It’s also just fun, much like the music of Robert Mason Sandifer, the young composer I’m highlighting today. Mason, as I call him, is a private student of mine, so this post is perhaps a tad self-serving, but even if he weren’t my student, I would adore his music.
In the waning years of the Obama Administration, a strident new form of race hustling emerged. Combining elements of identity politics, Foucaultean power dynamics, Cultural Marxism, and Nineties-style corporate diversity training, Critical Race Theory (CRT) emerged as a powerful ideological bludgeon with which to batter anyone with the audacity to be white.
At its core, CRT proposes a simple thesis: any person of color, in any material or spiritual condition, is automatically oppressed compared to white people, because white people benefit from inherent privilege due to their whiteness. Alternatively, black and brown people face systemic racism—racism present in the very structure of the West’s various institutions—so even when not facing overt acts of racism, they are still suffering from racism nonetheless. The source of white people’s “privilege” is that systemic racism benefits them at the expense of black people.
The problem is easy to spot: any personal accountability is jettisoned in favor of group identities, so any personal setbacks for a darker-skinned individual are not the result of that individual’s agency, but rather the outcome of sinister, invisible forces at play within society’s institutions themselves. Similarly, any success on the part of a lighter-skinned individual is due to the privilege that individual enjoys.
About fourteen months ago The Before Times ended, ushering in The Age of The Virus. On 16 March 2021, my little school transitioned to distance learning, and like other schools in South Carolina, we finished the year online.
With Awards Day today and graduation just eight days away (next week is Exam Week, so it will be a much lighter week than most for yours portly), it seemed appropriate to review this highly unusual school year, and to reflect upon how it went, and what the long-term implications of it will be.
One of the truest statements I’ve ever heard is “if you want to learn something, teach it.” Much of my teaching career has been built upon that premise, and it’s stretched my mind and talents far beyond what I thought I was capable of achieving.
A young education major at the local liberal arts college once told me that it’s unethical to learn on the job when teaching. As I recall, I laughed in his face, and said, “Kid, the only way to learn how to teach is by learning on the job.” No one knows everything, especially educators (why do you think we became teachers?).
That’s certainly been the case with teaching guitar. I’d always struggled to wrap my mind (and hands) around string instruments, and while I picked up bass (one note at a time is much easier than six), I assumed I’d never be able to play guitar. Indeed, I’m still not very good at playing guitar, and would not consider myself a “guitar player.”
What I discovered is that as I taught guitar lessons—often fumblingly so initially—I was learning to play guitar.
My poor health recovered, I tested negative for The Virus, and the Spring Concert was a smashing success. I managed to get back to work Wednesday, giving me time to build—for the first time since the 2019 Christmas Concert—my Frankenstein’s Monster sound system, rehearse my students, and wire up a ton of microphones, amps, keyboards, and the like.
After every big concert, I spend part of a class period conducting a “concert postmortem,” my pet term for reviewing the highs and lows of the previous night. It’s a good opportunity to discuss elements that could be improved for the next concert, but also to allow the students to bask in the glory of their performance a little longer.
Not surprisingly, this process tends to work better with high school students, who have developed politeness filters and know how to phrase suggestions diplomatically. They’re also veterans, so they understand better the realities of live performance, and don’t have unrealistic expectations. Middle school students tend to either be over-awed by the experience (one student Thursday evening exclaimed, “That was awesome!”) or very critical of small errors. That’s why we frame these discussions as “constructive criticism,” which helps the students understand the purpose is to build each other up and point out areas where we can all improve.
Regardless, I’m letting readers in on that process a bit with a general “concert postmortem,” including our finalized set list.
Tonight is the Spring Concert at my little private school, an event that The Virus denied us in 2020, and which my illness earlier this week seemed to threaten. Indeed, it’s the first true concert the students have given since the ignominious Christmas Concert 2019, which veterans of my class have dubbed “Corporate Christmas” for reasons I cannot elaborate upon here.
In the spirit of live music, I thought I’d look back this week at a post about the first Spooktacular, before the epic front porch Spooktacular II. This inaugural Spooktacular was back during The Before Times, in The Long, Long Ago, when coffee shops still would let me gyrate behind a keyboard for tips on Halloween.
The show ended up being a huge success, and inspired the at-home, front-porch sequel in October 2020. I’m currently planning a springtime front porch concert for Friday, 28 May 2021, but I’ve gotsta get through tonight first.
Every spring my school sponsors a big fine arts festival, a weekend dedicated to celebrating and showcasing our talented students. The weekend includes two nights of our drama students performing whatever play or musical they’re presenting that season, as well as an exhibit of student artwork.
The first night, however, is the big Spring Concert. After the dance students share some pieces, my student-musicians take the stage for their one big night of the semester.
The Spring Concert is like the Super Bowl for these kids: it’s the biggest stage most of them will take during the academic year (though several of my students gig with bands and ensembles outside of school), and the one time they really get to soak up the spotlight. The goal of my music classes is to put on good performances, not to seek fame, but the kids deserve some accolades and kudos. Besides, a big part of music is being able to share it with other people.
With the Spring Concert about six weeks away, my students and I sat down this week to begin programming the concert. Programming a concert is part science, but also an art; it requires a certain “feel” for the pieces, and how those disparate pieces link together to create a cohesive, exciting whole.