Sunday, January 6, 2013

Singing is the Best-kept Secret

The other day I had occasion to share stories of getting fired with a friend who had, like me, had had that experience.  I recall a distinct feeling that on one occasion I was fired because I had done good work. 

My job was to get the 6th, 7th, and 8th graders in an inner-city parochial school to sing.  It was no doubt a major challenge, but what is music, anyway?  After an entire year of free-form fooling around--improvising on found objects, composing operas, making up variations on well-known songs--I sent each kid home for the summer with a note giving my recommendations for a good thing to do over vacation.

For conspicuously shy Nicole, African-American, already more developed than the other girls, I recommended seeing what the Harlem School for the Arts had to offer.  She returned to school in September and announced, "I'm a soprano."  This completely changed the dynamic in all three grades.  Nicole sang; everyone wanted to sing.

The day came for our Christmas presentation in which the assembled three grades were to sing, among other things, the Tallis canon with bell accompaniment, and the tenor aria from Bach cantata #140 (Wachet auf!) with viola obbligato, played by a young blind Haitian musician.  On my way up to the classroom a staff member sharing the elevator remarked that it was too bad I was not returning after this semester.