“I gotta get tickets to this show! Do you think they’re sold out?” the first grader asked his teacher breathlessly after seeing the Middle School Spring Concert Rehearsal. He got it! Felt that unnamed energy in the air that speaks directly to the Soul— “This is something you need more of. “
And he was right. The show that evening was spectacular. A combination of practiced virtuosity, complex forms made to look simple, simple forms appearing complex and spontaneous moments of inspiration in front of 300 people.
It opened with our Thursday morning band playing in tune and with the musicianship built from years of body and voice first flowing out onto the instrument. 6th grade followed with a sonic tour of the world, carrying the audience in musical vehicles from the Philippines to Iceland to Trinidad to Zimbabwe to Spain, leaving them in Celiz Cruz’s house in Cuba.
Out came the 7th grade and now we’re riding up and down the musical staircases of Vivaldi’s exquisite architecture. Remarkable to see these kids who began playing two-note melodies seven years earlier playing with impressive technique steady runs of 8th and 16th notes, not a single note processed through reading symbols, but through direct sound and motion. And so these complicated shifting forms are not memorized from the eye, but remembered through the ear and as a result, there is a markedly different quality of musical presence and in-the-bones understanding. Note-reading, valuable as it is in certain contexts, is a sonic cheating that takes its toll when the written music is missing. Music learned and stored aurally in the nerve pathways, muscle memories and firing circuits of the brain makes for a kind of independent and listening musician impressive to behold—and be-hear! And so 7th grade continued with Beethoven, a Venezuelan piece (with special guest Jackie Rago), a composition by Paco de Lucia and an impressive a capella arrangement by five girls. All expertly played by the kids and enthusiastically received by the audience.
And then came the large 8th graders dressed in black. Opened with a hot Cannonball Adderly blues, on to George Shearing’s Lullaby of Birdland and then a vocal duet that brought the house down— Baby It’s Cold Outside. The first group ended with a Brazilian choro piece, the second group began with an old composition of mine, a jazz calypso in 7/4. A slow Ornette Coleman blues featuring an opening stand-up bass solo, a dramatic Sunnyside of the Street with inspired vocals and tap dancing and then a closing hot Latin number Listen Here. The kids were burnin’! And the audience felt it, astounded by what happens when a school commits to dynamic music education for every single child without exception from three years told to fourteen.
Some of these kids have been with me and my two colleagues for eleven years. We remember their first tentative exploration on an Orff instrument and witnessed their amazing jazz solo all those years later on the marimba (or saxophone or piano or flute or drum set or voice). Some began with music filling their whole bodies and souls from the beginning, some had to be slowly coaxed into the language of tones and motions. Some started with a good raw feeling, but needed years to connect it with practiced mastery. Some began with ease in pattern recognition and moved towards opening their hearts to the full body of tones. No matter what door they walked through to arrive in the house of music or which room they chose to decorate— everyone without exception can put the House of Music as a permanent address on their resumé.
Sadly, for some 8th graders, that concert may be the last time they experience the joy of playing in a musical ensemble. From now on, it will not be granted to them as a matter of course from a high school committed to keeping musicality growing in each and every student. Now they will have to choose and hope that they can find a choice offered by the school that matches their way of loving and speaking music.
But if it was to be their last concert, they went out on the proverbial high note. They soared high over the bar of their collective musicianship, with the audience on both sides of the runway to witness and cheer them on as the planted the pole and cleared the bar, landing in the soft pillows of earned accomplishment.
Kudos to all!