God blesses each of us with gifts and talents to share. Some we are born we, some we learn, and others we simply discover along the way with the guidance and hand of God. The story of how I began singing, truly falls into that last category.
Throughout Middle and High School, I considered myself a talented musician. Playing the Trumpet in Band, I toggled between 1st and 2nd chair…. Thanks to Band Directors Lee Kjesbo and Rolf Mohwinkel, I had numerous directing opportunities, including an Independent Study my Senior year, directing several of the High School Bands. As a musician, I honestly thought I had it all.
So as I ended my first year of college at the U of M Morris, with the news that I would have to start over in playing the Trumpet, due to “bad” performance techniques that I had developed over the years. This didn’t sit well with me. Truthfully, it was rather defeating. At the same time, I knew deep down that Morris wasn’t the right fit. Don’t get me wrong, it is a great school. But something didn’t feel right. There was a void inside me that wasn’t being filled.
Early that summer, my sister was part of the High School All State Honor Band. As her older brother, it was my responsibility to drive her to Northfield to the campus of St Olaf College where the ensemble would rehearse. St Olaf… I really didn’t know much about the school… but as I drove up the hill of the campus, a strong feeling of belonging and sense of being home came over me. I dropped her off and drove back down the hill… only when I reached the stop sign at the bottom, I had an overwhelming urge to turn the car around. Ten minutes later I was in the admissions office asking for a tour. While taking that tour, upon entering Boe Chapel my mind was made up… this was where I belonged. But why? While I did not consider myself a religious person at the time, I now strongly believe that God’s hand was guiding me to St Olaf to show me that I needed Him in my life, and that was the void I had been searching for.
Fast forward two months, to the last week of August, I was walking the hallways of the music building at St Olaf, now as a student of the college. As a transfer student, I had a lot to get worked out in the week before classes began. Music Education would be my focus of study. Prior to enrolling in late June, I decided that if I was going to start over at a new college, why not start over with a new instrument. If I was going to be a Band Director, wouldn’t it make sense to have a solid foundation in both brass and woodwind instruments? So I changed my primary performance instrument to the Alto Saxophone. Not my smartest moment….
In that week prior to classes starting, transfer students needed to audition for performance ensembles. While most groups’ rosters were finalized, they would usually leave a couple spots for transfer students. Upon completing my audition for Norseman Band, the director quickly burst my bubble. He was not going to allow me into Band until January… unless I was willing to audition on the Trumpet. Anyone who truly knows me, knows that if I get an idea in my head, I am rather stubborn in changing my mind. Maybe not my best trait, or smartest moment… but again, I believe there was some divine intervention here.
As I slowly walked the halls of the music building, I passed office after office. All I remember was thinking… NOW WHAT?? I am a music major… I need to be in an ensemble… if I am not, my time here is simply wasted, and let’s not forget the dollars of tuition that were down the drain. Nearing the end of the hallway, I came across a door with another audition signup list taped to it. For some reason, I stopped and turned and looked at it. It was for the Cantorei Choir, which was a co-curricular choral ensemble directed by John Ferguson. As I stood there looking at the list, I came up with a million reasons to not put my name on that list… I had never sung in choir… the only singing I did was in the shower. He would never let me in because I had no previous experience.
But something made me put my name on that list.
Fast forward 2 days, and I was standing in Ferg’s office auditioning. I was terrified, however I sang better than I even knew I could. After a few minutes, he stopped and said… “How long have you been singing?” I stopped, thought for a second, looked down at my watch, and said… “About 10 minutes.” We continued to discuss why I was auditioning. He then paused, and with a slight smirk, and much to my surprise, said… “I am going to let you into my choir, BUT, I will require you to take a Vocal Class.” Suffice it to say I proceeded to sign up for that Vocal Class… which was taught by Anton Armstrong, Director of the St Olaf Choir. Upon completion of that class, Dr. Armstrong asked if I would be interested in studying privately with him. Each year he would take on two students, and he had one opening. Again, I am convinced there was some Divine intervention here.
My heart had been torn into pieces hearing I would not be allowed into Band. But God took my hand and guided me down the scary unknown hallway to John Ferguson’s office. He heard my questions, and guided me with his wisdom. Standing in that hallway was like standing on the ocean waters, but God held my hand and calmed my fears. He guided me to a path He knew would fill my soul, and those I perform in front of, with his love, hope and compassion.
That is how I have become the vocalist that I am today. And as they say, the rest is history.