As I hit the mid-performance schedule of The Tales of Hoffmann here at the Metropolitan Opera, I find myself gratified by the large audience turnout, as well as their enthusiasm for this current cast. By all accounts, it is considered to be a better suited group than those represented last year when this production first premiered. This is, of course, a very subjective issue; but I have been rather appreciative of the fine compliments I have received, as well as hearing equally outstanding commentary about this first-class cast–headed by Guiseppe Filianoti.
A scheduled departure in between performances, however, had been planned for ‘yours truly’ for several months. The one day trip to Cleveland, Ohio to visit my former high school and accept induction into the Hall of Fame in its inaugural year, proved to be an exceptional highlight for me in 2010. I completed a performance late on October 6, struggled out of bed at 3:30 a.m. on October 7 in order to get to La Guardia Airport for an early morning flight to Ohio. Luckily I arrived without a hitch, which was a concern as the other inductees arrived the previous day. I was just in time to address the entire student body at an assembly where I stressed a (my) road map to success: I summed it up in three words….Desire, Discipline, (and) Determination!!!!!
I went on to express to these young students that I honestly knew many dozens of singers who possess FAR MORE talent than I have; but also confessed that I knew that I had that one final variable which helped me to get where I am….DETERMINATION. “Find what you love to do (Desire), be the very best you can be at it (Discipline), and then keep charging forward (Determination) even if others tell you are not good enough!!!”–as I had indeed been told from time to time. I promised them that this approach would yield a level of success they could find acceptable for themselves, in addition to others. I told them many other things as well, but this was the main arc of my commentary.
The assembly ended, and I was ushered throughout the school to observe the many changes that had taken place over the past 30 years; as well as observing that which had NOT changed in 30 years–both falling into the “some things better, some things worse” category. I then presented a two hour master class for the very talented and receptive students from the arts wing of the school, with other students from the school system also attending. The media was on hand to chronicle the event for television and print, and a very nicely presented evening induction ceremony and dinner was followed by additional speeches given by the inductees. My final speech of the day was mostly a chance for me to honor those who had educated me so well, and far less a moment to “accept this award of distinction”. I addressed my parents, my sister, and my oldest childhood friend; all of whom were in attendance. I ended my remarks with a sort of lament regarding the state of public school education in the current day and age, but ended on a hopeful note with some help via quotation from James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake.
I must admit that it was a truly wonderful day….far more so than I would have believed. So with thanks to my sister Mary (who absolutely insisted that I attend and accept the award in an effort to honor the school, as well as my family), my parents, my dear friend Richard, and the many outstanding educators who truly helped shape and mold me in preparation for a life that I could have only dreamed about at one time, I submit the following few thoughts: It wasn’t until many years later that I discovered what a truly exceptional education I had received. What an honor to be able to return to some form of public forum to actually THANK them all personally. Yes, many of my former teachers were there. They expressed such pride with respect to my accomplishments…but in truth, it is I who am so very proud to have been in their sphere of influence when Normandy High School, and the Parma City School District was at its zenith.
As a result of this event, the school district and I have come to an agreement, in principle, to effectuate my return on an annual basis to work with their aspiring music/theater/vocal students. A way of giving back in return for the time Fred Speck gave me trumpet lessons over his lunch hour, and for the many times that Michael Seredick helped me prepare music for my early vocal competitions and music school auditions; and for the many private voice lessons that Louis DiRienzo provided just because he heard a kid who may have had a voice inside of him.
I genuinely thank you all!!!!