All I knew, my freshman year of college, was that my voice teacher, Mr. Haruda, loved to sing opera. That made sense. He was a voice instructor after all.
Not that I had much of a future as a singer, really-let alone an opera singer. I’d simply taken a group voice class to fulfill one of my basic requirements. My teacher suggested I look into private lessons. He said I had potential. And so I signed on with Mr. Haruda.
Once a week, we met in a small studio for fifty minutes of instruction. He would play the piano, while I tried my best to sing some particular piece of music the right way. And patiently Mr. Haruda would stop me and demonstrate in his own voice-possibly good once, I thought, but failing now. I chalked it up to his advancing age. Little did I know. There was a story behind Mr. Haruda’s life. A story of great hopes-and heartbreak.
Joseph Haruda had one great ambition in his youth. He dreamed of singing with the Metropolitan Opera. In a demonstration of how talent and hard work pay off, he auditioned for, and was accepted into the Julliard School of Music in New York. To pay for his tuition, he performed in shows on Broadway, and at one time he was even critiqued by Walter Winchell, who proclaimed that the young Joseph Haruda had a bright future ahead of him. High praise from someone who was considered to be the most influential Broadway critic of his day.
And then came World War II. Mr. Haruda served with the Army Air Forces in North Africa, and it was there that his dream began to die. The blowing sand irritated and damaged his throat, eventually requiring surgery. His voice, and his brightly lit future, were gone.
Wanting somehow, to continue contributing to the world of music, Mr. Haruda went back to school to become a music teacher. He would still be able to use his talent-by helping others pursue their dreams. With a master’s degree in hand, he accepted a teaching position at the university I would attend years later.
Seated at the piano, once a week Mr. Haruda would accompany me and listen as I twittered and warbled my way awkwardly through song after song. I never sensed any bitterness or regret in him, and he never talked about his past, nor did he hint at what might have been. For 50 minutes, Mr. Haruda was focused on me, his student. A student with no promise for anything more than a willingness to try.
And all that time, I was in the presence of true greatness. I just didn’t know it.