From Dr. Pepper to Doctorate

From Dr. Pepper to Doctorate

I thought it would be helpful for my first blog post to tell you a little about who I am and where I came from.  People that know me know that I claim to be from the great state of "Texas" but not everyone knows what I've gone through to get where I am today.  I was born in Dallas, TX.  After returning from the Vietnam War, my father was hired as a telephone installer for Southwestern Bell.  When I was a year old, he was transferred to a branch in Longview, TX, about 120 miles east of Dallas.  Longview is very close to my parents hometown of Marshall, TX which allowed me the opportunity to grow up knowing almost every member of my family.  I feel blessed that I was able to grow up knowing my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.  I grew up in Longview but went to public school in Hallsville, TX.  Hallsville was a small town just outside of Longview of about 1600 people.  The school district, however, covered a 15 mile radius and many kids went to Hallsville Independent School District even though we lived in Longview.  I graduated 13th out of the 180 kids in my class of 1988.

Probably the most surprising thing people find out about me is that I was not in choir in high school.  I joined my senior year thanks to a friend, Stephen Hale, who dragged me into choir with him because I had an extra elective.  I didn't grow up in a place where singing was the "cool" thing to do.  It was "cooler" to be a Future Farmer of America" than in the arts.  I didn't know anyone in choir except for Steve so I was apprehensive to sign up, even as a senior.  When my best friend, David Goodman, heard I was signing up, he said he would do it too if I signed up.  So, I signed up for choir and the rest is history.

My choir director in high school, Kirk Davidson, did one thing for me that changed the course of my life.  He made a phone call in March of 1988 to the choir director at Kilgore Community College, Dale Miller.  He told Dale about Steve and I and that he should drive over and hear us sing.  I didn't know what to expect and when Mr. Miller showed up, we went into a practice room and he listened to me do some warm-ups and sing one of the songs I had been working on.  Later that week, Dale called me at home and told me that he'd like for me to come sing for him in his choir at Kilgore College and that he would give me a $500 scholarship.  He also told me that the choir at KC was going to perform in Carnegie Hall, NYC in the spring of 1989.  I was ecstatic.  I had never even been on an airplane and the thought of going to New York City was very exciting so I accepted the scholarship and was off to Kilgore College.

My freshmen year of college is when my life changed.  The trip to NYC and singing in Carnegie Hall was when the "light bulb went on."  I had never sung with a 300 voice choir accompanied by a full orchestra.  We sang the Mozart "Coronation Mass" and it was the most exhilarating experience of my life.  I will never forget it.  When we returned from that trip, I went into Mr. Miller's office and told him that I wanted to change my major to music starting fall of 1989.  I had previously been undecided as a college major.  That experience gave me a purpose and finally something to pursue.  I didn't know what was ahead but for the first time in my life, I felt like I knew what I wanted to do.

I transferred to Stephen F. Austin State University after I had completed all of the music courses at Kilgore. It took me an extra year to get things finished.  I received another nice scholarship to be a vocal/music ed major at SFA.  I continued my training there and really began learning how to sing.  SFA was/is known as an opera school in Texas and we all learned to sing with an operatic technique.  It was at SFA where I received my first stage experience.  It was fun but I found out quickly that I didn't like being cut or getting told I wasn't good enough for certain roles.  I was much more comfortable on the podium with a baton in my hand.  I finished my Bachelors degree in the fall of 1993 and stayed to do a Masters at SFA, finishing in 1995.

1995 was a big year, it was the year that I left Texas for Boston, Massachusetts.  My wife at the time had been accepted to graduate school in Boston and so we packed up everything and set out on a journey across the US.  This was huge for a country boy like me and was another turning point in my life.  In Boston, I started teaching and performing as a young professional.  I had the pleasure of performing with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, the performing choir for the Boston Symphony Orchestra as well as being a paid singer at two different churches in Boston.

Teaching in Boston wasn't the best and I longed for something more.  My mentor teachers, the choir directors that I looked up to all had earned doctoral degrees.  My goal was to also get a doctoral degree so that I would have the credentials to one day teach at the college level.  Some friends from Stephen F. Austin had moved from TX to attend Michigan State University and in the spring of 1996, they began sharing with me what a wonderful school it was and that I would love the choir director there, Charles Smith.  As I began looking into the school, I realized that MSU would have a graduate teaching assistantship available for the fall of 1997.  So, I applied to their doctoral school and was accepted.  Dr. Smith offered me one of their teaching assistantships, conductor of the MSU Women's Glee Club.

In the summer of 1997, I left Boston for Lansing, MI where I began my doctoral work at Michigan State University.  I spent 3 years on campus at MSU working on my degree and finished it in the spring of 2002 after moving to Illinois to take a job at a local high school in the northern suburbs of Chicago.  That high school was Stevenson High School, in Lincolnshire.  Stevenson's director was taking a full year maternity leave and I was fortunate enough to get the job.  Working at Stevenson HS played a large role in helping me get the job at Libertyville HS when their choir director retired in the spring of 2001. I've been at Libertyville ever since.

Dr. Pepper is and always has been my favorite soda.  It's bottled in TX and you can get it everywhere in the south.  It was been a long road from the land of Dr. Pepper to getting a doctoral degree but it was a journey that I was meant to take and what an awesome ride it was.   My next post will be devoted to my 17 years so far in Illinois.  More to come....