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A Story of Life and Music

Posted by on in Ideas in Music Education
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When I was about eight years old, my grandfather had been teaching me how to play one of his favorite Ukranian dance songs on his mandolin, “Hopak”. As I finally played it all the way through, I heard my grandmother let out a cry in the kitchen. Almost by reflex, my grandfather gently put down his guitar, politely excused himself and went to see her. He came back in about a minute and taught me a new song. One with words that I sadly cannot recall as it was so brief. But as we played, my grandmother, who I called "Mema", walked down the hall towards us and began singing softly. As she came closer she sang louder. Then my grandfather, "Deuce" as I called him, started singing proudly. They looked at each other as they sang and I continued to play. And then Deuce stopped.

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His face almost clamped down upon itself and he let out a single wail. No tears. He never cried. He would just shake his head, reach one hand to cover his forehead and slowly slide down his face, somehow stopping the tears. Mema sat next to me and simply said, "The music helps us remember."

It took half a lifetime for me to truly understand what had happened. But what my grandparents have illuminated for me, far after their passing, is the power of music. Music is a powerful tool that deeply embeds with memories in our mind. While yes, this is a story of a couple remembering their journey westward to the United States and the horrible events of WWII, it is the spark that triggered my research into Environmental Sound Training (classroom management through music) and Active Listening (the power of fact association with music). Both are tactics being used in classrooms across the country.

"The life of the arts, far from being an interruption, a distraction, in the life of a nation, is very close to the center of a nation's purpose...and is a test of the quality of a nation's civilization." John F. Kennedy, 1963 (Inscribed at the Kennedy Center for the performing Arts).

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