Here’s another one of my music-in-literature-that-isn’t-about-music discoveries, or should I say rediscovery because I’ve read Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn like eight thousand times. If you haven’t read it, you are dismissed from the human race until this situation is rectified.
Done? Okay, good, you may come retake your place as a citizen. Now cast your mind back to the bit where Smith describes Mr. Morton, the music teacher who comes around to the public schools of Brooklyn in the 1910s once a week…
He drew notes on the blackboard; he drew little legs on them to make them look as though they were running out of the scale. He’s make a flat note look like humpty-dumpty. A sharp note would rate a thin beetlike nose zooming off of it. All the while he’d burst into singing just as spontaneously as a bird. Sometimes his happiness was so overflowing he couldn’t hold it and he’d cut a dance caper to spill some of it out.
He taught them good music without letting them know it was good. He set his own words to the great classics and gave them simple names like “Lullaby” and “Serenade” and “Street Song” and “Song for a Sunshine Day.” Their baby voices shrilled Handel’s “Largo” and they knew it merely by the title “Hymn.” Little boys whistled part of Dvorak’s New World Symphony as they played marbles. When asked the name of the song, they’d reply, “Oh, ‘Going Home.’” They played potsy, humming “The Soldier’s Chorus” from Faust which they called “Glory.”
And now I invite you to think about all the good music teachers you’ve had, both in a school and in private, of your instrument and of music as a whole. The ones that loved music so much they gave it to you like an infection. The ones that didn’t just make you try harder; they made you want to try harder.
Think about them and tell me about them now, because tomorrow I’m going to rant and rave about the bad ones. Oh yes.