Mary Anne Davis: Thank you, Ken Hardin
December 18, 2018
It was early 1996, and after hearing me say "someday I want to take voice lessons" my husband handed me a phone book.
"Here. You need to do this, so call someone."
My father was turning 70 in a few months, and I wanted to sing a song he'd written when he was 18 at his surprise party. But I had never sung in public before.
I'd heard good things about Ken Hardin, a voice teacher in the area who really knew what he was doing. So I gathered up all my courage and made that first phone call that would end up changing my life.
So I gathered up all my courage and made that first phone call that would end up changing my life.
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For those of you who know me, it may surprise you to know I once lacked confidence and was kind of shy. I have never been more terrified before or since of that first voice lesson with Ken, for I was sure after working with me for a short time, he would hand my check back to me and say he was sorry, but there was nothing he could do for me. But he didn't do that.
Instead, Ken taught me about vowels. "Consonants are simply what we use to move from vowel to vowel" he said. I had no idea, since my only music experience was playing clarinet through school. I got through that first lesson, and scheduled the next.
I'd mentioned my father's song to Ken, but that it was only a melody line. He looked at it, and quickly came up with an arrangement that was perfect! Then he recorded it on cassette tape (yes, this was 23 years ago!) and I used that as accompaniment to sing for my father.
It was not my best performance because we were all crying, but my father was deeply touched.
Ken told me he was going to start teaching a choir class at Sierra College, and encouraged me to sign up. I did, and slowly I gained confidence as it got easier until one day I realized I was reading music!
Occasionally Ken would give me a solo that I would be certain I could never do. He'd tell me I absolutely could, that I was ready. At the time Ken had more confidence in me than I did in myself. He pushed me just enough out of my comfort zone to learn and grow. I wasn't perfect by any stretch, but I did live through those solos, and with each one I began believing in myself just a little more. I was singing in a group I loved, and the peace and beauty and friendships it brought were life-changing.
I kept singing (first soprano) in the Sierra College Choir with Ken Hardin for as long as he was leading us. As a group we got better and better, because we had an amazing teacher and conductor who also has a real talent for programming the most amazing music to create a concert.
Then about 11 years ago, a few of us decided to launch our own choir, the Sierra Master Chorale, and hire Ken as our conductor/director.
The Sierra Master Chorale began and soon became part of InConcert Sierra, which has been amazing! The Sierra Master Chorale and Orchestra concerts are now permanent fixtures on the Third Sunday Concert Series, in May and December. We perform to sold out audiences and are very grateful.
When I first heard Ken had planned to retire at the end of our holiday concerts, I took it very hard.
No, he couldn't possibly do this to me! We have such history together. He brought a level of music and artistry to my life I doubt I would have otherwise had. He taught me to sing – me, who was too terrified to sing in front of another living soul because I wasn't good enough. How could I sing for anyone else?
There must be a way to convince him that he can't retire before I die.
Well, there was no amount of begging and pleading I could do to change his mind. So then I was just sure we could never find anyone good enough to take over this group.
Then Alison Skinner auditioned for the position of our new conductor.
Wait, she knows what she's doing. Oh, and she is very nice and personable, too. Oh wait … maybe this can work after all! At once I felt this relief, this hope that Sierra Master Chorale will have a life after Ken Hardin steps down from conducting (he is still artistic director of InConcert Sierra, so he will still be very much involved).
Yes, Alison has some big shoes (and a sparkly red jacket) to fill. I am confident she will do it well and I am very excited to sing for her going forward.
But I will always have a special place in my heart for my first voice teacher, who by deciding I had potential as a singer, changed my life in so many ways, for good.
Sunday's concert was full of emotion, some tears did flow.
It helps to remember Ken is not only my musical inspiration, but he is my friend, and that friendship certainly isn't over.
Mary Anne Davis is events manager at The Union. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.