I have a tchotchke hanging in my kitchen, next to my kitchen sink, so I may see it while I am doing dishes. In fact, it has hung next to all my kitchen sinks, in all my kitchens since I married. It’s a little banner from a greeting card store–women love these things, men do not–and, in a very stylized fashion it says “Keep on Singing”. It was given to me as “thank you” gift from Doreen Rao for helping her organize a choral library during a summer at the university I attended, and where she taught. It was a simple thing–to be thanked–and it meant a lot to the young choral director (I was no where NEAR a “conductor” at 19) I was at the time. I learned a lot from her and was her helper during her time at the university–I essentially took attendance, set up chairs, copied hand outs and did all sorts of errands that need to be done for any choral organization. But most of all, I learned how to treat people. She thanked you when you did something for her. She made everyone feel worthy, even if they sang wrong notes and made you feel like you could sing the right ones. We all wanted to please her because she treated us well. She was extremely fair in her doling out of solos and was funny, laughing at herself as well. She mentioned “Jimmy” (James Levine) and other notables like the friends they were to her and made you feel they, too, were just people.
That thank you gift has stayed in my kitchen for all these years because it reminds me who I am. I keep singing no matter what happens to me, to my life or career or family. I remember what she would shout in rehearsal when we weren’t sure–“couragio”–and we would sing out and sing loud even if we weren’t sure. Most often, we WERE correct and it just took a little bit of gumption and courage to forge through. Just like in life.