Voice lessons with the viper.

25 02 2004

My undergraduate degree is a mouthful: double-major in sociology and social work, minor in English, secondary certification in English and sociology. Though my degree plan left little room for performing arts, music had always been and remained a big part of my life during college. My freshman year I auditioned for and was accepted into a traveling music group. We had a full band with keyboard, guitar, bass, drums, horns, sax, and flute. Six singers. I was the alto.

The leader of the group, an upper-classman music major, suggested all the vocalists sign up for voice lessons offered for credit by the university music department. He wanted us to hone our skills–work on technique, control, etc. So, when I registered for the next semester, I signed up for voice lessons as an elective. I was looking forward to it.

When I received my schedule, the group leader asked me who my teacher would be. I looked at the paper.

“Dr. G,” I said. (Name being withheld to protect the guilty.)

“You’re kidding!” he said, grabbing the paper from my hand. “I can’t believe you got him! He’s one of the top music faculty and usually only teaches voice majors. Non-majors always get grad students.”

“Well, maybe it’s a mistake. We’ll see.”

The paper was right. When I showed up for my first voice lesson, I discovered that Dr. G conducted lessons in his spacious office, which had a piano, a full-length leather sofa, and a door he liked to keep shut. Dr. G looked a little like a middle-aged Art Garfunkel. Tall and lean with the same curly blond fro. He smiled as I came in, invited me to set my books down, and shook my hand. Then he sat at the piano and began asking me about myself.

I told him why I’d signed up, that I really just wanted to improve my technique and harbored no ambitions for becoming an opera singer or anything like that.

“Well, we’ll just have some fun with this then,” he said with a cocky, self-confident grin.

Hmmm. Something about Dr. G’s smile made me wonder if I really wanted to “have some fun” with him. I could think of several good reasons to be uncomfortable. 1. Being alone with him behind a closed door. 2. Rumors I’d heard about his divorce and tendency to hang out with female students. One thought helped. At least he held no power over me in a sense that I needed to impress or please him to earn my degree. I decided I would just stick it out and see what happened.

Apparently I wasn’t the only one who’d heard the rumors. Our band’s drummer, Steve, showed up every day before the end of my lesson to walk me to my next class. I never asked him to. He just did. And he always made sure Dr. G saw him there.

During my second lesson, Dr. G looked at my books I’d brought in. “Is that a Bible?” he asked.

“Yes, it is.”

“Are you taking some kind of religion course?”

“No. I just like to sit outside and read it during the break between my classes.”

His expression clouded. “Hmmm. Well, that’s interesting.” Then, almost as though he’d flipped a switch, the smile returned. “Let’s get started.”

Dr. G and I laughed a lot during our lessons. We laughed at my attempts to hit certain notes. (I am definitely an alto.) We laughed at jokes he made. He was oily and slick. Once he stopped playing the piano in the middle of a song. I waited expectantly for his correction or critique. Dr. G leaned toward me. “You know something,” he said, flashing that serpentine smile he probably practiced in front of a mirror. “You should be an eye model.”

“An eye model?” I asked. “Um, okay.” Then I laughed. “I don’t think I’m gonna be an eye model.”

“Well, you could be. You have beautiful eyes.”

“Thank you.” I looked away from his steady gaze and checked my watch. ” Well, I guess our lesson is about over.”

“Yes. I suppose so. Do you think your friend is waiting for you in the hall?” He winked.

“He always is.”

“Yes.” His eyes were inappropriately playful.

I couldn’t believe how full of himself this man was! Did he expect me to find him attractive? He made me want to puke. I opened the door and Steve came in. He picked up my books off the chair and said, “Ready to go?”

“Yes. I am.” I was more than ready. “Good-bye, Dr. G.”

He winked again. I turned and walked out the door.

Steve and I never discussed why he came every day. And, at the time, I didn’t fully understand what an explosive situation I was in. No one talked about sexual harrassment in those days. People knew that some professors approached female students, but everyone just sort of assumed the students probably wanted them to.

Looking back, I know I was protected. Protected by Steve. And by God. Protected from my own naivete. I don’t want to think about the young women who weren’t.



7 responses

25 02 2004

scary situations

The really scary thing to me is that had you reported it, you would have had nothing but your gut feeling and a “harmless” eye model quote to go on.
This kind of thing has happened to me twice since we have moved. Once I was followed and grabbed (while the boys were with me) by a young man who claimed he thought I was someone else only after I loudly proclaimed to the whole department store staff that I did not know him and that I wished he would stop following me and grabbing me. Had I reported it I am sure of what he would have said….”ummm, I thought she was someone else I knew. That’s all. Sorry.” And I would have looked like a young bedraggled housewife with two kids so starved for attention that I made the encounter to be more than it was. After I got in the van with the kids that day I locked the doors and prayed. Had I not had that “gut feeling” about that guy when he originally started following me who knows what would have happened. I guess I would have been oblivious to it until my entrance in the empty parking lot.
My friend Adriana has this happen to her all the time for two reasons: 1. She is exotic and beautiful and 2. Men assume she is an illiterate Hispanic woman who won’t fully grasp what they are saying to her anyway. She went (in Marshall, mind you) to have her husband’s shoes shined only to have a lecherous older man tell her, “Goddamn, girl, your name must be Rose. Or Spring.” She assumed he was just stupid so she held up the shoes and explained in imperfect English what she had come for. The man then proceeded to tell her that he would gladly deliver the shoes if only she would tell him where she lived. Thankfully, my friend is not illiterate or stupid (she is fluent in more languages than moi… I know- THAT MANY!:)) and she refused.
I have more stories too. Times where I and friends of mine knew we had narrowly escaped something dreadfully evil. Maybe I should write a book about it. Make it into a sexual harrassment “Choose Your Own Adventure” type of thing. Yeah. That will work.

27 02 2004

Okay the whole Art Garfunkel thing makes that story a little extra creepy.

28 02 2004

I would have to say I was not feelin’ groovy.

He really did look like Garfunkel. And he was definitely an extra creepy creep.

6 03 2004

He sounds delightful!

Better looking than Harold Bloom, though.

6 03 2004

Hmm. Better looking?

I didn’t notice. I never got past the scales and the fangs. :o)

10 06 2004

Re: scary situations

I had a guy grab me once… at the highschool. I punched him.

10 06 2004

Re: scary situations

I had a guy grab me once… at the highschool. I punched him.

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