Politically Correct Music Lessons
It’s Halloween, and that means only one thing in the elementary music classroom – scary songs! That’s right, it’s the one time all year we get to bust out Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, the Wolf Man, and scare the crap out of all the little kids.
I take a sadistic joy in creeping them out. “There was an old lady all skin and bones,” I chant, eyes wide, as if I were already dead. “Oooooo-oooo-ooo,” we sing, in a minor key. “She went down by the old graveyard,” the story continues. Each verse I get quieter and quieter. “She saw some bones a-lyin’ around . . .” as eventually the old lady tip toes to the closet to get a broom, and the kids are hanging on my every whisper. “BOOOO!” I scream! They squeal and run! One girl even cried.
“You scared me!” she yelled. Then, thinking about it, “Again! Again!”
Yes, Halloween songs are the best. It’s such a great tool for getting them to think about minor keys. To feel that scary sadness. Like identifying the color purple. It’s just one of those things that everybody should feel, and experience.
But what annoys me about Halloween? What gets on my nerves every Christmas, or Veteran’s Day? The religions that aren’t allowed to participate. “I’m not allowed to sing,” they say, “It’s against my religion.” No matter how hard I try to make it as vanilla as possible, I just can never get those kids to sing. Their parents call me, yelling about how the Bible says this, and the Bible says that, and I’ve got to heed by the Bible saying that their kid isn’t allowed to sing about a pumpkin.
This just keeps coming up all year. Soon it will be Thanksgiving, and they can’t sing any of those songs. Then it will be Christmas, and I have to rack my brain to try and incorporate the Jews, and the Africans, and the Mexicans, and whoever else wants to party during the “Holidays”. Then we’re singing about owls, and candles, and cherry trees, and the kids are thinking, these songs suck. But that still doesn’t satisfy most of the fringe religions. They’ll sit out no matter what.
I’ll be doing my music lesson, and as soon as I get to a song with a pumpkin in it, “Alright Johnny, we’re going to sing about pumpkins now. Go over to the corner and read a book. And whatever you do, don’t – under any circumstances – listen to my evil song about pumpkins rolling through the paw paw patch. You had better not sing it, or even look at us as we have loads of fun. And no candy for you either.”
I feel like I am some sort of priest, because after all, I am the one telling them to sit in the corner, lest their parents throw another fit at me. But we sing. We sing loud and proud. Because you can’t stop music, no matter how hard you try.
I’m an atheist, and my favorite Christmas song is “O Holy Night”. Yes it’s religious. Yes it has powerful lyrics. But it’s such a good song! Shouldn’t we all learn it as a matter of good taste in music and history? Our own National Anthem came from an old drinking song, and before that it was a religious hymn called “To Anacreon in Heaven”. Should we stop singing the National Anthem because of it’s sordid and religious past? Every song we sing as music teachers comes from some questionable religious or occult history. Just the act of sitting in a circle harkens back to pagan rituals.
And why do history teachers get a pass to teach whatever they want, but we music teachers have to tip toe, hiding behind our Hannukah and Kwanza songs. If I were to make a perfectly politically correct music lesson that would appease every single parent, it would just be me and a group of Kindergarteners sitting in complete silence.
This Christmas, I’m asking the Kindergarteners to sing “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”. And any Grinch who wants to steal my Christmas is going to have to do so with earplugs.