March 8th, 2008
Today Toots, Booger and I went to an “arts” day put on by a local non-profit and drummed, painted and sang for most of the early afternoon.
In one room, there was a singing party where a woman played the guitar and led the kids in all the oldies but goodies, which made me remember my early musical instruction.
I distinctly recall the moment I fell in love with music. I was in the third grade, and my music teacher, a hippie named Dennis, seemed so completely enraptured by music, that we all caught the fever. A few times a week, my classmates and I would gather in the gym for a delicious hour while Dennis strummed his old wood guitar and taught us “Both Sides Now,” by Joni Mitchell,”Fly Like An Eagle,” by Steve Miller, and “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac. He even taught us “At Seventeen” by Janis Ian, a decidedly gutsy song choice for a third grade teacher, even if he were a hippie.
I can still sing you every word of those songs and see so clearly the poster board hanging on the wall, where he’d scrawled the song lyrics so we could follow along.
For the first time in my life, I’d felt connected to something bigger than myself. The longing, sadness, and regret in these songs touched me most and I understood in some small way, even at my age. The songwriter’s ability to express emotion intrigued me and I believe this is when I began to look at words differently. They weren’t pencil marks in a composition notebook, they were other worlds, heartbreak, devotion, destruction. Singing, although I couldn’t do it well, and writing, which I was better at, became a part of my life then, and it happened because of Dennis and that music class.
Today, as I watched Toots and Booger in that music room, I wished the same for them. Creative expression is liberating and life-changing. I hate to think how the arts are undervalued in our public school system. I dare say that to access your “real self” through whatever you call art, and give it a name, a place and a life, is a fundamental skill we can’t afford to deny our kids.
It was a good day.