I understand neither Einstein nor notions of a magical universe where every coincidence is none. But an amazing thing happened the other night.
I decided to return to the local Choral Society for winter term. When I arrived on the first night of rehearsal I found that a woman I’d done community theater with two years earlier was present as well. It was a fun re-connect.
On the same night I found that a student I’d worked with in Rock Camp last summer was also there with her mother. Also a fun re-connect, but with the added pleasure of seeing the rare high school student singing in a group who’s average age is somewhere around my own.
When I arrived on the second night I said hello to the community theater acquaintance again, but did not see the high school student, nor her mother. (Everyone is allowed three absences before being dismissed for that term’s concert.)
The two-hour rehearsal concluded, everyone was packing up and heading out. I was helping to stack chairs. A woman called my name. “Mike.” It wasn’t one of those explosive shouts you sometimes hear unexpectedly (which is why there is no exclamation point), but also wasn’t exactly a question (which is why there is no question mark). It was somewhere in between: on the line between “I know that name,” and “I’m not sure what I’m seeing right now.”
I turned around and didn’t recognize the woman standing there. Then she said her name: Ellie MacDonald. Right away it sounded like it should ring a bell. But it took several more seconds of standing there staring at her like a man in a fugue state before I realized I was looking at someone I hadn’t seen in over 40 years.
Ellie MacDonald (I’ve changed her name to protect her innocence) and I were both members of the elite vocal jazz group at our high school from 1977-1980. It was an audition-only choir. I had wanted to be a part of it since middle school, when the choir, known as “Shivesen,” had given a concert there.
I had auditioned as a freshman, but hadn’t made the cut. In the fall of 1977 I auditioned again and was selected. So was Ellie.
The next three years gave me some of the brightest memories of my early musical career. The choral director and I became close during that time, and he was a mentor for me as a developing pianist and writer. Friends and I collaborated on helping to arrange “charts” (songs) for the group to experiment with. One of these charts, an arrangement of an old jazz number called “Cloudburst,” had captured our imagination and the director agreed to help us arrange it for the group’s repertoire in the spring of 1980 for annual festival and competition.
At competition, I was allowed to play piano in the rhythm section. Mendoza sang the solo. When everything was tallied, we were announced the winners of the festival. That moment is still one of the greatest of my life. I can still see Jeff, Pat, Susie, Rick, Sherie, Kelly, Greg, Ellie, and the rest as we floated into the air and laughed and cried all the way home.
It was our last festival together. When we graduated, we moved on, as kids do.
As we stood there the other night, beholding one another (literally beholding), 40 years disappeared in a flash. I was actually stunned, particularly as I had long ago lost touch with anyone from high school. I finally threw my arms open and we held each other as if we were long-lost friends. Which, I guess we were. She actually wept (probably over the shock of me not having any hair on my head).
I said, “But how did you recognize me?”
She said, “I didn’t.” She reached out and tugged at my name tag.
What are the chances that two high school choir mates, having bonded over a unique and exceptional experience 40 years ago, would find each other at a choir rehearsal 40 years later? I can’t imagine this kind of thing happens very often.
Now we will see each other every week. And we’ll sing.