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Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and Performing Arts
I have no pre-choir memories.
If it were not for my involvement in the choir, I would never have discovered my talent and love for singing that led me to apply to LaGuardia High School. My vocal training in school has opened up a whole new world of singing to me and has exposed me to others who are passionate and dedicated to their art.
At the age of 4, I began attending choir at St. James Church. My mother decided that joining choir would provide me with musical and religious instruction, in addition to supplying the stories and rituals that are essential to Western civilization, Christianity — whatever that means. I was initially joined by scads of my peers at St. James, making choir a fun, social task, but as I grew older, one by one, my friends began dropping out and I became entirely disenchanted with what I saw as the onerous chore of attending choir. They simply did not want to go anymore and their parents complied.
In addition to the dwindling choristers, Saint James was located on the Upper East Side, one of the fanciest ZIP codes in New York, while I was coming from my school in the pregentrified Brooklyn neighborhood of Bushwick. While the neighborhood is now known for its gourmet pizzerias and trendy clubs, the Bushwick of my childhood was known for shootings and public housing projects, if it was known at all. This discrepancy between my two lives made me more than a little uncomfortable. While the children at choir proudly donned the telltale signs of their elite education: tartan skirts and navy blazers encrusted with the logos of their private schools whose cost was nearly as much as my mother’s yearly wage, I maintained my own uniform of jeans and a T-shirt. They all knew me as the girl from Brooklyn, the chorister who went to public school.
I begged and pleaded with my mom to let me follow the path of my friends and retire my choir robe, but she persisted, always replying with a curt “no”. She believed that in the long run, going to choir would benefit me both educationally and socially.
As the years went on, I continued to badger my mother on the subject. Her answers began to lessen in severity. She showed compassion toward my dislike of choir and soon replied to my questions of discontinuing my involvement in chorus with answers like “Just do it for one more year” and the even more compassionate, “Are you sure?” Despite my mother’s change of heart, I did not take advantage of her limbo-ed responses, and instead, I began to withdraw my constant requests. In spite of not having many friends in choir, I began to enjoy literally finding my voice every week in church. After years in choir, I let my voice become free and discovered that it was loud and powerful. It could be used to lead others in song. When I was younger, I had always followed the older, more experienced singers. I would wait for the right pitch, or follow the pros to figure out when to come in, but little by little, letting go of my reticence, I began to trust myself: starting the pitch and coming in when I knew we were supposed to sing. Eventually, other singers began to follow my lead. Parishioners started to acknowledge me for my voice rather than my address. I began to appreciate this music that I had heard throughout my youth, yet had always dismissed as boring and religious. Soon enough, my habitual complaints about choir completely stopped.
After being in the choir for nearly a decade, I was awarded the position of head chorister, which served as an affirmation of my musical abilities, since I was now expected to lead the younger choristers. The position of head chorister motivated me into applying to the highly competitive and prestigious LaGuardia High School.
Although I initially detested choir, I have come to love it, and more than that, it has become an intrinsic part of me. Choir allowed me to not only grow as a singer, but also as a person. Through choir, I learned that if you continue with something long enough, you will receive some sort of benefit from it and maybe even grow to love it. Because of choir I found my voice in a small church. Because of choir, I am willing to go wherever life takes me with an open mind, knowing that the effects of even the smallest things can be completely life-altering. As a song that I learned in choir and auditioned with for LaGuardia says: “Oh God, my heart is ready.”
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