Friday, May 6, 2011

An Inch of Progress

San Francisco blessed us with two of its rare warm days, not a hint of fog on the horizon or wind whipping down the streets. But instead of running to the beach, I spent the time indoors in a dark theater trying to organize five or six classes and 100 children per day, keeping track of 150 instruments, trying to remember where each F# glockenspiel bar and triangle beater are for when we need them, knowing who plays what and when and how they come on stage and where they go off and how many times they play the A section before moving to the B and where the cable goes in the amp and jiggling the loose connection because the electronic piano keeps cutting out in the middle of the piece and when the lights should dim just so and just where is that tambourine anyway? Oh, and beginning the whole thing with the geometric puzzle of loading the U-haul truck and unloading at the theater and looking for parking and frantically typing the program in-between rehearsal numbers and rushing to Haight-Ashbury Music Center for new mallets an hour before the concert that night. Then finally, two nights of heart-warming, soul-stirring, hushed, throbbing, angelic and swinging music with the whole spectrum from 1st through 8th grade, from Mother Goose to Mozart to Mingus and beyond. And when the final applause dies down and flowers have been given to myself and my two colleagues James and Sofia— why, it’s time to load the van! When I apologized to someone for a delay in responding to our business negotiation because of Spring Concert Madness and shared a bit of the above, he replied: “You are a saint. A hard-working saint.”

I’ll defer on the saint part, but the hard work is accurate! And yet as I sat and watched the children, moved by their enthusiasm and sincerity, inspired by their hard work, warmed by their indelible characters, uplifted by the music, it was clear once again that it is worthy work that not only gave two evenings of pleasure to the kids and parents, but reached into the corners of the spirit and set things in motion unseen by us in the moment, things that may echo through a lifetime of memory. 

I was especially moved watching the kids I didn’t teach this year. My colleagues and I alternate years, so I see the 2nd, 4th, 6th, and 8th graders and they teach the rest. Knowing precisely what each child accomplished in their year with me, it was all the more remarkable to watch how they had improved and grown in the following year, sometimes tickling me with their inch of progress and sometimes astounding me with their 100-yard leap. It is satisfaction beyond measure to know that we have stumbled on the real deal here, something that reaps tangible growth not only in understanding, technique, musical awareness and listening, but in those areas unmeasurable by numbers or achievement, hinted at by the looks on the children’s faces while singing, the energy and grace in their bodies while dancing, the connection with their peers while making music together. These are things that keep feeding my faith in human potential, the newsworthy events that no local newspaper has ever come to report. Not once in 36 years. 

After the van was loaded, my colleagues and a few more went to celebrate with food and drink. Out came the stories of the kids who were bossing others around, who knocked over drums backstage, who spaced out their part, who didn’t notice the Bb was on the xylophone instead of the B, who were dissolving in tears from their classmate’s insult or pinching their neighbors butt while singing a sweet song in chorus. So lest I wax too rhapsodic about the little angels, they’re 100% kids after all. All works in progress, as are we all. All we can hope for is that little inch forward.

More to say about this, but now it’s the next morning and I gotta unload the van.

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