Thursday, September 14, 2017

Back on the Soapbox

Tonight was the back-to-school night for Middle School parents. I had a too-short 10-minutes to describe my 8th grade jazz program, so I decided to write them a letter. Might be of interest to teachers reading this blog or jazz fans or social justice advocates. Or might not. But here it is anyway.

Dear 8th grade parents,                                                                     

How happy am I to be teaching this remarkable class of musical children? Well, happy enough to postpone any notions of retiring and lying around on a beach in Hawaii. No way was I going to miss working with these fabulous kids!! And truth be told, this school and this work and these kids are my Hawaiian beach and I imagine when June comes around, I’ll still sign on for another round.

I count my blessings every day that I was able to find work that uses all of me and always pushes me to discover more, work that seeks out the best of the extraordinary faculties human beings possess in seed form and need only good soil, water and light to bring them forth. What could be better than working the soil, watering the plants and shining the light on these beautiful young souls?

What am I hoping to grow here? Quite simply, as follows:

• to train the body as an instrument of knowledge and expression
• to awaken the senses
• to cultivate the mind
• to open the heart
• to feed the Spirit and embrace the Soul

I may be biased, but I happen to think that of all school subjects, music can do these most thoroughly because to be a good musician, you need a trained body, a sensitive and listening ear, an intelligent mind, a feeling heart and a healthy dose of spirit and soul. And though every musical style requires a balance of all these elements, jazz may demand the most from each. The technique required for jazz is formidable. The understanding of the harmonies and structures is profound theory in action. To improvise, with no notes written on paper, requires a deep listening and attentive presence in the ensemble. And if you don’t play each note with deep feeling, well, who cares about your technique and scales? In short, jazz is a perfect blend of body and soul, mind and heart.

And jazz is something more. It’s the history we have refused to tell and that ignorance has brought us to our present state of chaos and confusion. Jazz tells the story we need to know as Americans about who we’ve been, who we are and who we might become. It’s the story of our triumph and our shame, our joy and our pain, our happiness and our sorrow, our yesterday and tomorrow. Parallel with playing this wondrous music, the 8th graders learn the stories of how it came to be so they know who to thank. They learn of the struggles and injustices, the unearned privileges of some and the triumph against all odds of others. They discover what the music has to say to them and what they in turn might bring to the music to keep it moving forward.

Like I said, hands down better than any Hawaiian beach. Thanks in advance for the year to come.            -Doug

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