Jumped back into the pleasure that teaching music to 8th graders is without missing a beat. The first group got right into a groove with a rockin’ dance tune, Pick Up the Pieces and though we could use some pumped-up electric guitars and wailing saxophones, the killer grooves fit their turbulent, electric and energetic 14-year-selves. And then with the second group, I went in the opposite direction. Started a song made famous by…well, guess. They came up with Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and I told them, yes, those are great jazz singers, but this singer is particularly memorable. His name is…
Kermit the Frog.
Yep, we started to learn The Rainbow Connection from the Muppet Movie. Now given the prevailing attitude we have about 8th graders in our culture, you would be imagining their eyes rolling clean out of their head with disgust and disdain—“We’re listening to X-rated and car-expanding rap and hip-hop and you expect us to learn a song from Kermit the Frog?!!!”
But of course, they unanimously got to work with the equivalent of “Yippeee!!” Now if you think these kids are special, you’re partly right. They’re part of a community so safe and supportive that they don’t have to shut their innocence and childlike-self away in the “uncool” drawer. And some part of their soul is rejoicing that the wonder of childhood can still be fed even as their bodies and brains change and they can sing about rainbows and hopes and dreams. Not too loud and overtly enthusiastically, mind you, but yes, they all sing and were motivated to find all the notes on the xylophone.
Of course, adolescence now and forever carries peer-group pressure, fear of ridicule, worry about fitting in and being cool, mandatory eye-rolling and its share of low energy and despondence next to hyper-crazed Yeehaw!! But teenagers I’ve met in Europe and Bali and Ghana and Brazil are not like the stereotypical American version. They’re more integrated into adult culture, work, talk with adults, let themselves be playful. And teenagers everywhere are dreaming, dreaming, dreaming and some with wonderful ideals and ideas and tender visions. "We are such stuff as dreams are made of" and we close that door at our peril. Anything that shuts them down— a heartless school culture that doesn’t care about its kids, the Wall St. predators hunting kids down to make them lifelong consumers, the mob mentality of peers and adults who’ve lost their own “rainbow connection"—is committing a genocide of the soul and everyone suffers. It takes effort and energy to keep the door open when the world keeps trying to slam it shut.
How much do I love what these kids were willing to sing? Here’s verse two:
Who said that every wish would be heard and answered
When wished on the morning star?
Somebody thought of that, and someone believed it,
Look what it’s done so far.
What’s so amazing that keeps us stargazing,
And what do we think we might see?
Someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection,
The lovers, the dreamers and me.
Okay, a little on the corny side, but don’t you dare think you’re too cool or cynical or jaded at any age to stop wishing and dreaming and stargazing. I’m not naïve and I can be as bitter and outraged and angry as the next, but still I keep one eye on the stars and guess what? They come through. Playing this song with the 8th graders was my rainbow connection.
And guess what else? Today, an extraordinary rainbow did appear and all the kids and teachers ran out to the yard to witness it. Including the 8th graders. It’s real, people! What’s your rainbow connection?