Wednesday, June 22, 2011

30 Songs in 30 Days, Day 6: A Song That Reminds You of Somewhere

Song: "Only You"
Writer: Vince Clarke
Band: Yazoo (known as Yaz in the USA)
Album: Upstairs at Eric's

I get 2-for-1 on this deal as "Only You" reminds me of two very different places: a starry meadow and a stuffy instrument room. In both cases, however, I am reminded of those places because of people who are very dear to me.

My favorite place at the Tree Farm is what we call simply The Meadow. I've spent many happy hours of my life in The Meadow, usually star-gazing. I truly believe that it is a magical place as I have done some of the most important thinking of my life there. It was also the setting of one of the best parties I've ever attended: our wedding reception.

The Meadow is an essential stop on the tour when I bring guests to the Tree Farm. As such, it has become an important place for some of our frequent visitors as well. The week after high school, in lieu of Beach Week, I brought a few pals up for Cabin Week. We had such a good time that we went back, in one configuration or another, every year for a dozen or so years afterward. One of our regular activities was singing in The Meadow - a cappella arrangements of our own devising. "Only You" was high on the essential song list, our interpretation based largely on the Flying Pickets version.

Fast forward a few years. For the first four years of my teaching career, I taught high school chorus. Working with teenagers is not always easy but I really enjoyed it. I'm happier in my job now, working mostly with elementary school kids. But I miss the conversations one can have with older students. Teenagers are amazing people.

I have some regrets about those years. There are definitely things I could have done better. However, there are a few things I got right. I started two a cappella quartets, one for the boys and one for the girls. In hindsight, a more inclusive arrangements involving more students would probably have been a better move in the long run. But I know that the experience was a really important one for the students involved and I am very grateful for the time I spent working with them.

One of the greatest thrills a music teacher can have is watching one's students fall in love with a piece of music. It took some convincing on my part for the groups to even give "Only You" a try. For starters, they'd never heard the song before. But also, it was an arrangement for mixed voices (SATB). To that point, I had only done all-female (SSAA) and all-male (TTBB) arrangements with those two groups, training them to sing one to a part. The boys, a particularly proud group which had made the New England Music Festival chorus as an ensemble that year, were especially reluctant to stray from that format. Thank goodness, they all trusted me and agreed to give it a go.

The more time we invested in the song, the happier we all were with the choice. There were still logistical challenges. The two groups met on different afternoons. Teenagers, particularly the talented ones, are very busy people so the opportunities to get all of them in the same place at the same time were few and far between. They diligently learned their parts separately with the understanding that we wouldn't be able to put it all together until we got closer to performance time - little did I know how much closer!

Every year our high school has an arts festival evening, presenting student work from the visual art, music and drama programs. "Only You" was on the program. Despite all of our efforts, we didn't have an opportunity to practice the song as a full group until about 30 minutes before the public performance!

Any music educator reading this wants to shoot me right now. A more responsible man would have begged off, or at least suggested better prepared music instead. But I had faith in my students and we all ducked into the instrument room to practice. They were nervous. I had arranged a variant part for one of the girls and she, apologetically, said she didn't feel comfortable with it so we scrapped it, last minute. They got their note from the pitch pipe and began...

They were perfect - absolutely sublime. With no one but themselves and me for an audience, singing the song together for the first time was a stunning revelation. They smiled at one another, delighting in the sound they were creating, the pure joy of the moment filling that stuffy little room. I have frequently said that the best part of being a conductor is having the best seat in the house. I have never felt so privileged as I did that evening.

Yes, they did just fine in their public performance, too. I, for one, never doubted.


I hope you'll join us for the "30 Songs in 30 Days" challenge, inspired by the tumblr list. Our 30 Songs roster:

Stay on target...
Marc Whitman's Blog
Haley says "Hello" To You

It's never too late to post your own. Tomorrow is...

Day 7: A Song That Reminds You of a Certain Event


  1. Have you watched the original UK version of "The Office"?

  2. No, we haven't gotten around to that one yet.

  3. This song is used PERFECTLY....

  4. Oh, I love both versions of the song! And your story - amazing! It's going to make me smile whenever I think about it now...

    1. I once envisioned a music only blog called A Window Above, name taken from the lyrics of this song.