Today was the last day of music class for my 8th graders, who will be graduating tonight. Last class days are more laid back than other days. I began by showing them the segment from Disney’s Fantasia 2000 that sets the story of Noah’s Ark to the music of Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance. I though it would be fitting because in just a few hours, each of the students would be processing into the gym to the same music. When they heard the familiar music, many were excited and then they were interested to hear the rest of the music beyond the familiar part. After that video, I left the students to arrange themselves and find something to do on their own. I expected them to do something musical, but beyond that, it was up to them.
When it is up to them, my students usually do one of two musical things, and this time was no exception. They took out their phones and shared their favorite music with each other, or they formed a group at the piano and asked me to play their favorites. One of those favorites is the theme from Halloween. Many of the boys like playing it on the piano, and others always want to learn how, so this group occupied itself with playing the theme or teaching it to others. This group, the one at the piano, exemplifies an ideal music class. Students are engaged in self-directed learning, practicing, peer and self evaluating their attempts, refining, and finally presenting their accomplishment. I became involved when they did not know how to play the transposed occurrences of the theme, and when they added an extra beat to the right hand part, but otherwise, they worked on their own, and accomplished a good amount of proficiency and improvement.
The other group, the one listening to and sharing music, also exemplifies an ideal music class activity. Music is highly personal with teens. I was reminded of this when I asked my daughter if she wanted to connect her iPod to the outdoor sound system I had set up for her graduation party. She did not want to use her music, and said that music is personal, and that she didn’t want everyone else hearing her songs. The sharing that was going on in my class among peers was special to the students, because they were not just sharing music, they were sharing themselves through the music. This personal identification with music presents a dilemma when it comes to composing. On the one hand, students with so much to identify with in music potentially could be powerful expressers through original music. On the other hand, because music so powerfully expresses what they are feeling or thinking, they often don’t see the need to create music; someone else has already done it for them. One need only see a teen get excited when a particular song begins to play, and hear them respond out loud, “that’s my song.” Students typically have several of these, but how wonderful it would be if one or more of them could be one they composed.
This brings me back to Pomp and Circumstance. I’m pretty sure most of the students won’t remember it was written by an English composer named Elgar, or that it is part of a set of ceremonial marches, or that this particular march is also known by it’s lyrics, “Land of Hope and Glory.” But whenever they hear that music, they will always remember that was the music that was played as they marched into their graduation. To be honest, though I’ve played or conducted that music for 27 graduations, and marched to it for three graduations of my own, that first time, at my own high school graduation is the one I remember, and when I do, it still sends chills up my spine, even all of these years later. On this day of my students’ graduation, congratulations to all those graduating this spring, and to all teachers who have sent another class on their way, prepared for long, productive lives with the knowledge, know-how, skills, and wisdom you have given them.