I believe that teachers make a powerful impact in our lives. In my family, music teachers have been especially impactful. I asked each of my children what impact their teachers had on them, and their answers were surprisingly similar. They all mentioned how much the teachers cared about them personally, and supported them as a teacher and a friend. I’m sure the same applies to other kinds of teachers, coaches, etc. And it doesn’t even have to be an official teacher – sometimes a friend can be a powerful teacher. My daughter summed it up perfectly: “Good teachers do more than just cheer you on in your music – they cheer you on in life.”
Clearly, this was not the style of Tricia Swanson’s junior-high choir teacher who interrupted Tricia’s singing just to tell her, “You’ll never be a singer!” Fortunately, her mother’s response was perfect: “We’ll show her!” Tricia got to work with lessons and countless hours of practicing. And she proved the teacher wrong. She has had quite a career so far. Among other things, she has sung the lead role in several operas, soloed and performed with the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square for 20 years, was music director for several community theater productions, directed numerous choirs, soloed for various performances and events – big and small, performed in an educational program for Utah schools, and has taught voice lessons for over 30 years.
It was while she was directing a choir that I first met Tricia. This choir practiced for about two months for a one-time performance. I felt out of my element and very under-skilled, having had limited experience. In a scene in the movie Sister Act, a “pretend” nun acting as a choir director in a convent helps draw out a strong, beautiful singing voice from a previously timid, soft-voiced nun. I secretly always hoped that could happen for me. It didn’t. Instead, after weeks of Tricia urging the choir to look pleasant while singing, I still couldn’t get rid of the concerned look on my face. In desperation, during the final run-through, she walked very pointedly toward me with a huge smile on her face until I finally caught on and returned the smile. Just like in the movie, she was able to draw something out of the quiet one – but in this case it was a smile instead of a strong, beautiful voice. And as trivial as that sounds, it had a huge impact on me.
When I asked Tricia where she thinks she has made the biggest impact, it wasn’t any of those musical achievements. Most important in her eyes was being a mom. She credits her own mom for helping her learn that she was unique, loved, and special. When Tricia’s children were young, her voice students knew that her kids were her priority, and that she would take a quick break during the lesson to help them if needed. As a teacher or director, her hope is that each person will come away from the experience having learned something valuable to make them a better singer and musician. Her goal is for everyone to have a good experience singing.
I have seen how Tricia is with her students, actors, and choirs. She is kind and encouraging, pushing them when they need it, but never unkindly. Her faith shines through everything she does. She is always warm and friendly, and I see how people are drawn to her. One of her former students, Ashley Vick, said, “I trained with Tricia for four years, and I learned more than just singing from her. She taught me grace and dignity, not only in my singing, but to express that in my persona every day. She taught me self-confidence, poise, and made me feel SO proud of the things my voice could do. She is everything a music/vocal teacher should be. She’s kind and compassionate, but passionate in pushing her students to do and be the best they can.”
Another student, Teresa Shaver, said, “Tricia has helped me strengthen and stretch my abilities to solo in different vocal styles which will help me prepare for future vocal auditions. She has also been a great influence to me in my personal life. As I struggled for many years in an unstable marriage, she was a supportive friend to encourage and help me through a very difficult time in my life. She believed in me and knew I deserved happiness. As I’ve moved into a new chapter in my life, she has continued to be a great friend to me.”
Tricia has had a powerful impact on my life. As much as I’ve always wanted to sing beautifully, that just wasn’t a talent I was given. While I have learned a lot musically in the years I have known Tricia, I have come to know that it’s not just about the music. Her example and encouragement have also taught me to be a better person, to appreciate my life as it is, to step outside my comfort zone, to use my gifts to help others, to do things that are good for me even if I don’t want to, to look for ways to help those who are struggling, to smile more. In Tricia’s words, her “greatest joy is in giving and helping others discover what music can do for them in their lives.” Having a powerful impact doesn’t necessarily mean impacting large groups of people. Sometimes the most important impact we can have is with just one. And I want to help the one, just like Tricia has helped me. (I’ll just have to find a way to do that other than through singing.)