No offense to the math, science or English teachers out there, but I think that sports and music are the most important aspects of an education curriculum. They were for me, anyway. Ask me today to draw an electron shell or solve anything but the simplest algebraic equations – forget it. And I’m a writer, but I would still have difficulty conjugating verbs; and I’m not even sure what a past participle is.
But I still use the lessons I learned playing basketball, baseball, and being in the choir – every day. There is the dedication and hard work necessary in honing an individual skill; the sacrifice and collaboration in coming together as a team; then putting all that effort together into the best performance possible when the pressure is greatest. That’s the kind of stuff that pays the bills in the real world.
So for me, sports and music are pretty much the same thing—except that in band and choir, grass stains are quite rare and you’re a lot less likely to pull a hamstring.
So I was only half kidding when I said, “Too bad we’re wasting such a nice day,” as Jennifer, Kristen and I got into the car Saturday to go to the Iowa High School Music Association solo/ensemble contest in Greenfield. (Quinn took the bus.) Sunny and 70 would have been perfect conditions for some yard projects that I punted last fall into this spring, or playing some catch with Quinn or perhaps taking him to the driving range. But the music programs in Earlham are terrific, so everything else could wait.
It wasn’t always this way. Back when our kids were much younger, our school music programs were mostly lackluster. Going to their concerts was a chore and they couldn’t end fast enough. The kids looked as uninspired as the audience. But not anymore. New teachers brought new attitudes and enthusiasm that invigorated kids and parents alike. Participation soared, individual talent emerged, and group success has been extraordinary.
Quinn was up first Saturday as part of the drum ensemble. Our band has more percussionists than many bands have musicians, and the quality matches the quantity. When they are on the field playing and marching during football season, the sound tends to dissipate somewhat before it hits the stands. But in this little library sitting on the front row, the rhythms and beats they banged out steamrolled me like I was at a heavy metal concert. Confidence radiated from the young faces as they performed the difficult piece almost flawlessly, with hardly a stray click or misplaced thump. Afterward, Kristen gave me some good-natured teasing about how I had rocked and bopped through the whole thing, and I told her, “I couldn’t help it!”
Our afternoon was capped when Kristen sang with the chamber choir – a moving a cappella spiritual standard called “Soon Ah Will Be Done.” I was immediately drawn into this song in a way I had never experienced in listening to our choir. I have heard them perform well many times, so I wasn’t surprised that the voices were all hitting the right notes. The difference this time was that they were truly communicating the emotion of the song. That’s the kind of thing that separates the Rolling Stones from the local bar band; Michael Buble from some random guy on American Idol. The list could go on—you get the idea; it’s not easy. This performance by our choir not only sounded good; it felt good. They aimed for the soul – not just the ears – and they hit their mark. And it felt even better because it was “our” kids that had pulled it off.
Good coaches and teachers are quick to deflect this kind of success to the kids, and that’s just what Mrs. Maiers did when I congratulated and thanked her right after the performance. Yes, the kids did it; but this kind of magic doesn’t happen without skilled, patient, and inspired direction. That’s what Earlham’s music programs – band and choir – are lucky enough to have now.
Budget woes have Iowa public schools scrambling these days. Earlham is no different, and now our music program is facing some drastic cuts. Paying the bills for the school district is a tough job, but I’m hoping that the powers that be can find a different solution. Tearing down one of the best things our school has going is a bad plan.