Scratching my own funny bone for shits and giggles. Lampooning books, music and being a single woman over 40. Recording observations with an almost Seinfeldian obsession for the minutiae of life. Things can get sweary around here. You understand.

Monday, July 13, 2009

SOOTHING SAVAGE BEASTS

Some days I really miss the kids. I loved teaching. In the end it was the other teachers that drove me away from the profession not the students. I taught high school music from 1990 until 2002 in the public system. In my first year out of college I was posted to Alexandra Hills High School, a pilot school situated in a suburb in the south east of Brisbane. I remember the place was a bit of an experimental ground for teaching any new syllabus and it was decided that every child should do music, drama and art until year 10. This meant a lot of surly boys doing music and drama when normally they would have had the option to drop those subjects after year 8. I found myself with huge mixed classes in which angry young men made up the majority. This was my first year of teaching and I was determined the kids would learn. I realized how imperative it was to get them under my thumb. It was hopeless trying to teach them to read and write music at that stage, so we spent a lot of time doing what I liked to loosely call ‘music appreciation’. Basically I'd play them some music then conclude the lesson with a lecture and discussion. Then we’d all tool around on the guitars for a bit. Metallica released ‘One’ in 1989 and I decided that this song was just what a group of angry young men needed to listen to. I don’t know what possessed me, but I’ll never forget their stunned faces at the end of it. This class took place in an annexed room at the back of the school so we had the luxury of playing it at a decent volume as well. The only thing more depressing than being an armless, legless war veteran with no face, who’s blind, deaf and mute, is being forced to read about one. The song is based on ‘Johnny Got His Gun’ by Dalton Trumbo I tell the kids. In the introduction, the sound of helicopters (despite them being an unknown commodity in World War 1) and machine guns indicate the impending doom and gloom to follow. Then James Hetfield assumes the inner monologue of the mutilated, faceless man thanks to his terminal grimace of a voice and tightly clenched teeth. Half way in Metallica are already trying to rip our heads off with their maniacal double-tracked guitars and Lars Ulrich bashing his kit like he just found out about Napster. ‘Darkness! Imprisoning me!’ Hetfield is screaming. ‘All that I see, absolute horror!’ The double bass drums pump out the rhythm with each shouted syllable, as if it were choreographed machine gun fire. The boys then proceed to tear into this mind-boggling guitar soloing that rewrites Einstein’s space/time continuum and when played loudly enough; has the power to implode small buildings as well. ‘One’ ends abruptly; much like a Lamborghini stops when it runs into a truck. Well you should have seen their kid’s shocked and sad little faces at the end of it! Looking back it was a little evil of me. But I didn’t have an ounce of trouble from that class ever again. Good times.

12 comments:

Punch said...

Sounds like the system lost a good teacher. Wonder where those boys are now?

Steve said...

A high school English teacher discussed this song. He was old enough that he was a rookie teacher when the draft for the Vietnam war was going on, and he saw students faint when their draft numbers were called over the loudspeaker, so he was anti-war enough that he loved talking about anything that painted war in a bad picture, including Metallica.

Dr Yobbo said...

They were probably the kids who voted 'One' into the Hottest 100 of all time!

That song depressed the hell out of me. Still isn't one of my favourites of theirs, despite the thermonuclear soloing at the end.

I don't mind the idea of art, drama and music being compulsory until year 10. Obviously they canned the idea - any reason why? Presumably a waste of time for some kids, but surely 'saving' a couple of kids from meathead ignoramus oblivion was worth it?

Burn rate on music teachers was prodigious though - all of ours had nervous breakdowns at one stage or another.

LERMONTOV said...

About five of us chain ganged our Arts teacher at the school Boat Shed after rowing training one night. She was a great resource!

Bondiboy66 said...

I had to do music and art till Year 10...the music teachers tried to thump an appreciation of Classical music into us - when all I wanted were loud guitars! And the Arts teachers were uniformly pretentious wankers with aspirations to High Art. Come Year 11 I binned both subjects. But, at least I can say 'I dunno much about art but I know what I like!'

Jyggdrasil said...

Tom is almost ready to start music lessons, tho probably not quite ready for Metallica.

yankeedog said...

I like that approach to teaching. You were quite correct-the little darlings aren't interested in music theory but you can give them some modern stuff to chew on. If they follow the typical pattern, they'll grow into appreciating all forms and eras of music. Most of the old rockers from the 60s and 70s have branched out into blues, country, world music, musicals, you name it.

It's the same way with the visual arts. I know I wasn't interested in the Old Masters. Just give me paper and something to sketch/color/paint with.

Have you considered getting back into the business? You've got a knack for dealing with people, and we can always use good instructors. Yes, I know it's as much politics as academia behind the scenes, but that's every job, unfortunately.

When I was a sophomore, I had a teacher play 'Tom Sawyer' by Rush during class. I'm not really sure why since it wasn't a music class, nor did it really have a lot to do with Mark Twain's story. Hmm.

Jamin (AKA Blue Box) said...

Fond memories, indeed. Had a Film and Television/Drama teacher with a similar approach. I don't remember the specifics, but I do remember being very impressed by his hour-long (double period) oration on the pleasures of Fade To Black by Metallica. Made me sit up and listen for the rest of the year, that's for sure.

YsambartCourtin said...

The showing of "Apocalypse Now" when we were studying "Heat of Darkness" had a similar effect. Charlie don't surf.

Steve said...

YD, I had a similar situation in 7th grade science. The teacher played "Spirits in the Material World" a lot in class. Personally, I think it was because he was often high.

When I took a music elective (also in the 7th grade), I recall having to learn the prominent artists of different musical eras. It came in handy, having to remember the big bands from the British Invasion, when I found myself coming face to face with Herman's Hermits yesterday.

Ben said...

Just so you know, I went to Alexandra hills high school and graduated in 2003, i was probably in that class!

Natalia the Russian Spy said...

I would have been long gone by then Ben but nice to see you!

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