Friday, February 22, 2008

Music City

When I was an aspiring opera diva, I could never have predicted the following experiences I have recently had while teaching in the music department of a large public university.

• Excusing my Hasidic student’s many latenesses because I know his young wife has just had a baby (the first of many, one hopes)
• Having the same student (who respectfully removes his black hat when he enters the classroom each day, revealing an embroidered kipa) explain to the rest of the class how in funk music (such as that of Parliament-Funkadelic, pictured above), every instrument functions as a rhythm (rather than a melodic or harmonic) instrument, and then witnessing him demonstrate said funk beat for the class in an extremely, well, funky way
• Excusing another student’s absence because he is taking the Fire Department test (“I plan on doing music on the side,” he explained to me)
• Rooting (and praying to St. Scholastica) for an extremely brilliant student (perhaps, I confess, a little more than I would do otherwise, because he is from my ethnic group, one that has traditionally been underrepresented in academia) who is in danger of failing my class because of his many absences and undone assignments, the result of a nervous breakdown and subsequent bad reactions to psychotropic meds
• Having one older student explain that his fledgling career as a doo-wop singer was interrupted due to his years of incarceration, and having to gently refuse his request to show me his poetry (not to be cynical, but I’m just too dang busy during office hours, not to mention the rest of my life, to read ex-con poetry these days)

I’ve been told that teaching is casting artificial pearls before real swine, and some days it really feels like it’s true. But most other days, I realize that I have come to love and admire my students, as well as the capricious, strange, and often cruel city from which they come, and from which, it seems to me, they are somehow inseparable, just like this university.

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