Happy Birthday, Pops.

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Today would have been my Grandpa P’s 96th birthday. In a previous blog, I wrote about my mom’s dad, and today I want to write about my dad’s dad – Pops. This blog is sort of a rewrite of a blog I wrote years ago on the anniversary of his passing.

When my mom’s dad passed away, I had to deal with the loss of a loved one for the first time. It was an eye opening experience that changed me forever. I realized that the people in your life aren’t always going to be around. I made a promise to be closer to my remaining grandparents.

I was very close to my grandpa. When he passed away, it was one of the most difficult times of my life. When I describe him, I often tell people to think of Abe Vigoda from the Godfather (some may remember him as Fish on Barney Miller). Abe reminded me a lot of my grandpa.

He quit school at a very young age. I don’t recall how young he was, but I recall him being in elementary school or maybe junior high. He quit to go to work with his father (my great grandfather). He worked to help bring money in for the family, as times were rough and money was tight. When he was young, they had one of those cars with the crank in the front of it that you had to crank to start the car. As I remember the story, he was trying to start the car one day and the crank snapped back and caught him in the nose. His nose was broken and it remained crooked the remainder of his life.

I used to love listening him tell stories about when he was young. He often talked about the days that him and his friends would hang out on “Joseph Campau Ave.” in downtown Detroit. Detroit was very different then. He and grandma would tell stories of how they could leave the house unlocked when they left and how they could sleep out on the sun porch during the summer without ever having to worry about being robbed or hurt.

Speaking of grandma, one of the stories that they both loved to tell was how they ended up together. The story goes that grandpa saw grandma walking and wanted to ask her out. She kept telling him no, but eventually broke and decided to go out with him, after he bugged her too much. I used to love hearing those stories.

When he was young he was stationed at “the CC Camp”. I’m not really sure what he did there, but some of my favorite pictures of him are when he was a young man there. He never went to war, because of his nose. They wouldn’t let him serve because it was broken. Even though he didn’t serve, he used to tell me many stories about World War II and we would often watch shows about the war on PBS when we spent the night.

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I have mentioned before that grandpa was responsible for giving me my first cup of coffee. I was like 11 or 12 and it was probably more cream and sugar than coffee. He also gave me my first “job”. I used to come over and cut his grass. Before the term OCD was ever used regularly, grandpa was very strict about the way he wanted his lawn cut. I had to check with him before I started to find out if I was cutting the grass vertically, horizontally, or diagonally. He was a stickler for straight lines! We used to call him “eagle eye”. He’d stand outside while I mowed, making sure that I was keeping the mower straight. I was always afraid of making a mistake!

During the summer, you could count on him having the Tiger game on TV or on the radio. The excitement of hearing the Tigers during their 1984 season (when they went on to win the World Series) is a memory I treasure. I was familiar with the current team members, but he would share stories of the 1968 World Champions as well as many other great ball players – he always seemed to bring up Rocky Colavito. Another Rocky he would talk about was boxer Rocky Marciano.

Before he retired, he worked at the same company as my dad. It was about 2 miles down the road from my house. During the summer time, it was always a treat when he would stop by the house on his lunch break. He was probably out at the store buying his lottery tickets for that day, but he would always pick up something for my brother and I. He would stop by with candy bars – usually Mr. Goodbar or Chunky. I remember Chunky used to be wrapped in a foil – it wasn’t sealed like they are today. It was literally a piece of silver paper wrapped around it. Today, Chunky is divided into four sections so you can break off pieces to eat it. Back then, it was just one big hunk of chocolate (with nuts and raisins)! Those two candy bars still remind me of him. He knew that my friends were usually over playing, so it wasn’t odd for him to drive up with 5 or 6 candy bars, so my friends could have one too.

When I think about Pops, I am reminded of the laughter. He made us laugh a lot. Because of his limited schooling, his vocabulary wasn’t always great. He mispronounced many words and would flub words when reading. Some people may think this is cruel, but we used to write scripts for him to read while we recorded them on a cassette tape. I did this primarily because I never wanted to forget what he sounded like. I am glad I did this, because I still have the “tapes” saved in a digital format. Personally, I think he liked being the center of attention. He loved be the star. He never doubted we loved him, he read these scripts because he knew it made us laugh. It made us happy. We acted out plays with him on tape, too! Sometimes, while he read through the script, he’d be laughing so hard, he could barely make it through. I remember one week I wrote a bunch of stuff for him and when we came over that Sunday to visit, I gave it to him. When he saw how many things I wrote for him he yelled, “God Doggit!” – that still makes me laugh … and I can still hear him saying it! I find myself saying it today!

I also remember that he was really ticklish, so we’d record him laughing while we tickled him. Sometimes he’d laugh so hard his false teeth would fall out!

Pops bought me my first lottery ticket. I think I was like 13 years old. He had this old raggedy book called “Skippy’s Lucky Lottery Dream Book”. The way it worked was, when you had a dream, you’d look up the subject and there was a 3 digit number. You play that number in the lottery and hopefully, you’d win. Early in my 7th or 8th grade year, I had lost my house key. I had a dream that I found it at his house. I looked where it was in the dream, but it wasn’t there. He, of course, looked up “found keys” and found the number – 195. He told me he was going to play that number for us, and if it won, I could have the money. Sure enough, that week, it came out. I remember he came over with an envelope with 42 dollars in it. He was true to his word. He never said, but I am guessing he played it for himself, too.

He and grandma taught me how to play Pinochle. That’s what they did almost every holiday. We’d have dinner, and the adults would go in to the sun porch and play cards. My brother and I would basically sit and watch TV, bored out of our minds while they played cards. I finally asked to learn and they taught me. They were patient and taught me well. My dad was happy that I learned to play, because he never really liked to play all night like everyone else. I, however, loved playing and was a welcome addition to the card table.

When I got my driver’s license, I would go over there on the weekends with Joe or Steve and we’d play Pinochle all night. Grandma would have coffee on and a Long John Coffee Cake for us. Grandpa didn’t like to lose. He’d get so mad sometimes! There were stories about him cutting up decks of cards when he was losing, but we never saw him get that mad. We saw him get mad … just not that mad! He was the kid of guy who at one point, you’d try to throw the game his way because you didn’t want to see him mad….lol.

My friend Steve used to make him so mad. Steve and I were always partners and sometimes, we’d get really lucky. A trickless is a hand where one team gets all the tricks and the other team gets nothing. It doesn’t happen often, and I remember one night Steve and I did it with back to back hands! We were happy as hell, but that was where the game ended that night!

One time Steve got up and went to get coffee. He opened the fridge without asking permission. My grandpa was so mad. “What the hell do you think you’re doing? Where are your manners? I don’t go to your house and go in your fridge!” I was surprised at how much this bugged him. He was probably losing at cards, and he lost it at this little thing. Steve felt bad, and apologized.

Pop’s also used to help me with my paper route. The station where we’d pick up the papers was over by his house. He’d pick me up, take me to the station, we’d get the papers and he’d drive me and Jeff around so we could deliver them. He had a gold Caprice Classic with tan seats. I remember he used to put a blanket down over the seat because he didn’t want the ink to get on the seat. Jeff and I used to laugh and make noises and stuff while we were with him. He never really understood what was so funny. Because of those days on the paper route, he called Jeff “the crazy one”. I’d go over there to visit when I was older and he’d say, “Hey! How’s the crazy one? Do you still see the crazy one?”

As he got older, he got more forgetful. One time, my grandma asked him to take her to the store. He went out the the garage and got in the car, but left grandma at home. My dad had to go looking for him. Grandma called the police and they were looking, too. My dad pulled into the parking lot of Farmer Jack (I think) and found him sitting in the car. Dad asked him what he was doing and he replied, “I am waiting for your mother!” My dad had to break the news that she was still at home. He was so flustered.

He deteriorated pretty quickly after that. He was more forgetful and often repeated things. I don’t recall if it was on Christmas Eve, but I remember him sitting in his chair looking at the TV guide. Occasionally, he’d look up and say, “Murder, She Wrote” is coming on” and then stare back into the book. It was hard to see him like that.

I’ll never forget seeing him in the hospital on the night he passed away. I remember when everyone walked out of the room whispering to him how much I loved him and how much I was going to miss him. He had basically just been laying there the whole night, but as I spoke to him, he reached up and grabbed my neck. I remember being startled, but I again told him I loved him and it was ok to go.

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Grandparents are a wonderful gift. I remember the looks that my mom and dad had when they first held my oldest son. The smile just got bigger when my dad got to hold his second grandson. Seeing them, I realize the love that my grandpa had for me and my brother. I was blessed to have him for 24 years of my life. He was a very special man and I miss him very much. The memories I have of him bring many smiles and keep him alive in my heart. I wrote a song about him. It never was recorded, although I had hoped it would. I have shared it on Social Media before. Perhaps I will add it in a separate blog sometime….

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Happy Heavenly Birthday, Pops! As I wrote in my song – I still love you and I still miss you!

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Christmas Songs I Can Do Without

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In order for my Christmas season to be “official”, I have to hear Bobby Helms “Jingle Bell Rock” in its entirety on the radio.  I’m not sure why, it just has always been the song that I have associated with the holiday.  Perhaps it was one of those songs that I remember hearing on the radio as a kid, I really don’t know.  I just know that it is the song that says “It’s Christmas time, Keith.”

Let me say this:  I love Christmas music.  As a DJ, I have played countless Christmas parties and have a huge tub of Christmas CD’s.  I have a huge variety of various formats:  Country Christmas songs, Pop Christmas songs, Novelty Christmas songs, and more. One of the radio stations I work for is actually playing all Christmas music right now and I enjoy doing an on air shift there.  All that being said, there are certain Christmas songs that I can do without!  Today’s short blog is a commentary about some of those songs.

Please Stop Playing These

  • “I Want a Hippopotamus For Christmas” – I don’t care whether this is the original version or one of the countless remakes.  This song is just plain annoying.  This song makes me want to drive off the road when I hear it.  I cannot change the station fast enough when it comes on.  I have yet to understand what is so appealing about this song!
  • ANYTHING by the Mannheim Steamroller.  While I do appreciate improvisational music, there is nothing about their music that I find entertaining or worth listening to.  Let’s face it, the synthesizer died in the 80’s …. let’s put these songs to bed, too.
  • “Jingle Bells” by the Singing Dogs.  While we are at it, let’s add any Christmas songs done by cats, rabbits, ducks, ferrets, owls, pigs, or any other “musical animal”!  Stop it!  These awful songs deserve no place on the radio.
  • “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” – It sucked when it first came out.  I continues to suck.  Why is ok to play this song, in which grandma is MURDERED by Santa’s sleigh, but people are offended by a song that was recorded YEARS before the phrase “date rape” was even uttered claiming that is what the song is about (“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” for those unaware of that controversy)?
  • “Mistletoe” by Justin Beiber.  – It’s friggin’ Justin Beiber.  That is reason enough!
  • Jingle Bell Rock by Hall and Oates. As I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, the original is a classic and a must hear for me.  I am not sure what it is about this version that makes me want to throw the radio out the window.  It is awful!  Perhaps it is just my love for the original that makes me hate this one so much, but probably not, as there are other versions of it that I like.  To me, it’s like listening to cats puking…..hell, I’d actually rather listen to that, than to listen to this.
  • Christmas Wrapping – The Singing Waitresses.  What the hell is this?  I understand that the Spice Girls recorded this too and I can’t imagine their version being any better.  This is probably the biggest waste of 3 minutes ever (with the exception of all Justin Beiber music).  This song is in a “hot” rotation on Sirius XM’s Holly channel.  This song needs to be go away forever!  I want to wrap it up in toilet paper and flush it away!
  • It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year – Andy Williams.  It’s the most overplayed song of the season!!  I don’t mind hearing it every so often, but every 20 minutes is a bit much.
  • I am a HUGE Beatles fan – but I have to admit that “Happy Christmas” by John Lennon and “Wonderful Christmastime” are, outside of the previously mentioned Andy Williams song, played to death.  Yoko Ono singing on “Happy Christmas” is like fingernails on the chalkboard!  God!  Who ever told her she could sing – John, must have.  As for Sir Paul, he probably could never record again and live off the royalties from just that song they play it so much.  It’s not a bad song – neither of them are – they are just so overplayed!!!
  • ANYTHING by Pentatonix!!!  I LOVE acapella music!  I do.  When voices blend in good harmony, it is something amazing.  Check out Ricochet’s “Let It Snow” – it’s awesome!  I am not sure if the Pentatonix stuff is just overproduced, but it just sounds wrong to me.  Take the song Hallelujah…Rufus Wainwright’s version is perfect.  This version doesn’t sound right from the first note.  I guess this album is the “new” Bing Crosby album, as stores can’t seem to keep it in stock.  Personally, I’ll pass.
  • Dominick, the Donkey.  As an Italian, I am embarrassed by this song.  Lou Monte is one of the great Italian singers.  His song Lazy Mary was a hit and I danced with my grandmother to it at my first wedding.  Sadly, more people know Lou because of this piece of crap, than his hits!  Jingity jing….URGH!  Do the entire Italian community a favor and don’t ever play this again!!!

These are just a few of the songs that drive me insane.  I am sure if I sat and thought about it more, or just turned on the radio, I could list countless others.  For now, I will let you add to this list.  What Christmas songs do YOU hate and why?  I look forward to reading your responses.

 

 

Holiday Wake Up

As a midnight shifter, I drink a lot of coffee.  I can thank my grandfather for my love of coffee.  He gave me my first cup (mostly cream and sugar) when I was about 11 or 12.  As I grew older, I began to just drink it black.  The only time I really drank it with cream and sugar was when I went to a restaurant (because the coffee pot often sat on the burner and it often tasted burnt). My first real radio job was working 1am-5am on air and then staying and helping the morning show.  I drank a lot of black coffee back then!

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I could be wrong, but back then, I don’t really recall flavored coffee being a thing.  There may have been some creamers that were flavored like hazelnut and French vanilla, but that was it.  Mostly, though, if you used creamer – it was half and half.  I don’t even remember when I tried flavored coffee or even what flavor it was the first time I tried it.  What I do remember is that I wasn’t really sold on it.

I don’t think I would refer to myself as a coffee connoisseur in any means, but I do love it!  I can drink it almost any time.  I think, to a degree, I drink coffee to stay awake (when I work).  However, I also like to drink coffee for the taste of it.  To me, “a delicious cup of coffee” (as my friend Donnie P used to say) is the perfect companion to a good book or movie.

A Holiday Favorite

I don’t know how many years ago it was, but I was in the mall doing some early Christmas shopping.  That was when I first discovered The Coffee Beanery.  I remember walking in and seeing a board that listed the coffees that were brewed and ready to serve and one stuck out to me.  Cinnamon Holiday Blend.  I love cinnamon, so I thought I would taste it and see how it was.

I have to tell you – it was delicious!  I asked for a cup and went about my shopping, enjoying this cup of coffee the entire time.  It was so good that I had to go back and get another cup before leaving the mall.  I then found out that you could but bags of it there, so naturally, I had to do just that.

For years, whenever the kids asked what I wanted for Christmas, I had a simple answer for them – coffee.  It was the perfect gift!  It wasn’t a tie that would just hang in the closet and maybe get pulled out once a year.  It wasn’t some cheap gift bought at the secret Santa shop from school.  It was a gift that they knew I would use and enjoy!  It’s a given now – buy dad some coffee.

I try to buy an extra bag or two when I know that it is out, so I can make myself a pot every couple of weeks or at least once a month until it is once again available.  I have found that when you add Italian Sweet Cream creamer to it – it is even more delicious!

According to the Coffee Beanery website, the blend contains spices, almonds, and cinnamon.  Blended together, this is one amazing coffee.  One year I went to buy it and there was a woman there telling  the cashier that her holidays are not complete without this Cinnamon Holiday Blend.  I told her I felt the same way!  She said it is a highlight for her family at Christmas dinner.

I have yet to get out and grab a bag this year.  There was a bit of a delay in that the store, which was located in the mall, was in the process of moving to a new building across the street from the mall.  They are finally open and with the next paycheck, I may have to go up and grab a bag or two!

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The Cinnamon Holiday Blend from Coffee Beanery is probably my favorite coffee of all time!  Don’t be fooled by the various “holiday coffees” served by other places like a co-worker of mine was!  She came in one night and said, “I bought that holiday coffee you were talking about.”   It was some expensive coffee from one of those other places and it tasted like strong burnt coffee with a pinch of someone’s dirty underwear!  URGH!!!

Coffee Beanery did not pay me to promote this coffee – this is a sincere and truthful blog about one of the things I absolutely look forward to each and every holiday season.  Stop in and try some – I think you will enjoy it!

 

 

 

My Top 20 Favorite Christmas Characters

Growing up, I loved watching all of the various Christmas specials that were shown on TV every year.  With the availability of almost all of them on DVD, we can watch them whenever we want – even if it’s not during the holiday season!  My brother and I would sit in front of the TV and watch Jimmy Durante tell us the story of Frosty the Snowman, Fred Astaire delivering mail while telling us about Santa, and Burl Ives shared the story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. I don’t care who you are or how old you are, if you have kids – it’s still just as special watching these specials together.  I even know some people my age who have no children – they find themselves watching them on TV, too!

Technology has come a long way from when these TV specials were made!  Today, the cartoons and animation are above and beyond what these classic specials had.  While some of the specials were animated – most of the favorites were done by Rankin and Bass and were done in stop animation.  It had to have taken a long time to shoot these specials for sure!  What make these so memorable are not only the stories and songs, but the characters and the people who voiced them.

There were some pretty talented voice actors and big stars who provided voiced for these iconic characters!  They had many memorable lines, too.  Here now, are my Top 20 favorite characters from the Specials of Christmas Past (and Present):

20 – Jingle Bells (The Year Without a Santa Claus)

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Jingle Bells (right) is the #1 elf at the North Pole.  He is partnered up with Jangle Bells (left) and they remind me of a Laurel and Hardy type team.  Jingle is the smart one, Jangle – not so much.  Together, they get in some trouble while trying to find some Christmas Spirit. It’s Jingle who suggests they call Mrs. Claus for help.

19 – Sally Brown (A Charlie Brown Christmas)

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One thing that I loved about the Charlie Brown Christmas special is that the voices are done by real kids.  As someone who has had to record children for commercials and such, I can tell you this is no easy task.  You often have to feed them lines one at a time and edit them together.  This is obviously what happened with the girl who plays Sally. Listen to her say  – “Will you please write a letter to Santa Claus for me?” next time you watch it … you can hear the edits.

I love Sally because in her letter she gets on Santa’s good side by asking how his wife is and then goes on to say she has included a list of things she wants and for him to “note the size and color” of each item.   LOL!  When Charlie Brown questions her – she tells him that she just wants her “fair share”

18 – Doc Bobbin (The Year Without a Santa Claus)

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Santa is sick, so Mrs. Claus calls the doctor.  This guy is just miserable!  He’s cranky and angry!  He’s an example of someone with no Christmas spirit.  He tells Santa he’d be surprised if anyone still believed in him and is just plain rude.  His appearance is a short one, but my favorite line from him is “Nobody cares a hoot and a holler for you (Santa) or Christmas!”

17 – The Grinch (How The Grinch Stole Christmas)

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The Dr. Seuss classic – not the new one or the Jim Carrey one! This guy reminds me a lot of Ebenezer Scrooge.  He’s a mean one, as the song suggests, and yet in the end, he finds the true meaning of Christmas and he is a changed Grinch.  It’s a bonus that the great Boris Karloff is the narrator for this cartoon.

16 & 15 – Mr. and Mrs. Claus (The Year Without a Santa Claus)

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Mickey Rooney and Shirley Booth!  What’s not to like?  Mickey played Santa in Rankin/Bass’s Santa Claus is Coming To Town and did and amazing job.  It’s a treat to hear him revisit the role – his vocal inflections (while acting like he has a cold) are perfect.  The playfulness of Shirley Booth as Mrs. Claus is just as good.  She is our story-teller and plays and all important part in the story.

14 & 13 – Rudolph and Hermey

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Now, to be honest, I wasn’t going to include Rudolph in this list.  However, when I thought about Hermey (the elf who wants to be a dentist), I felt that Rudy should go with him.  These two are here because they are truly a “couple of misfits”.  They are different and you know what?  That is ok!  Be different!!!  Be spectacular!

Recently there have been rumblings about the lessons taught by this Christmas special, and in all honesty, the talk is annoying to me.  Something offends everybody and everybody is offended by something these days!  Hey!  Get a grip!  In order for the wonderful ending of this tale to mean anything – there had to be mean reindeer and a mean elf!

12 – Professor Hinkle (Frosty the Snowman)

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Here is a nasty man.  He is a crappy magician and he has no idea how important his hat really is!  He’s on the list because he is voiced perfectly by Billy De Wolfe.  One of my favorite lines of his is: “When you’re grown up, you’ll realize that snowmen can’t come to life!”  Oh, how wrong he was!

11 – Lucy Van Pelt (A Charlie Brown Christmas)

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Lucy is a real piece of work.  She bosses everyone around, has an opinion about everything, and is a know it all.  She’s also kind of a jerk.  So why is she on the list?  Because of all the things I just mentioned and this quote: “Look, Charlie Brown, we all know that Christmas is just a big commercial racket.  It’s run by a big Eastern Syndicate, you know?!”

Maybe it is not run by a syndicate – but one thing is for certain – Christmas is, and continues to be, a big commercial racket!

10 – Santa Claus (Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer)

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Ok, yes … Santa is already on the list.  That, however, is the Mickey Rooney Santa.  This Santa is different and is played in a whole different way.  I agree, he was a jerk to Rudolph.  However, he does come around at the end and Rudolph saves the day.  Why is he #10?  He says one of my favorite lines: “Every year I shine up my jingle bells!”

Take that however you want.

9 – The Head Elf (Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer)

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Just like the above Santa, this guy was kind of a bossy jerk!  Think about it, how many bosses have you had that were jerks?  That is what some bosses are good at – being jerks.

At any rate, this guy gives Hermey a hard time.  Not only does he have a workshop to run, but he also has to run Elf Practice!  I mean – how else are elves gonna learn how to wiggle their ears, go “hee-hee” and “ho-ho” and “important stuff like that”?  He was probably thankful that Hermey’s dental practice was able to get him in so soon after Christmas……

8 – The Winter Warlock (Santa Claus is Coming To Town)

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Voiced by Keenan Wynn, the Winter Warlock is yet another character who has a change of heart.  He is a mean man who is frigid and cold – that is, until Kris Kringle gives him a toy.  The ice and cold melts away to show he is really a gentle old man.  He tells Kris he really is a mean and “despicable creature at heart” and tells Kris how difficult it is to “really change”.   Kris tells him that changing from bad to good is “as easy as taking your first step” which leads into the great song “Put One Foot In Front of the Other”

7 – Linus Van Pelt (A Charlie Brown Christmas)

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Linus is Charlie Brown’s friend.  He is often there to give him insight on issues that he is dealing with.  He often prompts Charlie to think about things a little differently.  It is Linus who says the crappy little tree that Charlie Brown picked out isn’t so bad and just needs a “little love”.

It is also Linus who gives an amazing little speech about what Christmas is all about quoting from the King James Bible Luke 2: 8-14.  Linus, who carries around his security blanket at all times, does something really unique while reciting these verses.  To the casual observer, it may go unnoticed, but I think it is amazing how this kid who needs this blanket so badly, drops it when he says “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you tidings of great joy”.  That’s powerful.

With so many people offended by things, I am truly amazed that there isn’t an uproar about this special because of Linus’ speech.

6 – Sam the Snowman (Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer)

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Voiced by one of the familiar “voices of Christmas”, Burl Ives, Sam the Snowman tells us Rudolph’s story.  He’s like a gentle old grandpa telling us the story.  Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without hearing Burl’s version of Holly Jolly Christmas – which is just one of the songs he sings in this special.

He tells us the story with bits of info (First castle to the left) and humor (“haven’t you ever seen a talking snowman before?”) Even though he is telling a story, he still is frightened by certain parts of it (the Abominable Snow Monster of the North), enough so that he hides under his umbrella!

I have to admit, I often find myself singing lines from Silver and Gold every year when I trim the tree.  As a kid, I remember making a snowman and then sliding behind him, making a trail – so it looked like he glided into place …. just like Sam.

5 – Charlie Brown

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How many of us can relate to Charlie Brown – not just at Christmas, but all year round? He tells Linus, “I’m just not happy. I don’t know the way I am supposed to feel.” While this is a real issue for many people, Linus tells Charlie Brown that he is the only kid he knows that “can take a wonderful season like Christmas and turn it into a problem”.

He’s a “blockhead”, but he means well.  He tries and he fails – but he never stops trying.  He is the director of the Christmas play and louses up the production, but in the end, it all comes out ok.  He buys a scrawny tree, and his friends make it something special they wish him a Merry Christmas.

Charlie is a simple kid and we are all a little bit like him.

4 – Burgermeister Meisterburger (Santa Claus is Coming To Town)

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Voiced by the great Paul Frees – this guy is a presence on screen!  Just what the hell is a Burgermeister?  Well it is a sort of mayor – he is an executive.  Our Burgermeister is the head of Sombertown (why would anyone want to live there?).  He makes it clear that he hates toys and children too, apparently!

The story could have gone very differently, as the baby Claus shows up on his doorstep and he orders his soldier to “Get the brat out of here!”  Good thing the soldier, Grimsley, loses the baby on a sled and it shows up at the Kringle house…..

He isn’t all bad – he does love playing with a yo-yo!

3 – Yukon Cornelius (Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer)

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How can you not love Yukon Cornelius’ sense of adventure!?  Here is a guy who is out looking for gold and silver!  He is on the hunt with the mindset of striking it rich!  He knows no fear!  He makes his own rules!  He isn’t afraid of that Abominable Snow Monster of the North, whom he downplays by calling him Bumbles, and actually attacks him.  Sadly, he goes over a cliff with the monster during the attack.

He is a scene stealer and there is a sense of sadness when he tumbles off the cliff, but he is friggin’ Yukon Cornelius!  He shows up later with Bumbles to everyone’s amazement!  How did he survive?  Well…..Bumbles Bounce!!

2 – Heat Miser (The Year Without a Santa Claus)

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He’s Mr. Green Christmas!  He’s Mr. Sun.  He’s Mr. Heat Blister.  He’s Mr. 101!

To me, when you talk about the Miser Brothers from The Year Without a Santa Claus, everyone knows Heat Miser first.  Some would say that he should top this list.  I can see your argument and it’s a good one – but a close one.

Voiced by George S. Irving, Heat Miser obviously doesn’t care about Santa.  He asks Mrs. Claus is Santa is “out doing another commercial” for his brother.  He describes Santa a “traipsing around in that stupid sleigh of his!  Stirring up cold winter breezes and causing everyone to think fondly of snowball fights and – urgh – ice hockey!”

Not only does he not like Santa, but he certainly does not care too much for his brother!

1 – Snow Miser (The Year Without A Santa Claus)

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He’s Mr. White Christmas.  He’s Mr. Snow.  He’s Mr. Icicle.  He’s Mr. 10 Below!

The Snow Miser tops my list.  He’s just a bundle of energy and damn funny!  Voiced by Dick Shawn, he conveys a carefree attitude and is just a fun dude.  When he is summoned by his mother (Mother Nature), he and his brother are arguing and they are told to stop.  His response is “If I can’t have any fun, I might as well leave.”   While he and his “hothead” brother don’t get along, he loves Santa and Mrs. Claus.  He tells “Mrs. C” to make sure she brings him with her next time she comes and they’ll have “a blizzard”. He is a friendly, loveable, and fun guy who loves “chilly humor”.

I have always been amazed that when radio stations play Christmas music, they will play songs from various Christmas specials, but they never seem to play the Miser Brothers songs….and that is just sad! You mention the Miser Brothers and the first thing that happens is someone starts singing their songs!

Closing thoughts

As I look at this list – there are some good guys and bad guys.  Maybe there are more bad guys than good … I don’t know, I didn’t count.  Here is an observation, though that fits into what’s going on today.

Without bad guys, there can be no heroes.  You kind of need bad guys, bullies, and jerks to make the end of the story a happy one.  Good conquers evil!  Good wins over bad!  Sure, the bad guys may be doing things that we don’t agree with, but they are necessary to the plot to get us to the happiness at the end!  Imagine A Christmas Carol without Scrooge!  Imagine It’s a Wonderful Life without Mr. Potter!  It feels better and more special when the good guys come out ahead….doesn’t it?

What characters are your favorites?  Who is missing from my list?

 

A holiday tradition since 1982 …..

“Marley was dead: to begin with” … so begins the Dickens classic A Christmas Carol.  It was originally published on December 19, 1843 and the first edition was completely sold out by Christmas Eve (that’s less than a week!). This was not Dickens’ first Christmas story.  As a matter of fact, he had written three before writing this one and would go on to write four more afterward.  The story of the transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge, however, remains his best known holiday story.

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1982 – English Class – Lincoln Junior High

While I was familiar with the story, and had even seen a few movie versions of this classic ghost story, I had never actually read the novella.  However, in 7th grade, I was blessed with one of my all time favorite teachers – Mrs. Shirley Kellogg.  She was a no-nonsense teacher who could even make diagramming sentences fun.

I remember one day I got caught daydreaming and looking out the window.  She  saw me and asked me a question, which I obviously did not hear.  I was startled by her calling my name and I must have looked scared to death.  She looked at me and said, “Well just don’t sit there like a Willie Lump Lump – answer the question.”  I started laughing, because I was well aware of the Red Skelton character she was referring to and even though I didn’t have an answer, I immediately connected with her! Rest assured, I saved my daydreaming for other classed!

Back to A Christmas Carol – I remember that we would often read from this big blue book that had the word “Literature” in the title.  It was a collection of modern stories, short stories, classic stories, and poems.  Charles Dickens’ tale was in this book. In elementary school, we would often read stories aloud, with each student reading a chapter.  What makes my first “reading” of this story unique is that Mrs. Kellogg read it to us – not live though…it was Memorex!  She had spent time recording herself reading the entire story and played it back to us on a cassette tape.  This allowed us to read along while she graded papers and such. Because of this, when I read the story today, I can still hear certain lines in her voice.

Stave One

Dickens divides his tale into 5 “staves” or chapters.  In the first one, the story opens on a miserable Christmas Eve, 7 years after the death of Scrooge’s partner in business Jacob Marley.  Dickens’ opening line stresses the importance of the fact that he was dead.  In fact, he stated that this “must distinctly be understood or nothing wonderful can come of the story” that follows. Dickens’ description of Scrooge is something that I can still hear in Mrs. Kellogg’s voice – “a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner!” Right from the start, we learn what a miserable man Scrooge truly is.

In this stave we are also introduced to Fred, Scrooge’s nephew.  His visit only continues to illustrate Scrooge’s hate for the holiday and the season. Another main character is Bob Cratchit, Scrooge’s clerk.  As we hear of the poor working conditions and his measly salary, we are left to wonder why this poor man is working for such a jerk like Scrooge. We are also introduced to two men collecting for charity, who are basically told by Scrooge to “get lost”.  He tells them that he supports prisons and workhouses and those in need should go there for refuge.

Before the chapter is over, we follow Scrooge to his empty, damp, dark, and desolate home where we are introduced to his deceased business parter, Jacob Marley and begin to witness the beginnings of Scrooge’s transformation.

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Marley’s ghost is a ghastly sight.  He is wearing heavy chains and lockboxes.  He tells of the misery and gloom that he suffers in the afterlife.  He gives Scrooge a warning that his fate is far worse than his, as he has had additional years to labor on the chains he is forging.  A doubtful Scrooge tells him he must be some sort of mirage or illusion, to which Marley scares him into believing his presence.  Marley sets the stage for what is to follow – the visits from three spirits.  These visits are the only chance that Scrooge has to avoid Marley’s fate.

Stave Two – The Past

Scrooge’s second spiritual visit from the Ghost of Christmas Past. Scrooge then asks the spirit if it is the spirit of “long past”, and the spirit tells him “your past”.  The spirit whisks Scrooge away to Christmases where Scrooge was a boy, a young man, and a young adult.  We begin to get a sense of why he is the way he is.  As a boy, he spends Christmas at a boarding school.  As a young man, we see him as an apprentice – an apprentice who loves Christmas.  We also see him as a young adult, where the love of his life leaves him, because money has grown the most important thing in his life.

The older I get, the more this part of the story stays with me.  Scrooge, as he witnesses all these past Christmases, is given a gift.  He is allowed to see a younger self and those who he grew up with.  He calls out the names of the school mates, he sees his beloved sister who died giving birth to his nephew, he speaks highly of his fellow apprentice and his old boss, and he relives the pain of the loss of his love. We witness scenes that spark many emotions with Scrooge.

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Imagine, being able to go back in time to witness past Christmases!  What I wouldn’t give to relive those childhood memories!  I would love to see:

  • My grandfather’s face as I opened the cribbage board he gave me
  • The joy on me and my brother’s faces as we opened up the entire collection of Star War Figures.
  • The homemade Christmas ornaments mom made for our tree
  • My children’s first Christmases
  • A family pinochle game in the sun room at my grandparents
  • Dad putting together one of our toys with a gazillion stickers to place on it
  • Mom in good health, laughing at a gag gift I bought her
  • The adults playing guitars and the organ after having a few too many rum balls
  • The spread of Italian food we’d feast on every Christmas Eve

The list goes on and on. To be able to hear the voices of loved ones who are no longer with us … wow.  What a gift Scrooge is treated to.

Stave Three – The Present

The second spirit is the Ghost of Christmas Present.  He is a jolly spirit who shows Scrooge what is to happen this Christmas.  He is first given some enlightenment about his clerk as he visits their home.  He learns first hand of the struggles that they face, financially and emotionally.  He is shown the small feast that the entire family is to eat and also introduced to the Cratchit’s lame boy, Tiny Tim.

We really see the events of the past and present stirring in old Scrooge here, as he very uncharacteristically asks the spirit if Tiny Tim will live.  The spirit informs him that if the present course remains, Tiny Tim will die.  The amazing change that is beginning in Scrooge is seen clearly here.  The glimpse of compassion and worry as he asks the question of Tiny Tim’s fate, followed by the hanging of his head in grief when he hears the answer.

Ever wonder what people are saying about you when you are not there?  In some cases, it’s better that you not know.  Scrooge visits his nephews home next and is shown the dinner that he was invited to.  What he sees is the guests making fun of him.  He sees his nephew telling everyone in disbelief about his uncle’s abhorrence of the holiday. The more he sees the angrier he gets and tells the spirit to take him away from the scene he is watching.

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As the spirit’s time grows short, Scrooge notices something that looks like a claw coming out from underneath the spirit’s robe.  The spirit reveals two children – a boy and a girl who are anything but pretty.  They were children, but they looked terrible.  Scrooge asks the spirit if they belong to him.  The spirit answers that they are “Man’s”.  Scrooge learns that the boy is Ignorance and the girl is Want and is told to “Beware them both, and all their degree”.  175 years later – these words are still true!  Beware ignorance and want!

There is nothing that is more embarrassing than to have your own words thrown back at you, especially when those words take on a whole new meaning in a situation.  As the ghost’s time expires on earth, he answers Scrooge’s question about finding some sort of refuge. His powerful reply consists of Scrooge’s words to the men collecting for charity “Are there no prisons?  Are there no workhouses?” With that, the spirit is gone…

Stave Four – Christmas Yet To Come

Fear can be a very good motivator.  Imagine the fear that now engulfs Scrooge as he sees his final spiritual visitor!  The Phantom which is described as being “draped and hooded” is now coming toward Scrooge”slowly, gravely” and “silently – like a mist on the ground.” Rather than run away in a panic, Scrooge faces the spirit who speaks not a word.  Words can be scary – silence can be scarier!  How he comes to know that he is in the presence of the ghost of the future must have be based on his knowledge of his previous two visitors. He confirms this by asking the spirit if that is who he is and the reply that he gets is a slow and deliberate nod.

Scrooges’s fear is no secret, as a matter of fact he tells the ghost that he fears him “more than any other Spectre I have seen.”  The change that continues in Scrooge is apparent here as he goes on to say that he knows that his “purpose is to do me good, and as I hope to live to be another man from what I was, I am prepared to bear you company”.

No surprise that the topic everyone shown to Scrooge is discussing is death.  The death of one nameless man in particular. He sees business men standing on the street talking about an “old scratch” who “got his own at last”.  Then he is shown a sort of pawn shop where three people meet up to pawn stuff they took from a dead man’s home – including the shirt off the man’s dead corpse.  He is then in a dark empty room where a dead man lays on a bed under a sheet.  The spirit points to the head of the body – he wants Scrooge to look at the man.  Scrooge says that he cannot do it.  Every situation the spirit showed Scrooge was one where the man’s death brought pleasure.

Scrooge begs the spirit to show him some “tenderness connected with death”.  He is taken through town to the home of his clerk, Bob Cratchit.  The mood is somber there as they continue to deal with the death of Tiny Tim.  There is much hurt and many tears in the house.  Scrooge then has the realization that the time with the spirit is almost gone and asks to know who the man was that had died.  He is taken to a church yard that is overrun with weeds and not upkept.  The spirit stands with nothing but a hand pointing to a gravestone.

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The culmination of all that he has seen is now coming to a head.  Scrooge must have some sort of inkling of who is buried in this terrible place, because he now becomes frantic and asks if the things he was shown are things that “will be” or things that “may be” and whether or not they can be changed.  Upon reading his own name on the gravestone, Scrooge breaks.  He begs the spirit to wipe his name from the stone.  He insists that he is not the man he was and that he will live an altered life.  He makes promises to honor Christmas and live by the lessons taught by all the spirits.  He grabs the spirit and continues to plead, but the spirit disappears and turns into his bedpost.

In the classic, It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey is shown what life would be like if he was never born.  He is frightened by so many things that he sees.  He understands just how many things would have been different if he were never born.  With A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge sees the product of the present and future because of his life and how he lives it.

Stave Five – The End of It

The climax of the story – the miracle of the story – all culminates here.  Scrooge is now a changed man!  He is awake on Christmas day and he is filled with joy and happiness which have eluded him for many many years.  His first order of business is to buy the prize turkey and send it to his clerk anonymously.  He even splurges for a cab to send it there. He then dresses in his best and heads out.  He see’s the men who were collecting for charity and whispers a huge sum of money to them – saying that there are many back payments included.  He goes to church and then heads over to his nephew’s house.  Fred is surprised but welcomes him with open arms.

The one man who is unaware of the change in Scrooge is Bob Cratchit.  When he arrives a few minutes late, Scrooge lays into him asking him why he is coming in late and how he is not going to stand for it anymore!  Then he announces he is giving Bob a raise and vowed to help his family in all ways possible.

Dickens ends by telling the reader that he was better than his word.  He was a great man and second father to Tiny Tim.  He also says that there were plenty of naysayers who still laughed at the transformation in Scrooge, and said it didn’t bother him one bit. We are told that there is no more spiritual intervention and that he “knew how to keep Christmas well”.

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Closing Thoughts

I have been reading Dickens A Christmas Carol every year for 36 years now, and each year I am grateful for the start of the tradition.  I was lucky enough to have had Mrs. Kellogg for English Class in 7th and 8th grade and she read it to us both years.  Every holiday, I think of her fondly as I read those opening words.

I have seen almost every film and TV adaptation of this story and it is hard for me to pick a favorite.  What hold true for all of them is the amazing transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge and a renewed appreciation for the Christmas season.  During the holidays, just like Scrooge, people tend to give more to those in need, they tend to be kinder, and they tend to be happier.  Here’s a thought – why not do this all year round?

Elvis Presley had a song on his Christmas CD which stated my feelings perfectly:

Why can’t every day be like Christmas? Why can’t that feeling go on endlessly?  For if every day could be just like Christmas, what a wonderful world this would be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Benefits of Music Education

Introduction

The following is a research paper that I wrote for one of my college classes in November of 2010.  Eight years later, it still remains one of my favorite writings.  If you have ever wondered about why music is SO important in school – please read on.

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The Benefits of Music Education (2010)

In 1988, my high school band director told our class about an international concert. For one month, high school students from all over the world rehearsed the same three pieces of music.  At the end of that month, they all came together in one place and performed those three pieces flawlessly in front of an audience with no rehearsal.  The point of his story was to show that in music – there are no language barriers.    Hans Christian Anderson said, “Where words fail, music speaks.”  Yes, music speaks, but it does so much more.  For the purpose of this paper, I’d like to examine the benefits of music education in school and how they prepare students for life.

Think for a moment about how music can affect us. An up-tempo march played by a marching band in a parade can bring happiness, while a song about a lost love can bring sadness and tears.  Some modern rock music is an expression of the composer’s anger, while smooth jazz is the expression of its composer’s “coolness”.  What would a movie be without the soundtrack or orchestral underscore?  It is hard for me to imagine a horror movie without suspenseful music that builds you up to that moment of sudden shock!  Music stimulates and enhances our emotions.

Music can also help a person think more clearly.   Did you know that music helped Thomas Jefferson write the Declaration of Independence?  “When he could not figure out the right wording for a certain part, he would play his violin to help him.  The music helped him get the words from his brain onto paper” (O’Donnell, 1999).  One of the world’s smartest men and greatest thinkers also used music to help him think.  Albert Einstein said that the reason he was so smart was because he, too, played the violin.  “A friend of Einstein, G.J. Withrow, said that the way Einstein figured out his problems and equations was by improvising on the violin” (O’Donnell, 1999).

There is plenty of research that implies that children have an incredible capacity to learn from the day that they are born. Music and melody can play a key role in helping a child learn.  A prime example of this would be the “Alphabet Song”.  Set to the tune of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”, countless children are able to learn their ABC’s by singing them to this familiar tune.  Educational television shows like “Sesame Street” have been using music to teach not only numbers and letters to children, but also the concepts of sharing, colors, and good manners.  Music and learning seem to work quite well together.

Why then, is music education one of the first things that are cut in public schools when a school district is trying to save money? I, personally, do not have an answer to that question, but former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee had this to say about it:

“When I hear people asking how we fix the education system, I tell them we need to do the opposite of what is happening, cutting budgets by cutting music programs.  Nothing could be stupider than removing the ability for left and right brains to function.  Ask a CEO what they are looking for in an employee and they say they need people who understand teamwork, people who are disciplined, people who understand the big picture. You know what they need?  They need musicians.” (Huckabee, as cited in “The Benefits of the Study of Music”, n.d.)

What I hope to present to the reader in the next few pages, is enough information to prove that there are many benefits to music education in school. Let us examine those benefits and how they remain with students long after graduation and help them through life.

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Music and Life

Consider the words of General Norman Schwartzkopf, who led the coalition forces that defeated Iraq and liberated Kuwait in Operation Desert Storm: “During the Gulf War, the few opportunities I had for relaxation I always listened to music and it brought me great peace of mind”. He adds that his love for music started “with the music appreciation course that I was taught in a third-grade elementary class.  What a tragedy it would be if we lived in a world where music was not taught to children” (Schwartzkopf, as cited in “Music Advocacy’s Top Ten Quotes”, 2006).  Jim Henson, creator of “The Muppet Show” says, “Music is an essential part of everything we do.  Like puppetry, music has an abstract quality which speaks to a worldwide audience in a wonderful way that nourishes the soul” (Henson, as cited in “Music Advocacy’s Top Ten Quotes”, 2006).  Finally, singer, songwriter, Jewel, says, “Some people think music education is a privilege, but I think it is essential to being human” (Jewel, as cited in “Music Advocacy’s Top Ten Quotes”, 2006).  It is indeed.

As children grow, they have a natural desire to sing and play with the only goal being their own enjoyment. Studies have shown a connection between music and play and brain development.  In her book, “Music and the Young Mind”, Maureen Harris says that research “clearly demonstrates that the first years in a child’s life constitute an extremely important time when music can stimulate the development of nerve connections among brain cells for optimal cognitive development” (Harris, 2009).  A 1997 study by Whitwell found that simply discussing music uses the left side of the brain, while making music uses the right side (Harris, 2009).  Activities like playing a musical instrument or singing, which engage both sides of the brain at the same time, cause the brain to be more capable of processing information (O’Donnell, 1999).

Brain plasticity is the brain’s unique ability to constantly change, grow, and basically remap itself over the course of a lifetime. Dr. Frederick Tims says, “Just as music involves all aspects of learning (memory, recognition, emotion, motor control and perception), music education can work to stimulate brain nerve resources that might otherwise be left untapped” (Tims, as cited in “The Benefits of the Study of Music”, n.d.).  According to German professor Eckhardt Altenmüller, music making “turns out to be the behavior which probably most effectively induces short-term and long-term brain plasticity” (Altenmüller, n.d.).  He adds that in professional pianists and violinists, who started their training before 7 years of age, “the anterior portion of the corpus callosum – the most important interhemispheric connection – is larger compared to non-musicians or to musicians with later onset of practice” (Altenmüller, n.d.).

As little as one year of music training can have a positive impact on your brain that will last the rest of your life (Hawkins, 2009). Tom Shaner, retired band director for Van Dyke Public Schools in Warren, MI told me “Research now supports the theory that we (music teachers) have felt for many years – that the study of music is helpful in brain development. Observation over many years of teaching gave us support of that theory” (Shaner, personal communication, October 2010). Altenmüller admits that research on the effects of music education on the brain is still in the infancy stages.  He elaborates, “I suspect that we have not yet found the right tests or done the necessary studies for demonstrating the long term impact of music education for daily life in reasoning and feeling” (Altenmüller, n.d.). This, however, does not mean that there is a shortage of research to show positive benefits of music education, as we will see.

Music and Intelligence

Let us consider how the study of music helps students develop intelligence. According to a 2007 article in Nature Neuroscience, “playing a musical instrument significantly enhances the brainstem’s sensitivity to speech sounds.  This relates to encoding skills involved with music and language.  Experience with music at a young age can ‘fine-tune’ the brain’s auditory system” (“The Benefits of the Study of Music”, n.d.).  In his book “A User’s Guide to the Brain”, Dr. John Ratley says:

“The musician is constantly adjusting decisions on tempo, tone, style, rhythm, phrasing, and feeling – training the brain to become incredibly good at organizing and conducting numerous activities at once.  Dedicated practice of this orchestration can have a great payoff for lifetime attentional skills, intelligence, and an ability for self-knowledge and expression.” (Ratley, as cited in “the benefits of the Study of Music”, n.d.)

Spatial reasoning is the ability to interpret and make drawings, form mental images, and visualize movement or change in those images. Spatial reasoning is especially important in mathematics. “A University of California (Irving) study showed that after eight months of keyboard lessons, preschoolers showed a 46% boost in their spatial reasoning IQ” (Rauscher, Shaw, Levine, Ky, and Wright, as cited in “The Benefits of the Study of Music”, n.d.).

We have seen the effects of music education on the brain and how it factors in developing intelligence. It is interesting to note that according to a 1996 Harris poll, schools that have music programs have significantly higher graduation rates than those without programs (90.2% as compared to 72.9%).  Let us continue to move forward and see the benefits of music education on learning in school and specific subjects.

Music and Learning

In the Journal of Research in Music Education, Christopher Johnson and Jenny Memmott found that students in high-quality music programs score higher on standardized tests compared to students in schools with deficient music education programs.  “Students in top-quality music programs scored 22% better in English and 20% better in math than students in deficient music programs” (Johnson & Memmont, as cited in The Benefits of the Study of Music”, n.d.).  A 1996 Nature magazine article states that “the scores of elementary instrumental music students on standardized math tests increased with each year they participated in the instrumental music program” (Music Advocacy for Directors, 2000).  According to the California Council of the Fine Arts Deans, research shows when the arts are included in a student’s curriculum, reading, writing, and math scores improve.  A 1999 article in Neurological Research magazine showed that second and third grade students who were taught fractions through musical rhythms scored 100% higher on fractions tests than those who learned in the conventional manner.  It should not be surprising that those students who study the arts wind up having more success on tests like the SAT and achieve higher grades in high school.

Music education also has an influence on a student’s behavior. In “Arts With the Brain in Mind”, Eric Jensen shows that “with music in schools, students connect to each other better” and that there is “greater camaraderie, fewer fights, less racism, and reduced use of harmful sarcasm” (Jensen, as cited in “Music Education Statistics and Facts, n.d.).  A 2003 Gallup Poll showed that 71% of Americans believed that teenagers who play a musical instrument were less likely to have disciplinary problems. (“Music Education Statistics and Facts, n.d.). Music students also demonstrate less test anxiety and performance anxiety than those students who do not study music.

Music Prepares for Life

So just how does music education prepare students for life “after school”? What benefits from having been a part of music education do students take with them into “real life”?  Dr. Tim Lautzenheiser, President of “Attitude Concepts for Today”, says that there are many “indirect” benefits of music education.  He claims that there is more to making music than just the rewards that are experienced while in school.  He says, “Being a musician maps the human mind for success; success in all avenues of life” (Lautzenheiser, personal communication, October 2010).

Dr. Tim, as he is affectionately known to band directors and students all across the country, presented me with five key things that are learned through music that apply to personal and professional challenges that students will face after graduating from school. First, he says, “Through music learning we teach an understanding of quality as well as the rewards of quantity” (October 2010). In other words, a student will experience facts and figures involved with making music, but also will gain an appreciation for the arts.  Unlike standard tests, in which the final evaluation is the reward, a music student gains their reward as a result of making the music.

Second, Lautzenheiser says, students learn “behavior based on ethics as well as the importance of obeying the rules” (October 2010). In the music setting, each musician needs to be ethical and follow certain rules and regulations.  They execute self-discipline in order to contribute and achieve the goal of the group.  Lautzenheiser says that music education programs are “shaping the lives of our ‘leaders of tomorrow’” because of the habits and discipline formed in the rehearsal setting (October 2010).

Third, Dr. Tim says that music education teaches “respect for authority as opposed to fear of domination” (October 2010). Members of a band must learn to execute the instructions of the band director.  Band members do not have time to discuss or argue with the choices of the band director, they trust his or her decisions and follow them.  They must trust that those instructions are what is best for the group as a whole.  Dr. Tim says that “domination discourages creative thinking”, while authority encourages it.  This also helps individuals to learn the importance of cooperation.

The fourth thing that a music program teaches students according to Lautzenheiser, is “a working wisdom as well as a solid transcript of achievement” (October 2010). What is achievement? It is a measurable set of discipline and guidelines. What is wisdom?  It is learning that will support a positive and purposeful lifestyle.  Dr. Tim elaborates that music “makes better human beings and makes human beings better” (October 2010).

Finally, Lautzenheiser says that music education teaches students “an ongoing development of inner peace as well as a workable plan for personal security” (October 2010). Music is deeply rooted in emotion.  Music is thought to link all of the emotional, spiritual, and physical elements of the universe (O’Donnell, 1999).  The criteria for personal happiness are determined solely by each individual.  Nobody can tell someone what brings them pleasure or joy.  Music education is a way for students to express their inner thoughts or feelings through music.  It encourages creative expression, which is a foundational component of self-satisfaction.  With band, Lautzenheiser says, “The music is the reason, the music is the reward, the music is the substance, and the music is the payoff” (October 2010).

We are encouraged throughout out life to be creative. Music education and music in general, plays a key role to a person’s creativity.  Tom Shaner says it this way, “The study of music develops an understanding, participation in, and enjoyment of the creative side of the human mind and existence. This happens through active music making, listening and recreational enjoyment” (October 2010).

To further illustrate how music education prepares students for life, I must reference the Children’s Music Workshop.  They list numerous benefits of music education on their website.  For example, “students of the arts learn to think creatively and to solve problems by imagining various solutions, rejecting outdated rules and assumptions” (Twelve Benefits of Music Education, n.d.).  “Music study develops skills that are necessary in the workplace.  It focuses on ‘doing’ as opposed to observing, and teaches students how to perform, literally anywhere in the world” (Twelve Benefits of Music Education, n.d.).  Ask any employer and they will tell you that they are looking for workers who are well rounded individuals who are flexible.  Music education produces people who fit that description.  “Music study enhances teamwork skills and discipline” (Twelve Benefits of Music Education, n.d.).  Those skills and disciplines are taught in the rehearsal setting each and every day. Gregory Anrig, president of Educational Testing Service says, “The things I learned from my experience in music in school are discipline, perseverance, dependability, composure, courage and pride in results.  Not a bad preparation for the workforce!” (Anrig, as cited in “Music Benefits Children in Important and Substantial Ways”, n.d.).

It is “through music study, students learn the value of sustained effort to achieve excellence and the concrete rewards of hard work” (Twelve Benefits of Music Education, n.d.).  When a mistake is made in a performance, there is no way to stop and correct it.  It is a mistake and the show must go on.  A student either plays the notes well, or they do not.  If an entrance is missed, it is missed.  Hard work is the only thing that makes a successful performance possible.  It is through diligent practice and determination that a student can achieve excellence.

Students who study the arts learn empathy.  They get a look at other cultures and learn to be empathetic to them.  “This development of compassion and empathy, as opposed to development of greed and a ‘me first’ attitude, provides a bridge across cultural chasms that leads to respect of other races at an early age” (Twelve Benefits of Music Education, n.d.).  Empathy is one of life’s important lessons.  It is a rare find in society today.  Society seems to teach that we should only care about ourselves, but students who learn empathy can identify and understand the feelings of others.  Imagine how different the world would be if everyone showed empathy!

Closing Thoughts

Students who participate in a music education program reap many benefits from it.  They think better.  They solve problems more easily.   They have higher scores than those students who do not participate in a music program.  They are better prepared for life after school.  One study even shows that they live longer and healthier lives (Tims, as cited in “The Benefits of the Study of Music”, n.d.). With all of the information I have presented, it should come as no surprise that I am such an advocate for music education in schools.  We are often told that our children are our future.  With that in mind, I will close with a quote from former President of the United States, Gerald Ford, who said that music education “opens doors that help children pass from school into the world around them – a world of work, culture, intellectual activity, and human involvement.  The future of our nation depends on providing our children with a complete education that includes music” (Ford, as cited in “Music Advocacy’s Top Ten Quotes”, 2006).

Thanks for reading!

Music Quotes I Love!

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“Without music, life would be a mistake” ― Friedrich Nietzsche.

“How is it that music can, without words, evoke our laughter, our fears, our highest aspirations?” ― Jane Swan

“If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music.” – Albert Einstein

I think music in itself is healing. It’s an explosive expression of humanity. It’s something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we’re from, everyone loves music.” ― Billy Joel

“Music is to the soul what words are to the mind.” ― Modest Mouse

“Music touches us emotionally, where words alone can’t.” ― Johnny Depp

“Music . . . can name the unnameable and communicate the unknowable.” ― Leonard Bernstein

“Music can change the world because it can change people.” ― Bono

“Music… will help dissolve your perplexities and purify your character and sensibilities, and in time of care and sorrow, will keep a fountain of joy alive in you.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“Music is the great uniter. An incredible force. Something that people who differ on everything and anything else can have in common.” ― Sarah Dessen

“Life seems to go on without effort when I am filled with music.” ― George Eliot

“To live is to be musical, starting with the blood dancing in your veins. Everything living has a rhythm. Do you feel your music?” ― Michael Jackson

“Love is friendship set to music.” ― Jackson Pollock

“This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.” ― Leonard Bernstein

“Music is the wine that fills the cup of silence” – Robert Fripp

 

 

 

Giving Thanks …

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Right now on Facebook, many of my friends are doing a post every day this month of things they are thankful for.  30 days – 30 things they are thankful for.  I thought about participating in this, but we are already two weeks into the month and I’d have a lot of catching up to do.  Instead, I figured I would take the opportunity to list some things all in one place – right here.  I may have 30, I may have more.

The truth is, we should be thankful for everything in our lives.  One of my favorite Bible verses is I Thessalonians 5: 18 which reads “In everything give thanks”.  That means good things and bad things – and that’s sometimes hard to do!  Believe me, I know from experience!  Well, here goes…my list, in no particular order:

Things I am thankful for

  1. My parents.  Let’s face it, without them, I wouldn’t be here.  I was blessed with a mother and father who raised me right.  They supported decisions (good and bad) and were always there for me. Even though my mom is no longer here, her presence is ever-present.  Dad is always around to talk music, old movies, and more.  Laughing with him is always something I am thankful for.
  2. My wife.  Without her, I wouldn’t be here either.  She saved me and I am forever grateful. She came into my life at a very turbulent time – first as a friend, and then as someone much more than that.  She made me smile and laugh during a time where there was little or no happiness.  She cried with me and was a great support through very dark days.  Thanks to her, I have found an unconditional love.  I cannot imagine life without her, nor would I want to.  She accepts me with all my faults and quirks.  She makes me feel special.  She makes me fall in love with her more each day. She completes me and I am thankful to have her in my life each and every second of the day.
  3. My sons.  They could not be more different from each other.  They both have their own talents.  They remind me so much of my brother and I when we were growing up!  They are creative.  They are silly.  They are loving.  They are smart.  They make me laugh and drive me crazy!  I miss them when they are not with me and I love when we are together.  I love to think back and remember the things they did as babies and I love to think about what they will do in the future.  They make me proud of all their accomplishments.
  4. My brother. Just like my sons, we couldn’t be more different.  Growing up, we tormented each other!  He has listened to me complain about life.  He has offered advice on more than one occasion.  He, in my opinion, is the more successful of the two of us!  He has written – and published – books!  He has made his way up the ladder at his job and is now a “big wig”.  I am envious of him.  Over the years, we’ve grown closer and are working separately (and together) on a project that will honor our mother.  This project will only bring us closer – which I look forward to very much.
  5. My radio job(s). In over 30 years, the friendships I have made with co-workers, clients, and listeners have been very special to me.  While there was a whole lot of instability and changes in the business, it was also more fun than I can put into words!  Even though I am only doing it part-time now, I still enjoy prepping for a show and sharing stories on the air.
  6. My sleep job. It’s really an amazing thing to help people.  So many patients come in to our lab who are struggling with poor sleep, insomnia, apnea, narcolepsy, and other sleep disorders.  To be able to offer advice, help them get therapy, and in some cases, save their life, it is pretty satisfying.  I am lucky to have some pretty cool co-worker friends, too.
  7. My education. For years, my mother begged me to go to college.  She had sadly passed away before I finally enrolled in classes.  I am grateful to have had some of the finest instructors and professors to guide me and teach me in my journey.  Not only did I gain a degree, but I made many new friendships with classmates and teachers.
  8. My friends. Napoleon Hill said, “That man is rich indeed who had more friends than enemies…”  I am truly a rich man!  I am lucky enough to have made many friends throughout my life.  Many of them I have known for over 40 years!  So many good times!  So many good memories!  I am thankful for each of them!
  9. My enemies. Yes, my enemies.  First of all, they make me more appreciative and thankful for my friends!  Second, they actually help me, too.  How?  Here is a great quote (I wish I knew who said it) “Your enemies evolve you at the core.  They force you to defend and endure more than you thought possible.” Yes, my enemies may be full of hatred toward me.  They may spread rumors about me.  They may discredit me and bash me, but I am stronger because of their ignorance and loathing.
  10. My faith. It may not be important to you, but it is to me.  I am thankful for God, His Word, His Son, and all that He has done for me.  I am thankful for His unconditional love for me.
  11. Modern Medicine. We are blessed to live in a time where medical advances are curing diseases and saving lives!  While there is a long way to go, and there are still many diseases that need a cure – we continue to make progress.  I am thankful for the great minds who strive to find the answers, treatments, and cures.
  12. Coffee. I was 12 when my grandpa introduced coffee to me (it was probably more cream and sugar than coffee, but I liked it.)  Coffee has helped me through many overnight shifts on the radio, many 12 hour shifts in the sleep lab, and is just perfect to drink on a chilly autumn morning.
  13. My country. I am thankful to live in the United States of America.  I am thankful that we live in a country that allows us many freedoms.  While I have not visited every state in the union, I can tell you that on a recent road trip, I was in awe of the beauty that I witnessed while driving.  I am thankful and proud to be an American!
  14. Cameras/Photographs/Videos. How many precious moments and memories have been captured by cameras?  Without cameras how many things would be forgotten?  Think about all of the historical pictures that have meant so much over the years.  Now think about how looking at old family photos can immediately place you back in that exact moment with loved ones!  Think about how awesome it is to watch an old home movie and hear the voices of loved ones who are no longer here.  I am SO thankful for the memories that have been preserved for me on film.
  15. Dreams and the ability to dream. This kind of goes with #14.  I am thankful that every now and then, I will have a dream where I am once again talking with my mom or my grandparents.  Just today in my Facebook Memories I talked about a dream I had where I was hanging out with Frank Sinatra & Dean Martin – only in dreams!!
  16. My Past.  Sometimes looking back at the past can be painful.  Hindsight is 20/20, right?  It’s always easy to look back and see the mistakes you have made and kick yourself for making them. I look at it another way – I am who I am today because of my past.  The things that have happened to me along the way – both good and bad – are a part of who I am and have played a role in who I am today.  Yes, I can look back and see people or events that disgust me, but without them – I’d be a very different person.
  17. Air Conditioning/Heat.  As someone who loves to go to museums and such, I always wondered how people got along without AC in the summertime or heat in the winter!  I can’t imagine having to wake up in the middle of the night to add more wood to the fire or wood stove.  I also can’t imagine working 8 hours a day in a place without AC!  I am very thankful for those two modern-day conveniences!
  18. Sunrises and Sunsets.  One of my guilty pleasures is sitting and watching the sun come up or go down.  When I lived on the west side of the state (Michigan), I was lucky enough to live right off the water.  I would often go to the beach and just watch the sun set over the lake.  It was majestic and beautiful!  I am so thankful for these two simple things.
  19. Laughter/Humor. I love to laugh and I love the sound of laughter!  I also love to make people laugh.  I am so thankful for things that are funny and things that make me laugh.  Charlie Chaplin said, “A day without laughter is a day wasted.”  Milton Berle said, “Laughter is an instant vacation.” Another great quote is “Life is short.  Spend it with people who make you laugh and feel loved.”
  20. Music.  I am thankful for music in SO many ways.  Music, is one of those things that can evoke all kinds of emotions.  A song, just like an old photograph, can take you back in time.  In radio, we used to play what we called “Oh Wow” songs.  Those songs that make you say, “Oh wow! I haven’t heard that in forever!” or “Oh wow! That reminds me of my senior prom!”  Music is one of life’s great things!  It can convey things with or without words.  One of my favorite quotes, which is attributed to Hans Christian Anderson, is “Where words fail – music speaks.”  SO True!
  21. The Kindness of Strangers.  I have benefited from the kindness of strangers more times than I can count.  We saw a brief surge of random acts of kindness when the movie “Pay It Forward” came out, and it is a shame that those acts have fizzled out.  The world would be a better place if we took a moment and thought of others.  There have been plenty of times where someone in front of me has bought my coffee at the drive-thru window, and I have returned the favor.  I remember one time seeing an elderly gentleman eating alone in a restaurant.  He never knew who I was, but I saw his World War II Veteran hat.  I bought his meal and told the waitress to tell him that I thank him for his service.  Random acts of kindness are not just something we can accept – they are something we can do.
  22. Those who have served in the Armed Forces.  We live in a free country because of the men and women who have served in the various branches of the military.  I am thankful to each and every one of them.  I know that our freedom came with a price and so many men and women paid the ultimate price for me – and you.  Those that have served, no matter what branch and no matter if you were in battle or not, you are a hero!  I am thankful for you and your service!
  23. The Changing Seasons.  Here in Michigan, I get to see them all!  Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall.  The first snowfall is beautiful.  Ice storms can be hell!  Springtime showers and the grass turning green is a reminder of things becoming new again.  Summertime is never long enough, but getting  the chance to swim at the pool, golfing, and the smell of fresh-cut grass can always make me smile.  Fall is my favorite season!  The crisp cool air is perfect for bonfires.  The leaves changing colors makes for some spectacular rides on the highway.  I am thankful to get to experience each one of them
  24. Spell Checker. Without this, I really don’t know what I would do!  I remember all those spelling tests from school!  The problem is, as I get older, I seem to have forgotten how to spell.  Spell Check is one of those great features that got me through many a research paper in college.  It can also be very helpful here in my blog.  Of course, sometimes, you can misspell a word that is the correct spelling of another word, so it isn’t foolproof.   I’m thankful for it anyway!
  25. The often overlooked necessities.   I could easily make these each an item on this list.  I guess these are often things that are taken for granted.  For example, my home.  I am thankful to have a roof (a new one after this week) over my head to protect me from the elements.  I am thankful for the clothes that I wear.  My wife was just telling me that I probably need to purge some of the stuff that no longer fits and donate them to Goodwill.  It’s nice to have enough that I can donate some and still have enough to wear.  I am thankful for fresh water and hot showers.  Those two go together and, while it is often taken for granted, there are those who do not enjoy those simple things. I am thankful for electricity.  While there are times I think it is cool to sit and read a book by candlelight because of a power outage, I’d rather have the light – and everything else that uses it. I am thankful for a good meal.  Sometimes that meal may consist of a simple bowl of cereal, but the fact that I have food to eat is something that some people don’t have.
  26. Bad Days.  As much as we’d rather not have them, it is important to remember that when we have them, they remind us of just how awesome the good days are!  I am thankful for bad days, but even more thankful for the good ones! I am also thankful that in the big picture – I have had more good ones than bad ones.
  27. The Internet. It’s funny how we lived so long without it, yet we can’t really live without it today!  I mean, without it, you wouldn’t be reading this!  I am thankful for it and the good things associated with it.  I am thankful to be able to connect with family and friends across the miles with social media.  I am thankful that at any moment, I can open up Google and find an answer to a silly question.  I am thankful that my kids and I can use it instead of encyclopedias to do research. So many things are at our fingertips because of the internet.
  28. A good book/movie/TV show.  I really enjoy being able to get lost in a good story.  I love to read, but sadly don’t really get the time to do it as often as I’d like to.  Same with a good movie.  With movies, there are very few new movies that appeal to me.  As most of you know, I prefer older films (you know, the ones that are so good some jerk in Hollywood decides to remake it and ruin it).  I don’t need to see 20 minute sex scenes, car chases that are impossible to believe, blood and gore, or violence.  I want a good story – and a good story is something that Hollywood has seemed to run out of.  When it comes to TV, I rarely watch new shows.  Most of them are “reality” based anyway and just garbage.  I guess that’s why I am thankful for TV shows on DVD.
  29. My dumb cat.  Ok, talk about aggravating!  He is forever knocking things over while I am trying to sleep.  I am constantly tripping over him as I walk through the house.  He will attack and bite my leg for no reason.  He is always jumping up on the table when I am trying to eat.  He’s a real pain in my behind.  However, there are times when he will curl up next to me and fall asleep.  There are times where he can really be a cool cat.  It’s because of those things – I am thankful for him.
  30. The five senses. I can’t imagine going through life not being able to see my children or my wife or some of the wonderful things I have already described.  I can’t imagine not being able to smell fresh coffee brewing or my spaghetti sauce on the stove.  I can’t imagine not hearing the sound of my boys laughing.  I can’t imagine not being able to taste a juicy steak.  I can’t imagine not being able to feel a hug from my wife.  I am SO thankful to have the ability to have all five senses!
  31. Forgiveness.  I am thankful for forgiveness.  Sadly, it is one of those things that is rare today.  It is, however, one of the great things taught in the bible and throughout history.  It is also one of the hardest things to do.  I have trouble with it too on occasion.  I am thankful that there are friends and family who have forgiven me for past transgressions.
  32. Acceptance.  I am thankful for those people in my life who accept me for who I am.  They don’t try to change me.  There may be things about me that they don’t like or agree with, but they love and accept me as I am.  I try to do the same for others.
  33. Encouragement.  I would not be where am I today without the encouragement and support of others.  It may have been the smallest gesture or a simple sentence in conversation, but the encouragement of others helped me to get through some tough stuff and I am thankful for that.
  34. Change.  This is hard for me to be thankful for, but I am.  I have to be honest, I hate change!  I am a creature of habit.  When I lost 85 pounds, I did it primarily by eating the same meals every day.  I do not like change, but I know it is important.  There were many times over the last couple years that I had to step out of my comfort zone and accept it.  I am thankful I did.  Change is good – most of the time.
  35. My Therapist.    She, like many others, helped me to cope as life offered many challenges.  She helped me sort out some feelings.  She helped me to see things that I was completely unaware of.  She helped me deal with the things involved in my divorce.  She also is responsible for my blogs.  I used to blog all the time, but was basically told that “no one wants to read that stuff”.  I stopped writing.  My therapist is the one who suggested keeping a journal.  When I told her I used to blog, she asked why I stopped.  When I told her why, she suggested starting back up.  I told her I didn’t know what to write about.  She basically said, “Write about whatever you want!  It doesn’t matter if you are writing for others or writing for yourself.  If you like to write – WRITE!”  From the length of this blog – you can see that I like to write.
  36. Facebook memories.  This is a two-edged sword.  It is a daily reminder or good things from the past, as well as times with people no longer in my life.  I am thankful for it just the same.  Many times it is a simple one liner I posted as a status, while other times it is my thoughts about my boys school events.  Some pictures bring back good memories, while others bring back sad memories.  I smile at the good ones and try to forget the bad ones, but again remind myself that I am who I am today because of the past.
  37. Big John’s Steak and Onion.  Don’t judge me!  I am thankful that when I am craving a really good sub, I can go here and grab a Supreme Cheeseburger with olives!  Yummy!!
  38. YOU.  Yep.  I am thankful for YOU.  You are reading this and I appreciate it.  I am thankful for those who follow this blog and for those who read my stuff.  Thank you for being my friend.  Thank you for following this blog.

What are YOU thankful for??