When I was 17 and a new college freshman, I moved into the dorms of the college I had selected to attend, which was located nearly 2,000 miles from my home. I was excited, nervous, anxious, feeling pretty lost, and unsure. Fortunately, I knew my roommate; she was from my home church back in California and we’d been friends since sixth grade.
The sole purpose for me to attend this specific college, in an unlikely place, Missouri, USA is that I wanted to be a vocalist in the school’s premier vocal ensemble. I sang in a couple different musical groups in high school and thought that I would like to pursue music as a career.
A week before classes began, the music department arranged to have all music students who wished to audition come in for the first try-out. There were four female singers in this group and dozens of young ladies were there to nab one of the four spots.
I was quite nervous, but I showed up and did my best. We had to wait until the following day to see if our names were on the list for call-backs. I can remember those 24 hours seeming like a week of waiting. At the designated time, nearly 75 girls showed up to see if they had made it to the next round. I have no idea how many names were on that list or how many made it to the next round, but I can tell you for sure that when I saw Diane Carter listed, I nearly passed out from relief and excitement.
I had one hour to prepare my next song for the second audition. Again, I was prepared and gave it my all. This went on for a couple of days. I ended up being called back seven times. Yes, seven call backs – it was crazy. And I was a basket case by the end of the week.
In the seventh audition, we did more than just sing. The audition was in front of a panel of six music professors. They each had an opportunity to ask questions. It was a rigorous process, but I could tell from the looks on their faces that I had nailed it. Honestly, I had not considered the fact that I might not make it. It was not an arrogance or pride issue; I just believed that if I did my best I would make the group.
In this final audition, we were down to three finalists: me, another incoming freshman, and a girl who, as a senior, had auditioned three years in a row without making it. As they sang, I could hear their songs from my seat, outside the door, in the hallway. The other two really did a great job.
While the senior was in her audition, I learned from the other freshman who was trying out that there were not actually four spots open. Three of the singers from the previous year were returning and were automatically cast in their same spots. I had no idea. There were 75 girls trying out for 1 opening. Only one! I was really trying to get my mind around this. We were down to the last three and two of us were going back to the dorm really disappointed that day. Now, I was worried. In addition, the senior who was in the music room, at this very moment, singing her heart out, was best friends with the three girls who were already in the group.
Oh my gosh, I had no chance of making it and it took all week for me to figure it out! I felt panicked. Why was there even an audition? There was no chance that the senior wouldn’t get the spot. I was trying really hard to look on the positive side of things. I had made it to the final round and was 1 of 3 who could get the job. That should be an honor in itself. But it wasn’t.
So, we waited while they deliberated. Then they brought all of us back in and announced that the senior had earned the open spot. I was flooded with an overwhelming feeling of disappointment. I had come to this college specifically to be in this music ensemble. Now, I was 2,000 miles from home wasting my time and my dad’s money. I felt like quitting college before the semester had even begun.
I went back to the dorm and called my family. I gave them the bad news and, of course, they were encouraging and supportive, but I felt like I had no hope or vision for the future – at least for the next four years. I remember just laying on my bed in the dorm room and crying. I had dreamt of making that group for years.
The next day was Friday and I got up, dressed, and ventured out for the day. I had no idea what to do, since all my time for the past week had been taken up with rehearsing and auditioning. I thought about going into town and applying for a job. Before I left campus, I checked my mail and there was a handwritten note in my mailbox.
As I read the letter, I realized that it was from two of the music professors. This husband and wife duo both worked for the college in the music division and had for a few decades. I knew their names and had recognized who they were in the auditions, but had not met them one on one yet. My mom had been a student of theirs thirty years before at a different college on the west coast. They asked if I could stop by their office that day to meet. I figured it couldn’t hurt, so I made the trek across campus to the Fine Arts Building.
I checked in with the secretary at the front desk and they were both in. She called back to see if they were available and lucky for me, they were. After the initial pleasantries, the husband communicated that he felt that I had done an outstanding job in the audition process and was really impressed. As he spoke, his wife nodded her head in agreement. It was such a nice gesture on their part. My discouragement started to lift a bit. She went on to say that on the following day, the school hosted a Back-To-School Picnic for all the new and returning students. She communicated that faculty, staff and their families in addition to all students would be there. I knew about it, since it was in our student handbooks and I had planned to attend. She asks me if I would be willing to sing a song during the program. I did not know for sure if they were just being kind or what, but I thought, “What the heck,” – sure I’ll sing. So, I did. I covered an Amy Grant song called, “Too Late” off of her “The Collection” album. I just sang to a background track.
It went fine. Nothing spectacular, but at least I had two new friends in the music department. However, what happened next came as quite a surprise. As I was making my way back, to my seat, on the lawn, at the picnic, with my roommate and a few new friends, three guys intercepted my route. They introduced themselves to me as new undergrads; all three were transfer students. Their names were D.J., Mark, and Billy. They were 3 of 4 guys who were putting together a Christian band and were in need of a female vocalist. D.J. did most of the talking and initially, I was not all that interested, since I was still reeling from my disappointing news the day before. But I listened and asked questions and soon enough I agreed to come to their next rehearsal. As it worked out D.J. was on the keyboard, Mark on drums and Billy on guitar. There was another guy named Robert who I met at my first practice; he played bass.
We rehearsed and I had fun. They had all been in bands before and it was obvious that they were very talented. So, we let the music department secretary know that we were available to travel around and provide music on Sundays at local churches. She had us booked nearly every Sunday for September and October.
After a few months, I checked in with the music secretary during the week and she told me that we were the most requested music group that semester. For 5 new students who just kind of randomly came together, I thought that was pretty cool. Our band’s name was Sons in God (SING) even though I was a girl.
While I was meeting with the music secretary, she said that they had received a last minute cancellation for Convocation (chapel) for the following day. She was in need of a group or person to sing at 10:00 a.m. She wanted to know if by chance SING could play that next morning. I said that I was pretty sure we would all be there since attendance was mandatory. She wrote our name in on the calendar and I left to find the guys. It was totally fine with all of them and we agreed to play.
The next morning, I was a bit nervous to sing in chapel. I was not really sure why. Just a few months before, I sang all by myself in front of almost the exact same group. And we had decided to sing “Too Late” again, so it should be a slam dunk. But I was on edge.
When we were announced as the special music, we moved to the stage, took our places, and began. We did pretty well; Billy said we rocked it. For the early 80’s that song was as close as you got to rock in the Christian genre of music. We finished and started walking off stage to a pretty loud level of applause.
The moderator that day for chapel was an elderly Bible professor. He walked up to the microphone when we finished and said, “I cannot believe that you students are applauding for that, especially after you boycotted an Alice Cooper concert just last night. You should be ashamed of yourselves.” By this point, we were back stage but we could hear him still. He was comparing us to Alice Cooper and insinuating that we were devil worshippers as well, I suppose. I was shocked. I literally stopped in my tracks backstage. We were supposed to go back into the chapel and take our seats and listen to the guest speaker. But I was embarrassed and humiliated. I had no idea how the student body would react when we walked in. The guys in the band totally didn’t care about what the old guy has said – they even thought it was pretty funny.
After a minute, I pulled myself together; we walked out and sat down in our seats. There wasn’t much commotion and for that I was grateful. A few students nearby leaned forward, tapped us on the shoulder and said that we did a great job. That was encouraging, but still I was so anxious that I stopped listening and had no idea about what the guest speaker had preached.
Immediately after chapel was over, I made my way to the music faculty offices to find the secretary. I was so upset and as I walked toward her at her desk, she started apologizing over and over. She felt so bad. I asked what had happened. I felt like we had been blindsided. Why would the Bible professor compare us to Alice Cooper and be so unhappy with our band’s performance?
The music secretary took the blame, but still I didn’t understand. She explained that they have very strict rules about playing music in chapel. She had not given me the guidelines list or informed me of any of the rules because it was such a last minute deal. She said that she assumed we would know. I told her we were all new students; so of course, none of us had a clue.
Apparently, when you play in chapel, all the men have to be in suits and the women in dresses. The band guys were jeans, polo shirts and tennis shoes and were far from being dressed up. More importantly, no electric guitars or amps were allowed. As well, volume was an issue. And the list went on and on. There was even discussion of kicking us out of school over this. Over an Amy Grant tune! It was insane. Our band was totally caught up in controversy that was completely not our fault.
The next day, the two music professors who had befriended me at the beginning of the semester called me into their office. They both apologized profusely. They explained that the music department did not think we had done anything wrong and they had demanded that the Bible professor give us a public apology and in writing (which he eventually did). They also assured me that we would not be dismissed as students.
I was so relieved. As you can imagine, however, SING never agreed to play in chapel for the remainder of the semester. We did continue to play every weekend all around the state of Missouri and that was just fine with us. Moreover, none of us returned for the second semester as students.
I left college and married the guitar player.
Nearly fifteen years later, I was the Director of Admissions at a sister college to the one where I had initially attended. I had been asked by my college to attend a national conference for the denomination to which we belong. I agreed to go – an all-expenses paid working trip – sure why not? The conference was held in St. Louis, Missouri. My hotel was right next door to the famous Arch.
I got to the conference center and set up my booth. After things had settled down and we were organized, I decided to walk around before the conference started, and see all the other displays that were going up. I thought it was a great way to get good ideas for the following year.
Up ahead on my left is the booth and display for that first college that I attended when I was a teenager. They had a young college student, wearing a suit, greeting folks as they walked by. He was outgoing and friendly, so I stopped to ask him about school, his major, where he’s from, etc. You know the typical questions you ask a college kid. He shared a bit about his life – he is a senior and wants to be a pastor. We have a nice conversation. He asked why I was attending the conference and I explain that I am with one of the other colleges. He nods in understanding.
At the very last second before walking away, I added, “But I attended your school for one semester a very long time ago.” I honestly have no idea why I would disclose that, but I blurted it out before I could take it back. He said, “Really? That’s cool.” I nodded my head and smiled. I continued and said that it had been so long ago. I added that I remembered that there had been a little bit of controversy my freshman year, when one of the guest speakers for chapel said a bad word in his message. The Faculty was so upset that he was banned for life from ever speaking at that college again. I asked if he had ever heard that story. He said he had.
Then the young man added, “That’s interesting, because there was another controversial event that same year.” He explained that the rules for music in chapel had changed the next semester after a scandalous incident had happened in Convocation. I asked what he meant. What had happened? He started to tell me the story of a band that played a rock song in chapel that had turned the campus upside down. It had happened the day after an Alice Cooper concert.
I stood there in total and complete shock as he recalled the incident with many, pretty close details. When he finished, after I regained my composure, I asked how he knew all of that. He shrugged and guessed that every year that story got passed down from class to class. It had become a tribal tale, an urban legend, of sorts, at that college. I could not believe what I had just heard from him.
I paused, took a deep breath and smiled. I told him that I was in shock that anyone remembered that day or that event. I explained that I was that girl singer in that rebellious Christian rock band who had defiantly played an Amy Grant song. He started to laugh – he said that he couldn’t believe that he was meeting a member of that famous band. He told me that he was going to go back to school and tell all his friends that he had met me.
The entire experience was incredibly unreal. As I started to walk away, I turned back, and said, “Oh by the way, I married the guitar player.” He laughed again, and replied, “Are you kidding me? No way!” I said that I was not kidding and that we had been married for 15 years and had a couple of kids.
In retrospect, I guess that shouldn’t have been much of surprise . . . that is what notorious, retired rockers do: they settle down, get married, and start families.
(c) 2016 Sustained Momentum Entertainment, LLC and Diane Carter LeJeune. Previously published: August 26, 2014 "Tribal Tales."