Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Music and Joy

My siblings and my father (and me) on Saturday. MOS is second from left.
Last week my Much Older Sister was inducted into the hall of fame. This wasn't the one in Canton, or the one in Cooperstown, or the one in Cleveland. This was a hall of fame for people whose life work and calling has been to teach music to children.

The other three inductees were wonderful choices--their nominators spoke of countless hours spent  pursuing performance excellence with their students, and ensembles that increased in size, and top ratings in contests. Then it was time for my sister to be introduced. She started out as a music teacher, but for the past quarter century she has been an arts administrator in an inner city school district.

I won't get this exactly right, because I wasn't taking notes, but I cried when the presenter spoke:

"She has made it her life's calling to bring the the beauty of music and art to a population whose greatest common denominator is poverty," the presenter said.

Think about that for a second. Her students come in all ethnic minorities, but they're all poor. They're all ages from pre-kindergarten to high school seniors, but they're all poor. They have all configurations of families, from single parent to extended family living groups, but they're all poor.

These aren't the families who grow up like we did--a nuclear family singing four-part harmony on car rides and knowing that we would go without new shoes or fancy vacations before our parents would let us go without music lessons. The parents of these kids are running as fast as they can just to keep the rent paid and food on the table.

So my sister makes sure the students in her schools don't miss out on the important things of life. She writes grants to bring Alvin Ailey dancers to her districts, and shepherded a nationally-emulated group that brings free concerts and performances to thousands of urban students. And she isn't just good at funding--her administrative style is to pitch in and do what needs to be done. (If you know her, ask my sister about driving a compact car packed with members of a mariachi band across Kansas City, while she leaning out the driver's window to hold the string bass on the roof with her non-steering hand.)

I started this blog post thinking I would talk about how my dad and all of my siblings braved some terrible roads on Saturday to be there for MOS's big day, and how proud our mom would have been of her oldest child. I was going to say that this day was a symbol that of all the things that have held us together as a family, music is near the top of the list. Instead, I'm reminded that my sister, who could have chosen a career that was a lot less work for a lot more money, has invested her time in the lives of her family, and her colleagues, and her students who are economically poor but rich in opportunity because of her influence. The presenter summed up her powerful legacy perfectly:

"She brings joy to every room she enters."

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