by Chad Greenlee
It all started at the age of 10 watching my uncle, an amazing pianist, playing The First Noel, at a family Christmas gathering. I was so enthralled with the piano that I sat down plucking away the keys and learning the tune by ear for the next two hours.
Three weeks later, I received a small Casio keyboard from Santa and a week after that I had learned every demo song programmed into the machine. In the month or two following I found myself in piano lessons and thus began my silent interest in the performing arts.
At the age of 10 it wasn’t cool to sing, dance, play an instrument or do anything musical. Organized sports and being an athlete is what received the attention. On the outside I was an athlete - baseball, basketball, and golf, but when my bedroom door closed, I was rocking out to a capella music by The Nylons and learning everything there was to know on my keyboard. Rumor has it, my mother would sit outside my door just so she could hear me sing. It wasn’t until the age of 14, that I brought my hidden talents into public viewing.
In 1994, I was a freshman at Jefferson High School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. I enrolled in the ninth-grade choir because it was the first time that you could sing with guys only (side note - I had a terrible voice changing experience in 8th grade and it cracked every time I spoke and I was mortified to speak in public). I can’t recall if it was the first or second week of class, but the teacher- Dr. Pete Eklund, played a simple C-Major scale and asked the class, “Who can sing this?” Now I have been belting out stuff like that in the privacy of my own room for years and it seemed simple enough, so I raised my hand, stood up, and let it go. I had never sung in front of anyone before and had no clue what was good or bad. When I was done, Dr. Eklund, better known as Pete, looked at me and said, “Can you stay after class for a minute?”
I had never been in any kind of trouble, ever. To stay after class was mortifying. Pete had me sing a few more scales and asked what I was doing in the mornings around 7:00 am each day. Fast forward several weeks and I found myself singing solos, auditioning for All-State and working my way into the Select Men’s Choir. All things generally reserved for upperclassmen. It was a whirlwind of music and I was exposed to individuals that were confident, talented and hard working. I was challenged and doing things that I never dreamed I would be doing. I was on stage singing alone in front of thousands of people and no longer locked away as the silent 5th member of The Nylons.
I sit here now, some 25 years later, working in a leadership role, involved in my community with a wife and two children that are involved in the arts. My wife is trained in piano, my oldest daughter has been involved in band, choir, theatre and now enjoys tech crew for every play and musical at Kennedy. My youngest loves Jazz Band and is the Student Director of the Show Choir Band at Franklin and can play just about every Marvel Themed Soundtrack on the Piano. They love to wail Imagine Dragons and Billie Eilish in the car and we share many of the same tastes in music.
The arts are an important part of our family. An important part of our learning. It brings us together and provides experiences that we can all enjoy. It is not just music, or painting, or an afterthought. It is a foundation of skills and learning. It is friendship and experiences. More importantly, it is confidence.
You can tell the engagement of a community by how well the arts are received. The Eastern Iowa Arts Academy is building future leaders, by engaging the youth in opportunities they otherwise wouldn’t have.
I wonder what magic would have happened to that 10-year-old boy had he been exposed at an earlier age, to others that were belting out “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” alone in solace of their bedroom. I wonder what would have happened if he knew the impact of the Eastern Iowa Arts Academy?