Saturday, March 28, 2009

My Pooka

This is a scene from the movie "Harvey". Jimmy Stewart played "Elwood P. Dowd", a very happily retired, somewhat inebriated, man in the 1940's. It was from a play by Mary Chase put on in her small town that was so successful it made it to "Broadway" and the "movies". I remember hearing about it, but I never got to see it. Well, last night, my wife and I had the privilege of "experiencing" it at our local amateur, community theater. We knew three of the "actors" (Elwood, Harvey and Myrtle May). I enjoyed "acting" with "Elwood" in an Agatha Christie Murder Mystery a few years back. He was the lead detective. I have sung barbershop with "Harvey". He is a great bass. It was fun and a tight, smooth performance by all.

A "Pooka" is from Irish Folklore/legend. Ms. Chase was raised by some Irish uncles who were "full of it" so to speak. It is known to be a "shape shifting", mischievious spirit that "makes life more interesting" for those to whom it appears. In the play Harvey takes the form, only through Elwood's eyes as a giant, male human with a white rabbit head-an imaginary friend. The only physical evidence of it in the play is a black hat left on stage with two ear-holes in the top. This "Harvey" has a rich, baritone singing voice that we hear from offstage from time to time. This director has very cleverly used a follow-spot to freeze action on stage and then stimulate some "romantic action" between four of the principals. One of the characters reads the definition of a "Pooka" from the dictionary left on stage and it's definition is changed and uses his name. Money conveniently disappears and appears from the main antagonist's purse because of "Harvey".

I'm pretty sure my "pooka" through the years has been an "imaginary musical friend". At the moment I call him "woody". He has taken residence in my baritone ukulele. He goes with me to all my classrooms I visit as a sub now. He inspires and stimulates singing, rhythm and musical "hijinx". Just yesterday, he had the kids rolling on the floor all over the classroom as "meatballs" from our song "On Top of Spaghetti". I had to stop them from rolling out the door..."and into the garden". They especially enjoyed being "nothing but moosh". He and I try to create and inspire imagination wherever we go. I refer to "him" as "Woody" in my case and I tell them about his recent stint in the "Instrument Hospital" for his "crack in the back". (he's made of mostly wood) Hey, don't scoff, it works with Kinders through Thirds.

Previous "pookas" have appeared to me throughout my "musical life" ie. sitting next to me on the piano bench and tapping out the rhythm on a particularly challenging practice piece; being the unseen third (trio) part with my sister and I as we sang "duets" in Swedish for old church friends: thumping the bass viol in the Jr. Hi. Orchestra right next to me; being the invisible 13th madrigal in my strolling groups in H.S. and college to keep me on pitch.(I really wasn't alone on my part); touring with me in two college choirs on the East and West coasts of the U.S. and being in our "gospel quartet"(quintet); not appearing with me, but being there for me in my "naval choir" gigs. (such fortification he provided); steering me clear of a "rock and roll" band as a "back-up" singer in those early days; being an honorary member of the S.P.E.B.S.Q.S.A. in three choruses and quartets; standing next to me in the bass and tenor sections of three Master Chorales, one that toured in Europe and sang for the Pope in the Sistine and placed 6th in the Olympics of Choirs in Wales; and tried to stand next to me on local gigs to retirement homes with our Ukulele Jazz Band called, "Pineapple Jam".

I can truly feel a "palpable presence" when I'm out playing and singing now. I never used to know what it was. I must be part Irish and "he" must've been following me all my life. Music as been my life saver and "relief valve" from many a stress and disappointment. It has also provided many of my most joyful moments...which can't be captured or recorded on any CD or Blu-ray. You can see why I'm convinced that music must be shared in our classrooms and of all kinds. Recent State Budget Cuts are going to do away with most, if not all, of the specialists and most of the regular classroom teachers haven't got the time or the inclination to provide any musical leaning as a vehicle for their lessons. I was at a "fund raiser" again this past Friday and this time they "got to the kids" (of all grades) with a "DJ" and all their currently popular rock tunes. She, the DJ, had a contest between boys and girls to see/hear who knew the words (could sing) all of the latest songs better. It was a tie. Wow, were they motivated and intently listening to every profit-making pitch (pun intended). We are losing so many of our kid's "musical minds" and "manic motivations" by not including more music and rhythm in their daily classroom lives. RRR

Saturday, March 21, 2009

An Irish Blessing

May the road rise to meet you;
May the wind be always at your back;
May the sun shine warm...upon your face;
May the rain fall soft upon your fields'
And until we meet again,
May He hold you in His Hand,
May God hold you...
May He hold you in the palm of his Hand.

I just spent a whole week subbing in a very needy first grade. My hat is off to their regular teacher. She definitely needs an Irish Blessing. I agreed to take the class for a whole week a few months ago as a favor. Little did I know then what this class has been through. It is just full (20) of sweet and challenging 7 and 8 year olds. There is a whole range of problems they are having and yet there are some outstanding (and typical) students. I was just told yesterday, Friday, that this class had been abandoned by their original teacher at the beginning of the school year and had had a series of subs until their latest teacher, a young and very organized teacher, had consented to stay. However, now she has gotten her "pink slip" and probably won't be coming back. She had been given a week of "training", I think, as a consolation or a preparation for another level or district. What a shame. I haven't been in a better, neater organized class. The prep she had done for my lessons was extraordinary. I only hope I did her justice and my best as I plowed through almost every "rubric". Of course I added my own little "touches" musically and dramatically to make it fun for them...and for me.
Here are some "high lights" (and low lights) from the preceeding week:
  • St. Patrict's Day on Tuesday meant that we had to have lots of Irish music and fun. We sang, heard or learned: "Cockles and Mussels" (acted it out-they loved being the "wheelbarrow", "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling" (sang, practiced two ways of smiling), "The Happy Wanderer" (German, see previous post, but we had sing/act it out), "Here Comes the Sun" (the Beatles would've loved our rendition), "Oh What a Beautiful Morning" (done on the actual Vernal Equinox with explanations about Spring, 12/12 of light/dark),"What A Wonderful World" (Louis Armstrong would be proud of our take on it), "Over in the Meadow" (a counting song, they loved it)
  • The Reading/Social Studies Theme for the week was "Recycling, Planting" so we had something to read or write about that everyday. We had a too long, all-school,assembly of rapid slides about recycling sponsored by the City's Mayor Pro-Tem. We called attention to the "New School Garden" being started by the Principal with railroad ties. A good plan, I tried to offer some advice, having done that for 5 years at my retirement school. Nope. Two of my "hyper-kinesthetic" kids got in trouble from another teacher when they were caught balancing on the 3' tie walls to and from running the attendance into the office (a long and tempting trip from the back 40 where the classroom is located) Next time I'll sing the "Garden Song" and "Anti-Garden Song" with them.
  • Language Enrichment/Gross Motor Coordination...which they desperately needed, brought out my creative side. I had one day, Wednesday, after I noticed they were all-over the room knocking over baskets of desk supplies, of "balancing on blue-tape (on the floor) lines. We connected it to Dr. Seuss's "Oh the Places You'll Go" and my favorite part, "...Life's a Great Balancing Act..." This was a real challenge for walk only on the lines to and from their desks. We added the imagery of "Hot Lava/Alligator Pits" if you fell off the lines. Then "you were a "ghost" until the next recess. One kid was very concerned to get his name off the board-ghost-list. It sure calmed and slowed them down for a day.
  • In honor of St. Patty's Day, we challenged them to find larger shamrocks and 4-leaf clovers at recess in their massive grass playgound. We sang "...I'm looking over a 4-leaf clover..." The prize for the largest shamrock (no 4-leaf's were found) was a little paperbag puppet of a green frog they could make at home. The kid that won, brought it back the next day and he gave us a late-in-the-day puppet show. That gave us the idea to have them write their own puppet plays about recycling as one of their daily writing assignments (must be 5 sentences at least) We had a contest and the top four "playwrights" were given other puppet packets (from Martha Stewart) to take home. They then got to present puppet shows of their own with 15 different hand puppets I brought from my grandkid's stash. What fun we had with that. (Sharks, catfish, Crush, cats, frogs etc.)
  • Most of the math learning was not from the torn-out workbook sheets pre-set for them, but from calculating the "marble points" for the "party marble jar" She runs a "scoreboard" which starts over after each recess based on "student behaviors" vs. "teacher correction time". If the lesson is stopped or distracted by the students the teacher gets a negative point that takes away from the positive reinforcement points the "class" gets for individuals who help each other or the class to learn by the usual helpful behaviors...or catching the teacher in a mistake. Great game, but it takes up alot of time to maintain and calculate. She also has the "green card" reward system and "group points" with hand stamps and stickers at the end of each day. We ended the week with a + 10 for the students so ten marbles were put in the jar toward a party. The jar is almost full.
  • Three boys were the constant challenge and took the most negative time away from the lessons and class. One was finally able to come two day without being tardy (one day a half hour)He doesn't get to sit in a group but has "island" status. He has trouble staying there. He loves to clean up others messes and blame other for the trouble he gets into in class or on the playground(if he even gets recess)He is very frustrated because he can't really read or write yet at this 1st grade level. He was asked to spend a half hour in another classroom on Friday. One boy has some disabilities that cause him to touch everything (mild asbergers?) and make his speech very hard to understand. He bugs the kids (teacher) and knocked off a glass jar of reward "money" and broke it. He sits right next to the front where the regular teacher must spend most of her time. Another boy is so hyper both physically and verbally that he gets himself into all kinds of trouble. He is smart and gets his work done fast and then butts into others with "trying to help them" unrequested. He "has no brakes" and has to have his hand held in line to go anywhere. He pushes and fights with the first boy and they have to be separated.
  • Among the several sweet and extremely quiet Hispanic students is one girl who is a real "firecracker" a good way. She is like a cheerleader in training. She leads the flag salute and songs in the A.M. Dances around the room, especially to my Irish Jig Music in the A.M. before school. She always puts the chairs down. She's a "tom-boy" with more boy "pals" than girls. She writes well and won the puppet-playwrite contest. She also shed the most tears during the week...crying when the first boy above scribbled on her beautifully done writing paper. She laboriously and tearfully erased it though and got top marks. On St. P's day she came dressed all in green and played "Molly Malone" with her "wheelbarrow".

Now you can see why I love doing this "reprise" of my career...especially at this age. They are challenging, eager to learn and "love" you as a "fun teacher". I get an Irish Blessing everyday I go out and teach. RRR

Saturday, March 14, 2009

My Packed Knapsack

The Happy Wanderer
I love to go a-wandering
Along the mountain track
And as I go, I love to sing,
My knapsack on my back.
*Valderi, valdera, valderi,
Valdera -ha-ha-ha-ha-ha
Valderi, valdera, my knapsack on my back.
I love to wander by the stream
That dances in the sun
So joyously it calls to me
Come join my happy song.*
I wave my hat to all I meet,
And they wave back to me.
And blackbirds call so loud and sweet
From every greenwood tree.*
High overhead the skylarks wing,
They never rest at home.
But just like me, they love to sing,
As o'er the world we roam.*
Oh may I go a-wandering
Until the day I die
And may I always laugh and sing
Beneath God's clear blue sky.*
But now I tread upon a "mill"
A-watching my TV
My knapsack has a long handle
I pull it as I sing.*
My second son recently sent me some You-Tube renditions of the above song. He even sent me the German words. My favorite was the Muppet version, with one unfortunate muppet climber falling back down the mountain on each successive chorus (Ha-Ha-Ha, Ja-Ja-Ja german) The last surviving muppet gets blind-sided by a giant boulder. I think the song goes along with his tyrolean hat with feather and his wanting to learn German.
I used to be a hiker in my college days. I actually sang this song as I hiked along with various groups in Yosemite's High Country (Vogelsang etc.) At that time my goal was to hike the length of the John Muir Trail along the spine of the Sierra Nevadas. Sorry, too late, cross that off the "bucket list". A small backpack (our version) is very handy on a day-hike. It carries the essentials, water canteen, Sierra Cup, trail mix, a book, first aide kit etc. Knapsacks, originally from the low German etymology (knappsack) or Dutch (knappzak) was carried by all the troops between the 17th and 20th Century. Actually it was called a Rucksack and was more triangular in shape with one or two straps for over the shoulders. (above is the front and back views of the knapsack on sale on the internet)
Now I have a backpack with wheels and a long handle. (as pictured above) I wheel it from room to room, school to school, as I sub. It is packed full of "goodies", "tools of my trade", "prizes", "balloon balls", "20 Q -room size" and usually some other games. I lug it along with my baritone uke case which contains my uke,(recently repaired), my "piercing attention chimes", tuners, sheet music, conductor's baton etc. Yesterday I had three hand-puppets, "Crush" "Bruce" "Cat-Without-the-Hat-Fish" Recently I've brought panoramic photos of our Milky Way for my star song(see previous post). I try to be a "welcome relief teacher" who is very mobile, flexible and extemporaeous. Some (most) teachers enjoy the break and invite me back. Some (a few) are "threatened" (the kids like him too much) and don't invite me back. I'm more for the romance of learning/teaching and less for the rigor of the same at this point in my long, extended career.
So, it turns out I'm not hiking the Sierras but "walking the treadmill" in our bedroom. I put on a "travel channel" and have a go at it. now most every day. We are trying to lose weight for our up-coming cruise to Hawaii. Hope to do some hiking there...with a knapsack on my back! Maybe I'll even sing like the birds...Ne-ne's in H.I. Can I do this "until the day I die"? I hope so. It would be a great way to go out! RRR

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Man-In-the-Moon Marigolds?

These are probably not "Man-In-The-Moon Marigolds", but I like their look. My wife just planted a flat and a half of them down by the curb on our corner next to her drastically pruned "French Perfume Roses". Amidst them she put some dark blue daisies. What a colorful corner it is going to be in full bloom. About this time of year, every year, she gets the urge to plant flowers. I love that about her. It reminds me of a short play/musical I was in with "Adam" watering the flowers after "Eve's" death and talking about her love of flowers. It never failed to bring tears to my eyes. He missed her will I. It happens to all of us eventually and we have to face the inevitable. By the way, I was "The Serpent" in that play and got to "seduce" Eve with a "song and dance"...can you imagine? You would think it was totally a "miscast"...but you never know...

As I was walking up to my favorite "subbing school" today I ran into the Principal. After greeting me, she pointed to a dreary little planter near the entrance and commented about how the attempt at flowering plants there always got trampled. I suggested marigolds as a more hardy plant/flower and told her about my wife's recent plantings between the recent rains. I could tell she wanted to put some color there too. This is a wonderful Principal who does her best to bring a bright and positive spirit to her school. She's not just an administrator. Everyone loves her...especially the kids.

Of course, being a drama person, I was reminded of that play I read years ago. I looked it up. I thought it was written by the late (yesterday) Horton Foote. RIP. He was responsible for other masterpieces, i.e. "To Kill A Mockingbird" (screenplay/oscar) "Trip to Bountiful" "Tender Mercies" which, in many ways are similar to the play I was remembering: "The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds". It was written by Paul Zindel back in the 70's I think and directed Paul Newman. His wife, Joanne was the main character. It was the story of a very disfunctional family. The daughter was trying to grow marigold seeds that had been zapped by gamma rays for a school science fair. The mother and other daughter had a "toxic" relationship that tainted the whole play. It was a classic tragedy. The experimentor, the mal-formed flowers were blissfully unaffected by all the "radiation"- rampant relationships.

What I'm observing as I sub more and more lately is what I think are similar siblings and families. I watch how so many of these young ones cannot focus or concentrate on their learnings/teachings for more than micro-seconds and I wonder, what is going on, or not going on at there even a home? Is it one day-care after another? Is it TV, video games, Wii, and whatever requires split second attention with NO INVESTMENT, UNDERSTANDING OR INTIMACY. I see little caring concern from parents or teachers alike in my brief dealings. Granted, I don't have the long-term, in depth connections that I used to have when I taught full time. But I certainly see tips of icebergs and hints of "radiation". It's is like they are all running around with "blue-tooth" earphones attached to their ears, totally oblivious to what is going on in their immediate surroundings. (maybe the radiation from those phones is getting to their brains too). I suggested recently to another principal that he alternate science fairs with invention conventions to get the families more involved in their child's learning.

They are not aware of the the Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds (kids) all around them and how briefly they flower and bloom...waxing and waning like the moon. Is this lunacy another sign of our culture's decline? Toxic radiation at the core...the family, the school. "DOOM!" Isn't that the name of a popular video game? RRR