Wednesday, February 29, 2012

...Music is Magic...

I tell you, I just about fell off my seat on Sunday night when I saw Pharrell Williams drumming with Sheila E at the Oscars. Absolutely made my night.

I have always loved and been inspired by Sheila E and we all know how I feel about Pharrell. And drummers. That was my personal highlight for the evening. And the two dudes who won, got up said, “thank you” and then left the stage. Now that’s how you give a speech.

Sheila E was what I had in mind in the 7th grade when my music teacher Mrs. Peg said everyone in the orchestra had to learn one additional instrument. I chose the drums. I was no Sheila Escovedo, but I enjoyed my music lessons immensely even if my questionable abilities made Mrs. Peg consider a career change.

Before Mrs. Peg, there was Mr. Patterson, my violin teacher. I’m pretty sure he only gave lessons for the money but I was too young and optimistic to allow his perpetual grumpiness take away my love of music.

Perhaps the greatest musical influence in my academic career was Mr. Williams, known for his amazing style, his incredible charm, and probably also for his excess gas.

David Williams was my music teacher for grades one through six, and I remember every day with him well.

He looked a little bit like Nipsey Russell. His shirt was almost always an exact match in shade to his pants. He wore a faded old chain link bracelet and tickled all the kids under the chin, often called us “darlings” and managed to work the word “children” into every single sentence.

There are a few things that especially stand out in my memory of Mr. Williams.

For example, a lot of teachers had uniquely designed hall passes. One teacher had a boy duck and a girl duck. Another had some fancy Lucite bars with script written down the side.

Mr. Williams had a cowbell. And even though he would always warn you to carry it quietly down the hall, you could always here some kid clanging away within seconds of leaving the room at which point Mr. Williams would run to the door and yell, “I said ‘quietly,’ ding-a-ling!”

His other pass was a block of wood about a foot long, two inches wide, and half an inch thick. He called it the “Red Cross” not just because it had a red cross painted in the center of it, but because it was meant to “help the children” since it also doubled as a disciplinary paddle.

Mr. Williams was the nicest, sweetest man you ever wanted to know until someone acted up. Then he’d say to the bad apple, “Go to the cross.(dramatic pause) And bring it to me.” and us kids just kept our heads down and tried not to watch the torture. (Or what seemed like torture in the mind of elementary school kids.)

If you ask any past student of his what they remember most, they’re almost for certain to mention the gas thing.

Every year on the first day of school, Mr. Williams would lift his shirt and show the long dark scar down his abdomen. “You see, children, for a very long time I could not make or pass gas and it was very painful so I had to have surgery and now I’ve got the good gas. I will excuse myself but in case I don’t, then please excuse me.”

So he’d be rocking back and forth at the piano, teaching us a song:
“La, la, la-la, la, la, la-la, la, la – BURRRP!!!, Excuse me chil’en – laaaaaaaaaa….” Just really fast like that, right in the middle of the song, and keep right on going.

The other thing they’ll mention would be the pills. The man had something like 100 pills on his desk, and throughout the day he would scoop up a handful and gulp them down.

I know what you’re thinking. And stop thinking it. These were legit. And he warned all of us to never ever touch them. Surprisingly no one ever did.

Probably the most important thing that any student of Mr. Williams will remember would be just the overall value of the class.

Mr. Williams taught us all how to read music. I can’t play any instruments as well as I used to, but I can still read a sheet of music note for note.

He taught us teamwork, ethics, and creativity through the school concerts he put on twice a year. (When I wasn’t on the stage, I was behind the scenes, working the lights, sounds, and curtains!)

He taught us learning could be fun, being the king of mnemonics and all. And if one didn’t exist for what he wanted you to learn he would make up an unforgettable song.

We learned a lot over the years, but the lesson that stuck with me the most is that music is magic.

Magic touches all of our senses.

We see sounds, hear love, and feel beauty.

We believe in the unbelievable, experience the impossible, and we are
better for it.

I bet Schroeder had a Mr. Williams in his life (Schroeder plays Beethoven’s Sonata No 8 Pathetique)


I don’t know if there has ever been a time in my life when some part of me wasn’t saved by music. The versatile musical taste of my family members gave me an incredible appreciation for music, but it was Mr. Williams that helped me understand it beyond what you hear and into what you feel.

Every instrument has a soul and every note is its heartbeat. When we listen, and really hear music, we let a spirit live.

Yes, I know. That’s a very awesome way to see something seemingly so small, but that’s the kind of teacher he was. I think about him a lot periodically for almost no reason at all because music is nearly everything and nearly everything is a reminder. If ever a person could be music, Mr. Williams was a contender. I love you, music. Thank you for being in my life. With everything that sometimes feels so wrong about me and about life, you are always a significant part of what’s right.

So alongside the tremendous Hans Zimmer, my other favorite Mr. Williams scored the 84th Annual Academy Awards. I’m pretty sure there’s some historic element with him being so young and possibly also with him being African American, but we really witnessed something more than that.

When the camera panned up and around to show Pharrell very handsomely attired and smiling while performing with Sheila E (and later with violinist Ann Marie Calhoun) I’m sure that some other little kids somewhere in the world were inspired, and they too learned that music is magic.


Sheila E has more talent in the tips of her fingers that some people have all over.


Mr. Holland’s Williams’ Opus – I Am Other Theme as performed by the Frost School's Henry Mancini Institute Orchestra


And if you’ve never seen Mr. Holland’s Opus, you know what to do this weekend.
Click here to let me spoil it for you.

After you watch this, bring your jaw back up.
Ann Marie Calhoun covers “Stacks” by Phish


Eddie Levert’s voice is still one of the best around (then and now)
O’Jays – I Love Music


Lyrics | The O'Jays lyrics - I Love Music (Part 1) lyrics

Common f/ Jill Scott – I Am Music


Lyrics | I Am Music lyrics

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