I spent this past weekend in Indiana, at my alma mater, reuniting with several old friends. We sang together at Purdue, back in the day, in a group called the Purduettes. It was the late eighties/early nineties, the time of big hair, puffy shoulder pads, and for me, the first time I spent any time away from home, my parents, and my tiny town nestled in the middle of cornfields and farmhouses.
As a child, just about all I ever wanted was to be able to be a Purduette (or to be famous and rich, but I had to be realistic). I know, to some it might seem silly- the fact that when I was in high school, I picked the college I was to attend because I wanted to be in a singing group. But, in my defense, it wasn’t just any singing group. To me, the girls/women in the group were educated, beautiful, talented, and polished. People would come from miles to see them sing at the Purdue Christmas Show, along with the Purdue Glee Club, the University Choir, the Bell Choir, and the more recently added groups to the Purdue Musical Organizations family.
And it was a family. We met as a group three times per week as a class, receiving no academic credit, rehearsing for concerts on most weekends. Some concerts took place during the week. We wore fancy (looking back now, it’s more like hideous), dresses, copious amounts of makeup, and used hundreds of cans of Aquanet hairspray to keep each strand of hair in place as we danced and sang on stage in front of people I thought were “old” at them time, many of them probably younger than I am now.
My audition for the Purduettes was awful. I know, I know, that’s what everyone says, but really, mine was. I got too nervous, my voice shook as I sang, and perspired so much, I was positive the directors watching me could see me drowning in my own sweat.
I left the audition in tears, walked back to my dorm crying, immediately picked up the telephone in my room, and called my mother. I sobbed in her ear for about ten minutes, then proceeded to contact both my vocal coach and my high school drama teacher, telling them how sorry I was that I blew the audition. I’d worked for years, starting in the fifth grade, taking lessons in order to get my voice to the place that was good enough to make it into the Purduettes. And at the time it mattered the most, I ‘d completely tanked. I was shattered.
The next day, I knew the list of newly inducted Purduettes would be hanging on the door at the Elliott Hall of Music. I debated as to whether or not I should even go look. I knew I wouldn’t make it. But, I thought to myself, “I need to get myself together. If I didn’t make the Purduettes, maybe I made one of the other groups.” I crossed my fingers and walked to the Hall of Music
I checked the list. I looked at every other group and didn’t see my name.
“My God. I didn’t make it into anything,” my head was spinning, and tears formed in my already red, burning eyes.
I glanced at the Purduettes list. I figured I might as well see the names of the girls who would be enjoying the next four years in the group of MY dreams. And there it was, at the top of the list, my name. I blinked. I checked again. It was my name. I’d made it.
I don’t know what happened. I don’t know if my vocal coach secretly knew someone at PMO and called them after my audition and begged them to take me. Maybe my high school drama teacher had gone to college with one of the directors and they made a deal? Or maybe my dad (who was a cop), had called the head director of PMO and told him he’d arrest him if I didn’t get into the group? I’m not kidding, these were the thoughts that went through my mind when I saw my name on that list.
The euphoria I felt that day cannot be explained. I was so ready to get started, to begin to practice and perform, I don’t think I slept in the nights leading up to our first rehearsal. And at that first rehearsal, I met Brian Breed and Jae Kellogg, our directors, and two people who would help to change my life in some of the best ways possible.
And on that day, I met a large group of girls who would forever become my friends and my family.
This past weekend, we were brought together again. The Purduettes have been in existence for seventy-five years. Hundreds of past and present Purduettes gathered together this weekend to reconnect, rehearse together again, perform in a concert, and pay tribute to one of our favorite and best directors, Jae Kellogg. It was truly the best experience I’ve had in a very long time. As Jae put it this weekend, “These were some of my very best days ever, and I’ve had a lot of good days.”
Being a member of PMO helped me adjust to college life, gave me the confidence I needed to succeed, and provided me with friends for life. Our first director, Brian, welcomed me right away, and for some reason I’ll never know, thought I’d be a great person to babysit for his children. At the time, he and his wife, Daren, had four kids (they added two more after I graduated). When Brian asked me to stay after rehearsal one day, I figured he was going to tell me to maybe just “mouth” the words in some of the more difficult songs instead of actually singing them. But no, he asked if I’d be interested in babysitting for his kids. I was delighted and humbled. Of course I said I’d love to do it.
The kids were smart, fun, creative, and adorable. I loved them immediately, just as I loved Brian’s wife, Daren. These people were the real thing. They were happy and healthy. Brian and Daren held hands and still kissed in front of their kids. They sat and told me stories of how them met (singing in the Fred Waring Choir), and how they had to keep their dating a secret from their director because they’d be kicked out of the group if he’d found out.
After a night of babysitting, Daren would sometimes make us tea and we’d sit and talk about life, how I was doing at Purdue, if I was okay and adjusting well. They took me in as a part of their family. They were kind and loving, and I felt so honored that they trusted me with their children. I was lucky. I’m not sure I knew how lucky back then, but I certainly realize it now.
Brian took over as the head director of the entire Purdue Musical Organizations shortly after my freshman year. Jae took over as our director, and I loved her, too. We all did. She was bright, super-talented, vibrant, funny, and had more energy than half of the twenty-year olds I knew. She was a single mom, and sometimes her little children- a boy and a girl, would board the Purduette bus with all of us and go with us to concerts. They were like our little Purduette mascots.
There’s something about sharing a stage with others who love doing the same things you love to do. There’s a certain bond you share when you are part of group practicing together and working toward the same goals. None of us were music majors, as Purdue didn’t, and still does not, have a School of Music. All of this was an extra-added bonus that we chose to do because we loved music, we loved performing, and as time went on, we loved each other.
I’ve shared the stage with girls who have now grown up to be federal prosecutors, homemakers, engineers, professors, pilots, flight attendants, politicians, teachers, doctors, and more. Not only were they talented performers, they were smart, beautiful, creative and loyal. To this day, I truly believe that if I needed something, and I called on one of my former Purduette friends, she would be there to help me without any hesitation.
After college, we all go our separate ways. We start our careers, we get married, we have children. We tend to lose touch because life gets in the way. But this past weekend, we all came together again, and it was as if we’d lost no time. We may have all (well, not all, but definitely me), gained a few more pounds, inherited a few more wrinkles, forgotten most of the words to our old songs, but when we saw each other again, the pounds were ignored, the wrinkles didn’t matter, and the words came back to us as we walked on stage and sang again together once more.
We rehearsed together on Saturday morning for the concert that was to be Saturday night, and as soon as I opened my mouth to sing the first song, tears sprang forth in my eyes. It felt so good to be home. It felt so right to be standing on stage again, doing something I had always loved, and sharing it with the men and women who had helped me become the person I am today.
I’m not good at going back. I have a hard time seeing people who’ve meant so much to me and then having to say “goodbye.” I know I’m weird. I hope they don’t think I don’t care. It’s so much the opposite. Sometimes I just care too much.
But this weekend, this wonderful, happy, joyful weekend was perfect. My friends met my husband for the first time. They embraced him with their giant hugs and handshakes, and they told him stories about me that he’d never heard. The moment the first Purduette hugged him this weekend, I knew he was now also a part of the PMO family. He has no idea yet how lucky he is, but he’s about to find out.
To my friends, my Sisters in Song, to Brian, Daren, Jae, and their children, to all the people at PMO who have touched my life in a way that no one else can understand, thank you for teaching me the meaning of friendship and love, loyalty and grace. Thank you for accepting me into your world on that first day when I walked into the Hall of Music, so nervous and afraid, and showing me that for some reason, you saw something in me that made you think I could add value and belong to this amazing, vibrant, spectacular, exciting, extraordinary, and brilliant place of love, family, song, and sisterhood.
Thank God for that time of my life. Thank God for the people who accepted me, and still accept me, just the way I am. The memories I have are so treasured. This past weekend we all spent together has meant so much to me, and I know now that we never truly ever said goodbye.