I was once a young girl who found herself just a little lost after nine years of Catholic school. I have always been an introvert, always just a little quiet and shy – until I know you. I have always struggled with feeling like the odd one out. Once I began my 9th grade year in the last year of my local junior high, I was forced to make new friends after being with the same kids all my life. I didn’t make friends, at least not at first. I struggled immensely there and begged to be allowed to go to Bellarmine with the majority of my friends. That wasn’t going to happen. I was going to have to stick it out and start Puyallup High School the next year. My parents said, “Everyone will be new. You’ll be fine.”
They were right, but in the ensuing three years, I never quite shook that “new kid” feeling. I felt like people were constantly staring at me and judging me. I managed to make a few good friends, but for the most part I was just biding my time.
One of the places I have always found solace and joy is through music. Whether it’s listening to it, playing it on my piano, or singing, music feeds my soul. As a teenager, I would come home from school and immediately sit down to my piano and start playing. It was how I unwound. The kind of day I had had would reflect in the songs I chose to play.
My sophomore year in high school I decided to sign up for choir. I fell in love. Here I could escape into the beautiful music. I felt like myself here. I loved hearing the harmonies come together. In choir I felt like all of us were the same. We were all on a level playing field. We had football players, the super popular kids, the really smart kids, and the in-betweeners like me that just seemed to blend in. When we sang together, those labels disappeared. We were all just one voice. I could forget the times I felt forced to eat my lunch in the bathroom because I was too afraid to approach a table. I could forget how intimidating some girls were to me.
I quickly learned that you couldn’t sign up for choir and expect to just sing. You had to learn. You had to take constructive criticism. If a song had a lyric of “Ooooooh,” we would all sing, “Ooooooh,” as you would expect. But we were promptly made aware of the “Midwestern ewwwwwww.” Mrs. G wanted us to sing, “O.” No Midwestern ewwwwws allowed. I also learned mighty quickly what it was to sing out of one’s throat and that I was NOT to do it anymore. “Kellie! Quit singing out of your throat!” Aluminum, linoleum, aluminum. Those were the best of times.
The first song we learned in choir was “Sanctus.” It was completely in Latin and I became obsessed with this song. It began with a very beautiful and dramatic piano introduction. Because I had the music, I set out to teach myself the piano accompaniment. Every day after school I would sit down at the piano and play. I soon had it down. That song became my anthem to any dramatic and sad days I had had. In fact, my mom started to catch on that any time I had been fighting with my then-boyfriend or feeling like I liked someone else and needed to break up with him, I would play this song. She would say, “Oh, no. That song again? What’s going on?”
This was in the fall of 1993. I was just 15 years old. I remember leading up to the performance of this song – as it was our first together as a group – we had been struggling with the song. I remember practicing it over and over, and during our rehearsals it looked fairly bleak that we could pull it together by the concert. And then we sang it as our opening song at our concert at the Immanuel Lutheran church because PHS was under construction that year.
We were all so apprehensive as we stood there in silence and waited for the piano intro to begin. There was a feeling of “Here goes nothing,” and we began to sing. As the song finished, I will never forget watching Mrs. G lower her arms after conducting us, and she smiled at us with a twinkle in her eyes as if to say, “You did it! You nailed it!”
I graduated three years later, and though many people call their high school years the best of their lives, I knew it could only get better from there on out. However, I knew choir had left an impression on me that would last forever. It would prove to be the only thing I would ever miss about high school.
It has been almost 20 years since I have graduated, and I will still think about many of the songs I sang in choir, but the one that has always really stuck with me is Sanctus. Throughout the years it will often just pop into my head and I will hum it from start to finish. I have tried to find the music because I’d love to play it again, but Googling Sanctus pretty much yields the same results as Googling John Smith. There are many, many versions, and none I have found match mine.
Recently I finally thought to ask my choir teacher who I happen to be Facebook friends with. I thought it was a longshot, but maybe she would remember. She said she had used several versions of Sanctus over the years, and she asked me to play it on the piano and record it for her. I had a little laugh because unfortunately I haven’t kept up with my piano playing much in my adulthood. I don’t remember the intro anymore that I used to know by heart. But I did manage to sit down and spend about 20 minutes figuring out a simple melody to send her.
She recognized it and said she would try to find it! I figured she might figure out the name of the composer so I could maybe YouTube another choir singing it. I never anticipated that what she would actually find would be so much better than that. She found an old cassette tape (yes, cassette tape. It was 1993.) with OUR choir singing the song at our fall concert.
I was fortunate enough to meet with her for coffee on my birthday yesterday, almost 20 years after seeing her last. (I watched the OJ verdict my senior year in her classroom.) She handed me the tape and is letting me borrow it so I can make a copy of it.
I have literally listened to this song now about a hundred times. I swear I can even hear myself. I am blown away and feel like I’ve just opened up a time capsule. I can feel the emotion in the song, and I can tell that we KNOW we are just nailing the song.
I am just ecstatic that nearly 23 years since I sang that song, I now have a copy that I can listen to and remember the one part of high school that was a bright light in an otherwise not-so-bright period of time for me.
As an aside, the Latin lyrics of Sanctus translate to these in English, a hymn I sang many times as a child at Mass. Interesting…
“Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.”
If you care to listen to the original recording, I have attached it below.
The Puyallup High School Concert Chorus, October 20, 1993.