An open love letter to Michael LaMacchia & Crossroads - Haley Mears
I'm not even lying the tiniest bit when I say that Michael LaMacchia and Crossroads changed my life.
See, I always sang- in middle school chorus, in high school vocal ensemble, in a few early classical vocal lessons, in college dorms rooms, in the occasional coffee shop as background for other friends, in the shower, in my house, and in the car- ALWAYS in the car, with the stereo cranked up loud enough to rattle the windows. Sometimes people told me I was pretty good, but I didn't believe them. I spent most of my energy around singing figuring out how to work up the nerve to do it in front of other people, even just in front of one or two other people. Working up the nerve usually involved some, er, medicine, as it were, and a whole lot of self-talk. Then I would sing at a volume just under the noise level in the room, hoping desperately someone was listening, but also being absolutely terrified of being heard. But I wanted so badly to let it fly...
I was that kid who obsessed over music, from a very young age. All kinds of music: I knew I loved my mom's old classic rock records and hated my dad's Dixieland collection; The first time I heard Stevie Ray Vaughn I wanted to fall straight through the floor, but Chopin also made me cry inconsolably and I knew all the words to all the top 40 hits. Every new album I ever bought entered my life in the same way for years- I'd hit up the record store with an endless list in mind and agonize over which albums I would prioritize with my measly dollars. I always had second thoughts, and third, until the moment I came home, put the record on (or later the tape in, or the CD on), sprawled out on the floor or my bed, spread all the liner notes out in front of me, and listened to each track one by one, reading all the lyrics along with the music as it went along, uninterrupted for the entire album. I fell in love every time. Sometimes I'd do it all over again, or at least I'd pick out the tracks I liked best. I never let myself skip songs on the first listen, believing somehow in the sanctity of the entire album as it was created and intended by the musicians. I had other rules, too, like that I had to read every single liner note from start to finish and try to recognize names, studios, lyrics, etc. and find commonalities between other albums. Sometimes I would have multiple liner notes strewn across the bedspread, cross-referencing. My parents tried not to interrupt me because I'd be in a foul mood for the rest of the night if I had to pause the music. I think they understood how cathartic and important that process was. Sometimes when I found a song that I couldn't live without it went on endless repeat for weeks until it finally worked it's way through my system, and then I was on to the next. Mix tapes are a lost art, truly, and one I miss dearly.
All of this is to say I spent years listening to and getting inside music, and other years playing a few various instruments and singing uninspired choral tunes and the odd Italian aria. And even after all that time I had no real idea of how to get the feelings and emotions all that music sparked in me OUT of me, through my fingers, my voice, my words. More to the point, I was terrified to try. After some hazy years of singing in college dorm rooms, my own musical pursuits went dormant almost entirely aside from the requisite car singing.
Enter Crossroads. A singer friend told me about Michael and Crossroads, and encouraged me to try one of the vocal workshops (then held with the wonderful Lynn Asher). The thought of doing it made my heart pound and my palms sweat, literally. So I sat on it for a year. Finally, stressed out from my day job, desperate for a creative outlet, I dug up the Crossroads website. I read other people's testimonials, perused the class and instructor descriptions, watched videos and looked at photos. Everyone looked like they were having so much fun, doing what they really wanted to do. I wanted to do it, too. Damnit, I was terrified but I wanted to do it, too. Heart in my throat I filled out an online application, and got a call from Lynn Asher who was so warm, welcoming, and supportive that I managed to choke out something incoherent about really wanting to sing and she said, "Welcome to the Crossroads vocal class!"
My first class I was an absolute nervous wreck. My voice shook, I was pitchy, I forgot lyrics, I was sweaty and trembling. But when it was over I was hooked. I couldn't wait for the next week, but how the hell was I going to sing in front of a roomful of people when I could barely sing in front of 5? That first class was transformative. I literally broke down crying in class one night trying to explain just how much it meant to me to be singing in front of others, really giving it a shot, and I recall saying something pithy like, "You guys have to understand, I really just want to ROCK!" Amazingly, no one laughed. Instead, everyone pretty much nodded in agreement and I felt entirely at ease in my dreams and insecurities. Lynn was such a great coach- so knowledgeable, kind, tough, and supportive, and so helpful with everything from stage presence and performance (about which I knew nothing at all), to musicality, intonation, vowel shaping, diction, and all kinds of other vocal techniques (about which I knew next to nothing). Everyone in the class was like me, too- closet musicians or vocalists or both, and it started to feel like a little family in there. By the time the performance rolled around, I felt almost, gasp, prepared! And I did it- I sang in front of lots of people, and although I was nervous as hell, I did it, and it felt amazing. People even liked it!
Then I sat down to watch some of the band workshops, which I had never seen before. I was amazed even before the music started by the community of people there, how friendly, inclusive, supportive, and even raucous they were. Even though I was brand new and didn't know anyone there, I felt welcomed, embraced, supported- people I didn't know clapped for me. And then the bands started. All the details of the day are hazy, probably from all the adrenaline, but I have one very, very clear memory of two guys (Tim Baker and Dave Schubring, now friends of mine) up on stage playing dueling guitars, soloing their asses off on "Free Bird." It was seriously face-melting, and I remember looking up at them and thinking, "Oh my god, they're doing what they've always dreamed of doing. I GOTTA DO THAT!!!" So I signed up for a band workshop, stat.
My first band workshop I met our instructor, Rob Fordyce, whom I loved from the jump. He's the greatest, goofiest, most talented, sweetest, biggest-hearted BIG kid ever. He had a gentle way about him that totally put me at ease, (again I was suffering from some serious nerves), and when he led the band into "Heroes" by David Bowie for the first time the sheer joy of it literally just swelled up inside me so fast I started laughing and crying all at once. I couldn't even sing for a few minutes and they all must have thought I was insane, but I absolutely could not believe I was about to do what I had always dreamed of doing, ever since I was a girl- front a rock band. ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME?!! Every week I was giddy in the days leading up to rehearsal, positively floating by the time our class time came around. I was nervous, of course, especially about some of the huge material we tackled (The Who, Zep, Hendrix- who did we think we were?!), but the guys in the band were so awesome, and Rob so crazy supportive, it felt like the rightest thing I'd practically ever done in my life. And the performance- if my first class was transformative, my first band performance blew the doors clean off my mind and what I thought was possible for myself. It went by entirely too fast, but I couldn't get enough. I knew from the first song that I just had to do more, and more, and more, and find ways to do it better, different, but mostly MORE. I don't think I've ever been as high as I was coming off that stage that day, (and that's actually saying quite something.) And when I did leave the stage, sweaty, laughing, bursting with joy, my bandmates, new friends, and complete strangers all came up to me, hugged me, congratulated me, and shared some of their own Crossroads stories with me. I cheered so loud that day for other people I almost lost my voice. I just couldn't stop because I knew how good I felt doing it, how many dreams I was fulfilling by getting up there and doing it, and I could think of nothing better in this entire crazy universe than that for everyone else who's ever wanted to do something similar. THIS was a dream I understood. THIS was a dream I wanted to be a part of.
I know I met Michael LaMacchia that day. The details are hazy, and I'm sure it was brief because he's always so crazy busy on concert days, but I also know that I was kinda intimidated to meet him because I figured he'd be, I don't know, bigger than life somehow to have put this whole thing together to be making so many people happy. Michael is many things, but bigger than life, to me at least, he's not. In fact, I was happily surprised that he was so mellow, and kind, and big-hearted, and sincere, and sweet, and dedicated... and proud, very proud, of each and every person up there on stage. I couldn't help but feel a tremendous sense of gratitude to him for creating this incredible opportunity for me, for all of us up there that day, and everyone in the crowd, too, who were there in support of their friends and loved ones. He seemed to love it all just as much as I did, which I found pretty remarkable given that he'd been doing semester after semester of this for years. Little did I know that was the very beginning of a terrific friendship.
That was about 6 years ago or so. I've lost track of how many Crossroads workshops I've taken. I feel very fortunate to call Michael a good friend. I've had many incredible coaches and instructors. I feel incredibly blessed to call Crossroads and the entire musical family my home. And I absolutely cannot imagine my life without the music I'm now participating in, music which would 100% not have been possible without Crossroads. It's like oxygen- how I ever survived those years without singing I haven't the faintest idea. All I know is that Crossroads, literally, changed my life. Maybe saved it, who knows. What I do know is that one man is responsible for the whole damn thing, and I owe him a whole hell of a lot for everything he's done for me, and for ALL of us in the Crossroads family.
I love you, Mikey. You've got a piece of my heart forever.