I spent the weekend in Bluefield, the home of Bluefield College, my great alma mater. While I've visited the town now and then, I've managed to avoid Homecoming. It's not because I have anything against the event itself. It's just that, generally, not too many folks from my generation make the trip back. It's nice to see the few folks that still live in Bluefield, but it's nicer to see them when there isn't so much going on.
This time, however, I was drawn back to the school to participate in this year's alumni choir. The big draw for me was the fact that Chris Sheppard was returning to direct the choir. Dr. Sheppard was the director of Bluefield Singers for my first two years, and director of the audition choir, Variations, during my junior and senior years. At the end of that fourth year, he broke the news that he was leaving Bluefield for Wisconsin to begin work on his doctorate.
My first experience with Dr. Sheppard wasn't necessarily a good one. During my sophomore year I decided to join Bluefield Singers. Early in the semester, during a rehearsal, Clint (a fellow tenor) and I were joking around while Dr. Sheppard was trying to conduct. As the choir continued singing (as we should have been), Dr. Sheppard walked around and told us that he intended for everyone to be singing. I felt pretty bad about that for quite some time.
But it was never bad after that. Chris Sheppard was the kind of professor that grew, for many of us, from a teacher to a friend. There are many memories and stories that I could share, but I'll save those for another time. Needless to say, the chance to sing in a choir under his leadership once again was impossible to pass up.
I arrived in town Friday evening in time for our first rehearsal. These alumni choir get togethers are something of a crash course. Current students have little trouble picking up the music, as their current conductors are no doubt having them learn it in advance. But many times, the alumni who return are seeing this music for the first time in many years, maybe for the first time ever.
Thankfully, we were given music selections that we had performed during my time in Variations. It was exciting to see several others from my time. At the same time, it was disappointing to find out that there were those who couldn't make it. But that certainly didn't stop us from having a great time.
Friday night, after everything had calmed down a bit, a group of us went to Macado's. Back in the day, this was a very popular restaurant for hungry students at Bluefield. Part of that reasoning was because it was the only realistic choice, unless one wanted to drive 20 minutes away to eat in Princeton. These days, Bluefield has its own Applebee's and Bob Evans, as well as a plethora of other choices. The Macado's that once was is no more. Things have gone down hill. I could continue to complain about the service at the once great restaurant, but that would make it sound, again, like we didn't have a great time.
Saturday morning led to another rehearsal, which prepared us for that night's performance at the alumni dinner/dance. As a group, we flocked to another traditional restaurant, Bellacino's. While we were there, we were joined by Andy and his family. I rode back to the campus with Andy, where Mark gave us a tour of the new dorm, East River Hall. As impressive as the building is, I gotta say, it kinda looks like a hospital. Mark was disappointed that I wasn't more excited about the new building. I'm glad that Bluefield College is doing well enough to need a new dormitory, but being inside the building just didn't excite me. I think it's because there are no memories for me there, no nostalgia. And it looks like a hospital. Sure would've been nice to have air conditioned rooms back in the day though.
Finally we came to the event that we had been building up to: the alumni dinner/dance. The first song we sang was the school song, and it was somewhat moving to see the older generations stand to their feet and sing along. Overall, I think our performance went pretty well. For me, it wasn't so much about perfecting these songs, it was about singing along with voices that I hadn't sung with in years. I miss those days. Not enough to want to go back and relive them, but it's nice when opportunities like this arise and we're able to reminisce with old friends.