The Transcendent Subject

The morning started out in a glorious fashion: with music. Choral music, to be exact.

And boy, did it make a world of difference to my day.

Photo credit to Bob Huffman @ Flickr via Creative Commons

The day began with a debrief session concerning our first day of practicum. I was able to share what good I’ve already experienced with my colleagues and I think we were all looking forward to the rest of the day already where we could see more and talk about doing more in the next few days.

Then I made my way down to the band room, which doubles as the choir practice room. In it students were already bustling around. Someone was playing the piano in a practice room upstairs. The band teacher welcomed me briefly and encouraged me to take a seat. He reminded me of my own high school teachers: welcoming, affable and mind set on music.

Photo credit to Todd Huffman @ Flickr via Creative Commons

The first piece they sang, “Over the Rainbow,” was a piece I first heard in my own high school class when we all had to perform a piece one semester. Surrounded by percussive instruments I was suddenly transported back into my own high school class where we sat watching one of our classmates pluck at a ukulele, singing as he had never sung in front of us before. Music has a great power in evoking memories.

They moved on to singing their Remembrance Day song where their conductor stopped them from time to time to instruct them to fill the lyrics with emotion. The silences before the students launched into the next stanza were always significant; those breaths had more weight than I realized when I was in music. Indeed, though some of the students might not have made this direct realization, their teacher was leading them into poetry, albeit in a musical form, because poetry has “its origin from emotion collected in tranquility” (Wordsworth). Music has the potential to embody the emotions we find hard to otherwise express.

As they sang something in the range and the vibrancy of the choir made me wish that they would sing “Baba Yetu,” a piece I know because of advertisements and hype about Civilization IV, the video game for which it was written. Composed by Christopher Tin, the lyrics can be roughly translated into the Lord’s Prayer. The song is gorgeous. Of course, that was wishful thinking on my part. The students went on to sing other songs, all just as enjoyable as the first few and I realized: there is something very special about sitting in a roomful of music as the sun rises into the windows. In this class every eye was focused on the conductor and every voice was lifted in song; every student participated and contributed and benefited in the same breath.

Photo credit to carolune @ Flickr via Creative Commons

Then the conductor clapped his hands. “All right, everybody. Let’s take out ‘Baba Yetu.'” YES! If I could have I would have pumped my fist in the air but as I was just the observer, a large goofy smile broke over my face and I sat there beaming for all I was worth.

To be honest, I really miss my days back in high school band, or sitting in concerts listening to our choir perform. I write about music not only because of nostalgia though, but because of its impact on students as they go through their daily lives. There is something overwhelmingly beautiful about the camaraderie that forms around collaborative music. The students cheered on all their soloists and laughed at all their conductor’s jokes. What’s more though the music stayed with me the rest of the day; strains brightened my day, coloured my trips through the hallways and made everything a little sweeter. While some students may experience this bliss through academic subjects (appreciating poetry or the curve of an asymptote can be rather lovely), band and choir bring students into group experiences of joy and sorrow as the music may dictate. I am convinced that band and choir are subjects we should be teaching all students because collaborative music is accessible to everyone, whether it be through voice or instrument (and those two are much the same thing); it is to some extent a catharsis for our hearts and minds; and it brings us together as we all play on the same team. Music calms; it relaxes; it includes; it welcomes.

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