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When I was little and people asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I only ever had two responses. When I was very small, I said I wanted to be an artist. That ended when I discovered that I really don’t have any drawing talent. And yes, I know there are other kinds of artists. At age 6 that was pretty much a dealbreaker.

As I got older, I said I wanted to teach. The kind of teaching changed every few years. It’s only been in the past six years that I realized I said I wanted to teach for one reason: I’ve never been able to envision myself outside of school. Other kids said they wanted to be doctors, lawyers, athletes, writers, musicians… I simply found it impossible to imagine myself in a situation that didn’t involve education.

There have been times in the past year when I wondered if I went to library school for the same reason, that I just couldn’t imagine myself outside of school but since I don’t want to teach, the library is the logical choice. Maybe that’s true, but it’s also true that I have an aptitude for the work involved in the daily functions of an academic library or archives.

This year one thing has kept me determined to finish the MLIS degree. This project has continually reminded me that I’m good at this, and that I like it. The classes involved in a library degree may not always hold my attention, they may seem to have questionable relevance, or they may be based entirely on theoretical propositions. The practical, hands-on work, though. I’m good at that, and I like it, which is even better.

The project to which I refer started with a promotion on Twitter. Last summer, I emailed in time and won a pair of free tickets to a Chanticleer concert at Mission Santa Clara. I had to arrive early to pick them up from will call, and while waiting for the concert to begin, I was approached by someone who identified herself as Chanticleer’s new development director. In the course of the conversation, I asked jokingly if the group was looking for a librarian.

A few weeks later I got this email:

Greetings,

Our Development Director, [name redacted], mentioned that she met a “student archivist” at our Santa Clara concert who was interested in volunteering with us. Would this happen to be you?
If so I would love to talk with you!

You can imagine how excited I was at the chance to work directly for a choir organization I had worshiped from afar for so long!

I ended up as a designer of the Memory Lane exhibit at the 35th Anniversary Gala for Chanticleer, which took place last night. I wasn’t the sole designer – I’d say Joe, my primary contact at Chanticleer deserves a massive amount of the credit – but my part was not insignificant.

Of course there were frustrating times. I was working on this from a thousand miles away, so I had no access to the materials and anything I sent out went off into the blue yonder. And the project went through several iterations of scope, scale, and layout before we ended up with the final result.

But yesterday, putting everything together and up on the walls at the San Francisco Music Conservatory, I felt nothing but pride in the accomplishment. An idea I’d had in the summer turned out to be the primary focus for the exhibit, and the physical layout of that part was (almost) entirely done by me.

On one wall we posted a world map with dots stuck on all the places Chanticleer has toured, surrounded by magnetic poetry-style statistics (110 men, 3 women, 1 million records sold, etc.), and tour posters from around the world and through the years.

My idea, however, covered three walls. In previous anniversaries, Chanticleer has turned to the music critics and the regular audience members for testimonials. This time, I suggested, ask the singers. Get their stories, their memories, their favorite moments of chaos or perfection. Get their insight into what it means to be part of Chanticleer.

So that’s what we did. We ended up with about a dozen stories that encompassed a wonderful variety of eras and themes, from accidentally setting stage curtains on fire, to tour bus breakdowns, to those shimmering moments of musical perfection that reduce an audience to silent tears. And scattered among the stories I posted photographs at random, not labeled or captioned. I love the power that a simple photograph can have, and adding text to them seemed like it would diminish the effect. It was like a montage, mixing up the years and the groups, mixing the serious photos of performing, teaching, and rehearsing with less formal ones that show the close bonds between these talented men. One of my favorites is a recent photograph, a little blurry, from the last concert of a Christmas season. Clearly punchy with exhaustion and euphoria, a group of men cluster around a scrawny Christmas tree decorated with green room rubbish, like soda cans and M&M wrappers.

The concert portion of the evening ended with the current group inviting all alumni to the stage to join them in what has become a signature piece: Franz Biebl’s “Ave Maria.” It wasn’t anywhere close to the full 110 Chanticleer singers over the years, but the swelled ranks maybe added up to 30 or 40 men.

As they sang, the delicate harmonies made more vibrant and clear by the added voices, I found myself remembering the months of research and work. I remembered lists of names, dates, and voice parts. I thought about the fat binders bulging with carefully labeled concert programs dating back to the late 1970s. I remembered the piles of unidentified, unsorted photographs and those silent, motionless faces captured on film.

It sounds like I’m romanticizing, but I’m really not. I sat there, listening to the music swell with longing and devotion, and in my mind names and images flicked past, almost too fast to see. And I admit that at the end of the piece my eyes were watery and my throat was tight.

A lot of people thanked me effusively for my work and what I helped to create last night, but I felt as though I ought to thank them. Chanticleer helped me hold onto the love of singing since I started high school, and in the past year they also helped me hold onto the reason for my current path.

I wish they had the funding to take on a full-time archivist. I feel like I could do some good there. Whether I ever return or not, though, they gave me a wonderful gift, and I’m sad that it’s over.