Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Be Alert

This morning, the principal at my school made a request, via eMail, of the teachers. It’s the eleventh anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Please speak with your classes about this.

My first reaction, honestly, was, “now how many of these children have conscious memories of the September 11 attacks anyway?” I teach middle school. The answer is none of them. Their experience of that day is similar to my experience of the first Apollo moon landing, or the McCarthy hearings, or Pearl Harbor: second-hand.

My next one was, “wow. The kids are going to hear seven different people make a 9/11 speech today.” Glad I’m not going to be making the last one they hear. “Aw, Mr. H, we’ve heard all about this already.”

And my third reaction was, “fine. What’s going to make mine different from everyone else’s?” Great. Now, my latent sense of competitiveness kicks in?

Well, not really. But I’m the only teacher of classroom general music in the building. And there’s only one Health teacher. And there’s only one Art teacher. We each might have our own filters through which to view, and by which to remark on, that horrible day eleven years ago.


In this space, I’ve already chronicled my activity on September 11 of 2001. In short: the principal of the school where I taught asked me, could I get some kind of performing group together to perform some sort of meaningful song over the school PA at the end of the day? … and by a combination of luck and “show must go on”-ness, a small group of my relatively new singers sang John Lennon’s “Imagine” into a phone handset while I played a small electronic keyboard nearby … and it seemed to achieve its goal.

A year ago, the moral of the story was, music can often be a great source of comfort to people in the midst of stress. Fair enough; and it could still be valid and true.

But as I told my students that story this morning, I discovered – completely in that moment of re-telling it – that this year, the moral of that story is something else.

I love music, and I specifically love teaching the subject and activity of music, because quite honestly you never know where, or when, or by way of what selection, the music will make its impact on you – but sooner or later it does. You could be hearing a “tune” or a symphony movement or whatever piece of music for the first time, or the twenty-first, or the thousandth-and-first, when it suddenly means something that it didn’t before. You could hear a song a dozen times, and on the thirteenth listening, you hear something new that you’d missed before.

There are a couple of songs that I have sung dozens or quite possibly hundreds of times, which usually I can sing at any time of the day, in any weather conditions, any circumstances … and every so often I can’t get through them without swallowing hard. And I can’t always predict those moments. I’m complex. So are you. You’ve got those songs, too.

And that’s the fun, or sometimes stunning, thing that will cause me to pay attention every day till I run out of them … I never know when the music is going to Do Its Thing. So I just have to try to be alert. And maybe that’s the point of teaching music in the general-music environment in which I currently teach it: giving students some of the tools they might need in order to be alert, for when the music Does Its Thing.


September 12, 2012 - Posted by | education, music, news, teachers | , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. […] And as it turns out, although not every day is utterly 100 percent bliss, there’s more than enough about being a working musician, a gainfully employed music teacher, to keep it from being just a […]

    Pingback by No Obligation « Editorial License | October 22, 2012 | Reply

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