How to walk with confidence
Unintentional lessons from an unlikely high school vocal teacher
We’re all the star of our own music videos. You know those moments where look longingly out of a rainy window and start singing along to Hillary Duff? Or maybe you’re driving down a coastal highway with the radio turned up and can imagine your band sitting in the backseat playing along. Sometimes, a classy bubble bath turns into a reenactment of that one Rihanna video — real quick.
Personally, I call “action” once I step outside my apartment for a little night walk. AirPods in, sun setting, I hit the pavement performance ready. I can clearly picture the wide angle shot of me walking down the center of the street, arms spread, singing about heartbreak. Or I do a little dance jog around the park in rhythm to some Kanye. In the dark, empty, suburban streets of Menlo Park, I become a star.
But lately, all my cooped up neighbors have been taking to the streets for their own evening walks. Suddenly, there are uninvited background actors on my set. This poses a real problem for me. See, I get embarrassed if someone catches me breaking out in dance at the street corner or rapping a few lines while I speed walk past them. It’s really hard to be the star of your own show if you’re constantly checking for people in the area.
Every night, I go outside ready to roll, but get shy once I encounter a masked jogger. Every night, I get into this fight with myself where I wonder “Why do I care what they think?” and vow to dance like nobody’s watching, but immediately put my arms down once somebody is watching. It’s a constant battle.
I realize, it’s more than just the walks. This is one of those time periods when morale and personal confidence are at an all-time low. Spending all this time alone, in seemingly constant negativity and uncertainty, can make it really hard to feel good about yourself. For me, getting fired really made me question my skills and value. A day without rapid-fire texting with friends makes me feel unloved. Being home for so long makes me realize just how many mirrors I own and just how many things are wrong with my eyebrows. It’s a lot of time to be alone, and sometimes its great, but sometimes you just lose your groove, and it’s hard to dance.
I had this teacher in high school. Mr Q. We didn’t call him that, but both for his privacy and because I would have no idea how to spell in Italian, I’m leaving out his full name. He was this super accomplished, industry renowned conductor who found himself teaching at my private, Jewish high school. He’d show up a few times a week and meet with a group of 12 girls (and one boy!) who either thought they were the next American Idol or who got booted from all the other electives. Together, we were “Period 3: Vocal Ensemble I”.
God bless Mr.Q. He tried so hard. He really wanted us to sound good and for us to love singing. He did that thing where he played keys on the piano and told us what our vocal range was. He let us pick our own songs for vocal exercises. He came up with really cheesy choreography like having us start facing away from the audience and make a 180 when we sang “turn around…” and kicked into “Total Eclipse of the Heart”. He believed in us so much we gave him such hell. I was the “good” kid and even I skipped his class to go film a Harlem shake in the library. Teenagers are the worst.
Casually throughout the semester he’d mention his actual job, which was conducting the San Jose Opera. He’d film their rehearsals to show us during class and offered us free tickets to every one of their shows. We didn’t like to think of his other family of classically trained, attentive, and appreciative students. We were his rag-tag group or misfits that he was supposed to reluctantly whip into shape just in time for the big show. He did, by the way. We wore coordinated outfits and performed a power trio of 80s jams, followed by Hallelujah — always end with a crowd pleaser.
He always seemed out of place at our small school because he embodied this passion and artistic fire that was so uncharacteristic of our faculty. He was also just very sweet and motivational to all his students. Yet, the thing you’d probably notice first about him was how sweaty he was.
It was one of those things that everyone knew, but no one acknowledged. He’d show up to class in a burgundy or olive green polo and by the time the bell rang, he’d be anywhere from smiley face to fully drenched. If he was playing piano we’d get some forehead sweat action too. When I finally went to see one of his shows at the Opera house, I noticed that he changed shirts four times throughout the performance.
But, what’s so incredible to me is that he didn’t seem to care at all. He’d still absolutely kill it on the piano or wave his arms in front of the orchestra like he was born to do it. He’d be dripping sweat but turn around from the band and bow to the audience. What a guy. I remember being my own sweaty mess in high school and being so jealous of him for being able to confidently own this part of himself, and to not let it stop him from doing what he loved.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Mr. Q on my walks over these past few days. I’m sure that there’s a lot I didn’t know about him, or maybe there’s some things that I’m misremembering. But to this day, I am still in awe of his unapologetic confidence. He’s been inspiring me to dance in the church parking lots on the trek home.
Beyond my walks, I’m about to do some things that are really scary for me. Apply for jobs, start a new project, move to a new city, date new people. Even before I’m able to leave my house, I’ll have to put myself in front of other people and say “hey, this is me”. And in looking for inspiration, I realized that maybe this time it won’t be Beyonce or Marie Condo that give me that confidence boost. Maybe, I can look to this unlikely role model who apparently found that secret sauce I’ve been looking for.
Mr. Q confidently walked into class every week and faced a group of judgmental, jaded teenagers (who most certainly made fun of him behind his back) without any apologies. He insisted that we keep on singing even though we were terrible. He conducted award winning shows and always had a stack of shirts to change into. He’d just show up, do what he knows he’s good at, and never apologized.
I can definitely do the same.
As an ending treat, enjoy an actual, live performance of our ensemble. Can you spot me? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nmTzxMJrDwQ.