On Friday of last week and Monday of this one, I substituted for a computer teacher at a nearby high school. One of the classes was basically a study hall for fourteen students who had either fallen behind in their classes or were doing some sort of directed study.
At least that seemed to be the designed purpose. My suspicion is that most of these young people had been exiled from their regular classroom due to behavior problems. On Friday, they came to class with nothing to work on and I spent most of the time telling them to stay off the internet, put their smart phones and electronic devices away, and stay in their assigned seats.
I was really dreading this class on Monday and had brought some crossword-type game printouts (with little of hope of engaging their interest).
Then Manuel, a young man who had slumped in his chair Friday and ignored my attempts to get him to do some homework, carried a battered guitar case into the room and asked if he could store it behind my desk.
Intrigued, I agreed and asked him if he took music classes in school. He ducked his head rather shyly and said, “No, I’ve only started playing and like to practice whenever I get a chance–before school, at lunch, while waiting for my ride home.”
Interesting, I thought and asked a few more questions. Within moments he had the guitar out–A beautiful Martin Classic D mahogany. I knew this because I am a great lover of guitar music and would play myself if only I had the talent.
It turns out his father played guitar professionally when he was young and kept all his instruments. The son, now fifteen, was hoping to follow the family tradition. As we talked he began fingerpicking a rather melancholy Spanish tune on the nylon strings.
Dylan, a tall, lanky redhead who had been especially disruptive on Friday, wandered over to admire the guitar. “A D-Classic! Awesome man!” He asked if he could see it and Manuel handed it over.
Soon Dylan was playing complicated scales and blues riffs reminiscent of John Mayer. While playing, he admitted he is more inclined to play electric guitar–he has a Les Paul Stratocaster–and he and four friends are trying to form a band. He is especially interested in neo-classical music and mentioned a swedish guitarist– Yngwie Johann Malmsteen (pronounced invie yohan ˈmalmstin in English). He even had a bit of his music on his droid phone. It was beautiful.
Other students drifted over and soon there was a semi-circle of an audience with Manuel and Dylan in the middle. Instead of their usual wise cracks and insults, however, they seemed genuinely interested in the music.
Then, a quiet African-American boy named Moses stepped forward. Speaking English with a British accent underlain with a Caribbean rhythm, he asked to play. The guitar was once against transferred and he began strumming “I Shot The Sheriff”, a Bob Marley song even I can recognize.
Soon the three young men were taking requests and playing everything from “Hey There Delilah” by Plain White Ts to some famous songs by Bon Jovi, Jimmy Buffett, Santana, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Johnny Cash, Janis Joplin and Kris Kristofferson.
The noise level was moderate, the audience was respectful and appreciative and the three young performers were obviously in their element.
I’m sure I broke every rule in the Substitute Teacher’s Manual today, and if discovered, could be banned from further substitute assignments. The horror!
However, for fifty-five minutes on Monday, September 26th, there was a brief encounter of great beauty and harmony.
I’d pay the price for that.
Posted on September 27, 2011, in Teaching and tagged bob marley, bon jovi, high school, janis joplin, jimmy buffett, johnny cash, kris kristofferson, les paul guitar, martin guitar, music, plain white ts, santana, stevie ray vaughn, teaching, teenagers, yngie johann malmsteen. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.