Gloria, 1927-2006

Originally published in the online guest book memorializing Gloria, who left us too soon on January 15th 2006.

I guess everyone writes when they are ready. And I guess I’m ready now.

As Steven pointed out, this is an impossible task. These are only words, and words can never hope to describe the life-altering influence of one woman on so many people. On me.

Studying with Gloria was an accident. Presented with a list of teachers by the college I was attending, I simply chose the one closest to where I was living at the time. I was 21 years old, and I was nervous. I’d been waiting my whole life to take voice lessons. What if I found out I actually couldn’t sing, after all? And what if she was mean about it?

I arrived a bit early, and Gloria still had a student in the studio. Grandma Rose let me in (that was the first and last time I knocked – thereafter, I just came on in, like everyone else did). I sat on a chair in the kitchen, waiting my turn, feeling sort of like a fraud, when I began to hear some suspicious sounds coming from under the kitchen table. I peeked under the tablecloth, and the nerves went out the window. A box of puppies! I think one of them was probably Pinkerton, and another might have been Miss Liu. At any rate, a woman who kept a whole box of puppies under the kitchen table couldn’t possibly be all that scary.

Up until this day, I’d been laboring under the awful misconception that I wasn’t actually good at or capable of… anything. At all. Won’t go into the reasons for that here, but suffice it to say that early on in life, I’d had a sneaking suspicion that I could sing, but I was actively discouraged from pursuing it, or even thinking that it was true. Well, now I was going to find out whether or not I had been delusional, after all.

As that first lesson progressed, I stood before her, incredulous at what she was pulling out of me. What had been locked inside, denied light and encouragement, came pouring out, easily and unobstructed, to bask in all the warmth and glory of her beaming approval. She validated the existence of my giftedness – validated ME. Not to give in to hyperbole, but in those first 60 minutes, she pretty much saved my life. Really.

Being able to sing well has been the foundation upon which all faith and confidence in myself has been built – things which were crucial to the successes I’ve had both within and outside of the musical world. The bonus was, not only could I sing well, and believe in my own abilities, but I had a friend, too. She cared about me. She listened when I was tormented, she cried when I was sick, she swallowed her own hurt feelings and understood when I was confused, and she supported me when I made decisions that meant I’d be doing a lot less singing. Her support and love were shockingly unconditional. I knew her for all of my adult life, 24 years (we would have had our “25th anniversary” in September 2006). It’s hard to let her go.

And so, I won’t. Every Tuesday afternoon at around 3:45 PM, my Palm Pilot beeps at me. It’s reminding me that it’s time to shut down my computer, get into my car, and drive to Gloria’s house for my lesson. Although she has been gone for months now, I refuse to delete the calendar entry. And whenever it beeps, I smile. As painful as it is to know that I will never “come sing at her” ever again, it still gives me joy to be reminded of her in this way. When I hear the beep, I get that same feeling I had that first day – the dawning of disbelief, surprise, and delight in discovering that I really AM somebody. I am somebody because Gloria believed and showed me that I could believe, too.

How can words possibly compare to that?