Category Archives: People

Kids and Music: It all started with Hail to the Chief

Nola teaches middle school music. She’s come full circle. She teaches where she went to middle school.

“I’m about fourth generation Roscoe person,” she told me. The cappuccino machine at Meg’s Daily Grind was loud this Saturday, but the aroma was heavenly.  Unknown-5

I’ve known Nola for more than a decade. She was our church organist. And even though we had become fast friends, I had never really quizzed her about her love for music.

Unknown-4“When I was a preschooler, there was a piano in my folks’ garage–an old upright.  I would go out there and make up songs. There was a funeral for…JFK…then the inauguration for Johnson. They were playing Hail to the Chief over and over.“   Unknown-6

So I went out and played Hail to the Chief. That was my first tune. I was playing by ear.”

Her parents listened to the church organist, Florence Sugars, who told them, “‘Get the kid piano lessons, and get the piano tune so you don’t ruin her ear. You want her listening to things that are in tune.’”

Unknown-7“Thank you Mom,” Nola smiled. “I don’t think I would have gone as far as I did without the encouragement of my mom, and without the encouragement of our church.”

“Did they upgrade your piano as you progressed?” I asked.

“I had my first lesson during the week. We went out on the weekend and bought a piano.

“Of course I could only play my two greatest hits: Hail to the Chief and Blowin’ in the Wind, my special with two hands. I had made up accompaniment with a harmony part with my left hand for Blowin’ in the Wind because that was on the radio all the time (then).”

“Sounds like you were a close family.”

“They were very supportive…always interested in finding music for me. By the same token, I kind of monopolized the piano away from my sisters. If they had any ability, I was too selfish. I wasn’t able to share.”

“You were the oldest?”  Unknown-8

“And I was very bossy to them in high school.”

Meg’s cappuccino started roaring again. I wanted a refill.

Nola decided to become a high school band director.

“Teaching kids is a big responsibility,” I commented.

“And, I think it was really big. I’ve had adults come back to tell me, when they’re at conferences about their kids–they have all this baggage about some teacher who told them they couldn’t sing when they were little. I don’t think some teachers realize that if you’re so picky, like I was to my sisters, you can hurt people more than you know.I couldn’t think of anything else I was interested enough in pursuing.  I’ve had many, many adults, especially men, say, ‘My teacher said I couldn’t sing, and I never sang again.’”  music-match-play_ball-baseball-baseball_matches-the_star_spangled_banner-dre0035l.jpg

“But you encourage your students.”

“That’s what I hope.”

“How did you start playing the organ?”

“We had an organ at church…I really didn’t like the sound of…didn’t even have it played at my wedding. I went to Arizona…visited Organ Stop Pizza. They had a Wurlitzer organ connected to a grand piano…a train, car horns, and cymbals…everything you could think of. You could sit and eat pizza, and this person would play the organ. We were just thrilled. We bought all of their records. It was hilarious. After the Arizona trip…I found out I liked the sound of the instrument itself because it was a pipe organ. “All I had ever heard was electronic organs. Hearing a pipe organ doing the Bach Minor Toccata, da-na-na,” she mimicked the scary movie sound, “it’s not going inspire you unless you want to be creepy on Halloween.”  51avUayhsnL._SY300_

We talked about budget cuts that cut music from the curriculum.

“It’s like cutting out a part of my heart. I don’t know enough about politics to be able to fix it, so it just aches. There are so many studies…about the brain. It is just not an option. Listening to music, playing…performing music…helps your brain. Doing music, you’re actually increasing neuron-pathways.”

“Some people say music doesn’t do much for them,” I prodded. Unknown-9

“If you turned all the music off their TVs…just had words, and if you turned off their movies and just had action, and had only news on the radio and didn’t have the music, didn’t have music when you’re getting ready in the morning, when you’re cleaning the garage, when you want to exercise, I think then you would realize that something is missing.”

This miss won’t miss life

I met Tabitha because she was a fellow thespian with my daughter at their high school. They became fast friends and soon Tab was spending a lot of time at our house.

So I know things about her: she loves steak but not vegetables. She is quiet, responsible, respectful and determined for her life to make a difference. We were in Loves Park, IL.

We wanted a sandwich place, but the one we chose was closed, so we went across the street to the Basil Cafe, a favorite of mine for Mediterranean food. I wasn’t sure how Tab would like it.

Soft jazz greeted us with white tablecloths even for lunch, and a friendly greeting by our hostess. Perfect, I thought. I ordered spanakopita, goat cheese and spinach stuffed filo pastry.

“You’re not a goat cheese person, Tab, huh!”

“Nooooo,” she giggled.

I sighed, knowing this meat and potatoes girl would always be the slender beauty she is now.

“You’re studying to be a social worker?” I asked, launching our chat as we waited for our food.

“I decided on community college for two years. It would save a lot of money, and I don’t have a lot saved up. I knew Tab works many hours at a local restaurant as a server, just to afford the community college tuition.

“Are people good tippers?”

“No, not really. Some are. As a server you expect 20 percent if you give good service and you refill drinks, and the food comes out with nothing wrong in the order. If you give them everything they need. I don’t think people should tip less than 15 percent. ‘Cause if someone gives me less than 10 percent, it’s like an insult, like I did something to offend them, or didn’t give them good service.”

“Do you like the school?”

“They have really, really good teachers, and good programs, and get you ready for a four-year, so, yes, I like it.”

“Sounds like this is a lot about finances.”

“Yes.”

“Does social work pay well?”

“Not so good. But I wouldn’t give up this career for anything.”

Challenges are nothing new for Tab. Besides working full time while going to school, she had to take a year off for medical reasons.

“I had really bad headaches. There was a whole time when we were trying to figure out what it was. They misdiagnosed me a couple of times…then found I had torn something in my spinal column–a tiny, tiny tear that caused me to have headaches. They stopped the leaking. Spinal headaches are just horrible.”

“Hopefully that is behind you,” I said admiring her courage.

“I’m probably always going to have migraines.”

“Are you feeling like you are behind?”

“So many people are switching majors, still in their sophomore year at my age. More people just aren’t sure what they want to do.”

Tab is not ambivalent.

“I really want to work with kids up to the time they are teenagers. Kids that have dealt with domestic violence, and also with battered women. I want to support and understand them, not judging. I want to teach them how to be strong, how to make it, that’s it’s okay, and that what happened to them it doesn’t make them less of a person.”

“Is your pizza good?” I interrupted.

“The crust is a little tough,” she said. “But it’s homemade sauce–very, very good.”

“Has studying for social work made you see things you didn’t see before? At your restaurant? Abusers?” I was curious.

“When you see a guy and girl sit down at the table, you’re like, ‘Hey, how’s it going?’ and she just looks down at her plate. I’ll say, ‘Can I bring you something to drink?’ and try to make eye contact. She won’t look at me, and he’ll order everything for her. You can tell she’s hesitant to say anything, scared. I just want to pull her aside. You can’t do that, because if you say anything, he’s going to get irate and she’s the one who’s going to have to deal with it when she gets home, and not you.”

“What motivates you to help?”

“‘Cause I’ve been through bad situations, and I’ve come out and survived them. And, it made me a better, stronger person. You just have to get through it day by day. Forget regret, your life is yours to miss.”

“That’s from the musical Rent?”

She nods and smiles that I knew her favorite show.

“If I think I’m going to regret something, I’m going to do something about it. I don’t like to live in regrets, because then you dwell on them so long that you’re missing out on a lot of things.”

“Are you thinking dessert?” I knew she was.

Turtle cheesecake won. Tab had a big slice. I tasted a corner of hers. “Yum, lots of caramel,” she enjoyed.