Thursday, February 24, 2011
MS. TORRES' OPUS 2011
I received an email from a graduate from my alma mater of four years later, Margaret Goulet, a teacher at PS 189M in Washington Heights, NY. She explained that the music programs in schools are being cut, and their school's music program is thriving with very talented children who could use inspiration from someone in the music business. I was invited there, and Tuesday, February 8th, I arrived to speak with the students. I didn't bring any speeches because I have learned from past experiences that the children don't want speeches; they don't want to be spoken "at", they want to be spoken "to".
I arrived and was taken to the auditorium, which was of a nice size. No one was there yet, but I was introduced to the music teachers and then was taken to the library to wait until my appointed time. Somewhere around 1:30pm or so, I was escorted to the auditorium. There they were, perhaps around 200 or so children. All those eyes on me as I walked down toward the stage. And I find it amusing that I found myself wondering what they might be wondering. What were they thinking?? Were they thinking, "Wow. She's big!" or "Where' the bling?" or "Doesn't she have bodyguards?" LOL. I know, sad, but true. But then I tell myself what almost gets me through anything almost every time: Just be yourself! I was introduced to the 5th graders and then all eyes were on me. Hm, I'm a little out of my element. Most of the time, when in front of any crowd, I am a bit more relaxed knowing in advance that most people PAID to see me...I know in advance that they came to see me. This was a little different - they were brought to see me. Children have an inborne talent of knowing the truth...it doesn't matter what you're wearing, or what you say, the way a blood hound hunts down the prey, children hunt down your sincerity - they want to know that you are truthful.
I took the microphone...looked out at them, and broke the ice: "Waaaazzzzzuuuupppp!!!" They laughed, and I smiled and thus began my talk about where I had come from: oldest of 5 siblings, raised by a single mother in the Bronx, on welfare, but knowing the entire time that I wanted to be a singer. Then I told them how I was discovered: at a local gong show in the Bronx, by a man who had NO experience in the music business - just a heart of gold wanting to really help me. I went on to tell them how I recorded my first song, and what it felt like when I heard my song on the radio.
I brought along my "visual aids." - Photographs taken with celebrities & autographs of celebrities wishing me well, etc. When you speak to children about being a "celebrity", but they've never heard of you, the easiest way to get them to be more open minded is to SHOW them where you've been, who you've met and of course show them all the cds released along the way. Their questions always amuse me: "Judy, do you know Pitbull? Do you get scared before you sing? Can you sing for us?" Ah, I always get the last question...and singing for the children somehow makes it real for them, so I never say no. (I just tell them that I will sing AFTER the talk.)
I love 5th graders. They have a gleam in their eye, knowing that anything is possible...they still have hope, they have dreams and they are open to working hard. The talk was over, and then Ms. Goulet said, "Ms. Torres, before you go, we are going to take you back to 1018 and Roseland." She asked me to take a seat in the audience...And then they walked onto the stage: about 8 chorus girls to my left, 20 or so children with recorders in hand, 8 boy steel drum players, and here's the kicker: about 12 violinists! There is something about the violin and cello that almost always move my heart in a way that makes it beat faster...to me, the strings "cry" out the emotion of a song. The music teachers, one on drums and the other conducting, joined them and they began to play.
For 24 years, I had heard the "strings" on my songs, but they were computerized...but then I heard the children playing the string line from one of my favorite songs: Come Into My Arms. Be still my heart! I was rendered truly speechless. My heart began to pound...I looked around and they were all smiling. They were performing Come Into My Arms for me! For me! Wow...and then, you already know what happened: I cried. How could I not? I realized rather quickly that they must have been rehearsing this for a long time; that they had to be taught a song they most likely had never heard....and they played it for me. I can't explain why I was so moved, except to say that I felt VERY validated and affirmed as an artist. I think it's quite interesting that performing at Madison Square Garden should make me feel far more validated. And it did...don't get me wrong, BUT...the children...when the children played the song for me...I was honored. I felt like the luckiest person in the world...or as my mom would say, "blessed, Judy, not lucky. There is o such thing as luck." LOL.
I was immediately taken back to the movie, Mr. Holland's Opus, starring Richard Dreyfuss. And if you have never seen it, you honestly need to. It is a story about a teacher who gave up his life long dream of becoming a famous composer and musician in order to teach children at a school. He wss somewhat forced to teach as a means to make a better income because he and his wife were suddenly expecting a child. Mr. Holland always had plans to leave teaching, but before he knew it, 30 years later...he was still a music teacher...and to his heartbreak and surrpise...he was fired. On his last day, he hears something in the distance, and when he enters the auditorium, the students both present and from years past, are there to celebrate him and his life's work. And then to his amazement, he discovers that his students have prepared his symphony, which he had kept a secret for so many years. It is one of those, Randy-pass-me-a-tissue moments, and I cried like a baby. And when the 5th graders of PS 189M played Come Into My Arms for me, I knew EXACTLY what Mr. Holland felt. It was a privilege and an honor...and I felt that all these years of hard, hard and sometimes unrecognized work, was finally being recognized and appreciated. What an honor!! I am humbled...to hear your own song being played for you by children...it's the closest thing to hearing angels sing thatI could experience!
I spoke to the children afterward, I took some pictures and I even spoke to some parents afterward....I went home feeling so happy. And later that night, I received an email from Ms. Goulet thanking me, and informing me that the children were so excited that a real singer came to visit them. She said that they "got so much out of it." No..no...I beg to differ. I was the one who got so much out of it...they gave me a gift that I shall take with me even 'til the day I die. There is no better feeling than giving to those who need, and no better feeliog to love and be loved!And for one glorious day, I heard through the hands and ears of children - Ms. Torres' Opus!!"