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The Divinity of Music and Homemade Cookies!
by Leah Sellers
2008-09-22 09:39:53
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Music - the Universal Language of the Soul - the Heart and Mind. Music speaks to Us - reaches Us in ways nothing else can. Music is the Universal Language of Connection. Just as the seductive, mouth watering, aromas wafting from warm ovens filled with delightful caramelizing goodies tantalizes and calls forth the more sensual and provocative memories and stirrings within us all.

Who can resist a well-made Homemade Cookie fresh from the oven? Music and Homemade Cookies. They are Languages unto Themselves; Languages greatly appreciated by All who have had the great good fortune to sample their unforgettable sensory concoctions and creative masterpieces.
My first teaching experience within a high school setting was daunting. My regular English classes were filled with rival gang members. The social tensions within two of my classes, in particular, were almost palpable.
My previous life experiences as a professional Musician, Visual Artist, Kindergarten Teacher, Activity Director, a Country Girl, raised to have a basic understanding of Cooking everything “from scratch” (as my grandmother used to say), and an Awareness of Pack and Herd Mentalities, all came to my Classroom’s rescue and aid.
Music and Cookies became my first line of defense/offense. Every day I played various forms of instrumental classical music during their pre-writing segments of each period. When my students came into class, I always had a proverb from various parts of the world written upon the board. The proverb would always relate to some important universal truth or lesson of life. I asked my students to locate specific grammatical allocations or misspellings, and then to tell me in their own words (in three complex sentences) what the proverb meant to them. They were given seven minutes to complete this daily exercise before we moved onto our next assignment. The first seven minutes of our class were devoted to the beautiful artistry of classical music and the wisdom of the ages.
Every Thursday evening I devoted to baking homemade Cookies for each of my 286 students. Every Friday I passed those Cookies out to all of my students. I had learned, while teaching kindergarten, that the ‘little ones’ formed physiological connections with me and their classmates, because we ate together as a unit. We broke bread together as a family. When we share food, conversation and events simultaneously with people a tacit primal bond of interpersonal connection is formed. In my classroom, enemies broke Bread (Cookies) together.
Within a month, the tensions and behavioural difficulties within the classroom began to ease and gradually fade. No daily heavy-handed lectures, detentions or expulsions were needed. I was there to feed and inspire their hearts and minds with great ideas from literature and poetry of all cultures. I would do whatever it took to reach all of my students; to be a Promethean Fire Bringer to each one of them.
To help my students learn to listen carefully, analyze and critique effectively, I established a Music Day exercise on the last Friday of every month. The first Friday’s Music Day was devoted to the multicultural global theme of Love of Country.
Each student was handed a packet, which we read aloud together, discussed, and played around with, the previous Thursday. The first page listed the spellings of almost one hundred musical instruments performed with around the world (many of which were experimented upon within my classroom that day, and with great zeal, if not accuracy, I might add).

The next two pages were a brief study of multicultural color symbolism. The following four pages offered examples of descriptive words and phrases and the types of formatted critiques I would expect to see from my students: 1) What is the Title? 2) What is/are the Name(s) of the Performer(s) or Ensemble? 3) What is the Genre of this Musical piece?, 4) Identify 3 to 4 of the Instruments, 5) What two Colors does this Song make you Think of? Explain your answers. 6) What is the Main Idea of this Song? Explain your answer. 7) What does this Song make you Think about or Feel? Explain your answer. 8) Would you Recommend this Song to anyone else? Why or Why Not?
Each student was given the task of answering each of the eight questions on their critique sheets as concisely and descriptively as possible, while listening to each piece of music play for three minutes. I would then stop the song and allow the students exactly one minute to complete their work before asking them to lay their pens down on top of their desks, and get ready for the next song’s critique.
Music Day and the Homemade Cookies were such a Hit, and the positive writing, attendance and social results I had hoped for within my classrooms were enough impetus for me to stretch a little further. The following month I gave my Students a Music Day assignment. I asked them to speak with their Family members about traditional Music and Food they cherished from the countries their Families had originated from.

The students were to write a one page report about some of their Family traditions and traditional foods, which they would read aloud to the class. They were to bring a song from either their father’s or mother’s Family’s country of origin (or perform it live and in costume for their classmates), and a favorite traditional dish normally eaten by their families which they would share with their classmates. Due to the size of the project, Music Day was to be held on Thursday and Friday of that month.
The portals of Heaven opened wide! I discovered students who belonged to Ballet Folklorico, Tap, Ballet, Clogging, Rock ’n Roll bands, Country ‘n Western bands, Blue Grass bands, etc..., and some of the best cooks in the state of Texas. I was amazed at the number of parents who came to the room to participate in the Music Day festivities. Parents who had not bothered to show up for the high school’s Parents Night were at my classroom door at 6:30 a.m. to help their son or daughter deliver their large platters of homemade enchiladas or hot beef stew for first or second period.

Other parents dropped by intermittently during the day to deliver costumes, forgotten musical instruments, or food that needed to come later in the day. Most of them stayed to watch their children, and the others perform. Surprisingly, a few parents even asked to fill out the Music Day critiques along with the students, and handed them in at the end of the period with the rest of the class. The wonderful remarks they left on their critique sheets for the students and classroom still bring me to tears to this very day.
For the third Music Day event I decided to stick my neck out a little further. So much further that I had to call upon the vast reserves of Courage and Trust of my principal. A Good Man, who had already walked some ’Brave Stones’ on behalf of some of my students. I explained my reasoning to him, and let him know that I fully expected a small contingency of my students to rebel against my classroom policies of Ethical Civility. For example, in my classroom, students were not allowed to use the words “shut-up”. Instead, they were instructed to tell the offenders of their air space to “please, be quiet”, as I did.

I made myself a daily Example of the Expectations I had upon my students. I addressed each of them formally as “Sir” and “Ma’am” as a sign of mutual respect and courtesy. I explained to Them, that as Human Beings that each of us deserves Respect and Dignity and that when they walked into my classroom that is what we would Nurture and Cultivate in and for one another. That Respect and Common Courtesy for Others was the Glue that held all great Societies together.
Whether they addressed me as Ma’am or not in return I left up to their judgment. However, when they spoke to me, or anyone else within the classroom, I expected their demeanour and vocal tone to be Respectful.
The third Music Day assignment was Freedom of Speech. Bring in one of your favorite Songs.
So, it was no surprise when second period, amidst uncomfortable glances by some of the girls, and brazen grins by a handful of the boys, my first Rebel rose from his seat with a rap song he knew would electrify and polarize the room. It was to be expected. It’s physics. When positive energy opposes negative, the negative struggles back with equal or greater force. I had decided to meet my classroom’s oppositional forces with a Looking Glass - a Reflective Pool of Mirrored Introspection.
As the song played I stood up at the chalk board (as I usually did) and quickly filled out the same critique the students were working on. I wrote all of the curse words I could understand to the left of my critique. I could barely make out my students surprised whispers. I stopped the music and allowed them one minute to complete their work.
I looked the young man, who had brought the song in for us to listen to, squarely in the eyes. “Mr. Williams, would you please get one of our classroom’s dictionary’s and look up the word “pimp” for us, Sir?”
 “Now, Ms. Sellers, you got it all wrong. It means ’you all that’.”
 “Is that what the dictionary says, Mr. Williams? Is that the definition of ’pimp’ - ’you all that’?” I smiled politely. “I don’t think so, sir. I looked the word up and read the definition aloud to the class. “Is that what you want your Friends to think about you, Mr. Williams? Is that what you think about your Friends?
 “Pimps are Slave Masters. I hear you young men put Slave Masters down all of the time and yet you want to Identify with Them. I’m Pimpin’, I’m Slave Masterin’- (I pointed to another word on the board) Look at my Whores - My Slaves!”
 “Ladies - is that how you want to be Seen - is that how you want your Friends to be Seen? Is that how you want your Boyfriends to Relate to you - your Brothers to Relate to you? “
 “Every time you go out and spend money on this group’s product - you are making them rich at Your expense - you make them wealthy for putting You down - they are standing on Your backs calling You pimps, whores, slave masters, slaves, but Who’s Who?
 “Now let’s take a look at the word ‘nigger’. Ya’ll think it’s cool if the lead singer uses it, but if someone whispers it in the halls - it’s gang warfare. Now, that makes sense! Next word. “Bitch‘, a female dog. Another insult to women. Another form of female degradation. As far as I’m concerned, it’s an insult to both dogs and women.”
“Let‘s see, what‘s next? “Smokin’, tokin’, pokin’, dopin’, cokin’. Well, there’s a lot of rhyming going on. I’ll give it that. It’s all about getting high and getting down. Making it easier to make foolish decisions about having premarital, unprotected sex with strangers, cruising around with the Home Boys and Gang Banging, which normally leads to unwanted or drug addicted babies and young people’s lives cut off in their prime by poor choices or unnecessary violence. In each of these verses it’s all intermingled: Drugs, Guns, Sex, Violence, Blood in the Streets - in the ‘Hood - the Neighborhoods - where Families Live and Children Play. In fact, they even added some nice sound effects toward the end of the song with the Guns going off and Sirens blaring!”
“Let’s see, what else? Oh, yes. Our next word. Mother. We all know what Mothers are. Who Mothers are. How important Mothers are. Now, what’s this word beside Mother? Fu___r. What an odd word to connect with Mothers. Particularly with the connotation it is given in today’s World. Once again Women are degraded, violated. Not just Women, but Mothers. This is the Ultimate insult you could give to anyone’s Mother, and yet it rolls off of the lead singer’s lips like some perverse Hymn of Praise. In fact he used it twelve times in that song - twelve times. What point was he trying to make? What must he really feel about Women? Most importantly - what is he teaching You to think and feel about Women and Life and Humanity in General?
“He’s pimpin’ - whores, He’s slave masterin’ - slaves! Wow! That’s powerful! And his world is filled with drugged up, punked up, gun totin’, gang bangin’, Homies, doggies and Mother Fu___rs or at least 12 of them that we know of in this song.
“This is what Y’all are Giving Your money to - Your Time to - Your Attention and Energy to! The Words - The Languages - The Ideas We Choose to Use in Life - Give OurSelves to in Life - are Important! They Shape Us! They Make Us Who We Are! They Define Who We Are - Define Who We Will Be and Who We Will Become! Is This Who You Are? Is This Who You Want To Be? Is This Who You Want To Become?
 The room had the silence of a Living Sponge.
“Thank you, for sharing your song with the class, Mr. Williams. It has been a learning experience for all of us, sir. Please, come and retrieve your song from the cassette player. Miss Ludlow, I believe that you are up next. Please, come and get your song set up for us.”
“Ms. Sellers, not all rap music is like that, Miss. My cousin’s recordin’ some of his own rap music for our Church. He’s really good. I’ve got his cassette in my locker. Can I go get it real fast. That’s the Song I really want to play today. That’s the One, Miss. My cousin, he’s got some real good Songs on there, ma’am. I think you’d really like it.”
“I would be honored to hear your cousin’s rap music, Miss Ludlow. While you go to your locker to retrieve it I’ll allow another student to play their Song in your stead, and then you can follow immediately afterwards.”
“Thank you, Ms. Sellers. You gonna love my cousin’s Songs. He believe the same way you do.”
“ Then I Hope to hear his Voice of All that is Bright and Noble and Beautiful on the Airwaves one of these days! “
By the fifth month's Music Day the Rebels seized bringing oppositional Muzak. The Reflective Pool of Mirrored Introspection - the Looking Glass proved to be an effective classroom Tool. You can lead a Horse to Water, but the Horse has to Choose to Drink. This Herd of Horses Decided to Swim in the Lake!
 Ah, the Marvels of Exploring and Discovering the Divinity of Music and Homemade Cookies!

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Emanuel Paparella2008-09-22 10:02:52
Food for thought and inspiration! As a Humanities and Philosophy teacher I can relate to your experience of the power of what is true, good, beautiful, Leah. I have no doubt that your students received a genuine education in your class by simply becoming aware that the human being is more than just an animal trying to survive and attend to his creature animal comforts. Ad majorem.

Sand2008-09-23 19:53:38
I hesitated to comment on this article because I do not in any way want to indicate anything but complete delight and approval for the work done to get kids involved in music of any kind. But there are, somehow, somewhere in there, some elements of disapproval of certain kinds of music that do disturb me.

I am not a fan of rap and there is a great deal of many different kinds of music that simply does not reach me but I am suspicious of outright condemnation of any of it. I understand and sympathize with the distaste for words that demean women and find no value in advocating behavior that encourages anti-social behavior that does anything to get kids involved with drugs, but your piece seems unaware of some of the language connotations involved. “Pimp” as defined in the dictionary is way behind the times linguistically for such a slang expression. Currently used as a verb it connotates a flashy style of dress and an exuberant life style associated with the way pimps are supposed to behave. (Whether they actually do is something I cannot say since I never had any contact with them but film depiction of them fits the caricature). Used as a verb (To pimp up) it confers a meaning of overdressing to impress people. Of course the original meaning of a man controlling a stable of whores is still functional but I am not sure that the relationship is always detrimental to the women although it probably is for the majority and in that sense it deserves your strong disapproval.

“Nigger” is a word that is overwhelmingly offensive when spoken by a white person to someone black but it seems acceptable when used amongst blacks for each other. It is probably comparable to the word “kike” that non-Jews used to disparage Jews but might on some occasion be used by one Jew to another in an acceptable offhandedly sarcastic and humorous manner. But, of course, their use could have explosive consequences. There is some discussion these days about the adjective “uppity” in referring to Obama that also has strong racial connotations.

I would also be careful about downgrading any form of current popular music. I remember when I was much younger when jazz was considered to be a somewhat disgraceful form. The word itself derives from the music that was played originally in whore houses and still generated very negative feelings until Gershwin and a few other “classical” composers began to take an interest in it’s innovative approach and seductive sounds. A great many people who appreciated the classics of Beethoven, Bach, Brahms et al disdained it so music is something learned, even by aficionados, and not anything descended from heaven and automatically accepted. There were riots when Stravinsky originally presented “Rites of Spring” which is now thoroughly accepted and enthusiastically appreciated.

We human animals, whether or not we follow religious faiths, pretty much all delight in all kinds of music and even frequently find ourselves fascinated by the songs of birds and the strange haunting hooting sounds of whales that vibrate across the oceans thousands of miles apart.

Leah Sellers2008-09-24 00:48:24
Greetings, Honorable Gentlemen, Brothers Emanuel and Sand,
Yes, Gentlemen, a resounding yes to both of your beautiful Minds and Souls !
My Students and I had many discussions about the wonderful melodic chantlike b rhythms of rap, hip-hop, etc.... About their ability to make you want to move - to dance - to draw you in. I also tried to make them aware of (through brief literary and musical studies) the historically proven capability and power of
Chants to drive home subconscious ideations, and that because of that - the Language - the Words - the Ideas - the Imagery we Chose to Connect with Our Music was Imperative. Draw upon what is Noble, Bright and Beautiful !
We also discussed the importance of understanding the social anger and rage expressed in the music the Rebels brought in for us to analyze. That it was a Cultural Social Barometer for things we needed to be Aware of - things we needed to help Mend - Heal - and Change - But not Focus, EnSlave, or Surender our Precious Souls over to.
When you mentioned the Owls and Whales I smiled, Brother Sand. One of the latter Music Days was devoted soully to the Music of the wild from the howling mountain wolves, to the slithering creatures of the bayous of Louisisana, to the deserts yipping coyotes, to the prairies mustang herds, to the roaring lioans of Africa, to the laughing dolphins and sonorous singing of the whales of the oceans. At first, the thought it was a joke, but once they got down to the task, they were amazed at the music they heard in nature that had never been there for some of them before. During our poetry section, some of the students decided to make the experience with this critique one of their primary poems.
So, you see, you weren't so far off of the mark, sir - ha ! Great instincts, Gentlemen !

Sand2008-09-24 07:06:30
I enjoyed your phrase "devoted soully to the Music". It was a wonderful pun.

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