On becoming a music teacher — Part I
In 1940, I began my formal education in my birthplace, Rotterdam, The Netherlands. I was five years old, and my country had just been overrun by the German Army. The center of my city had been demolished by the German Air Force. 2,500 died in one night’s bombing, and thousands of homes were demolished. It was the beginning of an ordeal that would last for five years.
In 1943, my Dad, a Rotterdam pastor of a large Dutch Reformed Church, was called by a church in Rijssen, a relatively small-town farming community in the northeastern part of Holland. We were liberated in 1945 and lived there until 1947, when Dad accepted a call from two churches in Grand Rapids, Michigan, one congregation was English speaking and the other Dutch.
I attended Hastings Christian School in grades 6, 7, and 8; a school operated by the two churches that Dad served as pastor. The school was so small that all three grades were in the same room.
It was a rather difficult time for all of us. Everybody spoke English and we only spoke Dutch. It’s amazing how, when confronted with a difficult situation, one can learn to adapt.
Needless to say, the other kids were not going to learn Dutch, so if we wanted to get along, we had to learn English. Our classmates were very helpful. It was a bit awkward at first, but we soon got the hang of it and all was well.
In the ninth grade, I entered Creston High School, just a half-mile down the street from our new home in Grand Rapids. I chose “choir” as one of my electives. My hope and my dream was that someday in the future, I would be allowed to audition for, and hopefully be accepted for, the renowned “Creston High School Acapella Choir.”
It was without question, the most renowned high school choir in Western Michigan. I knew that most of its members were 11th and 12th graders with a few exceptionally talented singers from the 10th grade “allowed in.”
Imagine my surprise when at the end of the fall semester the director, Mr. Frank Goodwin asked me to stay after class. What had I done wrong? Was I being kicked out of choir?”
The hour crept by slowly. Finally, at the end of the rehearsal, I stayed in my seat and waited. Eventually, Mr. G. called me up to his desk.
I approached with hesitant steps. He smiled a little. I guess he understood how I felt, and he ended the agony by saying: “I am short a couple of baritones for the Acapella Choir and I have heard you sing. I know you could fit in, but the question is, are you willing and prepared to do the work to learn the music?
“As you know, all the music has to be memorized, and you will have to participate in all the extra performances that we do. Talk it over at home and let me know tomorrow. If your parents approve, I’ll change your schedule and you will become an Acapella Choir member ‘on probation.’ To make it permanent depends totally on how well you do.”
Needless to say, I almost fainted. Becoming a Creston High School Acapella Choir member, in the ninth grade, was very rare.
I thanked him, over and over, and then I ran home to tell my parents the great news. My big announcement was met with a certain amount of skepticism and questions. After all, I was the son of a pastor of a Dutch Reformed Church; a very strict, Calvinist church, and “musical entertainment” was not in line with the religious thinking of this denomination.
The questioning began. Where were those extra concerts to be given, and in what kind of places? What kind of music were we going to sing etc., etc., etc.?
I did my best to put their fears to rest. One thing was immediately established: Under no circumstances would I be participating in Sunday performances.
Sunday was “The Lord’s Day” and not a day for entertainment. I received a sort of conditional approval, but that’s all I needed. I went to school extra early the next morning so that I could tell Mr. G. the good news. I had to explain my parents’ rule about “no concerts on Sunday!”
He said that he understood, and he told me that he would respect my parents’ wishes. He then went on to welcome me into the group. My schedule was changed, and I was given a big folder of music to learn.
I was now a Creston High School Acapella Choir member. Little did I realize that the journey that I was beginning that day would be the first step on my path for life.
The next day was my first day in Choir. I was a 9th grader and I felt really small. The upperclassmen (10th, 11th and 12th graders) told me where to sit, and they explained the choir rules.
During rehearsal there was absolutely no talking. No gum chewing. Be on time. Learn your music, and during concerts never, never let your eyes wander away from Mr. G.
Not watching Mr. G. during a concert was a reason for getting a “demerit.” Three demerits in a year were grounds for being “kicked out” of choir. Mr. G., as he was called, ruled.
He was also a “minimalist” director. Unlike so many of his counterparts he, during a concert, did not wave his arms all over the place. He directed with tiny gestures, close to his belt.
Needless to say, we watched him like a hawk. Each Friday Mr. G. picked one of the choir’s songs and on the following Monday, and sometimes even on consecutive days, he would pick a couple of quartets (1 soprano, 1 alto, 1 tenor and 1 bass) to come in front of the class and sing the song.
During the first semester we were allowed to use our music for “quartets.” During the second we had to sing everything from memory. This included “The Spirit Also Helpeth us,” a Bach Motet for Double choirs (8 individual parts).
The Creston Choir did not sing “easy” music. Part of our semester grade was based on our performance. Needless to say, I worked very hard to learn and memorize all of the songs in our concert repertoire. I was not ever going to lose my Creston Acapella Choir seat.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Gerrit Lamain is a former Copper Country resident who served as a music professor at Suomi College. He has published a book, “Gerrit’s Notes: A compilation of essays,” which can be found on Amazon. His email address is email@example.com.