Where Did the Music Go?

children singing, music knowledgeMamacita says: Back in the day (when dinosaurs roamed the earth) every American student knew hundreds of songs – all the same songs, for the most part. Every Wednesday morning, kids all over the States would gather in their school’s auditorium, or cafeteria, and sing. In my little grade school, it was called the All-School Sing. The music teacher was in charge, and she didn’t ‘teach’ the students much of anything. She just started playing and all the older kids joined in, and after a few weeks the younger kids had picked up all the lyrics and joined in, too. It was an awesome way to learn the songs, imitating the cool big kids!

Every kid in my generation and before knew all the words to all the verses of most ‘standard American songs.’ We had songs for every holiday, every season, every celebration known to mankind, yes, even the minority ones. We knew dozens of patriotic songs. Funny songs. Indiana songs.

Even more importantly, we knew the major themes from hundreds of classical selections, because they were taught to us beginning in kindergarten, with age-appropriate lyrics. To this day, my generation can hum great classical music.

I think my generation, and the half-generation after me, were the last to benefit from this fantastic program. Shortly afterwards, it was deemed a waste of valuable class time, and it was done away with.

In my grandparents’ generation, music was so important in the schools that if the orchestra lacked a particular instrument or chair, a professional was hired to fill it. If you read “A Girl of the Limberlost,”  you will see examples of such things. (you really should read that book, but before you do, you have to read “Freckles.” It comes first. Both are by Gene Stratton Porter, and are absolutely wonderful. WONDERFUL.)

I still have my music textbooks from grade school. They are full of sweet little songs, most of which use the melodies of famous classical compositions. As children we didn’t know that, of course, but as we got older and found out what we actually KNEW, we were astounded and felt so cool. The love of those melodies had been instilled in us, and it would never leave us. And it made us seek out the actual compositions themselves, that we might hear it all.

And in the back of each of those books is the synopsis of an entire opera.

What do kids learn in music class nowadays? People like my sister do a fantastic job, considering the limitations put upon them, and the ridiculous even-larger-than-regular-classes student population thrust upon them all at once, but many schools have done away with music altogether, because they need the time for ISTEP review. In most schools, the students wouldn’t recognize a treble clef if it hit them on the head. And Beethoven is a big dog.

I used to quiz my middle school students about songs. Few knew many that weren’t on the radio or TV.  Why don’t kids these days know anything about real music? Because they aren’t taught anything about it. And since the schools dropped the ball, others picked it up and ran with it, and our seven-year-olds are wearing thongs and crop tops and running around the playground singing about sex. It’s sadder than we can even comprehend.

Oh, I don’t knock their music. I like a lot of it. It’s just sad that they have nothing in addition to it. They have no firm musical foundation, so they really can’t say “this is good because. . . . ” or “this is terrible because. . . . .”

And when they hear a song, they don’t associate it with a person, or a place, or an occurrence, or where they were or what they were doing. They associate it with a video. Their musical memories revolve around seeing a celebrity lip-synch.

No wonder so many things just plain ‘suck.’ They suck, because they’re bad and there’s no background or knowledge about why they suck.

Personally, I believe that messing with music programs in schools sucks, and I CAN tell you why. And I just did.

My mind’s eye can still see the Parkview School’s cafeteria full of little kids, sitting on the floor, grouped by grade and classroom, singing away.  I’m sure there were discipline problems, but I don’t remember any.  The kids were too busy modeling the big kids and singing.  Miss Keach, the traveling music teacher, sat at the piano, on the stage, playing and singing along with us.  She was wonderful.  She visited each classroom about once a week, teaching us the basics, and she expected us to use them while we sang our cares away at the All School Sing on Wednesday morning.  And we did.

I still can.  Every word of every song.  It’s won me many a Jeopardy round with my family, and brought me amazing comfort and given me innumerable connections with other seemingly unrelated things, until we remember that nothing is unrelated, everything is connected to everything else, and no piece of learning is ever too small that it might not someday be the key we need to unlock and open the door to the universe.

Bring back the All School Sing.


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