By Tim Johnston
In my career as an executive staff officer with the Alberta Teachers’ Association, I tried to make time to take part with my children in events important in their lives. Community music festivals were examples. Occasionally, such events provided fodder for the Editor’s Notebook that I wrote for each issue of the ATA Magazine, as was the case with the following.
On an autumn morning in 1991, I was sitting in the Progress Room of the Arden Theatre in St Albert as part of an audience that included some very anxious Grade 1 and Grade 2 children.
Every young member of the audience was carefully dressed and hair was combed and brushed. The girls, my daughter Kalie among them, were wearing their best dresses but had brought along their jeans for when they returned to school. In front of us sat the adjudicator and off to our left, seated at the piano, was Eryl Jones, the Leo Nickerson Elementary School music teacher responsible for bringing all of us to this place. Class 9922, School Vocal Solo-Girls-Grade 2 of the St. Albert Kiwanis Music Festival, was about to begin.
Natasha Grossett was first up. Natasha sang well. Some kids can really belt out a tune. Following Natasha, in order, came Stephanie Anderson and Julia Chambers. Kalie confided that because Julia had won the solo event last year, she expected to do so again this year. There are certain rights, apparently, in the Grade 2 order of the world. Following Julia came Kalie Johnston and Laurel Dolman. It’s not hard to guess who I was silently cheering for.
Each girl stood in front of the adjudicator and sang a very personal rendition of the competition song entitled “Lullaby”. One by one the girls made it through the rather difficult lyrics and mastered the challenging melody. As each girl finished and returned, smiling, to become a member of the audience, she was greeted with quiet murmurs of congratulation and little hugs and touches from her friends and competitors.
Competitor 569 was the final vocalist in the class. She took her place in front of the adjudicator, nodded to her teacher, and began singing. Jackie Nuc, it was clear, was a real contender. With a lovely, clear and carrying voice she drew the audience into her song. “Go to sleep my little doll, distant lands are calling. In your dreams you’ll travel far, to a moon and to a star.”
When Jackie suddenly stopped in mid-verse, it was almost painful to those of us who had become enthralled by her singing. To Jackie, standing there before her Grade 2 classmates, it must have seemed even worse. To do so well and to suddenly forget the words to the song must have been a crushing humiliation for an eight-year-old who fairly had high expectations of taking home a first place. Her head dropped, her shoulders began shaking and the tears began to flow.
Mrs. Jones stopped playing and beckoned Jackie over to the piano. Still sitting on the piano bench, she simply took the little girl in her arms and held her close until the crying came to a ragged end. That hug erased the pain and heartbreak of Jackie Nuc like nothing else could have done.
The audience, meanwhile, waited on tenterhooks. Parents looked at other parents and silently shared a common concern for a child who had stumbled and had felt the hurt. The children looked on at their teacher and classmate, upset that Jackie, who had song so well, should now be feeling so badly about her performance.
After a few minutes, the adjudicator, bless her heart, asked Jackie if she would like to try the song once more. With a smile from her teacher and a final gentle squeeze, Jackie again took her place. Her performance, the second time around, was flawless. The mixture of relief and pride that showed on her face at the end of the song was mirrored in the face of her mother and, I’m sure, on the faces of all of us as we shared in her moment of personal triumph.
As a footnote to this story, I am proud to report that daughter Kalie won a gold medal certificate for her singing. So did Julia Chambers. It’s reassuring to know that in the order of things, expectations of Grade 2 girls do work out. Jackie Nuc also took home a gold medal certificate.
With these words from the lullaby still in the hearts of audience members, Eryl Jones, elementary music teacher, won a very special gold medal of her own. . . “snug in my arm, safe from any harm, we’ll drift off to dreamland in a boat upon the sea. . .”
This story first appeared in the May/June 1992 issue of the ATA Magazine. It is reprinted here in an edited version with permission.