Friday, June 06, 2008

Bleak, Living Hell

There's this wan, peacefulness I've seen in the faces of grandly multiparous women. You know the ones--those with more than 5 kids. They seem serene in the face of all sorts of chaos and I'm fairly sure I know why.

They've had enough of their souls removed, a piece at a time from that horror of horrors: the school concert. In particular the Grade School Concert. At least in the secondary years, the 'music' is at least somewhat recognizable and, if you are lucky, there's a tune you know and can therefore count down the stanzas until it's done. Unless it's been butchered by scatting and whatnot by some demonic jazz stylist, and then you'd best just resign yourself to your misery.

I've heard there are some districts, pushed to the brink by budget crunches, that are forced to cut music in the schools. "Hah!" I scoff. It's not that the parents are not willing to pay the taxes, it's that they've wised up and realized that if they vote down referendum after referendum on school funding that they'll NEVER HAVE TO GO TO ANOTHER SCHOOL CONCERT AGAIN. These are fine, intelligent, free-thinking people.

"It's not that bad," you who have yet to experience the horror say. I, too, remember performing in these concerts and looking forward to the singing of "Feelin' Groovy" and "Rainy Days and Mondays", complete with hand gestures and careful swaying in time while standing on the bleachers on the stage, or the playing of "The Theme From M*A*S*H", if you were of an orchestral bent. (This was particularly subliminal as the lyrics, as most of us know, go "Suicide is painless, it brings on many changes, and I can take or leave it as I please." I wonder if the actual suicide rate did bump over the following days among those exposed to such sawed out works. Someone commission a study.)

So as I sat, with Sara at my side (the kindergartners only have to do the winter concert), in the 100+ degree F (38+ degree C) fetid, rancid gymnasium, hunched among the sweaty family members of the rest of the student body (some who spent the entire time in a slack-jawed stupor, others, like the pair behind me, desperately trying to hang on to their shards of reality by dissecting the private lives of various and sundry of their village acquaintances throughout the whole thing in normal speaking voices), I realized that I felt progressively lighter and lighter--the result of bits of my soul being torn away, piece by piece. The largest bite, sadly, was when Colin's grade performed a piece called, I kid you not, "Galactic Swamp Dance" entirely on flutophone (a cheap, plastic recorder sounding rather like a kazoo, but more nasal and grating, if possible). Painful does not begin to cover it. Nails on a blackboard could take a lesson. We had descended to the depths of hell: hot, smelly, humid, hopeless, helpless, interminable. At this point, trapped as Sara and I were, in the middle of the bleachers, having gotten there too late to score one of the folding metal chairs or at least a bottom seat on the bleachers, by the doors and the fire alarm pull, I abandoned myself to my fate and sunk into a funk. "Oh, woe is me" droned on the interminable chorus of one song. Oh, woe, indeed. Trapped like rats.

But then! Lo! Sara pulled free, and summoning her strength (and perhaps with the help of a guardian angel or 4) uttered the words of my salvation, "Mommy! I HAVE to go to the bathroom N.O.W." A small shaft of light pierced my psyche and somewhere the trace of a breeze stirred. The lackluster clapping of my fellow suffers gave me hope and a shifting of time and space indicated a slight path down from the bleachers.

I grabbed Sara's hand and took the shining way, jostling those still trapped in their misery and garnering many baleful and downright angry looks. "Sorry, coming through. She needs the bathroom." While envious, none dared to bar our escape. No one wants to mess with a child in need of the toilet.

And so, we spent the last sets of the most recent Concert from Hell seeking out and then dawdling in one of the grade school bathrooms. And then we caught the Grand Finale, standing just outside one of the gym doorways, where all the little darlin's come in and do the splashy finish-y song, some incomprehensible number called "Save the Earth", complete with cheerleaders (Yes. Really.) and hand gestures and cartwheels.

Actually, just before breaking into this cacophony, some poor kid spewed his gastric contents all over the gym floor, next to the piano, causing an interminable delay as the janitor was frantically sought via loud speaker and faculty runners. He appeared with mop and rolling pail and attended to the sick. Sadly, the rest of the audience was too far gone to break free and flee, and just continued sitting there while this took place, waiting as cows for the slaughter.

But finally, it was over and Sara and I (Where the hell was Charles? Why at school registration. So he said. I'm not entirely sure, though, as he is widely known to have an extra helping of brains and more than his fair share of dislike of such things.) struggled through the halls, with the rest of the lemming parents, in search of our young, who had been kept hostage-like from us. (The only announcement at the start of all this was that we WERE to REMAIN seated until ALL the children were done performing. NO ONE would be allowed to collect their children before the concert was over. Sneaky bastards.)

It wasn't quite as bad as this, but close. At least last night's concert had a program that could be followed, so you could count down the years until your sentence was served.

And so, here I sit, several ounces lighter, thanks to the soul-ectomy, plotting ways to organize my fellow parents into a "We'll pass any tax that'll fund schools as long as music remains firmly separated from us." Sort of like church and state. Complete separation or else no tax dollars.

I see why people home school. It's starting to sound worth it.



Blogger Karen said...

*g* Great descriptive. But I gotta ask - you're a doctor - why are you missing the obvious?


Earplugs would probably suffice...


11:30 AM  
Blogger JoeinVegas said...

Drugs, yes, good idea. (except for the handling kids thing)

12:47 PM  
Blogger Dumdad said...

Note to self: must buy a flutophone (not).

1:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You have no idea the sheer joy you will feel as Sara preforms her final concert in 8 years of so. With your sister, I felt like I had just escaped from prison. Stout heart, old dear. The good times they are a-comin".

The Ole RF-er

3:25 PM  
Blogger Rozanne said...

Full disclosure. I am the daughter of a band director (high school band director), so I have sat through band concerts practically since birth. As soon as I was old enough I personally participated (flute, saxophone) in many a band concert.

And I have to say that participating in the program was definitely the highlight of my school years. And our band was good--among the best in the state--and had broad support not only from the parents of all the band kids but from the community at large. But were we always that good? No. Each and every one of us sucked when we first started playing, but luckily we were encouraged to stick with it.

Today, even though I don't have kids of my own, I'm always thrilled to see kids marching in bands in parades or playing at outdoor concerts. Yeah, they may be playing out of tune, but so what? They're playing a musical instrument and they're little kids and I think it's tremendously cool that they're investing time in studying music instead of dulling their brains in front of a computer or TV.

I think any parent who has a kid that's interested in music should give that kid their full support, even though it might mean 45 minutes of mild torture to the eardrums once or twice a year for the first couple of years.

Band and orchestra kids are among the brightest, most stable, and most mature kids there are, partly, I think, because it takes a lot of concentration and self-discipline to learn to read music and master a musical instrument. Those are skills, I would think, any parent would want their kid to have.

It's really too bad that people place so little value on music and other arts programs in the schools and think the programs wouldn't be missed if they were cut. In my opinion, that's just tragically short sighted.

12:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I must say that I enjoyed you and your sister's concert performances, but then you were both in high school by then and sounded quite good. And your Mom was just beaming with pride at her kids singing! Pay no attention to the reasonable auditorium seating and comfortable temperature, though that didn't hurt a bit! ;<)


1:11 AM  
Blogger Diana said...

Karen- You know, hindsight is always 20-20, isn't it? And its not like that was the first time I'd been to the spring concert...

Joe- And the driving home thing.

Dumdad- I know where you can get a good deal on one, slightly used.

Dad- I'm guessing it will actually be 12 years, as that is when Sara will graduate. I detect the performing gene in her and see choral AND instrumental concerts along with all the plays my little drama queen can do.

Rozanne- I seem to have inadvertantly hit a nerve, for which I appologize. My family is actually rife with musicians, who most of whom started scratchy and out of tune. My Uncle Jim, though, I suspect sprung from my grandmother fully fluent on banjo, fiddle and mandolin. (I, myself inflicted year of choral and those dreadful piano concerts on them. The choral ones I adored performing in, the piano ones made me want to hurl.)

Be that as it may, though, the music, itself, is quite painful and it takes a better parent (or a more heavily medicated one) to actually enjoy the fruits of the flutophone. The ungodly hot and sticky gym, however, with the miserable bleachers made me much more cranky than the winter concert, where I just have to endure the bleachers. My apologies, again. (And I do always vote to fund the arts with my tax dollars as well as everyone else's.)

Morris- Ah, but you came to ours later in the day when there was something recognizable to enjoy. Sister Kai, I'm guessing, was one of those of Uncle Jim's ilk, where even her baby warbling made the angels weep.

4:27 PM  
Blogger Janelle said...

you got SOUL lady! bloody funny man! enjoyed the read and was snorting out true. so true...x janelle

4:40 PM  
Blogger moegirl said...

Hey Diana! I must say, I feel your pain, sister. Having completed my third year of Allie's orchestra concerts just last week, I have the joy of summer before the concert round up begins again. Here in good ol' clackamas county, they lump three elementary schools in with the junior high orchestra. So, for three years I've heard sixth graders perform "twinkle, twinkle" "Go tell aunt rhodie" and some other piece I never quite got. All on the hard, backless benches in Allie's gray, drafty junior high gym. The upside is, the junior high kids were pretty decent this year, so I'm graduating to high school orchestra next year- and we faithful parents are to be rewarded with performances in the auditorum where the chairs have backs!! Sorry I haven't been in touch in a while. Much love to you and yours.

1:15 AM  
Blogger Mother of Invention said...

As an elementary teacher who has spent hours over the past 28 years trying to come up with something for the little ones to do that sounds even Okay, I smiled at this. My experience is that no matter how awful they sound, mom and dad still want their concerts and like to see their kids on stage. When I taught gr. 6/7, I used to think the Gr. 1-3 teachers had it easy since it didn't really matter if they sounded any good, everyone thought the kids were cute no matter what! There was more pressure if you taught higher grades. We used to put on little operettas that were so much work and took a huge chunk out of time from the curriculm. It was nuts. But it is always good experience for the kids to get up there as a group and try to put on a "polished" performance. It gets them to focus and learn words etc. and gives them a sense of decorum for behaviour at these types of things for both performers and audience. It's all good..but as a teacher, I used to feel immense pressure to be wonderful.

Hope you enjoy future presentations a bit better!

6:06 PM  
Blogger Diana said...

Janelle- Thanks! I fear that some were more offended than amused. Oh well.

Stace- Oh, good gravy! 4 times the woe. They're still making them play "Twinkle, Twinkle" and "Aunt Rhodie"? "Aunt Rhodie" makes me want to stab my eyes; so morose. I salute your forrays next year with backed seating and all the comforts of an auditorium. Perhaps even a bake sale at intermission? Much love right back at 'cha.

Ruth- I do think it must be a hard job to arrange these concerts, but if they'd just push them back a month or two, when things aren't always so horribly hot. If we could have just breathed, like during the winter concert, it would have decreased the misery quotient by at least 50%, but what then would I have to moan about?

8:57 PM  
Blogger CarpeDM said...

This so brings back memories!

I was in band for a few years (clarinet. I sucked. Wanted the sax but so did everyone else), played the piano for a bit (short, stubby fingers) and was in choir and a multitude of plays. I loved it. But yeah, when kids are first starting out, they're not that good.

The last "concert" I was at, the director had everyone do a few bars of something completely off key at the very beginning. So when they started playing normally, we were all relieved. There were still missed notes but it didn't put in mind of cats fighting.

1:49 PM  
Blogger Jocelyn said...

I'm not sure you've ever been funnier than here.

And, of course, we have a small overlap in our current posts...right down to a "feelin' groovy" reference! (My Girl's school did have them sing that...she goes to a music magnet school, and word has it the concerts go downhill once they leave the school and move on to middle school!)

1:16 AM  
Blogger Diana said...

Dana- Now that is a brilliant way of starting a concert. That way any thing sounds better, indeed. Perhaps had they done the flutophones at the start...

Jocelyn- A music magnet school! Cooooool. That's saying something that the elementary concerts are better than the middle school ones. The only good thing with the way they do our concerts is that they start with the youngest so that the music theoretically gets progressively better as the evening goes on. (Our collective minds are a bit scary at times.)

9:04 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

So a full child's baldder = freedom of some sort.

I will make a mental note of it.

9:51 AM  
Blogger Teresa said...

You were on the mark this time! We had the Unicycling performance, the Tumbling performance, the Gallery Walk, and the band concert all in the last week and a half at the school where I teach. I do need to agree, the band concert is the one I am most likely to bow out of attending. While it is akin to nails on a chalkboard right now I know it pays off in the future of these kids in so many ways.
My vote will ALWAYS be to keep the arts in schools.

10:41 PM  

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