I didn’t want music to ever feel like work.

However, something funny happened around the final years of my degree study. On a whim, I took a “Singing for Self-Expression” class and the follow up class a semester later. This helped a lot with getting in front of folks and helping to get over the stage fright which used to consume me and turn me into a shaky, quivering mess in front of an audience. After taking both Level 1 and 2 of these singing classes, I came back the 3rd semester and my teacher said, “Well you’ve already done both levels. You can add Level 1 again, but I’ll just assign you a special project since this is the second time you’ll be taking this class.” 

So I nodded my head in agreement, and just then another thought hit me: on the way to the class I noticed a sign up list for SFSU University Chorus auditions. Now, I’d done choir waaaay back when I was 10 and what I could remember was that they made us DiCTaTe every worD So thaT the audienCe CoulD understanD whaT we were Saying(uh). “Ugh, too stuffy!” I thought as I passed by the sign up list the first time. But, for some reason, the prospect of a special assignment sounded like too much work, and so I told her I’d go and think about it.

I left the class and wandered back down the hallway.  This time I stopped in front of the SFSU Choral bulletin board and looked at the University Chorus sign up sheet. There was an opening in about 15 minutes. “This couldn’t be too bad, ” I thought. A few years earlier, I joined my Jr. College professor’s church choir and had been singing tenor with them. I was a good reader and this experience helped start syncing up the brain-vocal chord process. I put my name on the list, went back down the hallway, and told my teacher that I was going to audition for the University Chorus, and if that fell through, I’d go through Level 1 again and do that special project.

I expected an old, graying person to be doing the auditions. But when I walked into the room I saw three young guys looking at me.  The man at the piano stood up, shook my hand and said something along the lines of, “Hi I’m Dr. Habermann, but you can call me Josh. Do you mind if my grad students sit in on this audition?” Now Josh looked no older than me! And on top of that, although he had his DMA, and was professionally known as Dr. Habermann, he used his first name, which was a pleasant surprise. Not stuffy at all. 

He led me on some vocalises (la la la, bumblebee, etc. stuff) and then asked me to match pitch. Then he said, “Great. Thanks.” 

“What, no sightsinging?” I said.

“Not unless you want to audition for the Chamber Singers.” (which was the top choir in the school)

In hindsight I should have auditioned for the Chamber Singers, because even without ‘formal’ music training, I was at a level that was equivalent to the Chamber Singers’ standard.  However, not knowing both my own level and their level, I turned down the audition. Too bad, it turns out, because they ended up going to China the next spring. 

Anyhow, I made it into the University Chorus that fall semester, and it would turn out to be a huge influence on me.

The would-be Charlie Parker. And shut up, yes, I know I’m playing the Tenor (a hint of things to come?)

13 Years old, playing Tenor sax at a teacher's wedding

13 Years old, playing Tenor sax at a teacher’s wedding