You Are Not Alone, Not Even In High School

Pop quiz: What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Grade 10?

Answer: If you said braces, acne, or awkward dancing… yeah, we probably have something in common.

I’ve never been to a high school reunion, having lived away from my hometown of Red Deer, Alberta for a long time. But recently, I carpe diemed the chance to ponder my teenage days of yore while writing music for choirs at my former high school, Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School. That’s “Comp,” “Thurber,” or “LTCHS” for short. Try to say “LTCHS” fast – you’ll sound like me with my retainer in.

This is just a thing that is happening

If your high school memories also include chronic illness, we’ve got something else in common. After a Chronic Fatigue Syndrome diagnosis at age 12, and technically not completing Grade 8, I spent the following years feeling exhausted and confused about what the future would bring. My days at Comp were an odd collection of ambition and lethargy, vitality and frailty, optimism and fear. As the “sick child” – a grade ahead of everyone else but too ill to attend classes regularly – my longings to be a normal student (whatever I thought that was) were a unicorn-like fantasy. My full recovery from CFS a few years after graduating was just as confusing and unpredictable, but in reverse.

This was a defining period for me in many ways – I learned to explain to people what was wrong with me while pretending that things were just fine.

No one could really understand what I was going through, even when they actually wanted to.

Composer desk
Notes and sketches from “Fly On,” January 2016.

Dedicated to the misunderstood

The new piece I wrote is called “Fly On”, for SAB voices + piano. Here’s the text:

All shall be well.

We are prairie wind
Lifting ghosts of voices past
Over shadow plain

We are ocean rain
Sailing down to earth
Seeds of light cascade

Fly on, fly on, fly on,
Oh soaring light.
Fly on, fly on, fly on,
Oh pale blue dot,
Fly on.

All shall be well.

How’s this for perspective?

I used two references to other writers in the poem. Julian of Norwich wrote the words “all shall be well” way back in 14th-century England. Her book “Revelations of Divine Love” is possibly the first book written in the English language by a woman.

The “pale blue dot” is a reference to Carl Sagan’s description of a photograph taken by the Voyager 1 space probe in 1990. The photo shows the Earth as one tiny pixel against the vastness of deep space in a perspective from 6 billion kilometres away.

Pale Blue Dot
“Pale Blue Dot” (The Earth is displayed at centre-right.)

Composers and stories are among you

We see each other best through our stories. Choirs unite from within through the music they sing and struggle through. And sometimes, when things are just right, music heals, helping us understand ourselves a tiny bit better.

Huge thanks to the Lindsay Thurber Music Parents Association, and my friends and former classmates Sara and Lisa, without whom this project would not have been possible.

Students in Red Deer, you’re not alone.

Lisa Friesen will conduct the first performance of “Fly On” in Red Deer with LTCHS Chamber Choir and Ladies Choir on June 9, 2016.

Fly On the wall
Fly On the wall

2 thoughts on “You Are Not Alone, Not Even In High School”

  1. The words are beautiful, poignant, and dripping with emotion. I realize that this is a choral piece but I can almost hear it in a folk-rock composition. The words reach so far beyond their meanings.

  2. Thanks, Richard! I challenge you to write a song to these words. 😉 Here’s hoping the choir and the audience finds it all meaningful too.

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