“Mr. H, if I bring in my guitar, will you jam with me?”
“Sure,” I said, without hesitation.
This isn’t the first time I have given up a prep period in order to play a little music with a student. It is the first time this year, however. There is actually a large crop of kids this year who play guitar and/or drums, and this student is one of those on my radar screen.
We set a day — it was Thursday — and he forgot all about it. I had my acoustic guitar all set to go. I told him I would keep my guitar in school for another day. He promised he would bring his gear in the next day. He didn’t. But he remembered that our music teacher keeps a few guitars around, so he asked her if he could borrow one of hers. She, of course, agreed, and soon he and I were strumming some songs.
Or rather, he was playing riffs for me to hear.
I think it was less that he wanted to play some songs with me than he wanted to show me that he has a musical talent. I was an attentive audience. As teacher, I often see him through the lens of writing and reading, and he can struggle at times. But he does have a good feel for the guitar, and he certainly loves music. His repertoire was mostly Green Day with a little Guns n Roses, but you have to start somewhere. We played a few songs — “Good Riddance” and “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” — but mostly, I just listened to him.
It reminded me, in this season of testing, how we need to remember that our students encompass more than just the sliver of time that we see them in our classroom. They are artists, musicians, actors, athletes, and more, and when we narrow our focus to a single academic area in a single hour of a single day, we sometimes lose sight of that. And like this young guitarist, they desire not only our approval as adults in their lives, but also, they yearn for our praise. He wanted me to “hear” him in a way that I might not otherwise.
So, I listened, and kept my guitar mostly quiet.
We ended our Jam Session and as we were packing up, I remembered back to a time when I was his age, when a group of us from my neighborhood used to gather together all sorts of musical gear — hand-me-downs from siblings or forgotten amps and guitars from parents — and play for hours, out of tune and a bit too loud, in the dingy basement of a friend whose mother was sympathetic. We were bad — maybe even awful — but we didn’t care. We were making music.
“You need to find some friends, start a band, and write some songs, ” I told him, pointing out some of the riffs he had played. Riffs are like sentences, and you string them together in a way to make a song. “Get out there and play.”
He nodded. You never know when a comment might connect. He just might do it.
Peace (on the fretboard),