I came across these two Nene feeding together, up in Volcano National Park. They stayed close together, their necks almost entwined. They belong on this ‘aina, and they clearly belonged to one another. “Belonging is a sense of fitting in or feeling like you are an important member of a group.” (vocabulary.com)
Not feeling like you belong is one of the scariest, most isolating feelings, and being in Jr. High just amplifies that. In 7th grade, I was new to town and had one close friend who signed up for Chorus as an elective. I’d always loved singing, so of course I followed along. I found I really enjoyed it and planned to continue the next year. But at the end of the year, we passed our yearbooks around for signatures. When I got home, I found this written in my yearbook. “Leave your voice at home.” It was signed by a member of the “highly acclaimed” Jr. High Barbershop Quartet. I was devastated.
- the rest of the story -
The next year, my friend talked me into taking Chorus again. I longed to “belong,” but that yearbook comment cut deeply. I was timid and sang quietly. I really didn’t feel I belonged there.
In 9th grade, I entered High School. In my High School, the Choirs (Jazz, Madrigal, and Concert) were THE cliques to be in. But I refused to take choir as that old yearbook comment echoed in my head. Every lunch period though, I sat outside the choir room listening and watching the Jazz choir rehearse. I really admired it all, so the next year in 10th grade, I took the plunge and signed up for Concert Choir.
It was terrifying. We had to sing scales in front of everyone as the choir director placed us in sections. He placed me as a tenor and this intense, amazing teacher presented us with very difficult pieces. That fall, while rehearsing Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus,” when Mr. Brunelle heard a consistent mistake, he would make the whole section stand up to sing their part. Then, he would often go down the row, having us sing the phrase, one by one by ourselves, correcting as needed. While that could be embarrassing, he had such a unique way of publicly correcting while lifting you up and assuring you that you were an important part of the whole. I learned SO much that year. After auditioning and enjoying a chorus part in the spring musical, being a part of a gold-medal win at the regional choral competition, and part of a choir that was invited to a choral festival in Rome (though we didn’t actually get to go), I began to feel like I fit in… at least on the fringes.
In 11th grade, I was determined to audition for Jazz choir. I took a Jazz dance class, and picked out a piece of music. The problem was, I had no idea what to pick or what an audition was like. No one helped me. No one walked beside me through it. It was a nightmare.
Anyone could be in the room during auditions. As I stumbled trying to find the beginning note with everyone watching, Mr. Brunelle encouraged me to start again. But he could quickly see I had no idea what I was doing and the music I had picked was impossible for me. He stopped the piano, and quietly encouraged me.“I think you’re not quite ready. But I want you to get some voice lessons and audition coaching, and come back next year, Ok?”
The problem was, there was really only one main voice coach I knew of, and my father had made enemies with her and I knew she would never take me on as a student. I knew then and there I would never belong to the auditioned choirs.
But, because of Mr. Brunelle, I stuck with Concert Choir, thoroughly enjoying it! At the auditions for the spring musical that year, the room was packed. Getting into the school musical was a really big deal. There were four chairs set up by the piano: soprano, alto, tenor and bass. After learning our parts, we came up to sing four at a time. About half way through, he started calling me up occasionally to fill in the tenor part. Then he looked at me and said, “Melanie, can you just stay there for the rest of the time.” He had run out of tenors, and he asked me… ME… to be the tenor as the rest of the parts auditioned.
I BELONGED! I had learned enough in two years, that he had confidence in me to carry the part no matter what people around me sang! What a great feeling that was.
My Senior year, entering Concert Choir with a sense of confidence and belonging, I saw Mr. Brunelle’s gift of support and teaching from a new point of view. A young ninth grader joined Concert Choir that year. He too was placed as a tenor. But he was tone deaf and couldn’t hit a single note right.
All of us tried not to be the one to sit next to him because he threw us off. Many in the choir scoffed behind his back, with looks and eye rolls. Some were even vocal and brazen with their comments. I admit, I even wondered why Mr. Brunelle would let him continue on. One day Mr. Brunelle asked him to stay behind after class.“Ah” I thought ”This is it. Poor kid”.
But, next class he was still there. A few weeks later, I passed the choir room and saw Mr. Brunelle working one on one with him. As the year went on, this kid became less and less of a distraction. I was humbled. I remembered the lowly position I had started out in, and how Mr. Brunelle, while a perfectionist and demanding with his choirs, had stuck by me in my unknowledgeable, untrained and untalented voice. He allowed me to “Belong.” And here he was again, sticking by the side of someone who didn’t fit in, and helping him find a place of belonging.
As I watched these two Nene, sticking together, it was such a poignant picture of how one person, sticking by your side, can make you feel that you belong. Just like these Nene, it only takes one. One person, like Mr. Brunelle, to reach out and let an outsider know that they belong.
Every one of us can look around and find someone who just doesn’t seem to fit in, who is on the fringes, or standing alone wondering if they will ever belong. And YOU can be the one to come alongside them, letting them know they are not alone and not an outsider.
It only takes one. Be that one!!
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