(Apologies for the incredibly long delay in getting this tribute posted.)
This will be a bit of a difficult post to make. It will also be somewhat of a personal one. Hopefully I’ll be able to get the words out the way I want them to, or the way they should be, or something along those lines. More than a month ago, on a Saturday night, while consulting my Facebook for a moment, I received the news that my high school choir teacher, German Aguilar, suddenly and unexpectedly passed away while on tour in Italy. He was incredibly young and to say this was a shock would be an understatement. Absolutely no one saw this coming.
There are many who know him better than I do, and it’s been years since high school now, so it’s not my intention to make a post quite exactly about his life…there are others who know him better and were closer to him, and that is a task they are much more qualified for than I. However, his influence on my life, especially thinking over it now, these past few days, after seeing tributes to him from other friends, I’ve come to realize is something very special, and I couldn’t go without trying to express that a bit more in detail.
I had the privilege of singing and working with German (also known as Mr. A, a nickname his students always knew him by) for about 3 years, starting with rehearsals for a Regional Honor Choir I had gotten into, before I entered high school, until his departure from Mesa High at the end of my junior year. In those 3 years, there are a lot of memories, a lot both remembered and forgotten through the years, and it’s hard to know where to begin…first off, Mr. A truly helped us be better. His passion for music was incredibly evident. His belief in us was as well. He pushed us, had us sing music we sometimes didn’t think we could sing, and helped many of us individually as well develop our talents and expand our musical horizons. Singing in a choir or working as a soloist with Mr. A wasn’t just any old chance to sing, it was a journey, and an incredibly exciting one at that.
More than anything, I remember vividly his vibrant personality, and it was evident that he cared about each and every one of us. I had the opportunity to work with him one on one from time to time, and it was great to see how much he believed in me and my potential. High school can be a pretty awkward time, and in retrospect, it was a bit, but I was able to grow immensely as a musician thanks to Mr. A’s guidance. I remember he had his heart set on me being a tenor when I first starting singing at Mesa High…and I most certainly didn’t. My first year, in the men’s choir there called Music Men, the second semester he informed me that I would be singing in the Tenor II section…something I dreaded. Then the baritones (my previous section) spoke up and pointed out that the section would be without a piano player for section rehearsals if I went to the tenors. Mr. A reluctantly relented and let me stay with the baritones. At the end of the year, while auditioning for a higher choir, after listening to me sing, Mr. A informed me, once again reluctantly, that he had been mistaken…I wasn’t quite tenor material. I was relieved, and thinking back on that, it was incredibly perceptive of him to notice that in my voice, and also (I believe) take into account my own personal misgivings about switching parts. It was a little thing, but something that really made a difference for me, especially along with other observations he made about my voice later on that helped me understand myself better as a singer.
He had an incredible sense of humor, too. We choir kids had a lot of inside jokes with him, and the choir room was really a fun, positive place to be in general. The atmosphere was never toxic, never too crazy…things weren’t perfect, sure, and like any other typical high school setting, sure, there was drama. But thanks to Mr. A, that drama never got too terribly into our main goal…to sing. One summer while getting ready for the school year, I was in the choir council and we stumbled into an unofficial motto: “We solemnly proclaim to sing and live it up!” That pretty well describes how the choral experience with Mr. A was.
I grew to love choral music because of my time singing with him. I came to appreciate music more in general. I grew as a person as well…I remember once Mr. A urged me to be more assertive, and while it took me a while to get to that point, and I’m still getting to that point, I feel like, that comment stuck with me through the years, and still helps me out today. Simply put, I’m not the same because I got the chance to sing with him. I’m better. I’m happier. I’m stronger. That’s the mark of a truly great teacher, a truly great person…that powerful influence for good that he didn’t just have on me, he had on so many of his students, colleagues, and friends. Like I noted towards the beginning, I didn’t get to know him that well…but I knew him well enough to say, without question, that he won’t be soon forgotten.
One of the many wonderful songs I was privileged to sing with Mr. A, and one of the last ones, was a Sweet Honey in the Rock tune called “Wanting Memories,” that he picked specifically for his last concert at Mesa High. I have the recording on my iPod, and it was one of the first songs I turned to after hearing of Mr. A’s passing. A few of the lines from the song sum up my feelings very well:
I am sitting here wanting memories to teach me
to see the beauty in the world through my own eyes.
I thought that you were gone, but now I know you’re with me.
You are the voice that whispers all I need to hear.
I know a “Please”, a “Thank you”, and a smile will take me far.
I know that I am you and you are me, and we are one.
I know that who I am is numbered in each grain of sand.
I know that I am blessed,
again, and again, and again, and again,
I truly am blessed, again and again and again and again. Thanks to German Aguilar and the difference he made in his own little corner of the world, we all are. Thank you, Mr. A, for the memories, the guidance, and most important of all, the music.