This story takes place around the middle of my senior year of College. I’d entered as a vocal major, but didn’t really know what I wanted to do just yet.
I was working at a burger joint not too far from school. I didn’t love the job, but it was tolerable enough and let me scrape up some extra cash for books, tuition, my car, and the like. Around November of Senior year, my friend Lindsay and I were talking about my general lost-childness.
“Why don’t you try my voice guy?” Lindsay offered, “He works miracles.”
I shrugged. I didn’t really think I needed vocal coaching, but Lindsay was a good friend, and I trusted her instincts. I kind of figured I had nothing to lose, so I took the white-and-blue business card she held out.
“I might give him a try. Thanks.”
At the time, I had very little intention of actually trying the guy, but I decided I didn’t want to hurt Lindsay’s feelings. She’d been the first friend I’d really met at Northwestern, and she helped me out a lot until I was holding school, work, and social life down on my own in our second semester.
Later that night, I was sitting in my dorm room eating leftovers I’d scrounged up from the restaurant and watching Netflix. The card was still in the back of my mind, and I kept thinking about what Lindsay had said, “He works miracles.”
I slid the card into my wallet because I knew I’d have some free time after school tomorrow and might want to give this guy a call. The next day, I called and left a voicemail. Two days later, a call came back while I was walking back to my dorm after Music Ed.
“Jean? This is Cal Sanderson, the vocal coach.”
The man’s voice was enthusiastic, almost more than I’d imagined it. It wasn’t long before I set up an appointment with him for Thursday at 3 PM. He informed me that this was just a preliminary evaluation to see what I could do, and that there was no obligation to keep working with him unless I wanted to.
The studio was small, but quaint. It clearly wasn’t the headquarters of some massive multi-million dollar record label, which put me at ease for some reason. I walked in and found Cal inside the recording booth, doodling some nonsensical “words” and phrases on the mic.
He stopped almost as soon as I walked in.
“Can I help you?”
I was beginning to wonder if maybe I’d regret having driven there. The studio wasn’t far outside of Northwestern’s campus, but I still felt like I’d broken some invisible barrier that held Northwestern away from the rest of the world.
“H-hi, I’m Jean Smith…your appointment for today at 3?”
He smiled and nodded, then motioned for me to follow him. He led me to the recording booth, and then helped guide me as I toyed around with the sound controls.
“I know you’re not here to become a Sound Engineer, but it’s good for you to have some perspective from both sides.”
I smiled. Hearing the sounds from each button or knob didn’t just feel good; it was really intriguing. To know that every action of mine had a direct effect felt empowering, something I’d never really encountered before in music.
He showed me some other gizmos and gadgets before I actually got into the studio. Then, he evaluated my voice, asking me to sing at different pitches and ranges. I smiled. I felt truly at ease with my voice and my music for the first time in a long time.
The next fall, I took the test to enter the School of Musical Composition, and got in on my third try. Lindsay and I lost touch after that semester.
I heard through some mutual friends that she’d married a big-time music producer, and they’d settled out west in California somewhere. I wished we’d stayed in touch, but never forgot what she had done for me.
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