Feel The Music

Well, surprise, surprise! Still not getting around to posting my Texas post. Maybe tomorrow. We shall see. Got distracted by something cute on Facebook.

I’m not all fluff – honest, I’m not! I also read a very long back-and-forth about the Confederacy’s reasons for seceding. And an article about why it’s so hard for white people to see racism and white privilege. And another article about why “color blindness” shouldn’t be our goal. Oh, and Article IV of the U.S. Constitution. Interesting stuff. Deep stuff. Valuable stuff. You should go look for it.

But for whatever reason, I find myself reluctant to be the purveyor of such material. Part of it is that I don’t want to start a fight or have any conflicts. Part of it is that I’m not confident I can articulate my thoughts well. Part of it is because that’s not the flavor of this blog. How much of that is just cover for the other, I don’t know. But here we are. On to the cute stuff.

I shared an article on Facebook that I came across a few weeks ago. It argued that we shouldn’t “defend” music education by claiming it will help test scores and performance in other subjects because music has intrinsic value and doesn’t need to be justified by other benefits. That share of mine then had more of my friends turn around and share it than any other I’ve put out there. I had struck a chord.

(See what I did there?)

And then I stumbled onto this adorable bit of cuteness last night.

{I’m not sure this whole embedded video thing works consistently so I’ve provided both the embedded video and the link. One or the other should work. And I’ll include a couple of screen shots below. One is of the baby crying before the music started and the other shows the excited surprise after. You should watch the video though. It’ll make your day.}

As soon as my face lit up with laughter at what I was watching, the sensible, intellectual part of my brain that wasn’t busy saying “Oh, goo-goo-goo-goo-goo-goo! Aren’t you just a precious sweetheart?! Oh, yes, you are! Oh, yes, you are!”… was thinking that this video was proving the point of that article.

Proof.

Right there.

Music is part of who we are. It speaks to a part of our being that we don’t have words for. We respond to it in ways that we can’t understand. I’m not saying that nothing else can inspire us like music can. I know that words can – both on the page and spoken by a powerful orator. I know that beautiful scenes in nature can too. But still. There’s a reason movies have soundtracks. The music completes the deal.

So why, why would we neglect music education in our schools? I’m an engineer but there are plenty of other, more normal people out there that aren’t using a lick of Algebra or Geometry in their day-to-day life. Read any online forum to get a sense of just how many people have forgotten their history lessons. Or geography. Or science. For that matter, look at just how many people fail to use basic English properly.

But I bet you nearly every single one of them listens to music. Feels music. Why not give them the tools to appreciate it even more. To perhaps be able to create it themselves. Give them tools they’ll use.

Why not?

baby_dance

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For the Love of God and Music

We go to church. A lot. I say that not to be pompous or self-righteous. I say it not to make you or the religious right assume I am one of them. I say it because it’s true and sets the stage for this post.

We even go to church for Maundy Thursday. This service, for some denominations, is when Christians remember the Last Supper and Jesus’s washing of his disciples feet. I’ve had some powerful experiences at Maundy Thursday services in the past.

Back when we were going to dance lessons at a nearby club on Thursday nights, we would joke come Holy Week that we couldn’t go dancing at the bar with our Baptist friends because we were going to church. That always made us laugh.

So, anyway. Hal got excited when I picked him up from school and said we were going to church. I clarified that we were going to a worship service, that he wouldn’t be watching movies and hanging out with Ms. Rita like he does on Wednesdays.

He dutifully sat with his worship notebook and drew contentedly for a few minutes, then began to fidget and try to sit on the floor. I told him to sit up. He asked for some gum. I said I didn’t have any. He fidgeted and sat on the floor. I told him to sit on the pew. Eventually he stage whispered, “Can I play a game on your phone?” I said no. His hands went to his eyes, head to the pew (still sitting on the floor), and his quiet sobs could be heard by anyone nearby.

He looked up at me and said plaintively, “But I want to do something fun!”

“We aren’t here to have fun,” I said, already starting to feel there was something wrong in my words. “We are here to… to worship God and take Communion and… and… be quiet.”

What are we doing? I thought to myself.

There were 31 people from two congregations there. And that included the choir and the two pastors. Maundy Thursday is not attended by many. In fact, with the exception of the almost-13 year old friend of Jane’s present, my boys were the only people under 35 present. Even Jane had gone to watch a college volleyball game with her team.

What are we doing? I asked myself as I watched my young son cry because he was at church. What kind of damage are we inflicting?

These thoughts persisted after we left the church – the service was a very brief 30 minutes. From there, we headed to a professional symphony orchestra performance. One that started about 30 minutes before the boys’ bed time. But enriching your children’s lives is important. Infecting them with a love of music and all that, right?

Hal squirmed the entire time. Daryl complained that he was tired and did not want to be there.

What are we doing? I thought to myself.

Taking your kids to church is the right thing to do, right? Taking them to cultural events like high-quality symphony performances is the right thing to do, right?

So why aren’t they reveling in the awesome job we are doing at child rearing? Why aren’t they jumping up and down with excitement? Why aren’t they thanking us and begging for more?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I know that some experiences are valuable even if they aren’t fun. That children might learn to appreciate experiences later. That we have to set the stage for patience and respect and proper behavior. That we have to widen their horizons beyond video games and tee ball.

I’m just wondering at what age some of these experiences should begin. And whether our kids are typical or not. We are a music family. We are a church family. But are we driving the love for either or both out of our children?

I’m honestly not sure.

Music to my Ears

Jane declared the love of her life to me today.

“I am totally in love with music! I mean, I’m just in love with music.”

“Are you in love with playing music or just listening to it on your iPod?”

“I love it all! I love listening to it. I love playing it. I love figuring out how to play different instruments that I’ve never played before.”

“You don’t like to sing.”

“I know, but I love instruments.”

Earlier in the evening, as chime choir practice wrapped up, she had sat down at the piano and begun picking out Good King Wenceslas. She’s never taken piano lessons. Well, unless you count the 2 or 3 basic lessons she had at the preschool one summer. She’s played the song on violin and viola, but never piano.

By the time the chimes director had turned off the lights in the room to encourage (force?!) her to leave, she had it figured out. And pounded it out in total darkness as I called from the hallway, “Jane! We need to go!”

In the car, waiting (forever!) in the Taco Bell drive-thru line, she concluded her gushing of musical love by categorizing the band instruments and their players.

“I’ve thought it might be neat to play the tuba,” she said. “Because, you know, I’m big and it’s big. It kinda fits. But…”

“But what?”

“Did you ever notice when you were in band that certain people seem to play certain instruments?”

“Like how the tubas tend to be the big chubby guys?” I asked.

“Yeah! And quiet. They are all quiet. And the trumpets are loud and obnoxious.”

“I often found them full of themselves.”

“That’s true. And the trombones are weird in a quiet kind of way. And the french horns are… well… You know, Mr. Thomas says the french horn is the hardest instrument to play.”

“I can believe that,” I said. “I always thought the french horns were kind of formal. Stuffy.”

“Yeah! That’s it! Formal.”

“And what about the flutes?” I asked, naming her instrument.

Without missing a beat, she said, “They are the girly ones.”

“You and Jason are girly?” This surprised me.

“I’m not but he sure is. He’s got a high-pitched voice and he’s always going on about stuff like the girls do.”

“Okaaaayyy… what about the clarinets?”

“They’re the normal ones. I mean, not *normal* normal – they are still in the band, you know, but they can kind of pass for normal. They are interesting, like their own person, you know?”

It was about then that I decided she was a remarkably perceptive judge of character. In case you were wondering which instrument I played.

“What about the saxophones?” I asked. She had earlier stated that the saxophone was her favorite instrument.

“They are loud and annoying but funny.”

“And the percussionists?”

“Nerdy band nerds.”

“Um. They are all nerdy band nerds, honey.”

“Well,” she said, “they are always doing this.” She began to bounce up and down like she was keeping the beat of a song and getting into the groove. I smiled.

She thinks of “the twins” anytime she sees bassoons or oboes because the bassoon and oboe in her band are played by twin brothers. I said I had found them to be “pinched”, although the person most prominent in my mind didn’t fit that bill.

I was curious, since she has played a stringed instrument for eight years, what she thought of strings players, even though they aren’t in the band. So I asked.

“Snobbish,” she said. “And different.”

“Snobbish? Really?”

“Well, especially violins. They think they are all that because they always have the melody.”

“And what about violas?”

“Well violas are awesome, of course!”

“And cellos?”

“They think they are the best because they’ve got the biggest instrument.”

So now you know Jane’s official band and orchestra classification system. If you were in one or the other, do you agree with her? How did you see the different sections?

When we enrolled her in the Suzuki Strings program in Kindergarten, we were hoping to inspire a love of music. We felt mastering an instrument was an important skill. There for awhile, as she chafed under the continuous years of lessons and itched to try new opportunities, I was concerned we had failed in that endeavor. I am so pleased to know now that we succeeded.

Remembering Alice’s Restaurant

Most of my blog posts are easy and quick to write. I’m retelling a true story that happened to me – typically that day. Occasionally, I will philosophize about something, which takes more work. But rarely do I desire to write about a topic that takes planning, research, outlines, etc. And on the rare occasion that desire presents itself, I take a few notes and then wait for the feeling to pass.

I’m not intentionally waiting. It’s just that writing takes time and energy and that kind of writing takes a lot of energy and more time. As a married mother of three, working full time and then shuttling kids around, all while trying to find time to finish remodeling projects and handle other commitments that I perhaps shouldn’t have made, I rarely find a large enough block of time to give those ideas life. Eventually, I move on.

One of those ideas concerned my favorite songs. I made a tentative list, trying to force myself to narrow the list down to ten. Eventually I decided that there was no way to compare Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony to Joe Walsh’s Life’s Been Good. Then my husband suggested I consider why I like the songs. Do they have some great import? Do I like the lyrics? Or the music? The list grew. And then sat. And now it’s misplaced somewhere on the computer desk. At least, that’s where I hope it is.

A song that I knew, without a doubt, would be on that list regardless of whether I categorized the list in any way was Alice’s Restaurant by Arlo Guthrie. If you aren’t familiar with it, you should stop reading this and go watch it on YouTube. Actually, don’t. The song is like 23 minutes long and you might not come back to me.

Anyway, I considered this song to be a cultural icon. A song that everyone knew and all the cool people could sing along with. It’s huge and surely only the hopelessly clueless or the young had failed to hear it. I had had very little opportunity to determine my view was mistaken.

That brings me to a recent conversation with two coworkers, both originally from Louisiana, which might have explained the problem if I hadn’t found the problem pervasive throughout my workplace, including some Oklahomans who without question should not have been living in this particular ignorance. One of them made a comment about something being “horrible”. With his New Orleans accent, it sounded like “har-ible” (the ‘har’ rhyming with ‘car’).

I was transported to the end of Alice’s Restaurant where Arlo tries to get the audience to sing along with him. They don’t do a very good job so he announces “That was har-ible. If you want to end war and stuff, you have to sing louder. We’ll do it again the next time it comes around on the guitar. This time with feeling.” (That’s a rough paraphrase, for any of you purists out there).

So I commented on it and they both gave me blank looks. I started talking about the song. More blank looks. I gave them the title and Arlo’s name. More blank looks. I began to panic. “Arlo Guthrie?” I asked. “Folk singer from the sixties?… Um… Woody Guthrie’s son?… Surely you’ve heard of Woody at least?” One of them had not and the other looked uncertain.

I turned to the Oklahoman in the cubicle across from us. He at least knew Arlo and could name a song of his but did not know his seminal work. I asked another Oklahoman as he walked by. No. A couple of other folks. No.

My boss, originally from some place north, knew it but admitted that it was only because his father-in-law forced him to listen as he sang it, that he had never heard Arlo sing it and had obviously never gotten to the end, as he deemed it pointless. Technically, most of the song is pointless (although entertainingly so), but the ending makes it clear that there is a point. It was a war protest song during Vietnam.

Dismayed, I turned to my Facebook friends. I was soon able to make some generalizations. If you had been an adult or near-enough in the late sixties or early seventies, especially if you were in the folk song or hippie crowd, you knew it. If you were not around back then but had a particularly hippie-ish parent or are a major music buff, you knew it. Or if you spent any of your life in Oklahoma City, listening to KRXO, the classic rock station, you knew it because they play it every year at noon on Thanksgiving.

I’m still amazed how many people are unfamiliar with the song. It was a significant part of my childhood. We’d listen to it in the car on the way to Grandma’s house for Thanksgiving. When my husband and I found it on Thanksgiving while riding in the car with our kids, we made everyone stay seated when we reached our destination, so that we could sing along. Every lyric. Exactly. Our kids thought we were insane.

So go check it out now. I really don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

SIDE NOTE: Even the people unfamiliar with Woody Guthrie’s name, knew one of his songs: This Land Is My Land. What many don’t know is that Woody was a bit of a subversive and that song, now one of our great patriotic songs, was actually a protest song of sorts. He originally titled it “God Blessed America” and considered it a direct response to Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America”, which he despised. He hated “God Bless America” because he felt that it was demanding more blessings on a country that was already covered in such extreme blessings that it was obscene to request more. I’ve often wondered what he would think about his song’s position in society now.

No Comparison

Morning Edition ran a story this morning about a twelve year old girl who has composed hundreds of songs for piano and released six albums. She was matching pitch when lullabies were sung to her at the tender young age of one. She composed her first song at age three. By the time she was five, she had performed in a 45 minute solo concert, one third jazz & ragtime, one third classical, one third original composition.

They asked her if she could play one of her early compositions so she played a piece called Little Angels that she wrote for her sister. She said she was four when she wrote it. This song touched me in a way that only truly special music does. I became quiet and turned inward. The music washed over me and tears welled in my eyes. It was truly beautiful.

For perspective, I reminded myself that she is Jane’s age. When she spoke, she actually sounded even younger than Jane. And when she wrote that song that captured my heart, she was the same age Hal is now. Hal. I pondered my wonderful little boy with the cute smile and the budding personality and the stubborn streak so strong in all my children. My heart swelled with love. And I sincerely hoped that today he wouldn’t pull anyone’s pants down on the playground.