Okie Children, Music & Teachers: By Rick Reiley
Music as it is taught and enjoyed in our schools is something that seldom gets the credit it’s due.
I think it’s just one of those things that gets taken for granted like sunshine and morning dew.
When I was in the early grades I remember Mrs. Roberson, my first grade teacher who would accompany us on the piano as we sang our second grade teacher’s favorite songs,’Old Black Joe’, ‘Camptown Races, ‘Oh Susannah’, ‘My Old Kentucky Home’, and ‘Way Down Yonder in the Paw Paw Patch’.
Many of those were Stephen Foster tunes. Foster is widely acclaimed as America’s first professional songwriter. He died at 37, broke and penniless. But we, still to this day, sing many of his songs.
In the 7th and 8th grade I was envious of the McNally brothers, classmates who played guitar and sang at school and in church. That’s what put the guitar bug in my head and when
I was 12 I begged for a guitar for Christmas and got one on the understanding that I would take lessons from Mr. Baker at Harlson’s Music House here in Cushing. (It cost a dollar seventy five cents each.)
I took lessons for about a year and didn’t learn a thing. He was attempting to teach me to read music and I just wanted to learn ‘Hang Down Your Head Tom Dooley’ and ‘Flying Purple People Eater’. I wasn’t a good student and sat there rather quietly listening to Mr. Baker’s instructions anxiously awaiting for the hour to pass. Sometimes it took days.
I simply thought I was too ignorant to learn and chalked it up to experience. So when I got to high school I bypassed band and chorus simply because I knew I had no talent for it.
I wasn’t a jock, didn’t play sports (except for Freshman year basketball which wasn’t one of my better years). I wasn’t physical enough for sports and not the right sort of guy to be a successful smart nerd. I was perfect for band and chorus but I didn’t know it at the time.
All this time of course I loved music, sang along with the radio, admired those who could play and sing and wished I could be one of them.
At 21, well after school years, I picked up guitar again and began to teach myself from chord books. And I learned a little from friends and others who played. I wasn’t nearly as ignorant as I’d thought when I was a kid.
Which brings me to the bit of wisdom I learned from Stroud, Oklahoma songwriter, Gary Smalley, who wrote in a song, ‘If you don’t know, why don’t you ask?’
I never told Mr Baker I wanted to learn the Tom Dooley song or the Purple People Eater song. I guess I thought he should’ve known that. I don’t recall ever asking a thing as a matter of fact.
Learning is a two way street. It requires saying, ‘Huh?’, ‘What?”
I sure could have saved a lot of frustration bhy simply waking up and trying to be a better student. And sadly I never realized I wasn’t a good student until long after it mattered.
I remember the high school pep rallies led by the cheerleaders and the band.
Those were exciting times. The musicals and assemblies were good memories for me.
I could have been part of that if I’d only had a clue.
Today when I go to school Christmas programs and other such musical school endeavors throughout the year I am always surprised and relieved that music is still being taught in schools. It’s so obvious that there are kids who are not afraid to ask questions, learn and dive deeply into the process. And teachers who are ready, willing and able to lead them into and through it.
I don’t know what music means to you but it’s added immeasurably to my life and given it purpose. It’s comforting to be able to pick up an instrument and play. Or to open up and sing along with the radio or with other voices in search of just the right note.
Music is often an under celebrated source of comfort, consolation, excitation, art and wonder that needs to be spread early and often throughout our lives. It’s a stress reliever, a soul stirrer, and a means of expression that gives vent to both joys and frustrations.
That’s why I’d like to suggest you pay special attention to folks who teach music to kids. I never appreciated them at the time. But I sure do appreciate them now. Oklahoma kids are making wonderful music in and out of the classroom and good teachers pay a big part in their sustained interest and success.
Why do the teachers do it? They’re not getting rich, powerful or adulation and glory out of the deal. I would assume because they love what they do and are simply following the music.
If you know one of these folks try to say ‘thanks for following the music’ next time you meet.
You may just brighten their day.
And if you are one of these teachers, I thank you.