Matt — Why I Sing

I really shouldn’t be here. I mean, really.

As a young child I could carry a tune and even landed a part in Promised Valley Playhouse’s production of The Sound of Music. Unfortunately, I had significant trouble taking direction and was single-handedly responsible for the complete re-staging of my main scene. I wasn’t invited back.

As an adolescent I focused on instrumental music. I studied piano and double-bass, and in high school I played in the orchestra, jazz band, and concert band. In fact, I did everything musical that was possible to do except for choir. The choir was one room over from where I spent significant chunks of my day, but it might as well have been in another country.

As an undergrad I joined the A Cappella Choir at the U for one year. With that choir I did some accompanying, played some bass, and actually sang bass for the first time. But frankly I wasn’t that great of a singer. I could learn the parts and sing the right notes; but my voice was under-developed, I lacked confidence, and it wasn’t long before I retreated to the relative safety (for me) of instruments – and then eventually branched off into other interests and hobbies.

For about 20 years after this time I worked in business, and I didn’t sing much at all. I still played piano and bass and taught some lessons, but my time with music was limited even though it was clearly what I enjoyed most. Then one evening I talked with my wife and said I hated my job and was thinking of going back to school for an MBA. She surprised me by suggesting that if I were to return to school it should be for music or teaching or both. “Why would you go to all the trouble of getting an extra degree in something you’ve never liked?”

I called an old friend and teacher, Barlow Bradford, who had been my piano teacher in high school. I told him my story and asked if I would be crazy to try to become a choir teacher. His reply was that it would clearly be crazy, but he thought I might actually be good at it. Six weeks (and one move from Oregon to Utah) later, I started work on a Masters in Choral Conducting at the University of Utah.       

It shouldn’t have worked. Moving, uprooting my family, and starting a new career in a new profession was irresponsible and reckless. Yet it’s what we felt we should do, so we did it. In many respects both for me and for my family it was an excruciating transition.

But here’s the thing, somehow it did work. I became a choir director and a music teacher and I’m making a difference by doing it. And about a year (and many voice lessons) into my Masters program, I discovered I could actually sing. I was surrounded by people who were doing it well, and over time I imitated enough and picked up enough little things that I started to sound quite different from where I began. This usually isn’t the kind of thing you start in your 40s, but again, for some reason it worked.  

And I love it like nothing I had ever done before. Singing in a choir is the most remarkable combination of individuality and group cohesion. It’s everyone working in absolute unity towards a higher goal while still being uniquely who they are. Every voice with its own color and timbre, every singer with their own unique strengths and weaknesses, every person with their own beliefs and values and likes and dislikes, and it somehow comes together into one amazing sound that lifts people – audience and performer alike – into someplace wonderful.

I’m still a relative newbie with Utah Chamber Artists, but I’ve never met a group of people who are more fun to be around while also being so dedicated to producing excellence. Barlow is remarkable, our accompanist Jared is remarkable, every single person in this group is simply remarkable. And I look around and pinch myself and I can’t believe I get to do this.

In the movie Almost Famous, one character asks another what he loves about music. He responds, “Well to begin with, everything.” This pretty much sums up my feelings about what I love about singing, and particularly about singing with Utah Chamber Artists. I really shouldn’t be here. But don’t tell anyone, because I’m having way too much fun.