Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Back into the groove
Last week was Spring Break. The quicker last week fades into memory the better as far as I am concerned; it consisted of a lot of barfing by various family members, lots of computer games and lots of episodes of Robin Hood on Netflix. Must say the Sheriff of Nottingham had a grand old time chewing up the scenery on that show. I found, though, that too much watching it made the boys tend to launch into battles of one sort or another and I ended up setting a moratorium on too much TV. There usually isn't much time to watch any shows on the tv, so it isn't usually a problem; getting to watch at all is a treat. Anyway, they had both said they just wanted to 'louse around' (Riley's term) during the break and take it easy, so we did, though there were still music lessons and track practices and gymnastics and... Well, not as much just lousing around as we might have liked. Anyway, this week the boys are back in school. 
Riley and Casey
Good start, too; Riley was awarded the Student of the Day in his class, which has NEVER happened to him before. He received a non-working Donkey watch as a prize, which he later discovered was a McDonald's Happy Meal toy. He then went off in a fit of revulsion and ran soapy water on it, since he believes that anything to do with McDonald's is Pure Unadulterated Evil. He came to this belief on his own, mind you, we did not try to instill such beliefs in him. Poor Donkey watch never stood a chance but has at least been relegated to the recycle bin. I would have been more appalled by this wanton destruction of toys if the prize had been a working watch or perhaps a little more worthy of some respect. The bald fact is that I would have eventually put the thing in the recycle bin myself and he saved me the later hassle. We had a talk about the attitude, though.

The final crazed school event before Spring Break was the big band concert for the end of the school year (though it's still a long way from the end of the school year). Riley has been playing percussion in the After School Band, which is a one hour a week band session run by one teacher. Yeah, about 30 kids, all different band instruments, one beleaguered teacher. One hour trying to get all those kids, all those instruments, pulled together enough to play a simple song or two. Just about as chaotic and crazed as it sounds, from what I've seen. It's a program solely funded by parents and volunteers and donations, and is in jeopardy of being cut due to lack of funds. (Who's surprised?)
Riley on big bass drum
Anyway, the Big Band Concert was in the evening at the local high school; it was a struggle to get Riley to even consider wearing his special band t-shirt, and then once we arrived we discovered that the kids were supposed to wear a white dress shirt and black pants. Oops. Last minute desperate phone call to dad, who brought a white shirt and saved face for Riley, who did not know or remember this little sartorial detail. But he made it in time and went and joined a bunch of other percussionists in the back of the big auditorium at the high school. So the band concert featured each level of band from beginners (who were really appallingly bad) up through the high school kids (who were surprisingly good). I really suspect that the kids that stick with it and are decent musicians by high school get additional lessons funded by parents; it seems unlikely that the kids who only ever get the After School Band lessons ever get very far, because honestly the teacher doesn't have enough time and resources to really teach all of those kids how to play their various instruments competently. Considering how little time and actual instruction they get, it's amazing the beginning kids performed as well as they did. 

After School Band is actually the only exposure to making music some of the kids have, aside from parent volunteers or some of the more musically inclined teachers, since no music of any sort is funded or covered in regular public school. The teachers try to do some singing, at least in the younger grades, but there are limits to what they can do. Paul goes in one day a week and does music with all of the fourth graders, and he has done this for each year the boys have been in school, so the kids in our boys' grade have all been getting some regular music each week, but that's rare in the schools. Paul has them learn and sing lots of songs, sing multiple parts on some, he's had them co-write songs and various other adventures in music. The latest project is to get all of the fourth graders to learn and sing 2 songs for the school's end-of-year Talent Show, with Casey accompanying one song on piano. Casey's having to learn the whole accompanying piano part and then learning to play it with the singers, which we all know is an entirely different can of worms from just playing the piano on your own. The whole endeavor is ambitious, with several solo singing parts for various kids. It should be fun.
Casey trying pianos back in 2008- He looks so little here!
It makes me glad that we can give our boys music lessons, actually. Casey's been taking piano lessons now for over 3 years, and Riley started guitar lessons this year and loves it so far. They have both been known to get frustrated with hard lessons, but overall they really do seem to enjoy making music and getting them to practice isn't a hardship. And one boy will ask me to listen to this one song he's learning because it's a really cool sounding sort of song, or the other will play a bunch of different chords and try putting them together in combinations and get into a groove and then ask me if his song made me feel the way it made him feel, sort of mournful but happy at the same time. And I get this odd little thrill of recognition that they really do get the essence of the music, with the feelings it causes. Hope that it just gets easier for them to slip into that space with music as they improve in their playing abilities. 


  1. Wonderful post, Beckett. And yay for Casey being chosen Student of the Day, even if the prize sucked. As for music performances: wish I could be a fly on the wall in all these performances!

  2. Actually, I've only done the weekly music sessions in 3rd and 4th grade. (In 2nd grade, I helped out with their song-a-week morning music, 4 times, once for each class.) But I'm loving it.