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Sometimes Being Uncool is Actually Cool
I’m teaching again, to the continued astonishment of anyone who knew me as a student.
During high school, I did not seem the type who would devote any portion of his adult life to an activity that involved entering a classroom voluntarily. I wasn’t a bad student. I just wasn’t an enthusiastic one, either. It’s because I had been a good student the first two years of high school, so by the beginning of my junior year I had enough credits to graduate. I took this as permission to stop paying attention.
It did not escape the notice of my superiors, and this caused problems. For example, there was a time when I was genuinely interested to become a music teacher, or at least look into it. When I inquired about joining the Future Teachers, I was told by the guidance counselor to get lost. Without even asking me about my interest, he said he knew I wasn’t serious.
At the time, I was steamed. Looking back, however, I see that it turned out to be a pretty good piece of guidance counseling. I managed to make a career out of not being serious.
And now I get to be a music teacher, too.
I teach two classes at one of the local universities - The History of American Popular Music and The Music Of Elvis Presley. The history class is where I take colorful and vibrant music and try to make it dull and lifeless by talking about it for three hours every Wednesday. No, actually, I play a lot of music, most from my personal collection, and try to make it interesting for people who really don’t know much of anything recorded before 1990. Or 1964, for those who discovered their parents’ old Beatles records.
What I enjoy most is dragging something really obscure out of the vault - 19th Century shape note singing, or Civil War marching songs, or scratchy old jazz records - and watching their faces as they hear it for the first time. And I’m pleased that most of them have really open minds about. I’m not sure I would have reacted that way at their age.
I was far too concerned with being cool, which of course limits you to listening to what someone else determines is good music. To listen to something else would be uncool, you see. In public, anyway. This gets me to the Elvis class, which I created after no one signed up for my previous offering, Famous Yodelers.
In my crowd, Elvis was extremely uncool, so I listened to him at home, but not for Elvis. Oh no. I was a secret fan of Southern Gospel quartet singing, and Elvis was backed up by some of the best - the Jordanaires, of course, but also the Imperials, J.D. Sumner and the Stamps Quartet ... well, I’d better stop or I’ll get all quartet geeky. And the weird part is, there was absolutely nothing in my background, religious or otherwise, to indicate I would be a quartet fan. I was raised as far from that kind of music as you could get and still be on the same planet.
But I was. In secret.
From that, I sort of backed into appreciating Elvis - and, now, all these years later, into teaching about his music. I’m having fun and I think my students are, too.
Is that cool, or what?
© 2009 Mike Redmond. All Rights Reserved.
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