Wednesday, August 14, 2013

What do we get?

What's in it for me?  What good is that?  How does this benefit me?

Used appropriately these questions can be a guiding force in our lives.  They can help to place worth on something.  But our views of potential gains and what is valuable have narrowed so much that these questions become more and more self serving year after year.

Quite a few years ago, my 4th son had just passed away and in the aftermath of such a traumatic event I began looking for projects.  Projects also seemed to begin looking for me, whether by divine intervention or simply friendly concern of those around me.  Tina got me a guitar for my birthday that year and I fiddled with it to pass the time.  I could accompany myself on a few simple tunes and even wrote a few things utilizing the few chords I knew how to play.

I did different extra things.  A neighbor had a daughter who wanted to improve her skills for choir and maybe try out for solo and ensemble and I began to help her.  We worked on things once a week and had a family home evening with both families to give her a chance to perform.  She did solo and ensemble.

I, my sister and my mother put together a program of Stephen Foster songs for my mother's McDowell group (a club of local private music teachers who met and performed for each other)  One of those members of that group referred another teenager to me and I had 2 kids to work with. That summer a lady in our neighborhood, we'll call her Super-Mom and I don't use that sarcastically, pulled me aside and asked if I would help her kids singing, she only had enough money to pay me for one so she wondered if they could be taught as a group or alternating so that each had a lesson every four weeks.

I didn't like either proposal, mostly because they were such different ages that  I was afraid of losing the older ones while spending extra time on the younger ones.  once every four weeks didn't seem like a good idea either.

I was singing with my boys one evening, just "Now the Day Is Over,"  we used to sing it at night before they went to bed, and I had a thought.  I would really like my boys to sing more too,  I bet there are more parents out there who would agree.  so I called super mom and said what if we get some more kids and do a little summer camp.  If we get them all singing treble music, two part and unison, the older kids will help the younger kids by setting an example , the younger kids won't require an extraordinary amount of extra time because the older will be working on and singing those same parts.  In a choirthe whole can often be greater than the sum of it's parts giving the children a sense of accomplishment as they succeed together where alone they might not feel good enough.

I made flyers, Super Mom put the word out.  most people came had some connection to Super Mom and that helped our little experiment.

I studied, planned, I knew I didn't know enough but I was working hard at refreshing knowledge or finding places to learn new things so I could be ready.  I knew most of the kids coming, they lived in our neighborhood but I was excited to meet one family who had 3 children that I would see for the first time the first day of class.

Our tiny house had one large room and it served as TV room, living room, through way, entryway etc.  I emptied all but what I needed for class and we got the chairs in there but it was going to be crowded.

Day one parents dropped off and paid and filled out my little registration forms so I knew about allergies and such and could call parents in case of an emergency.  Annoyed at being called Mr. Mair, I told them as they arrived that Mister Tim would be fine.

Then I met 3 of the quietest kids I had seen in a long time.  The two brothers seemed wary,  Not sure if they could trust this stranger with the long hair and beard who was greeting them with a smile.  The oldest did not make eye contact. The middle child remained silent but had an impish look the implied a hidden devious intelligence.  The younger sister I didn't see much of at first she kept hiding behind her mother or her brothers.  Their smiling mother was trying to introduce me to her children and coax them into my house.  I saw her try to talk her youngest (the hiding girl) into going in and assuring her that it would be fine and she would be back in an hour, she was also telling her boys who had been hard at work (and probably play) on their family farm to beat the dirt off their shoes and shirts before they went in..

You could see the look in her eyes and her the apology in her voice that said "I asked them to change before we came but it has been a losing battle."  All the while maintaining her smile and her composure.  The smiling mother to this days in my imagination has a smile on her face.  She is one of the sweetest ladies I've known and I'm glad to continue to call her friend. (What Do We Get?)

The first few weeks went rather well.  3 of the boys in the group had a 3 or 4 note range because they refused to sing in their head voices.  2 of those boys were my new friends.  their sister I'm not sure how she sang since she mostly kept her mouth closed, and when she did it barely opened.  I persisted.  I began to notice that the intelligent devious looking child was shy but that shyness likely stemmed from a speech problem.

Worried that maybe the other kids might be teasing him I asked his mother how he was doing and if there was anything I needed to do to help.  She said the other kids were being very nice and no one had said anything and told me that he was making good progress at school with some one on one help there so just getting him to sing so he could gain a little confidence was fine.  She told me the same about her daughter and I said, oh I hadn't noticed her, she hasn't said boo to me since day one.  I was having a hard time telling if she was even there some times.  She smiled and told me that she takes a while to warm up to people.  I told her about how the older boys were doing and gave her a few ideas about how to help them at home.  I asked her if they liked to imitate police sirens and told her to encourage that since it used the head voice in a way that the boys could accept, and as they learned to use all of their voice better they would begin to have enough control to sing a wider range of pitches.

Smiling Mom and I parted and I tried to think of ways to draw out not just these three but all of the kids.  Slowly we progressed.  We made siren noises.  We imitated Mickey Mouse.  I asked them to make laser sounds and imitate light-sabers and tried to make a game of exploring their voice and little by little everyone became comfortable with each other.  We stood up and I played "their" music, things I heard on Radio Disney, and asked them to find the beat.  We learned to count.  And we became comfortable with each other.

About this time as we completed our class for that week, the parents began to arrive to pick up their children and as my three friends began to leave the youngest one, the hiding girl, ran back and gave me a big hug and said .

"I love you Mr. Tim."

My anxiety prone mind wanted to pull away because I had never done well with touching, but I resisted because I knew it would hurt this little girl's feelings.

All three grew along with the rest of the group and we finished the summer with a performance at the local assisted living center and at a back yard party thrown by one of the parents.  At the former, the devious one tortured the hiding girl just before we went on and she withdrew for the entire performance, despite the silly faces I tried to make to get her to smile, she just stood their scowling and holding her left arm with her right crossed across her chest.  at the latter event Hiding girl returned the favor and the devious one sang but did so with a scowl.  At both concerts, the oldest one watched me, even making eye contact here and there, for each beat and seemed to revel in being the one to come in on time.

This summer experiment was only supposed to be a summer thing but it had brought so much joy into our home that we didn't want to stop.  We split the groups into two and got the parents on board with doing it through the school year.  I watched all of the kids grow.  I grew closer to the family of Smiling Mom, Hiding Girl, Devious Boy, and Rhythm Boy, adding Santa Dad and (pre)Missionary brother to my friends list (real life, not Facebook)

The group grew too much for my home, we started a studio, we did theater camps, choir, I began teaching piano and eventually even preschool.  To help keep word of mouth out there I started a community chorus in the evenings.  Through it all this little family was there supporting us and warming our hearts more and more.

"Mister Tim!  I tried out for the choir at school!"

I would counter, "Have you thought about the Music Merit Badge?  I know a counselor?"


"You're lookin' at him."

More days passed instead of a 5 note range they began to be my solid singers, they could hold a part and I would often sit them next to someone who struggled.  Devious boy we found out was not shy at all. he tried out for everything he could.  All three kept surprising us with things they could do.  Hiding girl even tried out for a part in our summer theater camp.  She had the female lead in "The Nightingale" and none of us saw it coming.  I had to make a new group for boys with changing voices since some refused to quit even though they had to sing falsetto all the time.

I had them meet before the other class so I could begin to transition boys into that group a little before I thought their voices might be getting ready to drop.

I drew from my old A capella group days and taught the "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" by rote. I had to comp chords with them when they performed it but they were so proud.  It wasn't long before it was its own group and they did a full set of repertoire for each performance.

"Mister Tim!  Our band teacher is asking all the parents to come and play for one song on the final concert.  Would you do it for me?"

"I don't play bass clarinet anymore, I don't even own one.  If I had one I would though."

With in a week or two rhythm boy and devious one showed up with smiles sporting a case that I knew was going to mean I would have to practice, a lot.  They had music, and had even brought me a brand new reed.  I didn't have the heart to tell them that I preferred Tenor sax reeds to the bass clarinet ones mostly for durability.  It didn't take long before I broke it and had to go pick up a few spares.  I found a recording of the piece online and played along at nights after my kids went to bed.  I didn't completely embarrass myself, luckily I wasn't the only bass clarinet there but I WAS the only adult playing it.

On it went.  I was also their counselor for the theater merit badge and for the hiking merit badge.  The latter I thought they'd never make it when after the first one devious boy begged.

"Can I amputate my legs now, just to get the pain to stop?"

But they made it.  I didn't realize the hiking was the last one that Rhythm Boy needed for his Eagle award or that we completed it mere days before he turned 18 and became ineligible.

These people who had become friends were now more like family. (What Do We Get?)

I had seen growth like this in every child that came through my little program.  I had learned that I could teach preschool and not only survive, but thrive.  (What Do We Get?)

That was what hurt so badly when I had to let my program go.  I felt a failure more because I felt like I let those kids down.  (The crippling debt didn't help either)  I was going to miss them. I knew we would keep in touch but it would never be the same.  If I could fail these amazing kids who gave me everything I asked for and more what good was I?  I won't go into where those thoughts took me, I've done that.

1 week after I hit my lowest.  1 week to the day that I scared even myself at how far I had gone into the darkness.  Still unsure if I wasn't still lost someone in the darkness and just didn't know, I was asked to go to church.

"Mister Tim!  Will you come to my Eagle Court of Honor?"

Rhythm Boy(was it man now) made it.  Marching band, Men's choir. Smiling, making eye contact It was awesome. They asked my 4 boys to do the flag ceremony.  It wasn't a big To Do.  But that wasn't Rhythm Man's style.  it was good, and straight to the point.  I was already tearing up when he got his award, and then when he pinned his mother and father to honor them.  I sat at the back of the room beaming and trying not to let people see my eyes watering (allergies, must have been)  When he began to talk about the Mentor Pin and asked me to come up and he pinned it on me, he didn't know what I had been through or how much that not only meant to me, but how much I needed that right then.  I wasn't able to tell myself "You Done Good!" right then.  having one of those boys who had grown into such amazing men, do it for me was a blessing answered.  My allergies got the better of me and I had to wipe both nose and eyes as I sat back down. (What Do We Get?)

A couple months later Devious Boy (man?)...

"Mister Tim!  Can you come to my Eagle Court of Honor?"

Madrigals, Marching band, still auditioning for everything, completely out of his shell.  He made it.  I wasn't ready for this one either.  My own boys would be leaving for the National Jamboree the next morning and I was already emotional.  I really thought with two boys so close together they would have someone else to pin that mentor pin on.  Apparently there had been an argument with both boys deciding to choose for themselves.  Once again I tried to hide the tears in my eyes.  (What Do We Get?)

I really wasn't anything special.  I made tons of mistakes and I had to work hard just to stay ahead of those kids all those years.  When I ask "What Do We Get?"  I'm not just talking about the person doing the teaching, or even the students.  How many other teachers can be given credit for these boys?  Dozens if not more.  "What Do We Get?"  What do we get as a society?  We get men who learn how to achieve.  Women of confidence.  We get a new generation full of grace because we took the time to raise not just their intellectual I.Q. We raise their Athletic I.Q., Cultural I.Q.and Spiritual I.Q. as well.  This benefits us all.  But because we can't gain power over it, we can't gain financially from it, because we don't get to see immediate results, sometimes it is dismissed as nothing.

Today, I got to go help out with one of my favorite organizations, The Salt Lake Choral Artists.  This event was for high school kids.  I will be there tomorrow.  I'm just helping with lunch but I watch and wonder where these kids would be with out their mentors.  They are all there not just to learn from the people I consider mentors but these are choirs from all over the Wasatch Front.  When trying to get support these people , teachers and community arts organizations both wonder where their help is going to come from.  Too many people say, What do I get by helping them?  I don't go to their concerts?  They don't do anything for me?

If I had said that before I started my little business venture I wouldn't have gained the friends I have, knowledge of skills that I didn't think I had, and despite recent problems with self doubt and anxiety, a confidence that I can draw on to combat that same self doubt and anxiety.  What do I get.   I get kids who are going to grow up not to be great musicians (though a few will)  I get kids who are going to grow up to be good, intelligent, hard-working, thinking citizens.  These same kids will be taking care of me someday when I am infirm.  Music put my wife through college but she is an RN.  Art enriches all of us.  I've even heard stories of medical labs using gaming virtual reality and 3d modeling engines and re-purposing it for medical imaging.

We don't support the Utah Jazz because we think they're gonna let us play, we support it out of a sense of community spirit and love for the game and respect for the talent to play.  We can't bring up kids who respect the arts that way unless we do too.

One last story, a cautionary one maybe but poignant.  The same Piano teacher who I sang for at the McDowell group and referred a student to me complained to me once that one of the most respected members of our community put his children in this teachers program.  It was a struggle for him to get those kids to progress because they didn't come to recitals.  The respected man indicated that he didn't think there was a need.  They wouldn't ever be professional musicians anyway.  He did however go to every sports event that his kids were in.  The chances of making it big in sports, being very similar to music, what message was he sending to his kids who knew that the other students were having recitals.  What are they going to grow to believe?

What Do We Get?

Here are some of my personal favorites that have touched my life.

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