Monday, November 12, 2012

Just Sing: A Life Well-Lived



Last May, during one of many Hofstra’s events, I stopped breathing along with all of the attendees. Hofstra Vocal Jazz Ensemble started performing. The precision, flawless harmonies, sheer joy in performing – the four singers sounded and looked as if they had descended from a silver screen’s heyday musical. One of the singers, Pete Teleha, towered above his peers in height as his bass voice complemented other voices perfectly. I knew Pete: he was also a founding member of The Dutchmen, Hofstra’s all-male a-cappella group as well as a member of the coed Sigma’cappella. He arranged many of the a-cappella song they sang. I had heard him sing with his Dutchmen in February during the Siblings Day. And, I knew that he was a Class of 2014 Honors College student, a Phi Beta Kappa Honors Society member, and a math major. “What an accomplished young man,” I thought.

Yesterday, as I was driving to campus, listening to Lucinda Williams’ “Blessed” on autoplay, I had a pit in my stomach. I dreaded attending Pete Teleha Memorial Concert, and facing Suzanne and Chris, Pete’s parents. What could I possibly say or do to even attempt to ease their pain? Perhaps I should just stand in the back and not bother them at all …. “I’ll just listen to all his music brethren and honor his memory,” I said to myself. I still cannot accept that Pete died on July 28 of this year, struck by a car on Hempstead Turnpike. I keep telling myself “that’s life” and that “death happens every day” but I still cannot accept such tremendous loss to our Hofstra family. 

Pete Teleha Memorial Concert "Just Sing," November 11, 2012
The standing-room-only concert turned out to have been the most joyous and heart-felt event I’ve participated in recent years. Yes, life-affirming joyous! Pete’s friends, our Hofstra students, exhibited such an amazing display of talent, true friendship, and gratitude for Pete’s life that I was stunned beyond words. Sigma’cappella, Hofstra Vocal Jazz Ensemble, Pete’s brothers from Phi Delta Theta, and The Dutchmen displayed their awesome talents but, in addition, sang straight from their hearts. Talented film students created a deeply-felt and, at the same time, funny video tribute. All of them sang for Pete and about Pete.

Suzanne and Chris were another inspiration. With enormous gratitude, Chris in his tribute said he hoped that the concert would be a joyous occasion, a celebration of his son’s life. Suzanne asked me what she could do for Hofstra and our community.

Dean Warren Frisina said, his voice cracking from grief, that he'd always thought that the voice and not the eyes were a window to a person’s soul. The concert proved him right.

Suzanne had emailed me two months ago, a month after Pete died, to contribute an important advice to all parents. She was thinking of our Hofstra family while her family was in the midst of grieving. Here is her advice: “This is an important safety tip for all parents of college students (or older children): have your kids write down all of their passwords to their computers, debit cards and anything else they might have passwords for. Place the page in an envelope, seal it and put the envelope away in a safe place, promising that you not open it as a curiosity or use it to "snoop". I hope and pray you never have to open it, but this way you will have it in the event of something unexpected happening.” Suzanne had needed to hire a hacker to retrieve Pete’s compositions and writing. Hers is an excellent advice for us parents who don’t want to think about these things, ever.

I will sing an additional line with Lucinda Williams:
We were blessed by Pete Teleha, who took our breath away with his song.

-Branka Kristic

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