Michelle's Journey

I am the oldest of six. I was very fortunate to have loving and supportive parents who paid for music  lessons and made me practice. My mom is a pianist, my dad, though untrained, has a very nice voice. Music was a part of my life from the day I was born.

When I was four, I started playing the violin through the Suzuki method that focuses on learning by ear before you can read the notes. At five I started playing the piano.


It's a good thing I loved music instead of something else, because it became evident very early on that visual arts are not my thing.

Family is very important to my parents, so when I was a kid we did a lot of community theater that allowed us to all be a part. I'm pretty sure that by the time I was in high school, I was a brat about this performing together stuff. Now it makes me smile, and is good for a laugh at family dinners.

In high school, choir was the center of my life. I also took piano lessons, did church and community theater,  and was a cheerleader.


 I was a busy, "achiever" kind of teenager who got good grades and was part of the whole school spirit experience.  I was even in a silly little cover band that raised money for the arts.

I was "that" kid. but wait, there's more. . .


In 1988, I went to BYU as a music major and  moved in to an apartment-style dorm with 5 of my best friends from high school (They are pictured in the cheer photo.)  At seventeen years old, I nearly flunked out because I stayed up all night with my buds.  I spent the rest of my undergrad years trying to make up for those early bad grades. (I did eventually graduate with honors, but word of advice to the college bound; a low freshman GPA is another "gift that keeps on giving."  It stays with you, no matter how much you behave yourself after that.) I took a semester off to earn tuition money, and went back to BYU. Still a music major, I just kind of trudged along. I knew this was what I should study, and I did okay, but didn't really have any direction.


In 1991, I took a year off from college to figure out what I really wanted out of life. I moved home to Coos Bay, got a job bussing tables at the Red Lion Inn Restaurant. It was not a high point in my life (look at my hair, for crying out loud), but then I got a job as the accompanist at Sunset Jr High. From there I started an after school girls' glee choir called Songstruck that my sister Emily and her friends were in. It was here that I realized I wanted to be a teacher.

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In 1991, I competed in Miss Oregon. You couldn't pay me to wear a swimsuit in public today, but the pageant did pay for a full year of college, and I got really good at interviewing.  (Again- my hair! Oy Vey!)


In 1992, I transferred to Portland State. BYU hadn't been the right fit for me. I majored in music, with a focus on vocal performance. Although I am a much stronger pianist than classical vocalist, I knew I didn't want to be a concert pianist. Voice would prepare me for choral directing. During this time I was "promoted" to waiting tables at a Red Lion in Portland.  Soon after I got a job in fine dining. With some help from my parents, this is how I put myself through school. It was good money for a college student. In fact, if you don't factor in the health insurance, I took a pay cut  when I became a first year teacher!


My life was centered around chamber choir while at PSU. Under the  direction of Dr. Bruce Browne, I was able to sing some of the most glorious choral music ever written. WIth Chamber Choir I visited Greece and Spain. Some of my best, and fuzziest memories come from these trips, and it prepared me for conducting competitive high school choirs.  As I got my MEd, I student-taught with Steve Peter at Cleveland High School, and saw what a great high school choir director is like. I tried hard to emulate Steve when I became a teacher.


In 1995 I graduated from PSU with a BA in vocal performance. I was terrified of solo singing then, and I still don't love it, but I had to sing a senior recital. (This is from that recital, where I ended my set with "Je Veux Vivre" from Gounod's opera "Romeo and Juliet". The translation is "I want to live,"  basically the same theme that Hester Prynne sings about at the end of Scarlet.) It wasn't until I started directing and conducting, where the focus wasn't on me, that I could really begin to assert myself as a musician.

If you do the math, it took me seven years to get a four year degree. Even though I'm pretty smart,  I had a really hard time figuring out what I wanted. And that got in the way of graduating in four years. It's not something I'm proud of, but I do think it's important  to point out  that just because someone gets lost for a while doesn't mean their chance at success is gone. And frankly, if I had a Bacherlor's degree at 21, I'm not sure what I would have done with it.

In 1995, I got my first teaching job at Seaside High School in Oregon. It was a fantasitc experience in a super busy choral program that toured, went to State Choir Championships each year, had madrigal dinners, and even cut a CD. (Hey- that was a big deal in 1996!) My job included an early bird jazz choir, teaching at the Junior High in the afternoon, and directing three shows a year. Unmarried and in my twenties; I ate, slept and breathed this job.

Directing the annual musical  is where I was able to dive head first into the creative side of musicals.  This is from our production of the Wiz in 1998. (Note to Kickstarter backers: the scarecrow is Israel Nebeker of Blind Pilot.) This is also where I truly fell in love with musicals, and I started to really make sense that this was where my talents should  be focused. But after four years of 80 hour weeks, I got in a very serious car accident and broke my C12 and T1  vertebrae. It was a pretty big wake up call that I needed more balance in my life. I left Seaside and moved to Portland, where in 1999, I took a job at Hillsboro High School.


I can't find any pictures from Hilhi, and its mainly because I didn't take many. Part of the wake up call included breaking off a seven year relationship. At the same time my fibromyalgia showed up. It was a really hard year.


In 2001, I was offered a job at Milwaukie High school and I jumped at it. This was supposed to be the "it" job, where I would spend the rest of my career. But two things happened- I had my first experience with terrible administration. (People I respected did not turn out to be who I thought, and I kind of lost my faith in the world of teaching). At the same time my fibromyalgia migraines became unmanageable, so I left this job mid year. Again, another not-so-high point in my life.


I need to point out that even in these low points, I met some wonderful students, many of whom are still my friends. The students were never the problem, in fact they were the main thing that kept me going when life was rough.


However, during all of this awfulness, the best thing in my life occured. On December 1st 2001, I met my husband Garen. A classical trumpet player, the connection was instant. We were married barely 8 months after the day we met.  Our honeymoon was two weeks in Europe, the majority spent in Paris, where Garen had lived as he earned his Masters in Trumpet Performance. Pretty much a fairy tale.
 
But the fairytale wasn't long-lived, because poor Garen married someone who became too sick to work full time, and was an emotional wreck after Milwaukie. For better or worse was tested right away. It is probably fortunate that we were in our thirties when we married, because we had enough life experience that this didn't hurt our relationship. ButI know it did suck for him.

But again, the highs with the lows, for in 2003 we got our Saint Bernard, Clara. I think she was a big part of my getting better. I call her my therapy dog. In fact one time, I convinced a guy at a family picnic & trout farm that he had to let her be there because she was a therapy dog, all 130 lbs of her. He looked pretty mad when she tried to go swimming.


I was more functional, I applied to the PSU Grad program for conducting, and went back to school. I taught freshman sight-singing. I sang in Chamber Choir, studied conducting with Dr Browne and composition with Bryan Johanson. For my graduate  conducting final, I directed and conducted the PSU Opera Workshop in Brundibar, a children's operetta that came from the Terezin concentration camp during world war II. An amazing experience for me and an even more amazing story.And for my composition wrap-up I presented Hester's Lament from "Scarlet". (Zak Hoyt and Liz Bacon were Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmsdale, Karl Hein was John Wilson). It was a pretty funny experience, for all of the other compositions were chamber music and jazz ensemble pieces. Then the announcer said "and now here's a scene from Michelle Horgen's musical "Scarlet." Very out of place, but it went over well, and I decided this was the thing I need to do with my life. I wish so much I had a picture of this.


After getting my Master's, I was hired in 2005 as the part-time music teacher at Riverdale High School. With health insurance and part-time hours, this seemed a very logical choice to allow me to take care of myself and have time to write. In 2006,  I also took a part time church music director at St John's Episcopal in- go figure, Milwaukie, a block from the high school.

At RHS I taught and directed Sheridan Stevens, who went on to Interlochen and is singing Dimmsdale on Scarlet's demo album. I also taught Cobie Wentross, who sings the role of grown-up Clara. (I'm sure yu can guess where this character's name came from.)RHS and St John's were atypical jobs. They required a lot of creativity on my part. I did a lot of composing to meet the needs of the unique ensembles here, both chorally and instrumentally.  I think this was a huge part of my preparation to do the initial orchestrations for Scarlet.

In 2007 We got Bollo, a German Shepherd who retired early from being a police dog because he refused to bite. We also bought a Dyson pet vacuum.


Obviously feeling much better, in 2007 I took on the job of directing the RHS musical.  I was also hired as the conductor for Jesuit High's musical, which took place a few months later in the school year.  I did this for three years. Both were amazing experiences, but of course,  with the other jobs I had, I wasn't composing. "Scarlet" ideas sat in a notebook, untouched.

In june of 2010, I heard Rebecca Teran sing with Jason Robert Brown at a benefit for Milagro Theater. I knew right then she was the voice I had been trying to "hear" in my head for Hester. We became friends and I thinking again about writing "Scarlet".

But in  2010, I started having health problems again. I let the musical at RHS go. In 2011 I let Jesuit go. In 2012, after a whole slew of health stuff that is way too boring to go into, I was granted a leave of absence from RHS to take care of myself. After a few months of literally doing not much more than resting and hanging with my two aging dogs, I was a lot better. For the first time I really was able to focus on "Scarlet," full time. With Garen's  amazing support and a big push from my family , complete with fake Playbills and show posters, I rented a little writing studio in a motel that was converted to low-budget offices. Quirky and perfect for working into the night.

And so here we are! I don't know where "Scarlet" will go, but I feel really good that it will find its place on the stage. And even if the journey to that point is tough, (as seems to be my story) I am somehow very sure that I will be able to ride it out.  However, I really think this time it is something that has become bigger than me, and something for which I am finally ready.  My dad just reminded me of the quote "nothing is so powerful as a thing whose time has come."  and I think that is the case here- "Scarlet" an amazing story, performed by such amazing people, that it will take on a life that is bigger than me. I'm just glad to be part of the journey.