1984 (it was a very good year)

Yes, I know… the year has an ominous Orwellian aura about it… but it proved to be a pivotal year in my life (as will be explained…eventually).  Since, however, I’m actually getting back to posting, I should start with a “seasonally appropriate” selection. 

Oberndorf chapel

I often find the stories which attach themselves to a given song are every bit as engaging as the song itself.  Silent Night is a case in point.  Many of you will know that, because of misfortune which befell the church organ in Oberndorf, Austria, the first performance of the carol was done with a guitar accompaniment on Christmas Eve, 1818.  Almost one hundred years later at the outset of World War One in 1914, the carol became the musical catalyst for an brief informal truce between entrenched German and British soldiers (more about that later).  In any case, here it is… and my way of wishing you all a merry Christmas.

And… while I’m in a somewhat festive (and sentimental) mode, here’s the song that concluded our Christmas choral concerts from the mid-1980’s until 2005… a tradition you might say.  And, as a point of interest, my arrangement came after hearing The Association (and others) perform the song in 4/4 during a long-ago Christmas special.  Influences…

And, by the way, here’s the whole gang to wish you the best of the season (your choice of pics)…

So, back to the subject at hand.  1984.  At that point I had been a classroom teacher (junior division) for about 10 years with occasional gusts of intermediate music in the mix.  Itinerant music teachers visited classrooms on a weekly basis to provide instruction and the classroom teacher was expected to provide followup.  Because many of the teachers concerned were not especially eager to do this, I was asked to sit in on the itinerant lesson and continue the process in a subsequent lesson.  The problem was, particularly at the intermediate level (this was vocal, not instrumental music), the itinerant lesson consisted, in large part, of student indifference at best and subversion at worst.  The common responses by the music teacher were ongoing nagging, lectures or verbal eruption.  Not a lot of fun for anyone and not particularly easy to “followup”.  What happened about 1984 was that the school board decided to expand the instruction time for music and to have only “recognized” music teachers providing it.  Although I had some misgivings about the current situation, I had more about the prospect of being unable to teach any music, even to my own class.  I spoke with my principal and, after some negotiation with the superintendent and the music consultant, I was able to take on all music instruction for the upper grades (50%) and continue as a classroom teacher (50%).  I won’t claim that the result was an unqualified success, but I did have more latitude in providing a music program and in organizing concerts and musical events.  We soon had two ongoing choirs established (a volunteer choir [sometimes named Coda] and a smaller auditioned choir named Syncopation).  The computer consultant at the time then invited me (circa 1986) to attend a workshop which featured music applications.  Shortly after I was gifted with my first “music” computer- an IBM with no hard drive (remember 3 1/2″ disks?) but a music card inside.  With it I could record (sequence) several tracks of different sounds (ie. piano, organ, flute) to a maximum of 8 tones.  If you added a ninth, the first sound disappeared… so you will appreciate that any recordings were rather thin things sonically.  Nonetheless, the recordings were “cleaner” than anything I had ever attempted on tape and I suddenly had other sounds than piano at my disposal.  Thanks to the generosity of the school’s parent association, I was also able to purchase an electronic piano (early early Roland) with sound which in no way resembled a piano BUT with a midi connection which allowed me to input notes to the “music” computer’s software.  And I still remember hobbling down the hall, room to room, with my computer mounted on a wheeled cart, the electronic piano rolling along on a makeshift stand, the keyboard amp, my sundry lesson plan and evaluation books and several class sets of student books all in tow.   Amusing to contemplate now (and amusing to watch, I’m sure, at the time)… but all done to justify the faith shown by those who had gifted me with these resources and this opportunity.  Well, after several years of doing this and using the computer both as a classroom tool and in concert settings, I had something of an epiphany…

The Epiphany

Actually, it was fairly simple.  Ever since I had begun teaching, I had (to a greater or lesser degree) been involved in “school productions”.  Our school (like many) had two major productions each year, one at Christmas and a second in the spring.  These operettas or musicals featured one of the divisions- primary, junior or intermediate.  (Some years three productions…)  The point is, I had been exposed to a variety of student-oriented scripts- a few good, many mediocre and some just plain awful.  Christmas was particularly interesting.  Fortunately, this task usually fell to the primary students and my role was (therefore) minor.  When it did move to the upper divisions I scouted about for appropriate material.  What I discovered was that most of these musical productions fell into one of two categories- the Santa theme and variations (Santa gets kidnapped.  Santa needs to lose weight.  Santa needs to be more assertive.  The elves are on strike.  Reindeer problems.  Santa has been kidnapped by aliens…) or the Scrooge motif (finding the true meaning of the season).   I should add that, on occasion, some reference to the nativity might be made.  After having exhausted some of the better (better?) material on these two themes over the first decade or so (I should add that I remained at the same school… so repeating the better material elsewhere was not an option), a thought occurred to me.  (Thus the epiphany.)  I could probably write something and it wouldn’t be any worse (much) than the material currently available.  And so, with the modern technology of the time (still no hard drive), in the summer of 1989, I sat down to try my hand at writing a musical.  What resulted was A Moving Christmas and my excuse #2 for writing a song (actually songs, in this case)… and the subject of my next post.

The author in 1984

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