I received an email from one of my high school teachers, Bil “Doc” Johnson, a few days ago. Doc is looking for essays to be included in a book commemorating the 50th anniversary of our tiny school in Rye Brook, New York – Blind Brook (BBHS).
My first thought was to tell a self-deprecating story that would provide a chuckle or two. I laughingly refer to my high school years as “Dumb Things Scott Has Done, Volume 1,” so there’s lots to tell.
Over lunch, I told Beth about the invitation that many of my old friends received from Doc. In the moment, I decided to change tactics. “I think I might write about George Trautwein.” Beth agreed and reminded me of The Sophisticados, a singing and dancing group co-founded by Trauty and yours truly in my senior year. “Great idea,” I said. “I’ll write about that.”
A little preamble…
George Trautwein knew I loved music and probably saw my desire to make it a career. I was a tenor in the choir and, truth be told, probably more serious about my singing (and guitar playing) than I was about my studies.
But George also recognized my leadership abilities as being on par with whatever musicals talent I had at 17 years old. I think that’s why he encouraged me to study conducting in college, though I didn’t love symphonic music enough to pursue that course.
It may also be that George, a pretty fine judge of talent, recognized that while I was a very good musician with a pleasant voice, I was not a naturally great musician (or as unique as a Lennon or a Pavarotti). Some people are born with fabulous or distinctive voices or have the physical attributes necessary to attain greatness with an instrument. These are the prodigies and geniuses that shake the world with their God-given gifts. I was not one of them. Very few are.
(As you know, I eventually found my niche in arts-in-education. And God did arrange to put Beth Bierko in my life, so it all worked out in a Mr. Holland’s Opus sort of way.)
Going back to 1979, The Sophisticados was a silly sort of genius idea, a whim that became real. I’m not sure how it happened, but Trauty and I decided to tap the talents of my sports-oriented, male friends and invite them to be a part of something fun and new. We envisioned a stage full of non-singers crooning old-timey songs from the 1920s and 1930s and doing simple dance steps, too. Somehow, we got it into our heads that these guys might enjoy it and we were determined to try.
Rye Brook was a small town, so much so that most of us went from daycare to high school as a group. To this day, I have good friends who attended Miss Arian’s Ridge Street Nursery School with me. As a result, there was a lot of trust and love among us, enough for Trauty and I to march into the school Commons and say, “C’mon let’s try this singing thing!” and they did. I think that was part of the leadership skill that Trauty saw in me and that we enjoyed in each other.
It took awhile to turn a bunch of soccer, baseball and basketball jocks into a somewhat graceful, better than average singing unit. But it wasn’t about perfection. After an awkward rehearsal or two, we just enjoyed the music and one another. I remember big smiles on the faces of my two next door neighbors, Larry and Warren, as one jumped into the arms of the other at the conclusion of “Be My Little Baby Bumblebee.” Priceless.
I think what I experienced in that moment affected the rest of my life. While a part of me always longed for fame as a musician, what I found instead was the joy of creating community through the Arts. I felt the joy that comes from bringing a group of people from “I can’t do that” to “Yes, we can.”
BBHS was the kind of place where that kind of magic happened all around the school, where friendships between teachers and students became the secrets ingredient to creating state champion soccer teams out of a 400 student school, where kids went on to become great parents, university presidents, artists and teachers.
I have to give props to our parents, too. They were the people on the Board of Education who empowered an inventive principal and his equally inventive staff. Trauty and Doc were examples of well-educated , intelligent teachers that developed students into better, creative thinkers and leaders. They could not have done so without the parents who trusted the school to provide their children with the most current innovations available in the arts and every other discipline.
Truly, none of us, myself included, need to be THE best, though we have a good chance of becoming OUR best when we have a community like the one that existed in that tiny school many years ago.
I am grateful. I am lucky. I am a Sophisticado.