Tuesday, April 29, 2014

"Let's Try It!"

It’s Spring Concert time. You music teachers know what that means. All the lovely relaxed process starts to tighten the snares, “just get a feel for it” changes to “play the right notes! At the right time!” and you go to bed dreaming about switching Junior to second triangle without him noticing why.

And so I was rehearsing with 8th grade trying to be crystal clear about who plays first and who plays second and for how long and what everyone is doing during the solos and all those details that can make or break your public reputation. After the first piece, one student— we’ll call him Isaac— said, “I don’t think we should end that way. The piece is starting to lose energy. I think we should do that short riff after the solo and call it a day.”

“Isaac, I love that you’re showing some independent musical thought and judgment here. That really makes me happy.”

“Yeah, but we’re not gonna do it, right?”

“Well, let me tell you a story. Many years ago, I helped start an adult Orff performing group named Xephyr. We got together once a week and improvised with our voices, movement, percussion, xylophones, what have you and then started to create some pieces from our collective ideas. And you know how they say that ‘music brings people together?’ and that creating music together is even a higher form of bonding?’”

Heads are nodding out there in the 8th grade class.

“Well, whoever said that is out of their mind! We were always fighting with each other! Person A would suggest an idea and person B would say, “Naw! That will never work” and then person A would start to sulk and get revenge later on when person B offered an idea. People, it was not a pretty sight, all these creative personalities trying to agree on which idea would make the piece flow and really communicate.

“So we decided to create the ‘Xephyr Rule.’ Whenever someone would suggest something, the group would respond, ‘Okay, let’s try it.’ Now inside— and sometimes out loud— there would be a big sarcastic accent, ‘That’s a good idea! (wink wink). Let’s try it!’

“ But what was interesting is that the moment we actually tried it, everyone could tell what was workable and what wasn’t. Many a time I thought I had an inspired idea and when we put it into action, I immediately understood it wasn’t so great. Or it was okay, but needed this or that. Likewise, people who inside would think ‘Terrible idea!’ would try it and revise their opinion. So Isaac, you know what I say to your suggestion?”

“Let’s try it!!!”

“No… NO!!! Ha ha. Just kidding. Of course, we’re going to try it. But before we do, I just want to say that in 99% of jazz tunes, you repeat the head again at the end to give closure. This is highly unorthodox. But—Xephyr rule— let’s try it!”

And so we did. The kids voted at the end for how much they liked it. Who won?

Well, you’ll just have to come to the Spring Concert to find out. Next Wednesday. 7 pm. I don’t want to give anything away, but just a small hint: if you think something was weird about that Sack of Woe piece, it’s Isaac’s fault. 


  1. So funny! Maybe you can create the term "Isaacary" or "Isaacized" for an asymmetrical form!

  2. Love this story, Doug. Sorry I am going to miss the concert!


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