It was 1980, if my calculations are correct.
It was my first day of Young Singers of Callanwolde, and the dignified, white-haired, completely invested man in front of us gave us an assignment. Before our next rehearsal, we were to copy a treble clef 100 times. Something about Mr. Ortlip, Mr. O as we were to call him, instilled trust that such a task would be fruitful. And, of course, with his slightly intimidating demeanor that I sensed could veer into frustration if we didn’t work hard enough, I obliged. I went home, and sitting in our family room on the floor next to the brass daybed, I struggled through those treble clefs.
They had to be precise. I struggled to circle the G with that final swirl. I tended to go too high or too low, and when I did get the G, it didn’t look as effortless as the sample.
But I persisted. 98 . . . 99 . . . 100.
They weren’t pretty, or easy, or elegant, but Mr. O was pleased.
As I sit here, watching a live feed Mr. O’s memorial service, I understand the payoff. He inspired me to persevere and work through the challenges, so that the music could become a part of me. With every skill he pushed me to learn, every challenge he directed me to face, and every harmony he inspired to perfect, he gave me the tool of life-long music.
He gave me the will to struggle through 100 treble clefs so that those five steps would eventually become one natural, elegant swoop. He gave me the courage to push through all of the hard parts of music, so that music would eventually become a part of me.
In addition, he was always there for me – there at every Young Singers rehearsal to challenge me, there at my high school graduation, with me at my first performance with the Atlanta Symphony Chorus, and even a at my wedding.
He also gave me friends, experiences, and music that have shaped who I am. And for that I am eternally grateful.
But mostly, he gave me the joy of the struggle.