Friday, November 11, 2016

The Power of Music

Yesterday morning, in front of the entire Berkshire School student body, I made a speech about the power of making music with other people.  My aim was to create a space for musicians (and anyone who wanted to become a musician) who'd been practicing (or dreaming) in their dorm room to find each other and to begin making music together.  Not for an audience, but for the fun of it, for the magic of it, for themselves.  To turn off their Netflix, their video games, pick up a guitar, a horn, a pair of drum sticks and believe in themselves.

Today we had our meeting.  About 30 students, faculty, and a few faculty kids showed up, guitars in had, smiles on their faces with such eagerness on their faces.  Before half an hour was up, kids were hurriedly scurrying out the door to begin practicing with their new band mates eager to get to work.  Their assignment was to form a quick group, and in a few weeks, the 30 of us will come back together to play one song for the group, cover or original.  

I did not do that much.  I told them to make a conscious choice about how to use their time.  I told them about the power of making music.  I told them everyone has to pick up an instrument for the first time.  Basically,  I gave them permission to believe in themselves and to belive they could be in a band.  For sure some will get too busy and be on to other things, but by the looks of what I saw, Berkshire now has a little more rock and roll in it, and I'd wager that for some kids, there's no going back!  The tiniest encouragement and a tiny bit of structure and look out!  I am very excited to see where it goes.

If your're interested further, here's what I said.

Hello Bears,
I wrote this out because you all make me nervous.  

Last year, my first year as a teacher here at Berkshire School, I loved going to all the different kinds of music events around campus, and maybe I missed it, but at some point, I said, “Where’s the rock and roll?!”  I went to a public high school in eastern mass where at every talent show, there were multiple bands playing music, so I naturally expected the same here.  But it appears it’s not happening on its own, or it needs a little encouragement so I’m here to try to infuse and instill a little rock and roll into and out of the students and faculty here at Berkshire School.  Because I know you’re out there...

But you say, “I like music, but I’m not a musician”  To that I say, become one!  I once taught a promising astronomy PG named Kevin.  For reasons I don’t know, he started playing the guitar.  Maybe it was given to him, maybe it was a friend’s, maybe it was something he always wanted to do.  But he started in January, and he was performing at the talent show a few short months later.  While I was on duty in deWindt last year, I would bring my guitar and we played together when we had the time.  One night I asked him, where do you get the time to play and practice?  He said something to the effect of..., “I just stopped watching Netflix.”  

Next you say, “I don’t have the time!”  To that I say, do you watch Netflix? And do you play video games.  It’s amazing what 20 minutes a day can accomplish.  Ten years from now, you will think, if only I had started when I was in high school.  Know that it is your choice whether you will say, “I’m a good Netflix watcher” or “I’m a good video game player” or “I’m a good Shawn’s hanger-outer.”  Might it be kind of cool to say, “I’m a good singer” or “I’m a good guitar, bass, drums, fiddle, horn or whatever player.”

Next you say, “I don’t have the money to pay for lessons.”  To that I say, youTube and many other online resources that are incredible and often free.  That’s how Kevin did it.

Next you say, “I’ll never be good enough to play in front of people, so what’s the point.”  To that I say, performing music in front of other people is fun, but that’s not the point.  The point is to MAKE AND CREATE music with other people.  It’s not for the listeners.  They come second.  Anyone who plays an instrument will tell you, it’s way more fun to play music that to listen to it.  (Studies have also shown that playing and practicing an instrument is one of the best things you can do for your brain.)  

Dave Grohl, the drummer from Nirvana and now the frontman for the Foo Fighters summed it up best.  He said,  “When I think about kids watching a TV show like American Idol or The Voice, then they think, ‘Oh, OK, that’s how you become a musician, you stand in line for eight hours with 800 people at a convention center and… then you sing your heart out for someone and then they tell you it’s not good enough.’  It’s destroying the next generation of musicians! Musicians should go to a yard sale and buy and old drum set and get in their garage and just suck. And get their friends to come in and they’ll suck, too. And then they’ll start playing and they’ll have the best time they’ve ever had in their lives and then all of a sudden they’ll become Nirvana. Because that’s exactly what happened with Nirvana. Just a bunch of guys that had some old instruments and they got together and started playing some noisy junk, and they became the biggest band in the world. That can happen again! You don’t need a computer or the internet or The Voice or American Idol.”

So to that effect, there’ll be a meeting for anyone who is interested in creating some more music together.  You don’t have to be a musician yet!  It will be a place to see what we have here on campus and to see where we want to go.  For students (AND ANY FACULTY AND STAFF!) who are interested to find other people with similar skill levels, (ranging from never picked up an instrument to some of the very skilled musicians we have) and for people to find those with similar musical interests (rock, bluegrass, folk, brass, whatever).  

Every musician has to pick up an instrument for the first time.  Every incredible singer has to write a first song that is usually terrible.  Music is for those making it, there’s nothing like creating music with other people, and it’s my opinion that music...is WAY better than Netflix.   The choice...and may it now be a conscious one, is up to you.  Use your time wisely.

For me, playing music is on the same level as sports, flying airplanes and climbing towers on the side of an active volcano in Antarctica at negative 20 degrees Celsius.  It lights my mind and body on fire, heals my soul and fuels my spirit.  

No commitment necessary.  At the very least we’ll make a list of who knows how to play what instrument (voice included), and who wants to play what kind of music (all kinds are welcome).  We meet in the music room this Friday night at 6:30pm to see who and what we have and hopefully after that the revolution will take care of itself.  Send me an email if you’re interested and can’t make it.  Thanks.