Thursday, September 25, 2014

*T.E.C.E. - 001

"Music is an important part of my life and so as a teacher in the Peace Corps, I knew I wanted to share music with my students.  When I arrived with my group of volunteers in Benin and they asked us what the most unusual item we brought with us was, mine was a small ghetto blaster.  The thing was clunky and it took a lot of space in my suitcase, along with lots of DD batteries, but I anticipated that it would be well worth it.
School girls greet their Peace Corps school teacher,
holding on to her bicycle basket ...
In my village, the high school where I taught English had little amenities.  There was no electricity, no glass for the windows, no textbooks, no visual aids, and students squeezed together and shared desks.  The Beninese style of teaching was very disciplined, but dry.  Due to the lack of textbooks, students spent most of the class period copying information from the board.
With such necessary but tedious learning tasks, I was excited to introduce some creative teaching methods to the classroom and get the students engaged.   I was especially eager to share music with my students in my English lessons.

So one day, during the fall when the harmattan winds were blowing, I schlepped the ghetto blaster into my backpack, hopped on my bike and rode to school prepared to play some songs at the end of class for my older students (roughly 9th grade).  This class was large, 70 students, and managing it was always a challenge.  I worried that playing music may be too disruptive and when I pulled the ghetto blaster out of my backpack, my fears came true.  Students rushed up to the front of the classroom to see my contraption and marvel at it.  I yelled, “Get back in your seats!” feeling my head getting hot and starting to regret this exercise.  After everyone was finally seated I pulled out the flipchart with the lyrics to “Three Little Birds” by Bob Marley.

We studied vocabulary words in the song and went over each lyric.  As soon as I played the song, chaos erupted again.  Many of male students stood up and did a funky dance down the aisle much to the hilarity of the rest of the class.  Seventy students screaming and laughing drowned out my admonishments to quiet down. No one was listening to the song anymore.  My temper flared again.  After several unsuccessful attempts, I finally got the class to quiet down and be seated.  Reluctant to continue, I pulled out the flip chart for the lyrics to the next song – “At Last” by Etta James.  We went over each line:

At last
My love has come along
My lonely days are over
And life is like a song
Oh yeah yeah
At last
The skies above are blue
My heart was wrapped up in clover
The night I looked at you
I found a dream, that I could speak to
A dream that I can call my own
I found a thrill to press my cheek to
A thrill that I have never known
Oh yeah yeah
You smiled, you smiled
Oh and then the spell was cast
And here we are in heaven
for you are mine...
At Last

Suddenly, my teenage students were listening.  Such romantic lyrics peaked their interest.  God, I just might have their attention now, I thought.   Then with nervous anticipation on my part, I put Etta James in and pressed play.
Now this is what I mean by a moment of being because I swear as soon as I hit play, you could hear a pin drop and a brightness of being took over.  First, the violins singing, then Etta James’ booming voice soared out of the classroom, through the windows, out into the windy sunny day and touched some strange unseen chord strung down from heaven.  Here was Etta James’ voice slowly and clearly expressing this universal elation of finding love.  And my students understood.  We all understood.   It could be my imagination or fondness of memory, but that moment was simply magic.
At the end of the song, the class cheered and some students with moist eyes gave me the thumbs up and said, “Yes teacher, we like!” They asked me to play it again.  Who would have thought that a 1960’s American love song would be such a hit with teenagers sitting in a rural village classroom in West Africa?  After class, I practically floated out of there.
Sometimes on warm, dry, windy days when I am alone and it is quiet outside, I think of that day in an African village."

*T.E.C.E. - things evolution cannot explain

Music is among the artistic and philosophical expressions for which evolutionary science and theory have no adequate explanation,*  There is a great gulf between 'survival of the fittest' and what appears (only in humans) to be, for lack of a better term, a soul.

*The dominant evolutionary theory is that music is about sexual selection.  Try fitting that to Handel's Messiah or early Egyptian Cheironomy.