By Ryan Deal, Senior Program Director, Cultural & Community Investment
What is your most vivid memory of an early-age cultural experience? My teammates and I were asked to share this with each other at a recent planning retreat.
As I prepared my response, it seemed like a daunting task. After all, I’ve been playing piano, singing, and performing on stage for almost as long as I can remember! But, it quickly became clear to me…. a peach colored piece of sheet music, titled “A Farewell”, which was carefully tucked away in my music stacks at home, given to me by my third grade music teacher to prepare for the NC Elementary School Honors Chorus auditions.
On her recommendation and with her help after school each day for several weeks, I prepared for that audition and made the cut! The days and hours preceding the first rehearsal with the Honors Chorus were full of timidity and fear. At my hometown elementary school it wasn’t normal for a boy my age to be more interested in music than athletics.
I remember that first rehearsal quite clearly. There were literally hundreds of kids my age who love to sing, boys and girls equally, converging on the Winston Salem hotel ballroom. It was a validating experience to say the least. And how appropriate that the first song we sang together was that audition piece, “A Farewell” – a song inspired by a poem about finding your own means of expression. We spent the following three days together making beautiful music and building friendships.
I would argue that the experience of that weekend changed my life. It opened my eyes to a world of possibility unknown to me back at home and set me on my life path with more confidence than I had when I arrived. Of course this transformative experience is much more obvious to me in hindsight than it was at the time – but I wholeheartedly believe that my elementary school music teacher, Robin Cogan, had at least some idea at the time of what a monumental opportunity she had helped me to experience.
How ironic that just a couple of weeks after sharing this story with my teammates, I ran into Ms. Cogan for the first time in twenty-some years. She was attending an ASC event for CMS Cultural Arts Representatives as she now teaches music at Endhaven Elementary School.
I am grateful to have had the opportunity as an adult to thank her for her efforts. It is great to know that there are cultural educators in Charlotte-Mecklenburg like Robin Cogan and that ASC, where I am proud to be employed, is helping her to do her job better.