25 May - Singing Opposite a Broadway Lead & Legacy

The title of last week's blog was inspired by this week's entry. I was one of perhaps 50 who learned the musical score "Make Your Garden Grow," a personal favorite of an incredibly humble and loving man. This choral group, who spanned from late teens to mid-40s, gathered with 400 others to honor our high school choir and musical director Art Jaehnke, as he moves forward in retirement. Whether he realizes it or not, his students have become more confident, compassionate and secure human beings because of his example of character. This event, which had been two months in the making, was kept a surprise due to Art's embarrassment in being the center of attention. I find this so ironic because he was central to so many and became personal friends with their extended families. Under 30 years of his guidance, he produced many success stories, including three simultaneous Greendale leads in Broadway's "Phantom of the Opera," Jim Weitzer, Brian Noonan and Sarah Pfisterer.

For my weekly "new task," I wondered what it might be like to sing opposite a Broadway lead. The privilege of singing with Sarah Pfisterer not only brought me to tears but was quite humbling. We chatted of our personal lives, past to present. Her graciousness and unassuming warmth showed she is indeed a class act. Sarah and I had been emailing one another prior to the event. She was to sing a few solos, so I asked if she might be interested in singing a duet. The last childhood memory I had of Sarah was umping behind home plate at a Little League Baseball game. Then I saw her again, but this time, as Christine from "Phantom of the Opera" in Chicago. She also was cast as Magnolia in Hal Prince's "Showboat," among other Broadway roles. The song we selected for Art was "For Good" from the everpopular "Wicked." The premise of the lyrics is someone coming into our lives for a reason and because of his presence, we have been changed for good.

Sarah's brother Steve has also continued with singing, here noted is his beautiful tenor voice.

Others who have continued their musical and/or theatrical careers include Aaron, the artistic director of Chicago's Lincolnshire Marriott Theatre. He opened the program via a humorous video montage in his absence, while in NYC running auditions for his upcoming production. Another community leader shaping kids lives is Jeff, lovingly called "Shatz." He led the choir in his arrangement of a musical medley; he is also the music director at Dominican High School. Another who was involved in every musical, not only continued her choreography for 10 years at a local school, but choreographed a successful number for this private event. Maria had only one hour to teach it. And yet another, Patrick, can be seen on commercials and shows such as "30 Rock" and "Law & Order."

I know for me, Art was always the one teacher I came back to find when I had the time to stop and say hello to my alma mater. He was real. He was genuine. He was hilarious. I remember when we went on a choir trip to Utah, I happened to meet a boy from Louisiana who gave me an unexpected and embarrassingly long kiss goodbye. Mortified. I hopped on the bus. No one said anything. But I could feel Mr. Jaehnke's stare as I slowly walked to my seat, trying to lock eye contact with me. I refused. His stare felt like a blanket smothering my person. Perhaps it was the definitive spike in body temperature. I finally looked up confident I won the eye/no-eye contact match. Nope. He had a huge grin, patiently waited and yelled, "Wow. That was SOME kiss."

I was curious to hear others' personal thoughts on how he helped shape their lives. Laura was grateful for "his practices. They were a safe, fun place in a turbulent world of growing up. Mr. Jaehnke was kind, fun-loving and never condescending as adults can often be to teenagers." In reflecting on passing Art's influence to her children, Nancy shared, "It is in his choirs that I met and became friends with my husband, Cary. Art played at our wedding.... He instilled in us that music can be an important part of your life. I continued singing in college, inspired to have it be my minor degree. After graduating college, I became part of Milwaukee's Arts program with the Milwaukee Symphony Chorus for four seasons...and was a part of a Christian singing group called Lumen Christi. We cut two albums and I had solos on both. Now, my kids are involved in the music program at Greendale. I want Art to know that it is important to pass on music's therapy and peacefulness to your children. My kids went to the concert Sunday, and were truly moved by how much Art means to Cary and me. His humbleness and quiet demeanor show that Art's teaching was what he loved to do because of his love for music, not because he had to." Steve mentioned he had "never come across another teacher that cared so much about his students. I vividly remember him struggling with saying goodbye to his students year in and out. I can't even begin to imagine the toll that must have taken on him over the years."

In reflecting on this week -- the preparation, the rehearsal, the coordination -- what made 450 people inspired to spend a few hours for someone we rarely see? Respect. And to gain such respect is not a free gift. It is earned. I wonder, when we are near the end of our careers, or lives, what do you suppose our legacy will be? Might it be different from what we had hoped? That we were the best executive? Artist? Teacher? Parent? Best Possible Human Being? And what do we take into consideration in building that definition? Or might we just wake up one day, look behind us and see the path that has formed from our best and worst decisions? Would we consider the lives and faces we may or may not have affected?

I understand we get out of life what we put in. And I can only hope that whatever legacy I leave behind might be as rich as my friend Art. Thank you for all your years of service. The seeds you have planted will continue to make your garden grow...