Thursday, March 2, 2017

A Musical Epidemic


Today was a happy day. I drove to school listening to Keith Jarrett’s version of Bye Bye Blackbird and went straight to the music room and found my own way through the tune’s changes on our lovely grand piano. This was that sacred time of the day before the classes start and I can warm-up with some welcome solitary music-making. 

But one of the 8th grade boys who keeps lurking around the music room came in and sat down at the xylophone while I was playing. My first impulse was to let him know this was my time, but then I decided to teach him the melody of the song. I just kept playing and told him it was the key of F and played the first phrase for him to figure out. He has a great ear and immediately got it and within a few minutes, almost had the whole song. I got up and clarified a few notes and then sat back down and we played the tune together, me soloing while he kept working on the melody.

A few minutes later, my colleague walked in and asked if I could accompany her early-morning strings group in the room across the way. So I left and played a Serbian song with them and noticed that two of my 2nd grade students were playing cello and doing a nice job.

After the piece, I came back to the music room and there was my 8th grade student teaching Bye Bye Blackbird  to two other 8th graders!! How cool was that?!! In the five minutes I was gone, the music was already spreading like a joyful infectious disease.

I finally had to kick them out before they were late for class and then in came my 2nd graders. I told the two girls to get their cellos and as the kids worked on composing music on the xylophones, each cello was in one group. That was special! A refreshing new sound that made the beautiful music yet more evocative.

Later that day, I taught a stone-passing song at the 100-kid Singing Time, a place where kids could learn the song, but too many to organize the game. So I suggested they go outside, find some rocks and play during their recess. And lo and behold, three groups did!

I often say that yes, I teach music classes and am responsible for a music curriculum, but what I’m really after is creating a musical culture and community.  All three of these things today came up spontaneously and unexpectedly, a meeting point of the kids’ eager interest and passion and my alertness to whatever opportunities present themselves to spread music further. It’s a bit strange to use an infectious disease metaphor, since music is the healing of dis-ease, but at the bottom of the matter is the musician as the carrier of the musical bug that may or may not catch in the presence of the people close by. It’s not just a step-by-step sequential curriculum or the painful mastery of technical or conceptual details, it’s being caught by the passion transmitted from one soul awash in its pleasure to another in need of the message.

Perhaps tomorrow I’ll walk in to kids playing Bye Bye Blackbird on cello accompanying a rock-passing game. 

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