Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Elevator Music

How different life would have been without the elevator! Every day here in Singapore, I am driven from the Academy of Singapore Teachers (an impressive institution devoted entirely to professional development) to my hotel. I pass downtown with its forest of skyscraper banks and fancy hotels with their penthouse views and always feel a sense of homecoming as we arrive in Little India, where most buildings (except my 14 floor hotel!) are two stories high. Back in a world of more human proportions, more intimacy, more down-to-earth (literally and figuratively) feeling. 

It was the elevator that made our thirst to ascend to the heavens a concrete (and steel) reality. As New York City walk-up apartment dwellers can testify, 5 floors is about the limit of human upward propulsion—and accompanied by curses if you’re on the 5thfloor carrying groceries or the suitcase of your guest. Without Mr. Otis, the World Trade Center tragedy and the visual blight the Sales Force Tower has imposed on San Francisco would never have been. The movies King Kong, An Affair to Remember and Sleepless in Seattle would have had to be re-filmed. And the English language would be one phrase smaller, would have to get along without the term “elevator music.”

Speaking of which, I received an e-mail from a Canadian music teacher sharing her enthusiasm for some material she had learned from me in a workshop. And more meaningful yet, sharing her students’ enthusiasm. She wrote: 

Hello, Doug!  I hope this finds you well.  In the spring of 2018, I introduced my middle school (grade 8) students to your arrangement of Soul Sauce, which we performed on stage to an audience of almost 1000 in our city of Calgary, Alberta, Canada.  It was a smashing success!  95% of my students are from India, Afghanistan, and Pakistan and of course, have never experienced such music.  When I introduced it, they thought it sounded like “elevator music”, but after a couple of weeks, one student concluded, 

“If this is elevator music, I don’t wanna get off the elevator!”  

So even as I lament the havoc elevators have caused in human culture, their invitation to leave the soil and soul of mother earth and dwell in some abstract world of money and privilege, their weird invitation to stop climbing stairs so we can take the elevator to the gym on the 15thfloor and work out on Stairmaster, I now have a new image of my life’s purpose: to initiate children into elevator music so vibrant and hip and soulful that they don’t want to get off of the elevator. 

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