COLUMN: All conductors may be alike

By Dr. Jinger Gustafson

A-H DIST. 11 Associate Superintendent for middle schools


It was 3:12 a.m. on Dec. 26 and I was on the “Empire Builder” heading back home to Minneapolis. This was the first time I had taken the Amtrak train to see my family in North Dakota. I was a bit nervous, so I just tried to “blend” into the crowd and watch what the more experienced rail riders did and copy them.

The adults were very friendly and curious about each other’s, including mine, destinations. Children, especially the toddlers, were inquisitive and wanted to tell you about their trip. The Amtrak staff was very helpful, patient and kind. Overall, it was a great experience because of the people I met on the journey.

As the Empire Builder was heading through Detroit Lakes, it occurred to me that this experience was very similar to my first choir class experience when I was in the seventh grade.

We were required to take choir in seventh grade and this was the first time I had participated in any type of organized activity that involved singing. I was unable to carry a tune and was far out of my comfort zone. I was petrified about having to carry a tune, not only in front of my teacher and my class, but all the people that were coming to see us for concerts. Plus, I did not need to draw any more unwanted attention to myself. My peers already knew me as the kid who did not have friends and always had a different color lunch ticket; now they would know me as something else because I could not sing. So my plan was blend in, blend in, and blend in. I would sit/stand in the back, pretend to sing and smile. No one would know the difference.

Early on, there were hints that my plan was not going to work; actually, my choir teacher, who was helpful, patient and kind, had a different plan. She would constantly emphasize that we were “in this together.” She said we were a team that would succeed together because of the individual traits we brought to the team. I remember her as being very positive, even when you could tell things were not going the way she wanted or wished they had gone.

Because my peers said very little, I know they heard me sing because I could hear myself – which to some could have been considered distracting to the educational environment. Instead, my peers would laugh at themselves, which helped me laugh at myself. We had fun together – as a team – just like our teacher said we would. Plus, we constantly celebrated the brave souls who stepped out to sing solos. And people, mostly our families and school staff, really seemed to enjoy our team’s performances – the concerts.

Reflecting back to seventh grade choir, in some way I think we all shared a common bond for our time spent together in choir. It seems we knew we were all on this brand new journey together since this was the first time we were required to take this class. It did not matter who you were, but instead it mattered what you brought to the journey; friendliness, curiosity, attention, patience, helpfulness, and kindness.