I love teaching music. Ten or so years ago I had a student in my Celtic Whistle class who was distressed because her beloved cat had died on the road. The moment called forth a new little tune called Cat’s Home. This was/is a sad little tune that captures the poignancy of such an event. Children feel things very deeply but they also have the capacity to bounce from one feeling to another opposite feeling a moment later. This emotional mobility can be so lacking when we become serious adults, but I digress.
The tune became a song some years later, after that child had moved on to High School. In another whistle class, another generation of students, the live learning situation called for some words to be added. We were in a bit of a mad mood that day and one of the students asked what the tune was about. Instead of explaining the story of its origins I made up a Gothic Tale of Woe and Loss.
Cat’s not home,
Cat’s not home,
Went to play on the road,
Car squashed him flat.
Now I’m sad,
Cat’s not back,
Cat is flat.
I know, it’s dreadful. Really blunt and insensitive but the kids loved it. Something about the truth, bluntly delivered, that kids really seem to like. We now say someone has passed because even passed away is too blunt for us adults, let alone died or worse, squashed flat. Each generation of students wants me to sing the song with them.
This year someone asked for the words and I sang it. Most of the kids cringed and laughed but one was crying, no she was sobbing. Whoops, naughty me, bad me. She received multiple cuddles from her class mates and was consoled. She had lost her pussycat a few weeks earlier. I took on the role of the bad person and the class happily berated me for being so insensitive. The sad girl was glad to have so many allies against the “Bad One”. I didn’t sing the song for a while, at least not until the dust has settled, but it lives on.
Some months after the sad event one of the students was playing Cat’s Home and getting all the notes right but the performance lacked animation. I said to the class that I would play it as sadly as I could to demonstrate how intonation and timing influenced the feel of the music. I went for it, deeply inside my feeling self and oblivious to the world I made every note a killer. When I finished and looked up the student who cried earlier in the year had her fingers firmly in her ears and another of the students was crying and saying, “Every cat that I have had has died.” Whoops, again, even without the words of the song. Same process, sad one looked after by everyone, bad me chastised by everyone for my very good playing.
It is O.K to be sad, in the right context, where you feel safe and cared for. It is not O.K. to be sad when you do not feel safe. My school is such a good school because everybody, without exception, wants the kids to be safe and know that they are safe. We are hearing the Education Department and some schools being bashed in the press who need a “Story” to feed their insatiable appetite for controversy. One would think that the world is going to “Rack and Ruin” as my mum would say. Actually my world is a beautiful one and I thank the Gods for it. We are so lucky in this country.