As I read Ian Frazier’s quiet tale about William Appling, I’m reminded Mr. Appling permitted me to sing. I sang for 1 year. I was a first year schoolboy and it was William Appling’s first year on school staff. His expectations were high, which was immediately evident. As Ian beautifully recalls glee club practice was bracing. My singing experience remains with me.
Ian uses the word artifice for one sense of what a life in the arts sometimes feels like. One might fool one’s self for a time using artifice living a life in the arts, but it’d be evident such superficiality wouldn't last. William Appling was not a user. He did not employ crafty expedience or subtle but base deception, i.e. trickery. Artifice does not signify in any of my experience of William Appling. And I know it does not in Ian’s writing, though any writer might desire improvement to one’s choice of words and prose.
The Glee Club practiced, practiced, practiced, as difficult and challenging as any football or wrestling or track experience. Mr. Appling worked us, cajoled us, pushed us, nurtured us, and picked our music and us apart in the Hayden Hall glee club practice room. He was not about to permit squirmy worm-in-the-pants boys fidgeting away practice time. Once he suddenly slammed his piano fallboard shut. Startled the kraaapp out of us! He commanded attention, owned it, and ever after he had mine. And, incredibly, he transformed his squirm-worm boys, especially ignorant ones like me, into his harmonic vision of coherent glee, a jubilant delight.
In that time we’d have Vespers, the Sunday evening prayer, in the Chapel, required attendance, to sit and worship, as we were able, as one. One Vespers choral offering, El Yivneh Hagalil, is etched in my memory. Dressed in black cassocks we processed out of closed stairwells flanking the Chapel’s chancel into twin choir stalls and we prayed and we sang hymns and listened to a narrative order of service as we waited to present out vocal offering. William Appling would rise up from faculty pew, stand before his Glee Club, peer into us, bid us rise, and led us through “El Yivneh Hagalil”.
The Lord will build Galilee,
The blessed will build Galilee.
The Lord will build Galilee, the blessed will build Galilee. We sang in Hebrew, acappella, and without sheet music. He insisted we memorize our music; folders are distractions. This added to the pressure I felt. We sung a psalm that gave me cold chills, by the end, as I recall it, and brought joy and pleasure and satisfaction etched onto William Appling’s face and into his heart, emotions only his Glee Club could see. It was jubilant satisfaction in his face with the power of simple words stirringly performed, which moved me. It was blissful release. The experience was no metaphor, it just was.
We melded in New Harmony, our Galilee of voices a new creation and I was transformed. I was transformed by jubilant delight William Appling wrought within me, from within us, delight I’d never experienced before. I felt love. It was love. It is love. It is Holy Spirit unchanging and everlasting. He transformed faculty, students, and himself into music experience. Bill Appling built his Galilee in evening prayer in the Chapel at Western Reserve Academy and all of us felt it in the stillness that followed that short moment in time.
Recalling now, I feel hot radiant jubilance that love. It frightened me then. I couldn’t believe that love, that, it existed. My sophomore year I stopped singing. I was confused and possessed by other spirits. I don’t recall William Appling pursued me and he may have. But even 49 years later there’re times when I’m overwhelmed as I sing notes and words and feel cascades of revelations within me from music. It’s unnerving.
If it’s anything like “artifice” then, I’m artificial. It was effort and labor William Appling was teaching us, that which exhausts and calls to return, again and again, despite sensible reason to cease, to express transformation and revelation.
I nurture and practice and live by my gifts and talents, one of which was revealed to me by William Appling at Western Reserve Academy in the Chapel. The place I am and William Appling was is where artists who are living their gifts & talents are called to be. It is where those who seek to live a life in the arts must be. There’s nothing artificial about it.