Music has always been a part of me and a part of my life in a large way. Somehow, the people who I become good friends with always seem to be people who share this passion for music. It is as if we are drawn to each other somehow. I like to imagine that perhaps there are two dimensions which co-exist in this world - the dimension where we all live and interact with each other as well as a higher dimension where people are uplifted, inspired, moved and influenced by music.
When I was a junior in high school I was a member of a choir called Aristocracy. The teacher, Mrs. Jensen, decided that for the last half of the year we would have 'secret pals' in this choir. The plan was for each of us to secretly leave small notes and gifts in a large box labeled "Secret Pals" for the person whose name we drew.
I was excited about this plan. I hoped and maybe even silently prayed that I would draw the name of my friend Debi because I knew everything about her and could imagine all sorts of perfect little surprises that I could gift her. But really, everyone in this choir got along well - perhaps because we co-existed on that higher, music-infused dimension, so I wasn't too worried about whose name I would choose.
I pulled a slip of folded paper from the bowl on top of the piano and went to a corner of the room where I could peek at the name of my secret pal. It was Richard Yu.
Richard was probably the most quiet and shy of all the members of Aristocracy - pretty much my loud, attention-seeking opposite. He mostly kept to himself so I didn't know much about him. Initially I will admit that I was a little disappointed to have chosen his name, but that quickly changed.
At first I did not know much about Richard aside from the fact that he liked to sing, so I would leave him things like candy bars and gum - you know, the sort of things that it was safe to assume most teenagers could appreciate. Eventually, as I watched him and got to know him better, my gifts became more personalized. He became someone I considered to be a close friend even though he did not really know much about me or who I was. I saw that there was more to him than was perceived in a glance.
One thing I loved to do for my friends was to share music. I would sit next to my pale pink radio with a blank tape in the cassette deck and press the record button when one of my favorite songs would play. Once the tape was filled with good music I would make a copy for myself in our dual-cassette deck stereo and gift the original to a friend. After one especially good weeks' worth of recording I decided to gift my tape to Richard.
I was so excited. This tape was definitely one of my best - it contained songs from Depeche Mode, REM, The Smiths, The Cure, U2, Pet Shop Boys and UB40. I wrote a note to him, explaining that these were some of my favorite songs, along with a 3x5 card which listed each song and artist. I watched the next day as Richard checked the secret pal box and picked up the gift I had left him. I wondered what he was going to think.
A week later I found something unusual in the choir room - a gift labeled "For Richard Yu's secret pal". I waited until everyone had left the choir room at the end of class and then retrieved my gift and quietly slipped it into my backpack. During lunch I opened the note taped to the top of the cassette-shaped package. It read,
Thank you for sharing your music with me. I want to share my music with you also. -Richard
The tape had a label which read: Beethoven. I wasn't sure what to think. This was definitely not my typical genre of music. In fact, I could not remember ever listening to any classical music before. I placed the cassette and note back into my bag and forgot about them until a few days later when another note waited for me:
Did you like the music I left for you? I would like to hear more of your music. Thank you, Richard
When I got home that day I listened to the music of Beethoven for the first time. And I cried. There was something so beautiful in the way that the music flowed and swelled. There was such passion and emotion in this music that I had never taken the time to listen to! It helped me to understand Richard on a different level, somehow. I made a copy of another one of my tapes, this one with more of a variety of music from artists like Cowboy Junkies, Michael Jackson, Violent Femmes, They Might Be Giants, Journey, The Church and Def Leppard. I wrote a note thanking him for sharing the classical music of Beethoven with me and told him that it brought tears to my eyes.
This became our method of communication over the remainder of the school year. He shared his music with me - pieces by Bach, Vivaldi, Mozart, Pachelbel and Handel - and I shared my music with him, everything from Anything Box to Morrissey to Oingo Boingo.
It was difficult to see him in the halls and not talk about the music he gave me. I wanted to yell out, "Richard! Vivaldi's Four Seasons is my new favorite! Thank you!" But I couldn't reveal who I was until the end of the year. I often wonder if he knew anyway because of the way I tried to include him more in what was going on with the choir.
When our choir sang at Disneyland that spring and were free to explore the park for the rest of the day following our performance we split into smaller groups. I noticed Richard was standing alone at the outskirts of the groups and pointed him out to my friend Debi. "Let's have him join our group," I said. "Hey Richard!" Debi called to him. "Come with us!" He smiled shyly and joined us as we walked toward our first destination, Space Mountain. We each took turns choosing which ride was next and when it was Richard's turn he said, "I don't know. I have never been here before." We were all incredulous. Growing up in southern California, Disneyland was a regular destination for most teenagers. We all pitched in and got him some mouse ears with his name embroidered on the back and had the best time enjoying Disneyland through the eyes of a first-timer.
On the bus ride home from our day at Disneyland I asked Richard what his favorite thing was. "The music!" he told me. "There was music everywhere!" I had never really noticed that before, but when I thought about it, he was right.
When the year came to a close and it was time to reveal our secret pals, I gave Richard a tape I had purchased called 'The Best of Disney'. We thanked each other for the music which had been shared. But really, how could I thank Richard for all that he had given me? The true gift was my new ability to see beyond stereotypes - in music and in people.
Richard and I have not stayed in contact over the years, but I think of him anytime I hear a now-familiar classical piece of music or discover a new artist that stirs my soul or when I befriend someone who I might have otherwise shied away from.
Richard, wherever you are, thank you.
P.S. (Added on July 1, 2011)
Look what I found on my friend Kendra's Facebook page! This was the day. Awesome.