Thursday, June 26, 2014

If You See The Light On

There is one place in my house where, if you see the light on, you can pretty much be guaranteed I am practicing something.

The light is illuminating my dining room.

But my dining room is not a dining room.

My dining room, here as it also was in my former home, is my music room.

So, if you see my dining room light on I am probably practicing something.

It could be:

   My conducting

     My piano

         My trombone

            My singing

               My Irish whistle

                   My congas

                       My harmonica

                           My recorders

[This list is not in any order of preference. It just happens to be the order I see the instruments in my music room at this moment in time.]

Or any other of the 100 or so instruments that might be lying about or neatly tucked in containers.


And so, unlike Tom Bodett and Motel 6, seeing my light on in that room at night does not mean you are welcome.

I am practicing and, like most musicians, prefer to not be disturbed during my practice.

If, for some reason, you must get my attention, please wait until it seems I might be in a pause in the music.

In other words:

     Do not tap on the window, ring the doorbell, or call my name if music is being played.

[Note: Whether you think it is music or not is irrelevant.]

So respect your musician friends.

They will appreciate it.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Singing To Bring Back Memories

Recently I heard a folk singer being interviewed on the radio.
She said,
"I sing the songs so that they may have the memories."

Songs do inspire memories.


When I hear the Christmas carol "O, Come All Ye Faithful," in my mind and even though I have heard the tune every single Christmas season, I am transported back to my earliest elementary school in southern Illinois where I attended kindergarten through second grade.  You see, this was the carol that all children sang while they entered the annual Christmas program. When I have the memories I am back in a gym full of resounding children's voices singing with great enthusiasm.


While in college I watched as as friend raced out of a concert crying. I followed her to the restroom and, in comforting her, I learned that the song being performed was "their" song - hers and her ex-boyfriend's.  Hearing it again...alone...caused her to have the memories which had become painful. Hence the tears.


Fast forward a few years to when I would take students to sing at the local nursing home. Our selection of songs was chosen purposefully so as to touch on the memories of those who would be listening. As a result, my 12-year-old sixth grade girls chorus was learning songs that had been popular nearly 60-70 years prior just so the audience members would have the memories. I recall great satisfaction as I watched the audience sing along with my young singers; their participation encouraged my singers and created a memory for them.


A favorite experience is when I took a choral group to the nursing home to go Christmas caroling. We sang in the main recreation room then walked down the hallways singing to those still in their rooms.

Upon encountering a blocked hallway the nurse accompanying us pushed a buzzer and the doors clicked and swung open. We were entering the ward for Alzheimer patients.  I had tried to prepare my young singers for this part of the visit - that even though they might be singing those in the audience may not appear to be listening and, that despite this, they should sing out with great enthusiasm for these patients would enjoy the music in their own way.

My students stood, lined up in a straight line, singing with great joy. I watched and saw them looking at these patients who were not responding to their music in any way and admired them for singing with a lot of energy anyway.

After a few songs one patient began to sing along with the students. My students acknowledged this to each other and to me through smiles and continued singing.

I noticed the nurses and attendants whispering among themselves and saw a few wipe their eyes. Soon I heard the locked doors click and swing open and a person, I shall assume was a doctor due to the white lab coat, entered, scanned the room, and attentively watch the patient who was singing along.

My students finished their songs and were wandering the room greeting patients as we often did, smiling, patting hands, and occasionally hugging their audience members.

I spoke to a nurse and asked what had been going on while my students were singing. She informed me that the one patient who was singing along with such gusto had not spoken a word or responded to anyone during his stay at the nursing home. They were thrilled to have finally found something - music - that reached him.

For you see, the music allowed him to have the memories that connected him with reality.


So my friends, as you sing or listen to your music, be attentive.

Does that piece of music cause you to have the memories of another time or place?

I imagine sometimes you will find that it does.

And, I also imagine it always will.

Friday, June 20, 2014


As a former member of a teachers' union that nearly went on strike two or three times I have been drawn to the posts with this hashtag: #ThisIsMyStrikePay

No, I am not declaring my allegiance to either side of the situation in British Columbia because I do not have any connection or knowledge of the situation except by my chance encounters of posts on social media.

I am a virtual anonymous observer of the Twitter-sphere.


I know from personal experience that tensions and emotions are running high in a situation like this. Because of this I am impressed by the positive spin that has been used to get the point across about the importance of education and supporting those who provide and receive it.

In the current BC situation teachers seem thrilled and somewhat surprised by the public response.

I think that as teachers we often get ourselves caught up and bogged down in the bureaucracy and administrative expectations of teaching.

We often are so focused in the negative that we wallow in drudgery day in and day out.

This is no way to live.

We forget about all the good things going on around us.

It shouldn't take a strike situation to realize the value of what is done in classrooms across the world.


Some of my favorite moments have been the wonderful comments by parents and students that have encouraged me and lifted me up.

Sure, many times these comments have come years later, but that's OK. 

It still makes me feel pretty wonderful.


I have watched my "kids" (students) grow and have children of their own.

I treasure it when they share stories, pictures, and videos of their own children enjoying music experiences.

A former student once told me,

"You taught us to sing and enjoy music. Now we get to do the same with our kids."

It's doesn't get much better than that.


I remember, as a young teacher, being worried and frustrated at the child in music class who never participated or sang or danced or anything.

That all changed during a routine grocery shopping trip when the parent of a non-participating kindergartener exclaimed how the child sang and danced around the house and when asked who had taught them the songs the child said "Music Teacher taught me. She sings all the time!"

I had an "Aha" moment. The child was "getting" it by observing.


Recently I had a mother thank me for the musical experiences I provided for her two sons. These sons are in their early 30s now, I believe.

It's rather surreal to think that even after nearly 15 years the experiences I provided in the music and choral classroom are valued.



Ok, this post seems to have meandered quite a bit.

To wrap up I'll say:

To parents/students/community members:
Don't wait until a strike situation to tell teachers that you value what they do.

To teachers remember that you are making a mark even though sometimes it doesn't seem like it.

Back to the #ThisIsMyStrikePay topic: As teachers our pay is intrinsic most of the time rather than dollar signs. This message is coming out loud and clear.  The song the BCED teachers are singing today is "Don't Stop Believing."

That's not a bad idea.

[If you tweet, my handle is @musiciansojourn]