“Mr. Brookey! I'm trying to understand your gift,” I said. “How do you inspire your students?”
He responded, “How can you not be positive and happy when you are singing?”
Jeff Brookey is a local treasure. He's the choral music director of the concert choir at La Cañada High School. I had a million questions for him as I hoped to intellectualize the alchemy of his work. I wanted to understand why his choir holds its audience breathless after a performance.
His responses were unpretentious; I realized that the success of the choir emanates from a humble nature. Philosopher Edmond Burke says, “Humility is the foundation of all virtue.”
Brookey sang in his church choir; his father was the minister. He followed a path toward a bachelor's degree in music at Chapman College, and a master's in choral conducting at Fresno State.
While in college, he questioned his future, wondering if he was destined to be a teacher. “After introspection and prayer, I realized that true happiness comes from service to others,” he said. He decided to be a teacher and never looked back.
Currently he is completing his doctorate in choral music at USC.
The choir is classically based and focuses on a bel canto (beautiful singing) methodology.
“I'm inspired by the text. When the choir sings, they are telling a story. The best singers are great story tellers; the story makes the music come alive,” he said.
Brookey is a mechanic of the soul. His magic actualizes effort and talent as he prompts his students to produce work they are proud of. “I have my own sound I want to create; you work the sound till it is what you want. It's that musical moment that happens instantly where everything is perfect. Once you find it, you want another,” he said. “There's something unique about a choir. It's not about the self. Instead, it exists for the betterment of all.
His students learn to respect and support one another. “Everyone hears each other sing; this develops a sense of community,” he said. He provides experiences that make his students better people. “It is so important for me to know that when my students walk off the stage, they are feeling good,” he added.
We discussed the difficulties that young people face and the often-unwarranted reputation that they endure. “It's tough being a kid; I try to create a safe place for them,” he said.
I mulled over my 12 pages of notes, trying to understand his gift. Between sips of black tea in the corner of Starbucks, I finally got it.
Brookey's magic evolves from his basic philosophy. It is the creation of beautiful art shrouded by a deep love of humanity. In a perfect world, our philosophy determines our values and our values determine our actions. The end result mirrors the conductor and his performers.
“What they are doing is boundless; spreading love through their music is the highest form of endeavor,” he said of his choir.
That's it! That's why we are held spellbound when the choir performs.
My favorite performance is the Christmas recital. At the end of the evening, choir alumni, home from college, are asked to join the choir in the last song. The alumni rush to the stage, hold hands with the choir and once again they are part of the magic. Watching the spirit of the students and listening to the sound is euphoric. That's Brookey's gift.
I wanted more from our conversation, but he had to leave for class and so did I. I asked for one more thought. He paused; reflected, and said, “We need more beauty and love. This is the world I want to be in.”
JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a professor of education at Glendale Community College and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at email@example.com. Visit his website at www.doctorjoe.us.