Last night my family and I watched my mom perform with her chorus at the local community civic center. Over 100 men and women - the women dressed in black, velvet tops and dark-red skirts, and the men in tuxes with dark-red cumberbums - lined the stage on rows of bleachers. They sang songs from some of the most beloved American jazz singers - Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. Before each song, the chorus director gave a little background on each of the classic jazz singers' lives, explaining how their road to success was born. Almost all of them were lead to music through happenstance....
Ella Fitzgerald, for instance, orphaned at a young age, homeless at one point, and in trouble with the police, had a hard life. But one day, her path took her to New York City's Apollo Theatre for amateur night. Armed with a dance routine and ready to perform, her plans to dance took a backseat when a group of girls before her called the Edward Sisters, also dancers, wowed the audience with their performance, forcing serendipity to step in. Ella, knowing there was no way she could compete with the dancing trio, changed her act at the last minute. Yes, she decided to sing. Can you imagine if the Edward Sisters had gone on after Ella, instead of before? She probably would have danced and America and the rest of the world would never have been blessed with all of the amazing recordings of her talented voice.
Duke Ellington also had an interesting story. His mother was overprotective, so when he got hit in the head with a bat during a baseball game, he was given a new activity - one far less precarious - depending on how you look at it, I suppose.... piano lessons. Without those piano lessons that his mother made him go to, do you think he would have discovered his love of music? Maybe. Maybe not. I guess we'll never know unless someone invents time travel and goes back to change the course of history. In any case, he became the musician he was because someone took him by the hand and lead him around a corner where he met a fate that would change his life forever.
The Unforgettable Nat King Cole via Wikipedia
Give your heart and soul to me and life will always be, la vie en rose...Louis Armstrong via Wikipedia
All of these stories made me think of how interesting life and fate is. A book called Outliers by one of my favorite authors, Malcolm Gladwell (author of The Tipping Point (2000), Blink (2005) and a new book, What the Dog Saw (2009) - I can't wait to read!) talks about the phenomenon of why people become successful at something. Where do successful people come from? They're not just grown in cabbage patches overnight. No, their talents are harvested over years and years, or hours, 10,000 to be exact, before their practice really pays off and they are appreciated for their talents. Sometimes it just takes getting hit in the head with a bat before one's true destiny steps in. Sometimes it just takes someone doing something better than you, as the case with Ella Fitzgerald, to find your true calling. And sometimes people - family or friends, or maybe a stranger - are there to give you a guiding hand and help you out in life.
Last night was an exciting night for the choir singers...and not all really in a good way. Towards the end of the first act, a woman in the front row got a look on her face like she'd seen an alien in the balcony. Her cheeks went pale. Her eyes got big. And she started to sway. Seconds later and slowly, very slowly, her body went limp and the two women on either side of her, aware that their peer was falling in the middle of singing the song, ironically, When the Saints Go Marching In, caught the woman who had passed out. They held onto her arms tightly as her body continued to fall. She came to for a moment and looked like she was going to be okay, when she passed out again. This time, her two saints caught her and brought her down to sit on the steps of the first row of bleachers. She had a dazed, lost look on her face. The audience was holding their breath. But as the song ended the woman cheered up. She had support on both sides of her. She had strong hands holding her firmly. And she was not alone. Two women sat on either side of her. She was not alone. This just made me think about all of the stories told throughout the night. It's so important to have the right people by your side to catch you when you fall or to help nudge you forward when you need a little push.
A Katie Couric interview with author Malcolm Gladwell
Not that I am an Ella Fitzgerald or a Malcolm Gladwell - not by far - but I'll never forget the two incidents that I believe helped strengthen my love of reading and writing. Both happened when I was in third-grade. One was when my teacher, Mrs. Laubaucher, read The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1911). I'd never been so enraptured by a book. And the other was the summer before third-grade when I got in a fight with my sister and I fell off of my dirt bike. I had to get ten stitches in my right knee. It was kind of hard to bend my leg and walk for the weeks that my knee was healing, so instead of playing outside I was in my room reading books. Not that I minded, but I'll never forget how meaningful that summer was and how it strengthened my love of stories.
So what's your story? Was there someone at your side to catch you when you fell, or to propel you in a different direction of life? What or who helped to get you where you are today?