Choir Memories, 1978-81

by Barbara Connally, Class of 1981

Hey look me over, lend me an ear!  I had never heard that song before the day I sang it as my “try out” for choir….it was also the first time I had walked into the Choir room….Senior pictures of every A Cappella Choir President in the history of Kearny High School lined the periphery of the room. The room buzzed as current seniors, my big brother Tom included, chatted with excitement about the new school year, and listened as newbies were trying out for Mr. Graeff as he played the piano. My best friends’ sister helped me pick out the song from “Wildcat”, a 1960 Broadway musical starring Lucille Ball. That song changed my life. All these Seniors were gathered around me, a Sophomore, encouraging me, and helping me learn a tune, that a few minutes later I sang solo, as Mr Graeff accompanied me. I’d never sung solo in front of an audience before, but all my new friends’ hard work paid off and I was placed in Girls Choir. YES!  

After a semester of Girls’ Choir, learning to read music and sing my “Alto part”, I was allowed to move up to A Cappella… this was the only class in my whole life where my brother and I were together. I still remember taking my seat there in the Alto section, just a few chairs away from the Tenors, where Tom sat, and winked at me. Then we began: Ahhh-ahhh-ahhhh-ahhhh-ahhhh…..warm ups. That class was more than an hour of my day! The students, the atmosphere, the sense of being part of something so grand, with a history staring down at us daily as we learned four part harmonies..those faces prodding us to put our hearts into each note! We were all friends. We were there for a purpose- to blend our voices together and make magic. Of course we were teenagers, and periodically Mr Graeff had to ring the bell to get our attention. But, this was a place where we were all equal…it was a sanctuary of acceptance, support, and friendship. I woke up daily, excited to go to school and be there, in the flurry of that place where we sang, danced, laughed, dreamed…where our lives were formed. I chose what college to go to in that room, with those people.  

A Cappella became my life. Of course I was involved in other activities in High School: Badminton, Softball, Journalism / Newspaper, among others, but as soon as I was able to try out for the Vocal Jazz Ensemble, I did. At the end of Sophomore year I ran for A Cappella Choir Treasurer, and at the end of Junior year I ran for President. My Senior picture added to that long illustrious line! My best friend and I had both wanted to try out for Cheerleading and Choir President, but we didn’t want to compete against each other, so her mother had us draw straws, and that is how my fate was determined!  Myra became a cheerleader and I was donned with the prestigious gold drape that only the A Cappella Officers wore when in our robes. We wore those robes proudly. I still feel the tingle of anticipation as we waited to mount the risers where we would perform …. “Festival” was where we competed against other Choirs from all over California. Having fundraised ( bowl-a-thon, candle sales, candy bar sales, car washes, etc ) to pay our way there, and having ridden on buses for hours to get there; We sang in four part harmony, having practiced more intently for those performances than anything else I had ever before done. Over a hundred young people with a common goal: make Mr Graeff, Mr “Z”, our parents and all those who had preceded us overwhelmingly proud. At other performances, our Spring Concert, our Christmas Concert, or any time we performed there was always the invitation to have A Cappella alumni join us for that final singing of “Pax Dei”. I recall being so humbled as people would rise from their seats, or walk out of a crowd to come join us and begin, “ Remain, oh peace of God, Remain…..”

Many a life lesson was learned under the umbrella of A Cappella Choir. Memories made: Spring performances of “Hello Dolly”, “Oklahoma” and “Tribute to Rodgers and Hammerstein” with full choreography, lines memorized, costumes and singing like we were on Broadway! Many of those songs I sang to my four children, and now to my five grandchildren. There was Christmas caroling at Fashion Valley Mall and Mercy Hospital…to this day when I sing carols I can hear Mr. Graeff saying “step…step”…between verses to keep us all in time. My senior year, in an effort to bring in some new students to the choir programs we did lunch time mini-concerts outside of the cafeteria: “Grease” and a “Beach Boys” medley are fondly recalled—of course we wore costumes and danced too! Also, that year we made a float for the homecoming parade that involved a refrigerator box, a lot of chicken wire, paper napkins, multiple cans of spray paint and a borrowed truck that I had to learn how to double-clutch to drive. 

I count myself blessed to have been set up for success, having had such an impactful experience during those years—I have sung “Hey look me over, lend me an ear…..” many times through my life as a Mother, Marine Corps wife, coach, teacher, flight attendant, volunteer, Grandmother, among other titles. A Cappella Choir provided me the opportunity to learn to lead others, show responsibility, build lifelong friendships, and sing all the while.

It was a formative few years, and to this day, when asked about anything pertaining to my high school experience, A Cappella Choir is the first thing to come to mind. Mr Graeff poured his heart and soul into that program- into each and every student that entered his classroom. I can still see him pounding the piano keys, sweat dripping from his brow as he willed us to learn our parts…..good news, Bob Graeff, your efforts were not in vain. I made sure that all of my children learned to play the piano, to read music, to appreciate all kinds of music, to sing along through life. Now my granddaughter plays the piano, too, taught by her Dad. Music is the undercurrent of our lives, sometimes we sing, sometimes we dance, and we always remember. 

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