Sometimes I start listening to music and looking up different videos, just to see if I find something new and interesting. This time I landed on Jennifer Hudson. I must have listened to this about five or six times. Her inflections and phrasing are simple and beautiful. The kind of music making that makes me rethink the use of space within a line. Give it a listen and see for yourself.
After watching my colleague work herself silly conducting, planning and teaching the all-school musical, I came to a stark realization. The end of the school year can make us feel crazy like everything is closing up on all of us, students, teachers, and administrators. I’ve been especially loopy lately and so have my advisory students.
In a conversation with them today, we discussed some of our favorite musical genres and the artist we associated with those genres. For example, I mentioned classical music with Missy Mizzoli and Igor Stravinsky, jazz music with Charles Mingus, rap music with J Cole. At least those are the folks I’m listening to these days.
One of my students said they love broadway-musicals and they also love Drake. Another student took that and said, “I guess you’ll love it if Drake made a Broadway-musical….oh, oh it would be a Drizzical.”
And then we all laughed. But seriously…Drake, what’s up with that Drizzical?
Little over a month ago I ran into a former student at a performance. As we caught up with one another, he mentioned conversations or topics we had explored a few times years ago. We discussed the idea of what it feels like when you feel like you don’t really, fully, belong where you are. Certain interests, that make us unique, can make us stand out, and sometimes, feel alone. These interests may authentically line up with who you are as a person in the present, but at the same time, the expectation of who you are or should be professionally, or as a representation of a gender, culture, or race, is in conflict with your authentic self.
The example of this mix match in identity for me is being a Dominican man from the Bronx, who plays the trumpet, and specifically specializes in classical music. When I’m in NYC, I’m Dominican. When I’m in the DR, I’m American. Everywhere else in America, I’m African American, or for short, black (I’m also bald :)). The good news is that I am okay with all of these labels. In fact, I hold them as badges of honor. I can be all of these things at once while being a musician, and more importantly, being myself. Of course, there are expectations and responsibilities that come with these labels. Being a musician, who looks like me, comes with its own set of assumptions; for example, I hear, “you must play jazz or meringue, or salsa music” or, “you have a Doctorate in music?”, or, “really, you went to Yale? Oh, for music.” I love jazz, blues, and Latin music, but lately, if you were to pull the Bose headphones off of my ears, you’d find me listening to South African house music, rap, and John Dowland. Not quite what one typically would expect. Okay, maybe the rap music.
My former student, now my friend and colleague, teaches in a place where few people look like him; I can relate. He doesn’t see many folks who have the same intense love for music that he does, but yet he continues to find ways of connecting people, and helping his community see past typical stereotypes. He’s young, so I hope he keeps a positive attitude and stays resilient. More than ever, we need teachers like him to teach in places where the teacher stands out from the typical normal. That’s how we learn.
When I share something that is linked somehow to popular culture, it’s often because “I am late to the party”, but still want to participate. In this case I may still be late to this party, however, I can’t shake how I felt after watching Black Panther.
My insights won’t offer anything new to the conversation, but I am very appreciative of having another platform to jump from when discussing certain topics with my students. We talked about the music and the imagery of the film. We talked about the significance of the cast and why representation is important. We even got to discuss (or at least I mentioned) they ways in which we view our parents and our roles with them as we get older and start to understand the world differently.
Ideas around representation and imagery of people of color were front and centered in my thoughts as students, a colleague and I watched parts of JAZZ by Ken Burns. Some of the images and ideas were shocking or disturbing to students, however, the discussions were honest and informative. Making sense of these connections in my own mind has been fun. I like being a teacher during weeks like this.
As a musician and a teacher, I have had the pleasure to be a part of many cool moments of discovery. This even happens with my daughter sometimes. I still remember with pride when I asked her “Can I Kick It” and she replied (appropriately) “Yes You Can”. Thank you, Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, Ali Shaheed and Jarobi for that moment.
Recently I had another one of those with my kid. She asked to listen to “Intergalactic” by the Beastie Boys…so I put it on in the car. She said she likes the robot sounds in the song, but she always cracks at the end of the track when Biz Markie jumps in at the end of it. We listened to it again with the same result, so I decided to play “Just A Friend” for her. She loved it and sang the chorus the whole way home.
Soon we’ll have an awesome playlist for our father-daughter car rides.
I’m sitting here watching my kid play with her friend and I start to reflect on what winter breaks of the past.
Winter break has always been tricky for me, like my kid I need a structured day. Work tends to give me the grounding I need, a task list or a deadline gives my day order. Whether I get it all done or not depends on the amount of time allowed over the course of my day.
Last year at this time and in this vacuum, I was totally lost. However, my kid seemed to have a plan. With no hesitation to my question “What should we do today?” my kid answers “Let’s play a game. Let’s play the lava game!”
We then proceeded to build an obstacle course from the playroom through the living room and into the dining room. Which in truth is all one big space anyways, but our furniture makes it feel like three separate spaces.
Knowing this my kid makes a course which requires us to climb up, in and over stuff. Stepping on, crawling through and stretching over stuff like pillows, shoes, pots and pans blankets and trampolines.
Needless to say after doing this for about 30 minutes as fast as we could go I was sufficiently sweaty. Sucks being old and out of shape…still fun though!