It has been a goal of mine, each day of 2014, to write a short note of the best moment of the day and put it in a ceramic jar. At the end of this year I will read them; my 2014 “highlights”.
I teach music to kindergarten through 6th grade kids in a rural, some would say “backwoods” school district. I have gotten flack for my Veteran’s Day programs in which the children did not sing military hymns. Rather, I focused on Ellis Island and the feature moment of the program was “Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears”, a song about Annie Moore, the 15-year-old Irish girl who was “the first to cross the threshold of that isle of hope” when Ellis Island opened as America’s east coast point of entry for immigrants.
Currently, I’m under what I call my “gag order”. Apparently, I have offended people who don’t want their students to know any of the history behind songs. It’s okay to know the basic facts of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr., but we must not teach children the songs and stories behind the suffragette movement – a rather vital part of American history. We can sing certain verses of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” but not teach about the poverty, racism, and exclusionary systems that kept the poor impoverished and the immigrant in the laborer class – the theme behind so many of Woody Guthrie’s songs.
So it is in both awe and dread that I have discovered “Following the Ninth”, a documentary film about Beethoven’s final, magnificent symphony. The film tells stories of the human struggle against unspeakable oppression, where all or part of the symphony has been played and/or performed in critical points during human history in order to bolster the spirits of the people otherwise doomed to despair.
One of those stories is how a Chinese student leader rigged a loud speaker system over the protesters in Tiananmen Square in Beijing China, June 1989, and played Beethoven’s Ninth to try to drown out the Chinese state radio propaganda. He recounts in recent interviews how palpably hope arose in the thousands amassed there.
Today, in spite of my “gag order”, I could not resist telling that story and showing the iconic picture of the lone Chinese man, small as a gnat in front of the line of tanks, standing his ground – dancing “the Tank Man Tango” to prevent their passage.
What was my moment of today? As the 6th grade class left my room, one of the boys said,
“Thanks for teaching us about that.”