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“The Arts”, Five Decades Later, But Who’s Counting?

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In another forum, blog author Susan Scheid (https://prufrocksdilemma.wordpress.com/) recently brought up the subject of a high school music appreciation course, prompting me towards recollection of my own beginnings. And this seems like a good time, as another year in the blog concludes, to reflect on what brought me here and what inspires me to continue.

Art and music

Not exclusively a personal history, a required class in my high school called “The Arts” may ring familiar to many readers here as the earliest allusion to the connections among the humanities. It was a large lecture hall class, divided into a semester each of art and music appreciation, without any mingling of subjects, despite both teachers being present the whole year. To make clear how little even the administration thought of any attempt to turn teenagers into cultured beings, my first (soon to retire) guidance counselor advised me to take the course my freshman year, “to get it out of the way.”

So I attended the lecture class as a clueless 14-year-old. (As a senior, I would have doted on it. By then, I was, inexplicably, including in almost every paper a comparison between the subject assigned, and a painting of my choice. Worked pretty well with literature, though more of a stretch in some other subjects.) By high school, I had stopped taking piano lessons, though I already preferred classical to any other music. Classical meant FM radios, which were less common and more expensive. Of course, due to the type of classical favored at the time, whenever I turned on the FM radio between our living and dining rooms, I was assaulted by the sort of symphonic music which alarmed me. Still instinctively knowing that it was my area, I asked for an FM radio for my room, but was given an AM-only clock radio; the best I could do with that was easy listening, certainly not classical, yet less foreign to me.

The music teacher, Mr. Steele, is distinct in memory, as restrained, elegant and refined, compared to the art teacher, looking uncomfortable in a suit. But nothing specific from Mr. Steele’s class remains. What stays with me, at least in terms of the subject matter, was from the art teacher, Mr. Kinney. There was a moment early on, when he did hint at connections between music and art. He asked us, one day as the bell sent us fleeing up the tiers, to think that night about how a musical instrument and a painting were alike. I think that was the comparison. I was so startled by the suggestion that any two subject areas could come together – after a few years of having them carefully separated, and taught by people who seemed to have no knowledge of the others – that I misheard him as asking us to write a paper about it. High school was offering insurmountable challenges. I talked it over with my mother, who found the notion interesting, and calmed me down. Mr. Kinney never asked for the paper I had written, and I threw it away. But I had found the slightest opening to the world of humanities, and wonderful aspects to them, like how they’re inspired, and how they can be different expressions of the same emotion.

So, I agree with the assertion Sue made in the group referenced that it “has turned out, in one sense, to be the music appreciation class that SHOULD have been, oh so long ago.” Just so, has been my continuing arts education here, through the blogs I follow by writers like Sue, and like David Nice (http://davidnice.blogspot.com/ ). Had I been in the same classroom with you, Sue, you might have asked me then, what I thought about the course. The lovely thing is that we’re in the class that should have been, and you’re asking now. Not a moment too soon!

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6 thoughts on ““The Arts”, Five Decades Later, But Who’s Counting?

  1. My own music teacher was a Mr. Summers, and he had the lovely habit of getting completely lost in playing pieces on the piano whilst taking class, such that he would all but disappear into an alternative universe – as did some of the students, though into an altogether different one, it must be said! He would crouch down next to the keyboard – Keith Jarrett style – only to emerge minutes later with a somewhat other-worldly countenance. Good to see you writing here once again; I thought we had lost you for all time.

  2. …my mother, who found the notion interesting, and calmed me down.” You’re such a naturally vivid writer, Elizabeth (not to mention funny)! Look forward to reading much more here.

  3. I’m so glad you thought to commemorate (and expand on this) here. Curt has already noted a particularly delicious, and vividly recollected, anecdote. This one, I really enjoyed, too: “By then, I was, inexplicably, including in almost every paper a comparison between the subject assigned, and a painting of my choice.” Those papers must have been so much more enjoyable to read than the ordinary high school fare. Happy New Year!

  4. Good to see you back, Elizabeth!

    May the new year bring you good fortune.

    Seek peace,

    Paz

  5. Likewise, delighted to see you back here. At least you had such a course, however sketchy – once the seed is planted, it can bear fruit or not, sometimes many years later. If kids today don’t have any kind of music appreciation classes at school, how will they know to return to something they thought was deeply ‘uncool’ at the time?

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