August 20th…“AS A MEMBER OF THE BATTLE GROUND HIGH SCHOOL CONCERT CHOIR, AT WHICH VOCAL RANGE DID YOU SING?”
There they stood, seventy-five members strong, our sharp-looking and powerfully voiced Battle Ground High School Concert Choir. There was an elegance from these teenage voices as they were led by one of our most respected teachers on the school campus……The Honorable Mr. Orrell Peru. It was the springtime of my Sophomore (10th Grade) Year. As I viewed that impressive choir’s performance, and because of their First Class sound, I knew I wanted to be a member of that choir so much I could “taste it”!!
It was announced at school that Mr. Peru was going to be holding auditions for the upcoming 1970 – 1971 Concert Choir school year. Could I make the grade? Could I sing good enough to be honored to be a member of, what I considered, an elite group of musicians in voice? I remember standing in front of the mirror at our home and practicing for that audition. Even though that face, in the mirror I saw, was oily-skinned and covered by zits n pimples, I was STILL gonna try for a spot in that choir. For whatever reasons, in my pubescent look at life, I envisioned my voice to be that of a deep-sounding bass singer. You know, those guys who sing all the those “low as you can go” notes in songs with a voice register “in the basement”. Therefore, as I would dream about my approaching audition with Mr. Peru, I would sing to myself with what I thought was a low voice.
The audition day finally arrived and I timidly stepped into the Concert Choir’s lair…….also known as their classroom. Blessed Mr. Peru, he was truly a saint that day as he must’ve squelched many a giggle as he listened this novice voice that stood next to his piano while he had me sing up and down the musical scales.
My mouth was so wide open, as I sang, that a bird could’ve easily dropped a worm into that cavernous orifice. Comically, I tried to make all my singing like that of a rich, mellow bass voice. No such luck. Gracious Mr.Peru, he likely just couldn’t stand my sophomoric sounds any longer, so he stopped me and said, “Elliott, thanks for coming today and I appreciate your efforts. I need to share with you though, that you’ll NEVER be a bass singer, not even a baritone (one step higher than bass). YOU are a tenor, and likely a First Tenor (highest male range). Be proud of your tenor voice and cultivate that vocal range as much as you can. A tenor’s sound should be clear and bright; as if it’s popping out from right there at your teeth.”
Inspiring was Mr. Peru as he introduced me to the music of the very famous tenor named, Mario Lanza. My honored choir master encouraged me to buy some of Lanza’s records to listen to the exquisite role model of his vibrant and powerful tenor voice. I became a big fan of Mario Lanza and collected many of his record albums, over the years, and watched most of his Hollywood films. Since singing bass was to be only in my dreams from now on, I began to emulate the ways of Lanza and other magnificent tenors from the past on up to the present.
I MADE IT INTO THE CHOIR!!!!! Joyously, I invested my Junior and Senior years of High School as a happy tenor member of Mr. Peru’s Concert Choir!!! I was honored to achieve some success at regional singing contests, sang at the local Harvest Days Festival in our town of Battle Ground, Washington and even had a bit part in the school’s adaptation of the musical “Camelot”.
Our best ever, Mr. Peru, even encouraged me to attend Central Washington University to study to become a music teacher. Now THAT really touched my heart, to be thought worthy, in that way, by my very favorite teacher. Sadly though, life took me in a different direction, as far as career, and I never pursued being a choir teacher. Even so, that dear, dear soul named, Orrell Peru, saw to it that the flame of many happy musical memories are still held golden in the heart of this Norwegian Farmer’s Son.