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Making Beautiful Music Together

I love listening to music but do not have a very good ear. I even joined the middle school beginning band when I was the Head of Duke School in order to deepen my understanding and appreciation of music. (It was sweet that my then college aged daughter attended the Holiday Concert in which I made my performance debut.) Unfortunately, my desire outstripped my talent and after a year I left the band. I still listen to music voraciously but hear it at the most fundamental levels.

My lack of a discerning ear is evident when l listen to covers. Almost all of them sound alike to me. I know that artists cover songs because they want to add their touch, but that touch usually alludes me.

Today was an exception. I was listening to Radio Deluxe, a weekly podcast that features jazz, American Standards and other music hosted by John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molasky. Today they played The Boxer. Many of you know the song as written by Paul Simon and originally performed by Simon and Garfunkel. However they played a Mumford and Sons with Jerry Douglass version. All of a sudden I heard the banjo and the standing bass. I heard a different tone to the voice--a bit more plaintiveness. It was the same song, yet very different. I definitely could distinguish what made this cover unique.

As the school year begins, I think it is important to remember that each student (and for that matter each staff member) are as unique as various covers of a song. We may ask students to do similar things at similar times (i.e. go to history class during second period) but we should remember that they are all bringing different instruments, different perspectives and different voices to class. It is our job to recognize and honor those differences. More importantly, it is our job to amplify every version so that each artist is thrilled with her song. That can happen only if we listen carefully and celebrate all of those we are honored to teach. Together they make beautiful and compelling music.


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