Tuesday, October 12, 2010

I Am What I Am.... Not Really.

(Picture courtesy of Fiona Ransom)

So this is how it went.

One spring day, driving through the city with my hubby, window down and a mild breeze brushing my face, I turned on the radio to one of the Oldie stations, and this song hit me:

And I said to hubby: "I want to do that. I want to do musicals with kids."

My hubby has known me for a very long time, and  he did not argue but just said, "Ok."

So the next day I walked over to the school where he is a teacher, and into the superintendent's office, and told her, "Look, there is something I'd like to do for you. I'd like to teach a musical class at your school." And she was more than happy to have me to it. Within a week, I had a paid job. The first in my life, too, at 50 years.

Seriously, folks, that's the whole story.

No I'm kidding, of course it isn't. But that is how I got the job that I'm still doing today, four years later.

I'm not a music teacher, and besides the recorder I don't play an instrument. I'm a singer, well, yes, that I am. After fifteen years with a chamber choir and many, many hours of singing lessons under my belt I felt confident enough to teach others how to sing, and since the kids at that school never had a musical education and can't "read" music anyway I felt it did not matter that I would not be playing the piano to them. Also, there are no kids who can play an instrument other than a cell phone, so no orchestra or band for my singers.

So I said I wanted to teach musical, I got a contract and a work place, an auditorium and a very pleased super who could not wait for our first show. Only.... WHAT SHOW???

There were only girls in my group (ok, two boys, but they wanted to learn about light and sound and not be on stage), and I had NO idea what to do with them.

At this point I must digress and tell you about our school. Most of our students are between 10 and 16 years old, with the odd 18 year old tossed in who needed a few extra rounds, and nearly all of them are from socially unstable or very challenged homes, or migrants with little knowledge of the German language and even less English, or they are in other ways "special". So, no theater experience in any way, and please, Miss, what is a musical?

Oh ok, we'll do Chorus Line. That's nice and easy, and it's not gender specific, we'll just turn the boy roles into girl roles. Easy, no?


Because I'm a good person - basically  - I called GEMA (the German version of ASCAP) and said, "We want to put Chorus Line on stage," and they said, "No." And then relented a bit and informed me that I would have to ask the composer, via the record company.

And at this point, folks, I'm going to let you in on a really, really big secret: if you want something really badly, all you need to do is ask nicely and play dumb. The lawyer lady from the record company promised to do what she could. And nothing happened for eight weeks. In the meanwhile, I had thrown my hopes to the wind and written my own play, but then one day an email arrived that was the actual permit to use the music from Chorus Line. Next thing, a totally hysterical guy from above-mentioned GEMA called me. "What have you done??? How did you do it?" "Uhm, I asked?" He went on to tell me that NOT ONE SCHOOL - NO ONE in Germany had yet ever - EVER, YOU HEAR ME MADAM - had been able to get that permit. And I replied (naive, mind) "Oh well, someone had to be the first."

Not that we ever used it. By then, we had started rehearsing our own, self-written show, and put it on stage, and it was a huge success. I printed that permit out and framed it. I'm the person who may use the Chorus Line music on stage. Legally. In Germany. Me. ONLY me. Well, at least the only one without having to pay a fortune for it. I got it for nearly free, only the regular GEMA fees, which are a pittance for schools.

My super was impressed by our show. And since it was the end of her fiscal year and she had some money left over, she went shopping for us. Just before Christmas, we had our own sound and light equipment. A NICE equipment. And it is only for us.

Now, I have two classes, and from next year, probably a third. We put on three to four shows every school year. The Mayor and city council always attend our shows. We always make it into the newspapers, and the best part is, by now they don't only write about the great work at school, but about my plays, too. Last year, they said my play was "fast, funny and credible". I mean.... good, or what?

You may have guessed by now. I love my job.

And now I'll stop bragging.


  1. Brava! Congratulations on your high kick into a job that you love! Thank you for sharing your inspirational story.

  2. Miriam, your story is awesome! I can't believe you got permission to use the music from Chorus Line, and then didn't even use it! :)

  3. I really love this story Mariam!! Way to go after what you wanted, you're an inspiration. And I love what you're doing for those kids.

    And can I also mention - I LOVE THAT DONNY CLIP! hee hee

  4. Don't stop bragging. Your story is fascinating and inspirational. And the only person in Germany to get permission to do Chorus Line - and then you don't do it. Cool or what!

  5. Brava! How inspiring that you found something you wanted to do and went out and did it! You created your own job, and that's the best kind. I know you are very modest (when you're not bragging) but you should be very proud of your accomplishments!

  6. What a beautiful story! I have a special place in my heart for A Chorus Line. One of my very first solos ever was in the song "What I Did For Love" so that musical resonates very strongly for me.

    I'm sure your kids are just as just as in love with you as we, your friends, are. You are a true visionary. And this peek into your life just goes to show your strong will and kind heart.

  7. I love a strong woman who knows what she wants and makes sure she gets it. I'm proud to steal your cookies.

  8. YAY, YOU! And you should totally do A Chorus Line for next year's show. Just think - you won't have to write it yourself, and everyone will be soooooo jealous! Make sure to invite the guy from GEMA.

  9. Have I told you lately I adore you???

  10. Oh man.... thank you friends! And all this only because Libby likes Donny! :)

  11. wowweee! What an aswesome job you have and how fantastic that you can enjoy every minute whilst so enriching the lives of the young people you work with every day.

    I'm a governor at a couple of special schools locally and they absolutely love the performing arts too. Last year one of the schools put on the musical Joseph - this was no mean feat due to the number of wheelchairs needing to get on and off the stage and one of the leads communicated via a computer! It was AMAZING though and the kids had wonderful fun and did us all proud!

  12. Wow, THAT is really a wonderful, awesome achievement, Pooky. Well done you! I'd have loved to see that!

  13. OMG you are so amazing! I didn't realize your school was so identical to mine except for the age of the students. Soul Sisters totally! Before I found out I would be leaving I found a script to work with and was going to have our students do a performance this year. Once I started the process of the interview I backed down. I hope I sparked the other teachers' imainations so they move forward with the performance. I will be in the front row for sure.

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