LE DÉSACCORD ET LA VOIX

I liked 2 things right away about Jackie. 1) The Disagreement

Our first argument came when I asked for her number. I remember standing on our friend's driveway, while I stumbled over some awkward jokes. We didn’t have any paper or pen to write down her number, so I decided to memorize it. She did not approve of this ridiculous idea. The moment could have been one of those playful, flirty disagreements, except that it wasn't. Instead, we argued about it for real. Clearly, she wasn’t afraid to challenge me. A worthy opponent. Feisty. Combative. Confident. I didn’t really process any of those thoughts in the moment. At the time, I thought, “Who does she think she is?!” Ah, young love.

Eventually I reshaped that first fight in my mind as downright romantic. Cue the orchestra. Which reminds me of point number...

2) The Voice

She studied voice. As soon as I heard she was an opera singer, the cool factor of meeting her went way up. My mind filled with all kinds of crazy romantic notions of what it would be like to date a Soprano. We met as a group in the high society wheeler-dealer social club known as the Old Orchard Mall Houlihan’s. All 15 people attended that night simply so that we could meet, and when it came time for introductions, she and her roommate were introduced in the wrong order. My disappointment was immediate. Why did the opera singer have to be the tall and lanky frizzy-haired girl? Why couldn’t it be the cute girl with the gorgeous eyes? And then, seconds later the farce was over. The mistaken identity was clarified, and lucky for me, the cute girl was indeed the opera singer.

As we dated, she educated me on opera - the history, the culture, and the art form itself. My experiences playing trumpet in a youth orchestra and marching band molded my thinking on opera. Quite frankly, I hated it. As I mentioned, I loved the cool factor of dating an opera singer, but I wasn’t sold on the actual music. Why ruin some beautiful classical music with singing? Of course, as I learned much more about opera, I started to appreciate it. Her music score looked technically challenging, not to mention that she would have to sing in German, French and Italian. And the stories told grand tales of love, comedy and scandal, and that’s just in the first scene. The reality of this opera singer beat most of my expectations regarding the cool factor.

Then it came time to attend a recital. I had heard all about the topic of opera, but finally I was going to hear some actual opera. They had a little party where all the students performed. I thought I knew how an opera singer should sound. And her classmates filled that expectation for the most part. Some of them clearly had some work to do. They were studying, so I wasn’t surprised to hear some righteous clams and back-tingling voice cracks. Some showed extreme promise. But, for the most part, they all sang with a sound that I considered about right for an opera student. Then Jackie sang. Sweet Jesus Cakes! She blew them all away. I don’t mean she was more technically proficient (although she was). I’m referring to her pipes. Her vocal cords. Her natural instrument. Anyone with two ears and a human soul could hear the amazingly perfect and deeply powerful quality to her voice.

My small-minded pre-conceived notion of the romance of dating an opera singer became immediately eclipsed into oblivion by the reality of the magic and core-shaking power of her voice. Curtain Down! I still consider myself fortunate to hear that lovely voice from time to time around the house. Even if it’s just singing a little ditty about our dog.

Conflict + Opera = Sketch

I enjoy reliving the memories of those first years of our relationship – the conflict and what I learned about opera. When I wrote the original sketch that became Episode 5 of the web series (out on Thursday 9/19/13), I used many of the details I remember from her days studying voice. It’s sort of like a shout-out to those memories. Hey, memories: you don’t go changin’! Plus, I loved the idea of trouble-makers with the admirable intention of supporting the arts.

Then, when I started writing the web series script, this sketch arguing for more arts education seemed like a perfect fit, especially in light of my wife’s experiences with holding on to a job as a music teacher over the past decade. As I’ve discussed often in this blog, the public education system has proven to be a continuing challenge given the loss of financial and political support. It’s no secret that the education system in our country has been slashed and burned, and the arts are always the first casualty in the budget. Despite the challenges, my wife happens to be a fantastic teacher (teacher of the year for LAUSD in fact!), so she's managed to continue working throughout all the budget cuts.

Even if she wasn't working, no one could ever take away that stunning, heart-shaking voice -- winding its way through the rooms of our house, over our Chow Chow's wagging tail, and into my grateful ears.

It’s so romantic, it makes me want to argue.

THE RIGHT AMOUNT OF COOL FOR SCHOOL

“One test of the correctness of educational procedure is the happiness of the child.” ~Maria Montessori

I yam what I yam. Ack ack ack ack! ~Popeye

I intended to discuss my opinions about the state of education in our country in connection with this week’s episode, since it features a mother buying test answers from an ex-principal. However, I waited until the last minute to do my homework. It turns out education as a topic would require reading, like, a ga-jillion books in order to scratch the surface. What to do? Do I cram with hopes to formulate ramblings into a blog of substance? Or, do I find a clever way to put a unique spin on the assignment, while really avoiding the assignment all together? Yes. That option always worked when I was in school. Instead of building a case with well-supported research, I will explore my own personal journey through education.

Park View Junior High (District 70)

I went to the public grade school system in Morton Grove, IL. Aside from my preoccupation with hating cliques and avoiding the usual bullies (see Blog #13), I managed to learn the basics of math, science, literature, history, and even some jazz improvisation during lunch. I felt a drive to succeed, but that drive was inspired mostly by a desire to make my parents happy.

Notre Dame High School for Boys

My entrance test scores for high school were uneven – high in math, but low in English. So, I started in the remedial classes, and they excluded me from Latin class! I was outraged. All the smart kids learned Latin, but I was stuck with Spanish. When would that ever be useful? As a result of my placement, I sailed through freshman classes, such that I felt peer pressure about doing too well. I felt embarrassed when I scored high on homework or tests, especially in front of my friends who were struggling. I felt the need to pretend I got lucky. They figured out they better move me to honors classes, but it was too late for Latin. You know what they say. Carpe Diem? Is that what they say? I have no idea, because they wouldn’t let me into Latin class ☹

I can’t complain, though. I had fun in high school – mostly in band and the other extra-curricular activities like the play and band. Plus, I was in the band. Despite my tendency to avoid my all-boys high school in order to hang out at the local all-girl schools, I learned enough to get me into the #3-rated Engineering university in the country.

“Looks like it’s the University of Illinois”

I actually felt excited by the idea of going to an Ivy League or a more Liberal Artsy kind of school. I dreamed of going to Bucknell or Brown. I’m not sure why these schools enticed me so much. Maybe they gave us kick-ass brochures. But, my parents quickly discouraged it. Tuition was a factor. Plus, my parents had no idea how I would get back and forth during summers and holidays. They didn’t have the money for flights, and I guess they never heard of a long car trip. Regardless, the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana provided an excellent college experience, mostly due to the Marching Illini. Yes, it helped finalize my identity once and for all as a band geek.

Within my rigorous rehearsal schedule, I managed to find some time to attend some engineering classes. My instincts for problem solving helped me, but I wasn’t ultimately interested in the details. I wanted immediate results. I didn’t want to have to understand the electron process in order to design a circuit, in order to process some sort of computation to solve some practical problem. I wanted to goof around. I wanted attention, and my mind was always wandering creatively, such that I spoke only in run-on sentences that jumped from topic to topic, until at a certain point, I realized I didn’t really have a point, and I didn’t quite know how to finish my thought, and eventually forgot what I was… Uh…

The Education Payoff: Andersen Consulting

With my degree, I started right away with a very respectable job in computer consulting. Everyone treated each other as professionals. We worked hard and played hard. But, still, what were we doing, really? We were helping them setup a database for keeping accounting records? Or, designing some way for e-mail to travel most quickly through a network? Part of me enjoyed geeky aspects of the process, but my attention span was always so distracted. Did that mean I never learned to concentrate? Did it mean that my capacity for complex thought was limited by my A.D.D.? Or, did it just mean that I was capable, but not passionate?

Back to School: Columbia College Chicago

After all my efforts to study and get good grades, and my determination to capitalize on my college education by embracing a professional career in a respectable, stable field like computers, I ultimately could not continue on that path. I could not force myself to pursue what seemed most prudent. In the end, I went back to college and studied film – a subject that put the butterflies back in my gut.

Lessons Learned

Now that I can reflect on my educational history, I wonder if embracing my passion for the arts earlier would have benefited me. Or, will all the distractions and tangents in my career pay off in the types of stories I tell? Did I receive an excellent education? Was it just good enough? Would I be better positioned for success in life if my parents were wealthy with connections to Harvard? Or, would an easier path have led me into some comfortable position at a law firm with no drive left to go after my passion?

When I think about it, I found so many subjects boring. Does it even matter that I spent time in those classes when I learned nothing? Do we need children to be passionate about every subject? My nephew has a passion for Japan, it’s language and it’s culture. He’s obsessed. It’s a good thing. He’s learning to speak Japanese and Korean. If we made that a required subject in school like History and Algebra, I guarantee you that some of the kids would never learn it – not because they aren’t capable, but because it doesn’t interest them. I’m also sure some kids just require a different learning style.

Ultimately, something doesn’t seem right in our current education system, but I don’t have the skills to analyze the system in depth, nor the capacity to draw proper conclusions. Therefore, I have proven that something is not right with our current education system. It has even failed to give me the skills to prove it has failed.

Perhaps the solution is simple. Create a class that teaches you one key learning skill that gives you access to all other learning opportunities. If such a class existed, I think it might be called “Google it.”