Sunday, February 20, 2005

Kirby Shaw

I want to be like Kirby Shaw.

If you were in a high school choir--especially at the beginning or intermediate levels--you sang a song by Kirby Shaw. If you were in a junior high choir, you undoubtedly sang a song by Kirby Shaw. I think it was the law.

Kirby's music, if I recall, all had a little introduction inside the front cover saying something like "This was designed for groups with talented, large female participation and small, elite male sections." In other words, most high school choirs and all junior high choirs...just take out the word "elite" and you've described them. Kirby had singable, simple, fun arrangements of a number of spirituals. I remember singing a piece called "Home On That Rock"--can still sing it after all these years--and several others. The cover of the piece had Kirby's giant mug on it--a giant smile. Checking out his website, the mug has gained a few wrinkles, but he's got the same attitude--the same smile. We'd get the latest Kirby piece and shout "Kirby! Kirby!" We'd sing it in front of the taped accompaniment...one side of the tape had eager, Up-With-People style singing to help you out, the other just had the instrumental backing (we'd perform with that).

We no longer did Kirby in the top HS choir...we had a strong group of kids, a great director, and did more serious stuff--he was into tougher spirituals than Kirby's and Russian pieces. Fun stuff. And on my first day as a freshman in the top choir at a big state university, the director came in and said "Freshmen, you're in the big leagues now. You're not singing Kirby Shaw anymore." And everyone gave a fairly snide laugh at Kirby's expense. I did too...I didn't want to appear less than sophisticated. And yeah, I loved singing all the Beethoven and Brahms I sang in college, but I don't know that this makes Kirby naff (the only word I can think of to describe what I'm thinking is that British slang).

(HS Buddy--sometimes reads this blog under the name of "Brooklyn"--discussed Kirby Shaw with me a couple of years back. We talked about the idea of what makes a Shavian piece. We also talked about how the term "Shavian" shouldn't just be reserved for George Bernard Shaw, but for Kirby too.)

You see, here's the thing about Kirby I can't get past. He's insanely rich from selling all of this music to high school choirs. If you think "junior high music," you think Kirby. He found his perfect niche. He's definitely one of the best in the world at what he does...and I bet that he doesn't care that my college choir director used his name as a punchline.

What must it be like to be one of the best in the world...at ANYTHING? I started to think about this after a music teacher friend saw Kirby speak at a conference for--what else--high school and junior high music teachers. They flocked to see him because he's perfect at meeting their needs. What needs can I meet that well? What am I one of the best 10 in the world at? Best 100? 1000? Poetry? Um...no. Teaching? Can't be measured objectively...it's eliminated. Officiating? Hell, I'm not in the top 50 in the city. My baby suggests I might be in the top 10 in the world for blogs about high school basketball officiating. Hmmmm...a possibility. But that won't make me rich.

I'd like to find my Shavian niche...the one area of the world that only I can fill that will make me insanely rich. I'm never going to be a Brahms or a Beethoven at anything...not talented enough. But if I find exactly the right void that only I can fill, maybe I can be a Kirby Shaw. The only thing preventing me from those riches? Figuring out what that void-to-be-filled-with-my-talent is.

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