In People Stuff

In my part-time job at America West Arena (recently renamed US Airways Center after yet another corporate merger) I’ve had opportunity to observe the myriad of pre-event preparations in the building. Included in the flurry of activity is the rehearsal of the national anthem. The group or individual singing or playing gets one shot to rehearse before they perform it live at game time.

In my years at the arena, I’ve easily heard the national anthem rehearsed over 600 times. Granted, it’s not an easy song to sing. But honestly, more often than not it’s pretty painful on the ears. Call me old-fashioned, (or better, call me patriotic) but I think the song should be sung with respect. Sadly, many of the singers don’t appear to share that view. Instead of seeing it as a three minute opportunity to remind the audience of the magnificent country we live in, they see it as a stage for themselves. A chance to be a Whitney Houston wannabe who tries to see how many notes they can cram in to each line. The result of their vocal gymnastics is a song that doesn’t remotely resemble the national anthem.

In the rehearsals and performances of this song we’ve heard sounds one wouldn’t think humanly possible. One pre-game I was walking in the concourse when the man singing changed keys five times over the course of the song, with three of those key changes happening in the last four measures. If the last note was supposed to be a “C” he wedged his pitch between the “D” and the “E” and then jumped on it like a pro wrestler leaping from the top rope. During this final painful howl I glanced over at a lady working in a concession stand. She threw her hands in the air, looked to heaven and shouted, “Lord Jesus, make it stop!”

Once in awhile, someone gets it right. They approach the opportunity having obviously prepared to do their best. They sing the anthem straight. They sing on key from start to finish. They sing it with respect to the song and to the audience. When that happens, it’s a beautiful moment. And for those of us who’ve endured hundreds of horrible renditions, it’s cool water in a musical desert.

On March 1st, before the Suns squared off against the Milwaukee Bucks, a young lady did our national anthem proud. Lea Cappelli sang it confidently and respectfully. Her expression was stoic as she concentrated on each phrase. As the camera zoomed in on her face you could see her focus on proper breathing when reaching for the high notes. Her voice was clear and strong. Whatever her intent was, her manner communicated that it was about the song and not about her.

It’s normal for the crowd to begin clapping when the singer gets to “and the home of the brave.” Sometimes they clap with hopes of bringing an early end to a painful listening experience. This time the clapping was genuine enthusiasm for a song well sung. Only then did she break into a smile, braces and all. It was a big moment for her. A well-deserved round of applause.

It was Lea’s smiling face in front of 17,000 people that reminded me of the power of encouragement. She will never forget the sound of that applause. Do you think it made her want to keep working hard to develop her voice? To continue practicing for her next opportunity? I do.

Our kind words have the power to bring momentum to people’s dreams. Our encouragement can pull those up who have stumbled and give one another courage to just keep on keepin’ on. It can be as simple as recognizing people for what they do well.

When’s the last time you told someone, “Hey, you’re really good at that”?

The other day I was in the garage defrosting the freezer. Emma was watching me chip away the ice that had built up around the edges. As a five year old, it was the first time she’d ever seen anything like that and it must have impressed her. “Wow! Daddy, you’re really good at that!” I was about to tell her that it was no big deal, but paused long enough to let her words soak in. “You’re really good at that.” It felt really great to hear.

So what if it’s a mundane task? So what if no one else would think this is a big deal? On this day I am the best ice chipper out’er in the world. So instead of blowing her off, I said, “Yes I am. I’m very good at this. And thank you for saying so.” I likely did twenty other jobs that day more important than defrosting the freezer. But the only job I remember is the one my daughter complimented me on.

Today make it a point to pay a sincere compliment to the people in your path. When it comes to kind words, we’re all sponges ready to soak them up. Express your appreciation. Praise a job well done. Acknowledge that which is taken for granted. Give kudos for consistency. The one hearing your words will never forget the sound of your applause.

And if you’re going to compliment someone on their ability to defrost a freezer, you can tell them they’re a really good ice chipper, but you can’t say they are the best.

Because that would be me.

Now go make someone’s day.

“Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” – Proverbs 16:24

Todd A. Thompson – March 7, 2006

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