Your Typical Middle School Concert


A couple of nights ago I had the pleasure to hear my local elementary/middle school band play. Two back-to-back concerts were performed: the beginner band and the intermediate band. It was a fine show.

The beginner band performed first. They did a good job, typical of a beginner band, with clarinet squeaks and off-beat percussion and blaring brass overshadowing the flutes, followed by the older and more experienced musicians who, as expected, had honed their craft a bit more. It was not a concert to be attended by the critics, or by anyone who is looking to get their ears massaged. It was like so many similar performances that happen every year all across the United States. The place was packed with proud (and tired and spaced out and other varieties of) parents, and a passel of school kids did their best and had fun.

I was struck by the timelessness and the typicallness of it. We were assembled in the gymnasium, seated in folding chairs in rows. Students played on risers as well as on the stage at the side of the room. They played under the basketball hoops. There was a state flag and a national flag on the wall. Four students started us off with the national anthem. Gym mats were folded in the corner. How many people have witnessed this same scene?

This was exactly what I did in elementary and middle school. Lots of kids played instruments and we managed to honk out some tunes as a band. Some or these young musicians will stick with it, but most will leave their instruments behind and some day say that they once played the saxophone or the bass drum, just like in my generation. I imagine many of those parents and grandparents attending this time were in that boat. This pageant has been repeated many times in many places. It is a shared experience.

What if we could tap into that shared experience? If we all could know how many others have felt pride at hitting the right notes, or embarrassment at missing them, wouldn’t we be in a better place? I certainly felt pride in my own child for performing, and I am confident I was not alone. Math may not be taught the same way as when these students’ parents went to school, and Chromebooks were not available to the previous generation. Schools and public education have changed in many ways, but band is similar. The clarinets and french horns and cymbals sound the same and work the same way. I think there is something to be celebrated in that.

Music (and other art) programs get cut at many schools. They are not valued as much as things that are typically measured on standardized tests. I think that is a mistake. There is much to be learned by playing music. If you have had any experience playing music, even as an elementary school band member, you know what I mean. And the continuity of it is powerful as well. There are few things that really are the same about school from the last generations to this one. I think we should hang on to some of them.

Waiting for the Bus

And There It Is

ZZ Top has this song, Waitin’ for the Bus, that comes into my head pretty frequently. Whenever I walk to the end of the driveway to wait for my daughter to get off the school bus the guitar riff that starts things off and the opening line, “Have mercy, been waitin’ for the bus all day,” zips through the old brain. I thought I would share it (with a bonus song, also a good ‘un) so you might get it going on in your own head. I happen to really like this tune, so hearing it over and over inside my skull is OK with me.

I haven’t actually been waiting all day, I know, and I am not a sunglassed rock guitar artist with a long beard, and I really look forward to the bus coming and my daughter running out its door, happy to be home, so I don’t exactly need any mercy, if you know what I mean. Nonetheless, I sing it while I wait. Sometimes quite loud.

Proud Parent

My daughter had a holiday concert this evening. She was one student of all the students in her grade and the grade above hers, singing and dancing. They had practiced for weeks and tonight was the big night. It was a packed gymnasium where they performed. It was fun to watch and to hear, and the kids had lots of fun.

She was a little nervous when we left–not worried so much as anticipating that she would have to do something in front of others. She knows already that she wants to please others, to show herself in a positive light, to do well.  And of course she was stellar. She sang right out. She smiled the whole time. She looked around. She laughed. What more could a parent ask?

At one point her class sang as a unit. I watched her sing, smiling all the while (both she and I), and I felt a pang of proudness. I had a feeling of how quickly time passes, how she will grow to do wonderful things and lead a fine life, and how I will remember this moment more than she will remember it. I felt proud of her standing up and doing her best, enjoying life in that moment. I was genuinely happy, from within as well as for her. I didn’t just feel the small pride of a parent that comes from watching one’s child do something for the first time or trying hard to accomplish something. There was something more there. It was a flash of the future, an emotional glimpse of the power of the world that is hers now and will be as she grows. For just a moment, time flared out and tingled over me.

I am sure there will be many more moments where she performs in a group or even on her own. I will feel proud then as well, I am sure, but when she ran out of the building afterward, as I walked with her brother in the cold air, and jumped into my open arms for a huge hug, I held onto her and to that earthly briefness tightly, knowing that it will not be long before I remember how long ago this night was. And she may not remember it at all.

In a short while I will look in on her sleeping. I will feel proud, and I will love her as much as one can love one’s child. I will her as long as I am alive to do so, and I will miss that child when she grows up. Tomorrow I will be sure to make meaningful the moments we share, and to let her know again that I am proud of her, and that I love her. And both of us will be better because of it.

New Toy

ipod touchesGot a new iPod Touch yesterday.  Loving it.  I finally figured out how to sync it with my calendar and contacts.  I had to call Green Mountain Access to retrieve my password (those folks are awesome!) because I deleted mine by accident, like a D-U-M.  Then I could get email.  I still can’t figure out why I keep getting the same emails over and over even after I delete them.  Weirdness is afoot.  Anyway, it still seems to get the job done, just in an overwhelming way.

I downloaded a couple of apps as well.  I look forward to using “Planets” once it gets dark.  It gives you a view of the night sky, based on your location (I entered my latitude and longitude) and the time of day (er, night) and tells you what it what.  The view changes as the clock ticks.  You can see when you will be able to see the planets and when the sun rises and sets and the phases of the moon.  Way cool.  And it was free.

I have a couple of other new apps as well (I did spend 99 cents on one) and I think this thing is just the grooviest gadget to hit the household since the cuisinart.  And I haven’t even begun to download music or podcasts.  Playtime stretches before me.  I just need to put the thing down long enough to make lunch for the children and take them to the library.  And sleep.  Oh, and have breakfast.

Maybe in a little while…

Bad Music

There is this gas station/convenience store at which I occasionally stop, usually to conveniently purchase gas, but sometimes, since they have a clean and easily available restroom, to conveniently expel some gas, that plays fairly wretched music.  I am no musicologist, of course.  I was a DJ for my college radio station, and that station sometimes played wretched music, but the groaners that came out of that basement studio never matched this tripe.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m no curmudgeon or anything.  I tend to think that any music is good for you in some way.  When kids sing it would win no American Idol competition, but I still encourage it.  Makes the soul bound, if you know what I’m saying.  This establishment, the one that I don’t quite frequent, is generally blaring, louder than such a place should blare anything, modern country music.

I grew up in New England, and when I did so, it was hard to find such music.  There was maybe one radio station out of dozens that played it.  There were more on-the-air preachers (Friends!  We realize compassion when we come to passion.  When we share the passion of Christ.  When we share with our neighbors.  When you share what you can to keep the Word coming to you on this station. And so on…) than country music stations.  I thought of it as bad music, but harmless.  Oh some people might enjoy that crap, those poor simpletons, but really, how could it ever catch on?

Eventually, as everyone knows, it crept north, spreading like kudzu, taking over the local flora.  I came of age in the 80’s, when there was a lot of crappy music to be found, but I am still in denial of this invasive species.  Granted, any big country music star has talent, but why waste that talent on simple repeated chords and hackneyed lyrics?  Like some art, I can’t help thinking that my pre-schooler could have created it.  The nasaly twang that pours out these tales of woe that force my eyes to roll involuntarily can be heard in way too many places.

This market is one of them.  Sometimes when I go in there, to grab some coffee after pumping my petrol (fuel for the large polluting commuting machine, fuel for the medulla oblongata) I almost laugh at the seriousness with which the overly loud singer dumps out his or her syrupy schlock.  Are you serious, I want to ask?  But I would both get no answer and insult the meagerly paid woman behind the counter.   She chose this station, after all, and that is one of the few pleasures of  this job that requires only a high school diploma.

I still go in there.  Just like I tune in to the preachers at times, I like to stay keen on my schlock.  Plus, I like to be able to mock it appropriately when I get the chance.  If only I could just mesh the two, it would cut down on my listening time.  Perhaps something like this, heard with the appropriate voice, and you know you know it:

I’m a radio preacher and no one sends me dollars.

My blue jeans are threadbare and I’ve got stains on my collar.

Why does my Christian lady have to tune me ow-oo-out?

Now that’s bad music.  Good thing I’m not in the biz.  But then again, maybe that’s just what the biz needs.