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SuBo and Sanctuaries

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You probably already know who SuBo is. In case you don’t, that nickname refers to Susan Boyle, the 49-year-old Scottish singer who lived in relative obscurity until last year, when she auditioned for and won the opportunity to perform live on the British reality TV show, “Britain’s Got Talent.” Initially mocked for her “plain” appearance and lofty aspirations, Boyle proceeded to flabbergast the audience with a dazzling rendition of “I Dream a Dream,” from the musical Les Miserables. That performance has gone on to become one of the all-time most-watched videos on YouTube, amassing more than 50 million hits. Her debut album, despite being released in late November of last year, sold 8.3 million copies in just five weeks and was, according to Billboard, the top selling CD of 2009.

It’s not like Susan Boyle simply got lucky, though. Boyle has taken voice lessons and been a regular in her church choir since she was a girl. She knew she could sing and she was ready to seize that moment, once it arrived. In fact, the only reason she didn’t become famous sooner was that, as she said on that fateful TV appearance, she had never been allowed the opportunity.

There are a number of obvious lessons that one could take from the Susan Boyle story. For example, one could say that people shouldn’t be written off because of their appearance or that it’s never too late to achieve one’s dreams. But one of the most astounding elements is the courage with which Boyle, who bears little resemblance to most of today’s emerging singing stars in terms of either appearance or age, risked ridicule and defeat, daring to stand out on that stage and perform as she knew she could. Where does such confidence come from?

In the interview for the cover story of this issue, Ryan Beeken, choral director at Waukee High School in Waukee, Iowa, describes the music room at the high school he attended growing up as a “sanctuary.” It was a place where he was welcome, where he could make friends, where he felt comfortable. Now that Beeken is running his own successful choral program, he, in turn, has made a point of creating a similar environment for his students. Perhaps instilling that sense of belonging and pride, that idea of being a part of a musical family, will imbue his students with a confidence that will allow them to stand up to life’s challenges, whatever those might be…

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