Monday, October 11, 2010

Sing a Song

For better or for worse, music is the backdrop of my daily life at school. Daily I hear the Carpenter's and the Muzak version of It's a Small World to signal different parts of cleaning time (the students clean the school; the results are about what you might expect). When I first started, I thought I was cracking up and hearing the imaginary. Imagine sitting at work, and all of the sudden, out of nowhere, It's a Small World starts playing. Yah, that's how I felt. In classes there is often another Carpenter's song. Japan still loves the Carpenter's. It weirds them out when I say that nobody back home really listens to them and that many people (gasp) have no idea who they are/were. Recently, though, I have been successful in getting some teachers to allow me to make the shift to something more current, even if they love to say that most anything else is "too hard."

A few weeks ago, possibly my favorite time of the school year came around. Since I don't always have a schedule of what's going on with the students, it appeared randomly and out of nowhere to me that the sound of students voices lifted in song started to fill the courtyard between the teachers' room and the classrooms. The students were practicing, beautifully, for the singing contest. Every time, it made me smile. It felt like I was in the middle of some musical or something. They practiced hard, class by class, and they were really good. Any time I heard them, I stopped whatever I was doing and went to listen. Once in awhile I took a picture. Or a video.

It went something like this shaky video across the courtyard:

Maybe I'm just a sensitive dork, but the big day filled my mind with so many thoughts and emotions, way bigger than a simple singing contest. Music moves me, makes me pause and feel thoughts inside my head in a different way. I assume it does this for many people and that it's part of why we like certain songs, because of the power they have to make us really Feel Something.

What amazed me both last year and this year is that as each class sings two songs, one of of the students from the class is the director and another is the pianist. These are junior high school kids. They play the piano well enough to accompany their classes. In most classes, there were two students talented enough, one for each song. I'm pretty sure when I was in junior high there wouldn't have been so many students who could do that. It blew me away.

Singing Contest
(faces blurred for privacy) Photobucket

Then there was one of our special students. He is autistic. I always teach him separately from his homeroom class, and he can be quite a handful and has trouble doing any one thing for more than about 30 seconds. This day was the only time I'd seen him together with his homeroom class. Today he was part of the team. He walked out on stage and waved at me and a couple other teachers (insert heart melt) and sang with so much energy. I kept sort of expecting him to bolt, but he didn't. He stayed focused and just sang his little heart out, full tilt. It was the sweetest thing. I pretended like a few tears hadn't just escaped from my eyes.

Sitting there and watching the students from afar, I saw them differently. I feel like when I am in a classroom, most of the time I am too busy to really see them. Sure, I notice sometimes if one of them gets a haircut or if they have gotten better at using some grammar point (or, dismayingly, haven't), but seeing them up there I saw them in a way that I just don't when I am teaching or calling upon them to answer a question or participate in some activity. I noticed almost for the first time how much many of them have grown since I met them a little over a year ago or even the first year students since the start of the new school year back in April.

This led my mind to wandering and wondering what they would look like a year from now and who they would grow up to become in the future. Like I said, music makes my mind wander. It also made me kind of sad to wonder who would be sitting in my seat next year since I'll already be gone already, so soon. Will that person enjoy this day as much as I do? Where will I be? Will any of them remember me? Did I do anything useful here, teach them something that they will take forward? I hope so, but, you know, who knows, right? I do know that I will remember this forever and will cherish these sweet memories in between the realities of frustration and aggravation that are part and parcel of this experience.

At last, it was time for the teachers to go up on stage to sing. Last year we did a Japanese song that I practiced and practiced and practiced. This year, an English song was chosen. I didn't practice as much. I think I sang one part wrong. It didn't matter. I don't think anyone noticed. The students rolled up their programs and all waved them back and forth. I smiled and sang and smiled some more. At the rehearsal, the music teacher had told us that instead of doing the usually serious Japanese style bow and exiting the stage, that we should all do some little hand gesture, like a peace sign (Japan loves the peace sign so much that I have to consciously remind myself not to do it in every picture) or thumbs up or something. I suspected that they were all going to chicken out. I was right. Still, after the serious-faced bow, I went for it and did the forefinger and pinky up rock star gesture because I felt like one. Then. Now. Often here. I appreciate this whole experience so very much. It also made some of my students smile, and that was the cherry on top of this day of song.


  1. Oh <3, that sounds pretty brilliant, hey. :) I love that they have such cool traditions, and that they all get in on it. That's so awesome!

  2. I'm glad that these old traditions haven't all disappeared. Unlike this country, where 'traditions' regularly disappear in the name of 'expediency' or budget.

  3. That. Is. Awesome. What a fabulous post. The power of music is amazing. It is such a universal thing too, isn't it? Love that.
    And, by the way, I still love the Carpenters. ;)


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