Kitty Lamb, the now retired educator who spent years corralling talent at John S. Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School and leading the chorus at the Augusta Opera, never demanded respect. I imagine it would seem, to her, unseemly and contrary to the creative process.
Instead, she commanded respect through focus and compassion, through her own musical talent and her uncanny ability to recognize talent in others, through a dedication to music and an innate understanding that music must be shared at every available opportunity.
Influence, as an abstract concept, is impossible to measure, but were it more quantifiable, more than a few of the faces that graced classes, rehearsals and performances presented by Ms. Lamb would be able to produce a fair measure of her particular brew.
I first met Ms. Lamb, who will celebrate her 80th birthday Sunday, in the summer of 1982, just before Davidson opened. I am fairly certain that she no longer remembers the meeting. I was just another anonymous child auditioning for a spot in the then-untried educational experiment.
But I remember.
I remember being struck with the businesslike way she conducted her audition, tempered by the tenderness needed to guide young students through the intimidating and alien process. I wasn't much of a singer, but that didn't seem to bother Ms. Lamb. She patiently picked out notes on a piano, waiting for me to find a key. She listened without comment (or grimace) as I laid vocal carnage on some song or another.
There certainly was sternness to her demeanor (sternness I would encounter on a regular basis after discovering adolescent attitude), but also a sense of understanding. I wanted to create, and I believe that's what bonded her to her students.
In the end, I was never truly one of Kitty's kids. I avoided vocal music classes and she, in turn, never insisted that I lend my voice to one of her ensembles. Those who did still feel an uncanny connection to their former teacher, as do the musicians that performed for her during her tenure at the Augusta Opera and the musicians that shared a stage with her during her years as a performer.
Still, I owe her a debt of gratitude. It was Kitty Lamb, guiding me through that audition, who first showed me what it meant to be an artist. I might not have understood it at the time, but in retrospect I believe her greatest gift was not the ability to make beautiful music but the ability to demonstrate the grace that comes with living a creative life. I thank her for that; her students, vast in number and dedication, thank her for that; and Augusta, which continues to thrive because of the many artists who still adhere to that ethos, thanks her for that.
Happy birthday, Ms. Lamb.
Here's an unsolicited idea. Late last year, singer-songwriter and former Kinks frontman Ray Davies released an interesting adaptation of his famous band's music. He took several hits, along with a few obscure tunes, and arranged them for a choral ensemble. I believe that project fits in well with the Westobou idea of finding ways to present the fine arts to a broad audience.
I have no idea what it would cost to bring Ray Davies to Augusta, whether he's doing concerts of these choral works or whether the good folk at Westobou World Headquarters are even interested in hearing that hard hook on All Day and All of the Night hit by a hundred voices.
What I know is that those charts exist and that I, for one, would love to hear the vast choral space of Sacred Heart Cultural Center filled with some of the sweetest songs to come out of the British Invasion.
Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or firstname.lastname@example.org.