Saturday, May 31, 2014

Color in Nature, Flavor in Food

And so the day arrived that no one can imagine will. Sometimes when I teach my first class to 3-year olds, I look at them and think, “I may be talking about you at graduation eleven years from now. Imagine that!”

And so it came to pass that we arrived at the last music class after eleven years of playing, singing and dancing together. I’ve seen them blossom from that tender — or explosive— little seed to young people with large bodies and personal opinions. That’s quite a journey. For some 8th graders, it has been a short, but intense, three years (we accept 12-15 new kids in 6th grade), but even then, plenty of room for astonishment at how much growth there is. In either case, here we were at the last class. What to do?

We began with the ritual 8th grade shtick where I finally move from “Dougie!” to a tongue-in-cheek respect. “Good morning, class” I begin and they stand and say in unison “Good morning, Mr. Goodkin.” Some of them are tired of the game, but for the most part, they’ve bought into it and truth be told, it sounds good to my ears. From here, they spread out around the room to fill in a written evaluation I gave them while I played a few jazz ballads on the piano. That done, they gathered on the floor like the old singing times and we had a delightful romp through the 50 plus songs on the board that they used to sing as long ago as preschool. Nostalgia and love filled the room and at the end, a hug line as they passed under the Side by Side song sheet and out of their San Francisco School Orff musical training into their unknown musical future.

The last question on the evaluation was this:

Imagine you are grown with children of your own and they go to a school that is about to cut out the music program. You go to the school board meeting and try to convince them otherwise by telling them what your San Francisco School music experience meant to you. What do you say?

My purpose is twofold: First, a kind of backdoor way to reflect and share with me their thoughts. Secondly, a real little timer set in the back of their minds that may someday go “Ping!” if they are confronted with that actual situation, a reminder to advocate for what was valuable or suggest changes for that which was not. I read them later that night and will confess that not all were 100% glowing, but most were moving and some astounded me with their eloquence and brought a tear to my eye. For those advocating for music ed, forget all the research studies and the Mozart effects— just read out loud some of these sharings and/or ask your own students for theirs. From the emotional to the intellectual to the social, these kids got it! Some samples:

• Music class always put me in a happy mood. When I looked at my schedule and saw I had music, it changed my feeling about the day.

• Music is very important because it gives kids a way to express themselves. It can calm them or energize them. It can make them feel safe. 

• Music is an alternate place for kids to exist. You might not be good at math, but could be good in music— and vice-versa. It gives a place to be creative and to learn life skills. It’s a place for kids to be themselves and also bond with their classmates.

• Music is not just banging on a drum to make a sound. People learn history and rhythm and life skills from music. Music is a part of life because it keeps you sane, it keeps you cool and composed through the many wavy roads in what is called life.

• Music is the key to life if taught correctly. It can open new doors and take you to places you’ve never been before.  

• Music is a way to work with sounds with your hands. It forms your brain, helps you to think in a different way. It’s a way speak to people and a way to listen to people.

• Learning music made me think in a way I never had before. It made my brain more flexible. 

Music is essential to a kid’s academic development. The connection that I made from music to academics was astounding. I would use music techniques and to study and finish work. It was an important part of my life and I don’t know where I would have been if I didn’t have it. 

As someone with a lot of personal catastrophes and trauma, music became my escape from them. I often spent my day counting minutes until I could be in music. I don’t think most people realize how important the music program is to people like myself and I want more kids like myself to find their escape from sorrow into joyful music.

• Without music, I would be a mess. Music is my best friend. It sticks by me through thick and thin, It makes hard times better and good times simply the best.

Not bad, eh? And to end, my two personal favorites:

• Music is what completes an education. It is such an essential part of our culture and everyday life that taking it away would be like taking away color from nature and flavor from food. 

• For some kids, music is the voice they never had. 

Farewell 8th grade!

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