Saturday, May 28, 2011

Inch by Inch, Row by Row


somewhere over the rainbow....
Originally uploaded by V'ron
I've been spending a lot of time with the kids lately. So it only makes sense that the music review for this blog entry is Stella and Sam's school music recital. What can I say? Especially with the younger classes: Sammy's class of first through third graders, all scrubby-faced with little bandanas around them to suggest the "Down on the Farm" theme. They accompany themselves with Montessori bells, woodblocks, and other simple but still musical instruments, and they add touches of American Sign Language to their hand motions so that the smile of seeing your kid sing his heart out doesn't wipe out until well after the show and your face is hurting. No critique here. I mean, yes, they attempted "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" (and the girl in front of Sammy kept glaring at him because he was really belting it out) but that's a song few adults not named Judy can pull off. It works with little kids, though, depsite the godawful intonation, especially when one of those kids is your kid. Just picture that combination of cringing and pure love and joy when they reached for "That's Where You'll Fiiiiiind Me....." It works because the enthusiasm more than compensates for the pitchiness. I mean, little kids are fearless when they sing. They don't care if they're out of tune. I don't even think they can tell. And their fearless enthusiasm is infectious. I found myself almost singing along, Judy Garland be damned.

The older kids ran a fewtunes on recorders, plastic, untunable recorders. Stella's class did some violin runs. Best part was "Turkey in the Straw" -- these kids, unlike the Ice Cream Man, actually know and can play the chorus. If you knew that song (along with The Entertainer) only from the ice cream truck, you'd be shocked that there was a chorus. And the adolescent kids played guitars, not too many chords, but lots of finger notes. They read sheet music to play, bringing to mind the old joke about how to get a lead guitar player to turn down his amp. (Answer: Put sheet music in front of him.)

But what's been sticking in my head has been the final song they all did, David Mallet's "The Garden Song." I know this song inside and out because I first heard it on a live Arlo Guthrie album back in the early 80s, and then later, sung by Arlo himself, in the later 80s when I was living in DC. In both instances Arlo spends half the song telling one of his brilliantly-timed comedic stories and teaches the audience the song, lyrics and all, for a sing-a-long. It's a happy, childlike song with absolutely no irony to it and it sticks in your head like peanut butter in your mouth. Inch by inch.... row by row... gonna make this garden grow ...... Even the older kids sang it gleefully. And it brought me back to that Arlo show in DC, where I had lawn seats at Wolf Trap, sharing a blanket with a bunch of other mid-20s activists who though we'd been born in the wrong generation. It also brought me back to a great road trip I'd taken on the east coast, listening to Guthrie and Seeger's "Precious Friend" playing in the car and just how happy and hopeful I felt despite everything around me. That song has the same effect on me today, and I was pleasantly amazed about this.

Two days later, I'd brought my Girl Scouts to Grant Park for a service project -- the Weed-Out. It's an event in the spring sponsored by the Park People, to just pull invasive weeds. The really brutal ones are the Garlic Mustard and Burdock, but our concentration was Garlic Mustard. (Apparently, while being an invasive weed, it makes a fine pesto). The invitation page admits "pulling weeds doesn't sound like fun, " but they said it is. And believe it or not, my girls admitted it was indeed fun. Probably something about being all together while doing it. But again, my favorite moment was when they all started, while digging in the dirt, singing, "Inch by inch... row by row." It was spontaneous, it was perfect, and it gave me hope for a lot of things. Mostly, though, it reminded me that music is just as potent in my life as those scientific studies say scent is. One song can bring back so many wonderful memories, and now I've added another precious one to "inch by inch...."

Doing a tour of Madison with Stella's class field trip was especially fun, even on a fairly quiet day when the Senate wasn't in session. So instead the kids got to sit in the senators' chairs themselves, and pretend they were at hearings. I learned that there were over 18 kinds of imported marble to make the capitol building. We had this amazing tour guide ("last year's wasn't nearly as good," the class teacher confessed) who knew all sorts of great trivia and could not be stumped with questions. At one point, she smiled at the kids, after a discussion on who paid for all of this ("A tax on the railroads -- which is why the railroad comission gets its own hearing room" -- fair enough) and told them, "Remember, this is your house. And you're always welcome here." It wasn't a political statement, it was simply a fact. I don't know how deeply that sunk in, but that's all they need for right now. Inch by inch, row by row....