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GUEST BLOG: “The 26-Year-Old Recordings and the 42-Year-Old Lawyer,” by Marsha Nagorsky

       This guest post came about because of spring cleaning. I got it in my head recently that it was time to clean out some old things, and this weekend it was going through old cassette tapes. I no longer have the equipment to listen to them, and even if I did, I’m fairly certain they would disintegrate before ever producing a sound. Most of the tapes were easy to toss—in these days of iTunes, I could easily download those pop tunes in glorious digital format.
       But there were a few tapes that were hard to part with, namely, my old recordings of my high school and college choral performances. I was lucky enough to be chosen for several “honors choirs,” one for ACDA, one for MENC, All-County and All-State concerts, and the like. Each of those recordings is a reminder of an extraordinary experience, and even if I couldn’t listen to them, I couldn’t bear to part with them. But then I realized—wouldn’t it be better to listen to them again?
       So I set out to track down new copies, which lead me to Scott Dorsey at the ACDA. While helping me track them down, he wondered aloud why they meant so much me (and asked me to commit it to writing for him). The only hard part for me was taking up way too much of his time with my gushing answer.
       I can’t say that music was everything to me in my teen years—I had lots of other interests including science and speech team—but music had my heart. I never felt as good as I did when I was singing, and I never connected with people as much as when I was singing with them. I was a geeky kid, and singing well not only helped me find my place in the complex school universe, it also expanded my world beyond it.
       Being invited to participate in those honors choirs allowed me to leave the safe boundaries of my home and high school choir room and travel—sometimes just to another local high school, sometimes to another state—without my parents, without the crutches of my friends, and be part of something bigger. I went on the train to Philadelphia and Baltimore and was forced to make new friends, live up to my parents’ and teachers’ expectations of me, and prove myself on a very big stage. Being in these choirs let me immerse myself for days on end in music, sing extraordinarily difficult pieces with immensely talented singers, and prove to myself and everyone around me that I could stand on my own two feet as an adult out in the world. I learned much of what I know about responsibility, hard work, teamwork, networking, and confidence because of these experiences. And, of course, we had fun. Oh, so much fun. The joy of seeing that there were music geeks out there in the world just like me was an unparalleled joy.
       I still think on those weekends with great delight. I am envious of the kids who are just now having those experiences, and sorry for people who never got to have them at all. There are still pieces of music that will bring me right back to those extraordinary weekends. When I hear the solo in Mozart’s Laudate Dominum, I can remember with complete clarity the fear and exhilaration of auditioning for that solo at an honor choir. When I hear Poulenc’s Gloria, I am transported to a hotel ballroom and a room with so many chairs I could barely see the bass section and a huge and amazing sound that I still can’t quite believe I had a small part in making. When I hear A Jubilant Song, I remember being on a train headed to the conference and practicing the complex harmonies and rhythms with a friend who sang a different voice part. Getting to be part of filling those ballrooms with sound—it changed me, and I am so grateful to have been there.
       The LP of the 1987 All-Eastern choir arrived on my desk today, and now I have to find a way to listen to it. I haven’t heard that recording in at least 15 years, and the suspense is killing me. But for now, I’m having such fun letting that package remind me of just how wonderful it was to make that recording in the first place.
(Marsha Nagorsky is Associate Dean for Communications at the University of Chicago Law School.  She will continue this discussion in two weeks with the column, “Why Singers Make Good Lawyers”)
on April 22, 2014 4:35am
Those cassette tapes last longer than you think.  I am a retired high school choir director, and I recently converted my concert and contest cassette recordings (some of them from as far back as 1986) to mp3 format.  
on April 22, 2014 11:46am
Those tapes do last a long time! And so does reel-to-reel. Just last year I converted several of my first concerts as a teacher in Oregon from reel-to-reel to digital copies. That was clear back to 1972. Brought back some great memories of students I had and how tallented they were.