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Meaning of life

"The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away." ~ Pablo Picasso

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Livin' la Vida Loca!

From Rock Star to Reality

I told you, I’ve been busy and now I’m paying for it! More anniversaries, more reunions, more sleep!

Thanksgiving weekend I partied like a rock star! I arrived in Detroit and was swept off to 336, a bar in Plymouth, Michigan. Rick Canzano (RICKYSEE) was entertaining. I don’t know where the energy came from after such a long flight. I graduated with Rick and he is one of the most talented guys I know. This guy can pick up ANY instrument and play with ease. His first tenor vocals add to his entertainment prowess!

Our Multi-talented RickySee entertains at the class reunion

I bumped into many friends from long past, many I went to elementary school with! This would be a once-in-a-lifetime, multi-reunion, homecoming holiday weekend. On the agenda; 30 year class reunion on Friday and a Concert Choir Reunion/ birthday party on Saturday. Both reunions would bring friends from all over the world! It was an event I could not miss!

I stayed with my buddy Craig and his family for the holiday. Thanksgiving morning began with a gathering of old choir friends from high school. We sang (YES I DID) “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” for Ward Presbyterian Church in Northville. Our high school Concert Choir director, who also instructed the church choir, was turning 75 and ALL of his past students were invited to attend a 50th Anniversary Choir Reunion/ Birthday Extravaganza to celebrate on Saturday. Those that wanted to also join his church to sing this great song Thanksgiving morn were welcome participate. It’s really hard to describe how important this weekend was to me and how grateful I was of the timing of this event.

I haven’t been off my feeding tube for long and I certainly haven’t been able to sing very well after all the radiation to my head and neck! Up until 6 months ago my diction was still poor. If this was any other time in the last 3 years, I would not have been able to attend or enjoy. As you will soon read, that would have been tragic!

Doctor Jerry Smith (Doc-doctor of music) taught at our high school from 1959 until 1985 when the high school closed. He was throwing a major shindig to celebrate. This was no ordinary choir. It was a well run organization with its own government of students.

I was elected the choir's business manager in my senior year of this fine choir and was responsible for coordinating all aspects of our Spring Tour, which took us far across the country to sing for churches and talk shows. We traveled by bus from Michigan to Colorado, Oklahoma, and Texas entering a World Competition, which we snagged a silver medal, and so much more! That is a whole story for another day!

This choir was not a class you could get into easily. You had to audition and pass a sight reading test. Oh…and you needed the chops to sing! Many lucky inductees began in the boys or girls choruses. The choruses were music classes you took for fun, but Concert Choir was the serious top level you strived to be a part of, if you wanted more than just a cake class.

After rocking the Battle Hymn, Craig’s family put on a feast. Remember, I had my very first quarter sized piece of meat (venison) with his family while still on the tube! So, to celebrate Thanksgiving and have the honor of carving the beast was simply awesome. This would be my first family holiday meal since I had my feeding tube removed. I can not even begin to express the high this created.

30 Years Later

Friday would be our 30 year class reunion and 400 people showed up! I was apart of a very large graduating class over 800, so for a 30 year reunion, this was a great turnout! To be fair, we did combine 3 graduating years which seems to be a growing concept trend.

LeAnn, Scott, Dave, Ron, Diane, Craig, Jill, and Me Me Me

Everywhere I turned there was a person I knew from some point in time. Conversations flowed as if time stood still. I was transported back to high school in one deep breath. They all looked fantastic and there was not an air of pretense in the room. It was simply magical.

Game show host, Chuck Woolery stopped by for "two and two" because he married a fellow classmate

What I began to realize is that every one of these people had a small impact on who I am today. Our entertainment was RICKYSEE of course. Rick pushed me to be a better musician strictly by just being Rick. He never worked hard to be talented. He possesses one of those innate magical abilities we wish we all had. His talent set the bar so high that he motivated me to achieve more musically and fostered my competitive spirit.

Wednesday I saw a childhood buddy, Jeff Saunders who is now a successful attorney. Jeff would often play big brother to me, making sure the others didn’t beat me up. I don’t ever recall being beat up. Great job Jeff! He was also responsible setting me up with my first (French) kiss from a hot older woman (by a whole year!) in Junior High. Jeff was the popular jock and I was the puny tag-a-long, but Jeff never seemed to mind.

We used to walk to elementary school together and as I OFTEN waited for Jeff to get ready; his mother would serve me breakfast and give me a multi-vitamin expressing the importance of a morning meal to start the day off right. “Feeding the brain early helps you to be a better student,” she emphasized.

Jeff taught me that you can be friends with even the most unlikely and his single mom raising two boys, taught me lessons of nutrition and jump starting your day. She would program Jeff to be successful at an early age. Jeff was great at sports, basketball I remember. I wasn’t very good at sports except hockey and he encouraged my competitive nature, through Ping Pong.

We entered a Ping Pong tournament together as a team and won! He pushed and encouraged me in a positive way. Something I would have not done on my own. I was a bit of a loaner and ALL my friends in there own way wouldn’t let me be. They always included me in there activities. I would later develop into quite the social bug because of this. That’s just how it was growing up in my neighborhood.

Ding Dong the Gang's All Here!

I remember one time, a group of us went out ringing door bells. Ding Dong Ditch we called it. We’d single out our victim’s home and one of us would ring the door bell and run. Sometimes we repeated this several times a night, as we all watched somewhere close from the bushes or behind a car. Yes, I grew up in a BAD gang! We were the terror of the neighborhood don’t-cha know!

I was never allowed to ring the bell, only watch because they knew I wasn’t fast enough and I’d surely get caught. One night I stood my ground, “It’s my turn to ring the bell.” They all rejected that idea, but soon relented after me insisting, “I’m doing it!”

I slowly made my way toward the door, swiftly rang the bell and turned to bolt as fast as I could. I thought the fastest getaway would be to jump a low hedge planted next to the porch. So, off I lept like a gazelle only to fall flat on my face at doors edge.

I failed to clear the hedge with enough speed and there I lay flatly, faced down as the door swiftly opened by the angry homeowner. I just laid there motionless, I guess hoping he wouldn’t notice my bruised body splattered a few feet from the door.

“You’re the Walin boy aren’t you? You're gonna have to do better than that if you expect to be successful at it!” A deep voice said with a chuckle. “Nope don’t know him,” I screamed as I pealed myself off the cement and ran for my life! I soon learned to be honest with myself and embrace those things I wasn’t innately gifted at. I had to for survival!

Street gangs of my era were a kinder gentler bunch. If we carried knives, they were made of rubber. If we carried guns, they were loaded with suction tipped darts. If we popped pills they were administered by a PEZ dispenser in the shape of a cartoon character.

We gambled and established our dominance against rival gangs by drawing a circle and shooting our marbles against theirs for possession. Oh we were bad! And if we dared to drink, it was in protest to being given too much milk and we retaliated by drinking Coca Cola!

We overran the sidewalks on our bikes, with playing cards attached to the spokes of our wheels by clothespins, creating a loud racket like gunfire. We would gather in the green grassy yards of our neighbors and scream blood curdling messages such as, “Red Rover, Red Rover, send Judy right over!” The neighborhood adults showed their fear by yelling, “Go play in your own yard or I'll call your mother!”

Everywhere I turned that night at the reunion was a friend with great memories. The more I thought of each and every friend, the more I realized I have become the embodiment of all of their actions and influences. This really started me thinking deeply about how important social impacts are in early child development. “Water may flow far from the spring, but every drop originates from the same beginning.” ME

Before there was GLEE, there was BCC!

The next night was our Bentley Concert Choir Reunion. This weekend just kept getting better. We began with cocktails and a roving gourmet dinner with more friends from the past and a deep realization of how each influenced my life in some way. There were 840 in attendance and with all those well trained voices in the room we had to cut a Christmas album (CD) right? It was amazing! The room was wired for sound in more ways than one. A professional DVD of the evening was also produced.

The Bentley Concert Choir Alumni directed by Dr. Jerry Smith

There was someone from every year and they came from all over the world to attend. Even our foreign exchange student, Stephan flew in from Austria to attend. Again, I can not express the impact this was having on someone who had lost his tongue! I was singing again, eating, drinking, socializing, and having the time of my life.

Sure, I was bandaged up, exhaustion was running trough my veins, and all had a concern I might pass out at some point. I have to admit, I was a bit worried about that too! Then there was the entertainment aside from our singing. Musicians from within our group entertained. There was plenty of talent oozing in the room and many, now professional entertainers all inspired by Doc. Theresa Goralski sang a flawless Ave Maria and RickyC rocked out the evening with his version of Queen’s, Bohemian Rhapsody! OMG!

The evening ended all too soon with a sing-a-long closing the reunion by turning the lights to a tender glow as we all hugged and softly sang Silent Night. IT ROCKED!

Driving Miss Penny

Sunday began a day of rest…oops not yet. I spent the afternoon with my friend Suzanne, who I ran into at the choir reunion. Her mother, Mrs. “Penny” Duprey (Ma) was the girls chorus teacher. Ma Duprey received her education from the famed Julliard School of Music in New York. After having a marvelous career, she settled in Michigan to raise her family and teach music. I befriended Mrs. Duprey, who lived a block away, at the suggestion of my father, after Mr. Duprey passed away.

My dad thought she might need help around the house, boy did she ever! I traded her vocal lessons for my maintenance services. She even asked me to sing for Suzanne’s wedding. I couldn’t have been more honored. We grew close and eventually took a long vacation together driving all the way across the United States, from Michigan to Los Angeles and back. She was the coolest old lady I’d ever met…another story, another day.

My humble beginings as a professional entertainer (1981)

That night I returned to Craig’s home and he had prepared surprise dinner; a delicately marinated venison fillet grilled to perfection! OMG! The perfect ending to a perfect weekend!

I was so exhausted and by now running on sheer adrenaline. I spent 3 days in bed to recover. I couldn’t lift my head off the pillow! I pushed myself to the limit and it was good, but a cold began to settle in and make me very miserable with a runny nose that wouldn’t relent!

There were so many people I missed and so many I only spoke with for a moment and somehow lost in the sea of 840. Everywhere I turned was a smiling face with tender memories!

Pieces of ME

One such friend was Chris Skotzke, who I haven't seen since we graduated. I only spoke with him briefly that evening and poof he was gone. About a week after my long recovery from the festivities, I received an email from Chris and I had a long cry. He explained he had intended to tell me how much I had influenced his life simply convincing him to try out for Select Chorus, but he couldn’t find me after our brief hello.

When we were in high school, he was looking for a class with no homework. While in journalism class , I suggested he try out for the boys Select Chorus, but he had never sung before. He would eventually be inducted into Concert Choir after acing a flawless audition. He felt my prodding changed his life and gave him all his wonderful memories, allowing him to be a part of today's reunion.

He explained, in detail, how he has become a full fledged deep voiced bass and can be found on the far right end of the second row in his church choir most every Sunday. Something he would not be participating in today, and enjoying immensely, without my influence.

His note was the best gift! It was detailed and emotional and brought me to tears. I had no idea a simple suggestion could make such a difference in someones life. Chris was also experiencing the same emotions that I was about the reunion.

When I look at the whole equation encompassing who we are today, it seems we each took with us in life a little piece of each other and to this day those attributes are still influencing our lives. What was insignificant to us at the time, has turned out to be mini life-altering events. WOW!

What more can I say???
Peace B


Maureen said...

Hey Brian!
I felt like I was right there in MI with you. I'm so glad you were able to attend.
Don't be so shocked to learn that you inspired Chris, because you have inspired a LOT of people.

Happy Holidays.


Dr. Swill said...

THANK YOU MAUREEN... for coming along for the ride. I so very much appreciate you hanging around from day one with all your love and support.

I am disappointed you haven't found me that yak burger you promised, but it's Christmas and I forgive you!


Peace B

Anonymous said...




Words To Live By:

"The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service to others." -Mahatma Gandhi