Tag Archives: Music

The Day The Music Died

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Sleepy Pacifica woke up this foggy Thursday morning still reeling from the devastating news of the passing of Mr. Jerry Downs. As the community grapples with this irreplaceable loss; teachers, parents and administrators struggle to find words and comfort not only for themselves, but, most of all, for Mr. Downs’ hundreds of students. As the cornerstone of the music program at IBL and Ocean Shore for the past 15 years and pushing 30 years with the District overall, Mr. Downs was a monumental influence and daily presence in the lives of Pacifica’s middle school students. My own daughters were in band, and my youngest, who is suffering his loss, is more concerned for her friends who have been in band for more than two years and are overwhelmed with grief.

 We all know how important music is in our lives. Its ministry extends far and wide, it gladdens, it soothes, it heals. When Karl Paulnack was at The Boston Conservatory, he shared in his Contemplation of Music address about what his community did on September 12, 2001, “At least in my neighborhood, we didn’t shoot hoops or play Scrabble. We didn’t play cards to pass the time, we didn’t watch TV, we didn’t shop, we most certainly did not go to the mall. The first organized activity that I saw in New York, that same day, was singing. People sang. People sang around fire houses, people sang “We Shall Overcome.” Lots of people sang America the Beautiful. The first organized public event that I remember was the Brahms Requiem, later that week, at Lincoln Center, with the New York Philharmonic. The first organized public expression of grief, our first communal response to that historic event, was a concert. That was the beginning of a sense that life might go on. The US Military secured the airspace, but recovery was led by the arts, and by music in particular, that very night.”

 I think Mr. Downs understood the magnitude music has in our lives, and gave his life for its cultivation in the best of our gardens: the hearts of our children. He not only cultivated a love for music, but also an appreciation for its execution, its execution with precision, excellence and mastery. He worked hard with the students, his class was not an easy A. He asked for hard work, and appreciated it when the students stepped up and mastered the lessons. His Spring Concert was the highlight of the middle school year. The dozens of trophies testify to the dedication, the drive and boundless energy Mr. Downs brought to his work. In The Voiceless, Oliver Wendell Homes wrote, “Alas for those that never sing, But die with all their music in them!” That was not going to happen if you were in Mr. Downs’ class. He awoke the love of music in our children’s hearts and souls.

 As we recover from the jolting shock of his death and continue to mourn his passing, it is a comfort to know that the seeds of music appreciation that he sowed in our kids’ lives will someday blossom, blossom when they remember … whenever they hear a familiar piece or understand a composition; his memory will guide and comfort them for the rest of their lives. For some, these seeds will yield musical fruit for a new generation.

 Although for the Pacifica community, yesterday was the day the music died, yet, thankfully, the music will live on in the hearts of our kids and the thousands of students who continue to love music because of Mr. Downs. Our condolences to his family, their loss is unimaginable.

Mr Downs

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Sixth Grade

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In the fall of 1970, I started sixth grade at Brook Hill Elementary School in Santa Rosa. The few years we lived in Santa Rosa will forever remain with me as an idyllicism (made up word) of the highest form. Block parties on 4th of July, warm weather, our school across the street and sixth grade.

Sixth grade is where and when I came alive. Everything that excites and moves me was born in the last classroom in that plain school building. Although I was writing at an earlier age, the subjects that would activate that skill were taught to me in sixth grade.

I have learned that school is like a buffet feast. There are so many foods to choose from. In order to appreciate everything, you take a bite from each plate. But the ones you really like, those become your favorites, your comfort foods. So as with education, you taste as many subjects as you can, but the ones you love, the ones that make you come alive, those are the ones you return to, the ones you pursue.

Mr. Caudill, my sixth grade teacher, set a grand table. Of the many things he taught us, these are the subjects I have returned to, the ones I have pursued.

First was poetry. Each week, I believe, we got a new poem. I remember smelling the newly mimeographed paper anticipating a new tale. “Gunga Din” and “The Kid’s Last Fight” were two of my favorites. “You may talk o’ gin an’ beer, when you’re quartered safe out ‘ere…” I would bellow in a bravado-ish brough that would send my sister under the covers. Sadly, all my papers from sixth grade were lost in the move to Daly City. But the spark had been lighted, and still burns.

Second was music. Mr. Caudill handed out sheets with contemporary music lyrics. “Blowing in the Wind”, “Leaving on a Jet Plane” and “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” were a few of the many songs we learned about. I still know these lyrics by heart. I have written a few songs myself that remain in the confines of my journals; but because I learned to appreciate the music and lyrics, I can discuss any song with my kids. I help them highlight what their favorite musicians are trying to say. And as a by-product, I have come to love their music as much as my own.

Third was geography. I learned to love maps. I’ve always had a map on the wall. Even now, living in my parents’ house, I have an old ‘80’s Hapag Lloyd map up. I need a new one though; there are so many new countries since the fall of the Wall. In sixth grade, we studied South American geography and cultures. We used to have map contests to see who could find a nation’s capital the quickest. I was good at that game. I loved it. I learned that there were other people around the world with different customs, beliefs and ways of living. I did a report on the Incas in Peru. We sang “O Little Town of Bethlehem” in Spanish. Here was my first taste of that beautiful language. I am working my way to fluency even now.

I was eleven when I was in Mr. Caudill’s sixth grade class. I was eleven when I learned these subjects. But I didn’t just learn them, I ingested them, they became a part of who I was. They came to fruition in my English degree, my many Spanish classes, my missionary interests and my feeble attempts at creativity. I watched “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” last year. There is a scene where Control and Smiley were leaving Circus Headquarters, and in the background, there were maps all over the walls. I had an “a-ha” moment. I should have been a spy!

http://pacifica.patch.com/articles/sixth-grade

Individuate!

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I am a word nerd. I love words. When I had a boring job in Half Moon Bay back in the 1970’s, I entertained myself by reading the dictionary. I still have the lists of words I learned. Words are great, wonderfully great and terribly great. Words can harm, cut down and poison; but on the other hand, words can build up, inspire and heal. Just like I have comfort foods such as creamed tuna and pumpkin pie, I have comfort words, “Providence,” “hope” and “sublime” to name a few. I am always excited when I learn a new word.

Sometime in the 1990’s, my family was watching “Home Improvement.” Jill was having one of her talks with the fenced-obscured neighbor, Wilson. She was having trouble with her older son, Randy, and mentioned to Wilson that she believed that Randy was probably trying to “individuate” from her and Tim. That word caught my ear. I had never heard it used that way, and I took a psychology class in college (my worst graded class, by the way — that may explain a lot).

Individuate! Not only did I love the word and the way it gave my tongue a mini workout, I also understood immediately what Jill was talking about. As my children have grown, I have witnessed them “individuating” away from me. For some of them this came early, one at about a year and a half and one at three years old when she declared in front of many witnesses, “It’s my life” (this one was going to move out when she was 8), but the others were in the typical age range of 12-15 years. This is a hard stage of parenting; but I am in it for the long haul. I think I can, I think I can …

As I do with words and other things, I like to add my own spin. I think it is time for me to “individuate” away from my kids.  It was natural and exciting to pour myself into these little lives….but eventually, their personalities began to take over. Early on I should have known things were bad when after we got a set of Laurel and Hardy movies, I called my sister bemoaning, “Linda, I need to get out, I think Stan Laurel is hot!” Symptoms continued, singing the Rescue Rangers theme song while doing dishes, penciling in the “Good Luck Charlie” Christmas movie on the calendar and being more conversant with people under the age of 20 than my peers.

Those are the harmless aspects to full immersion parenting; however, things can get ugly. They are nice for awhile and then they turn on you. If you are not prepared, it can be brutal. “It’s not fair.” “You never do anything for me” “You like everyone else more than me” and, the topper, “I hate you” can certainly wear down one’s defenses. At first, I would indignantly defend myself as being a perfect and fair parent (LOL) and try to hide my hurt feelings. As they individuated away from me, I also had to individuate away from them.

My first step toward individuation was to build some strong battlements. I couldn’t be so sensitive. I had to garner some courage and fortitude to handle their time of individuation. In the process, I was delighted to find myself again. I didn’t need to spend every minute with them. I didn’t need to hover over them; I could pursue some interests of my own. I could listen to Barry Manilow instead of Tupac and Two Chains.

I still have young ones at home, and am appreciating the things that I used to love. Funny, I caught the 13-year-old listening to Barry Manilow awhile ago. That’s the best of both worlds.

http://pacifica.patch.com/articles/individuate