Saturday, June 23, 2018

99 Bottle Bender

“99 bottles of beer on the wall, 99 bottles of beer.
Take one down, pass it around.
98 bottle of beer on the wall.…”  Etc.

Variation within repetition is one of my mantras for successful music teaching. The repetition makes sure that the myelin gets laid down to secure the synaptic connections in the brain that defines all remembered learning. The variation insures that the brain’s hunger for novelty gets fed and new connections made that criss-cross through each other to move from facts to knowledge to wisdom. If you start to learn and live this way, the results are impressive.

Some 30 years ago, I was playing piano at a school Christmas party and started to spin off into musical variations of Frosty the Snowman. Some jazzy, some Bach’ish, some Beethoven’ish, some Latin jazzy and so on. A few years ago, I play the Itsy Bitsy Spider for a friend’s toddler and started spinning off into similar variations. For my teaching, I came up with a shtick with Bach’s Minuet in G, modulating through a variety of keys, changing the tempo and the meter, creating melodic variations with first the right hand, then the left, then both and so on.

So today, I was on a bus with some 40 music teachers traveling from Accra, Ghana to Dzodze and naturally, we started singing. One teacher led us through a stunningly beautiful two-part song from Zimbabwe and after, I made the kind of stupid joke I like to make—“Let’s sing 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall!!” When I was a kid, much to the horror of my teachers, my friends and I used to do this on the few bus field trips our school made. (Perhaps that’s why they didn’t make so many?)

One minute later, the ukulele player started singing it and truth be told, with the ukulele backing it with chords, good singing voices and some hip harmony, the song actually sounded pretty great. But by the time we got to 80, it was starting to wear thin. But no worry. I suggested changing the key and the tempo and when we got to 70, we changed to the 12-bar blues style and then at 60, to a 1950’s rock doo-wop. 50 found us singing in waltz time, 40 in a minor key in a Linda Ronstadt Mexican ranchero style, 30 like a Brazilian ciranda (helped by our three teachers from Brazil). 20 was in a Turkish scale with a classic dumbek bass rhythm and the final 10 in the pentatonic scale a la Orff Schulwerk arrangement. Quite a tour de force!! And unlike my piano variations above, so fun to do it collective as group singing. After ingesting 99 bottles of joyfully sung beer, I was as high as a kite without the side effects of vomiting, hangovers, increased beer belly and doing and saying embarrassing things I would later regret.

We passed a sign today that said: Monetize Your Creativity! So if you ever have a long bus ride/ car ride/ train ride and want to hire some musicians to lead your group through 99 varieties of this incredible song, I’m your guy!! Give me a call at “G-o-t- B-e-e-r!?”

Can’t wait for our bus trip tomorrow! I think we’ll lead off with “This Is the Song That Never Ends.”

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