Day 10 - the final day. It comes and goes far too quickly.
Today was crazy busy, but I knew that going in and went into it prepared to do anything that needed doing. I arrived a 7am for a staff meeting. (I'm just convinced that all the Speers must be morning people.) We had a bit of time for feedback on the past 2 weeks, but for me the best part was just getting to visit with some of these awesome people in a quiet and relaxed environment. Everyone was a little tired and probably looking forward to the weekend, but we all shared stories and laughed a lot and just got to know each other a little more. This is also the meeting where they choose the scholarship winners, but that's a faculty decision, so I left before then.
And I'm glad I did because I finally got to sit in on devotions for the first time this school. Each morning, they've been having a member of the faculty perform a song. This morning it was Teri's turn, and she decided to pull up her Momma, Miss Mary Tom, with no warning, to sing a duet with her. It really says something about the artistry of the performers when a completely unrehearsed song can still be so beautiful and moving. Connie Norhtam has been leading devotions each morning, starting with a story and ending with a prayer. It was great to hear her speak again. Her warm, funny presence really sets a good tone for the day.
There was so much stuff to do today to wrap things up and prepare for tonight's show. We spent lots of time answering questions and helping people purchase those CDs they've been mulling over all week. I was doing some photocopying in the back hallway, when I heard a familiar strain coming from inside one of the theory classes. They were singing O Canada! I popped my head inside, and heard the entire class trying to sight-read my national anthem. I was just tickled! That class had one of our Canadian students in it, and they were learning it as a surprise for her! So cool!
Our final group singing session became a quick rehearsal for tonight's program. At lunchtime, I was chatting with a longtime student about the wonders of group singing. I really don't think there's anything else like it. Her choir director back home couldn't understand why coming to Stamps-Baxter every year is so important to her. She answered him, "Imagine sitting in a room and singing harmony with two hundred and thirty five of your closest friends, all of whom just love singing for the Lord." He took a moment to imagine it, and finally understood. I wish I could explain it better. I know I can give a sense of the magic of that room, but all I can really give is surface impressions. There is truly no finer experience.
The afternoon was just busy, busy, busy. Theory classes were cancelled to allow rehearsal time for tonight's soloists and groups, and Allison's class was still on so she could get through everyone on her list. But we were so busy I didn't get to any of it. The school CDs came in today, so getting those organized was a big deal. Then there was no one to pick up the school photos, so I ran out of to get that. And, again, another big deal to distribute them. There were room keys to organize and product to organize, and just a million little things to do, but they all lead to the highlight of them all....the closing program!
The closing program is a huge deal. Each year, the show features 9 of the best songs from our group singing sessions, conducted by our 3 conductors. And then we have the soloists and groups, as chosen by audition. The show is taped and DVDs are available for sale. These DVDs go all across the country as students share their Stamps-Baxter experience with friends and family. This makes those DVDs are great advertisement for the school and, because of that, they want the talent on the program to be impeccable. It's big deal to be a part of this program, and tonight's performers lived up to that honour.
Some of the performers, like Miles, Ben, and Michelle, were also on last Saturday's program. There were 2 awesome groups, including one that performed with a jazz trio fronted by theory teacher extraordinaire, Jack Clark (I was in Jack's class my first year). The star of the show was little Hannah, who wowed everyone with her poise and gorgeous piano playing.
This afternoon, we had a unique experience at the school. I wasn't there, but here's what happened: Ben came into the auditorium with 3 white Stamps-Baxter hats, autographed by Ben, Mary Tom, and Rosa Nell. He auctioned them off to raise money for the scholarship fund, starting the bid at $20 a hat. Well, the bidding just took off, and by the end of it, 3 people had agreed to pay $300 each per hat. O-mi-word! That's $900, and that's almost one and a half scholarships. Well, tonight, they had found one more hat, and it too was signed. This time, they started the bidding at $300. It was slow at first, but once it took off, we were all blown away. In the end, a first-time student bought the hat for one thousand dollars! It was all so emotional. I met this woman and her husband at registration, and I've been able to get to know them over the past 2 weeks. Earlier today, I heard them sing in Allison's class (the one performance I got to see all day.) They are not polished, professional singers, but their hearts were strong and clear. After the song, they told me a little bit of how they met and how they found the school. They were supposed to attend last year and had to cancel for medical reasons, so they were so thankful to be at the school this year. Well, to see this lady's hand jump into the bidding, and then end it all with such an amazing bid was so so incredible. She told me after that it's just a small gift back to the school for giving them so much. (I'm crying again as I proofread this paragraph.) Just so awesome!
The whole concert was filled with great moments, like the group singing, and the spontaneous performance of Allison with the Jack Clark jazz trio. Near the end, Ben walked out and said, "I told them we weren't going to do it, but now, we're going to do it." Puzzled looks everywhere. Out came Aunt Faye and Miss Mary Tom. The track began for "Rain", and the place just went up! They were wonderful! I would never want to have to follow that!
Near the end of the show, they gave out the scholarships. Most of the school's scholarships are based on financial need, but there are 2 based on talent and dedication to the craft. The first, the Anthony Burger award, went to none other than our little Hannah! I just went nuts. I was so proud of her. (I got to know her when I was in Teri's class.) Next, they awarded the Brock Speer scholarship. Our winner this year was Kenny O'Neil, a humble and generous man who has been a real blessing to the school this year. Earlier this week, I wrote about a performance opportunity where a track broke and someone just jumped up and offered to accompany the singer on the piano. That someone was Kenny, and since that night, I have seen him accompany several students, always without show, and always with a true servent's heart.
It's been 2 years now since I've won the Brock Speer award. My life has changed dramatically, and so much of it is rooted in that moment when Faye Speer said my name. I never could have imagined my life in this place - living in Nashville, singing gospel music, and working with people I first saw on TV. But God had a plan for me, and He let me know it at this school. All week, I've been wondering, "I wonder how many lives will change this week? I wonder how many people will hear their answer from God at this school?" I may never know the answer, but what a blessing to know that God can still speak to us and point us in the right direction for our lives.
The aftermath of the show was emotional and wonderful. Exchanging hugs and email addresses and promises to meet again next year. The staff decided to go to a restaurant to relax and celebrate, and when we got there, half the school had showed up for the same reason. Everywhere you looked, tables were overflowing with excited Stamps-Baxter students. It felt like we were in small town, and everyone had gone to the local malt shop after the sock hop. All very cool. All very wonderful.
I think the hardest part comes now that the school is over. We've made contacts, but now we have to follow-up. We've been surrounded by 235 people in group singing, but now it's just a back-up track. We've been in an environment where gospel music is encouraged, and now we may have to go into venues where it's not even welcomed. But we will not go home empty, for our pallettes have been filled, and we are prepared to enter the world painting glorious pictures of love and hope.
(But personally, I'm taking a day off first! Tomorrow is all about sleep and pancakes!)