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It is hard to know where to start. Our education system is a colossal, horrifying, and probably irreversible mess. Not just in the state in which I live (Texas) but in this country in general. I am amazed that anyone learns anything. The issue is complicated. It is full of villains and heroes. It is a bureaucratic nightmare so big that probably no one person could understand all of the entire inter-tangled complexity. I stand outside looking in and am overwhelmed and angry.
I suppose that an institution that involves so many people and geographically involves the entire county is going to be susceptible to the ills that plague our society: under funding, burdensome bureaucracy, political stalemate, child abuse and neglect, over litigation, over regulation, violence, substance abuse, sexual abuse, value clashes, and poverty that is financial, cultural, and spiritual.

There are some wonderful people in education. I know many teachers and administrators that love children, deeply desire to see the children learn and reach their potential, and pour their heart and soul into their students and schools. They give of their time and energy well beyond their financial compensation. I am concerned for them because many are discouraged and depressed. They have been hurt deeply by the system within which they are attempting to do the seemingly impossible. God help the woman or man standing in the midst of 18 to 30 (or more if it a musical ensemble or PE type class) children or young adults trying to share their passion and impart knowledge. Blessings to the teacher who truly wishes to help a student become a successful person. Hopefully, they will have enough success and positive moments to help them overcome the stress and fatigue.

It is easy to sit back and criticize such a huge and pitiful target. It is much harder to come up with some ideas to make real improvements in children learning. I will outline some of my ideas in later postings. But let’s start with this: if you know an educator, say a kind word to them. If you have a child in school, encourage the teachers and staff. Improving moral in the workplace usually helps the workers be more effective. The school is not only where a child learns, but it is also a place of employment for many people. Don’t you want your child’s teacher to be excited about teaching?


Music Portals

In my adult life, I have had two different people say to me something to the effect of, “I cannot stand classical music.” Several thoughts came to me at once each time. First, I wondered why they were telling me this. These were unsolicited remarks. I was not forcing them to listen to anything. Why bring this up? Second, I was a little put off because, hey, I’m a musician, and guess what, I have played and sung a lot of classical music! Third, I was a little hurt to have my tastes denigrated. Fourth, I thought that this is actually sad. These two people have cut themselves off from having the opportunity to experience something that could be rich and rewarding. There was a whole world which they refused to explore or at least try to understand a little better. Fifth, I wondered what kind of negative experience they must of had to come to such a position.

I enjoy many different genres of music. “Classical”, for lack of a better description, is certainly one of these. But I also acknowledge that it has its issues for many people. If one has not been exposed to much classical music, it can be intimidating, overwhelming, confusing, or even (and I dread using this word) boring.

There is also the issue of snobbery. For some reason, music seems to draw this quality out of people. Someone likes their genre and that genre only, and to them, everyone else is an idiot. This is not limited to classical music purists. I have had condescending remarks made to me because I like classical music, jazz, classic rock, contemporary Christian, modern alternative, Broadway, folk, and even some country. Often, someone who hates one of these, or loves only one of these, is compelled to be an obnoxious pedagogue to the rest of us ignorant slobs. The biggest musical snobs I have met, however, have been associated with either loving classical music only, or hating classical music entirely.

Musical genres are not spouses. You should love and be married to only one person, but music is all together different. (I have seen an interesting tee shirt: it has a picture of a lady standing next to a bunch of guitars – the caption reads, “love one woman, but many guitars.”) It’s OK to listen to more than one kind of music.

Perhaps you have not been exposed to classical music growing up or were never in a school music ensemble that gave you the opportunity to get to know some particular pieces of such music. That’s just the way it is. You can do something about that if you are willing to take some time and effort. Over the next several blog entries, I will recommend some of what I call “music portals” – doorways to classical music. I hope to recommend several pieces that are accessible. Accessible means that this is music that can easily be appreciated, even by those with little or no background in classical music. Hopefully, you will be able to find a recording of some of these and discover that this stuff isn’t so bad after all.

Les Miserables

I watched the 2012 movie musical of Les Miserables with my family on Christmas evening. The movie is the film version of the well known musical play which in turn is an adaptation of the novel by Victor Hugo. It follows the lives of several people in the years after the French Revolution. The movie has huge star power, with Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, and Anne Hathaway as the most well know names among a highly noted cast.

The costumes and sets are tremendous and the music is wonderful. The biggest issue I had with the movie was the choice of well established stars over strong singing voices that were cast as the main characters. Anne Hathaway is a competent singer, Hugh Jackman is adequate, but Russell Crowe was disappointing. The character he plays, Javert the police inspector, is the kind of tough guy role that Crowe does well. I have enjoyed Crowe in every other movie I have seen him in (Gladiator, A Beautiful Mind, L.A. Confidential, The Quick and the Dead, Cinderella Man, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World), but watching him as a tough guy trying to sing was uncomfortable.

The choice of lighting was curious as well – it is always dark in this movie. The scenes are either at night or on a very overcast ,gray, or rainy day. The only sunny scene that I recall was on a winter day with a low and weak sun. Perhaps the gray lighting was chosen to add to the sense of despair that was pervasive throughout the film.

This movie is powerful study of grace and forgiveness and I believe it speaks to people of all time, not just 19th century France or 21st century America. Jean Valjean, the character played by Hugh Jackman, is offered grace and forgiveness. He accepts it and it transforms him. When Javert is offered grace, he rejects it. He has always done his duty and upheld the law, but he cannot reconcile himself to mercy when it is shown to him.

It is a shame that stronger singing voices were not chosen for the lead roles. That would have made this an outstanding movie. It is still fine entertainment, and, if one is willing to think a little about its bigger themes, very much worth seeing. Yes, grace is offered to all. If one will accept it, they will be changed in such as way as to positively impact those around them. One act of compassion can be a very powerful thing.

Used and Messy

Perhaps you have wondered why I have selected the particular picture that I did for the banner to this blog. First, I wanted something with different colors, to tie in with the idea that “chromatic” can describe color. As I searched for photos, the idea of paints was appealing for a connection to art, music, etc. Initially, I had selected a palate of new paint – everything was clean and fresh. But I settled on the photo of a palate that was somewhat used and messy.
Most people would identify with life as used and messy, not clean and fresh. We all have our messes to deal with. Some messes are small and seem almost manageable, but some are huge and out of control. Those of us with small messes might like to think that our mess is under control, but is it really? And haven’t we all at some time felt used and forgotten?
Do we really have our act together? What messy secrets do we hold behind our neat smiling faces? I know I look for clean and fresh, but usually it eludes me.
Once I found myself in a big mess of personal crises. Yes, that’s plural. I felt like I was floundering, overwhelmed with nothing solid to hold on to. Then, I found words written long ago that I identified with: Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer. From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I. (Psalm 61:1-2, NIV)
Yes, life is very, very messy. There are many who want to use you and then discard you like a dirty Kleenex. I found that rock, that solid place to stand. If you are looking for that, I hope that you can find it also.


In the last post, I closed with the question I encountered on a form: Favorites:. Well, here is how I answered that question: Dr. Pepper, green and blue, Italian, London, the Beatles (with several others tied for 2nd), the Spurs, EPL, Bach and Prokofiev, Philippians, Jars of Clay, fall, Thanksgiving, NIV, Forrest Gump and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and I reluctantly admit the Cowboys.

What Is Chromatic View?

What Is Chromatic View?
Music and Other Things that Matter

The little Merriam-Webster Dictionary that I keep in my desk defines “chromatic” as 1) “of or relating to color” and 2) “proceeding by half steps of the musical scale.” Chromatic can involve both what you see and what you hear. It can mean all the colors and all the notes. That summarizes my view – I want to see all of the colors and hear all of the notes.

The subtitle to this blog could be “Music and Other Things that Matter”. I am trained as a musician (both instrumental and choral/vocal) and have played or sung just about every kind of music there is (at least in Western Civilization). I make a living with music. It is also my hobby. It means a lot to me.
But there are other things that matter to me as well. And, there are a variety of things that matter to other people. That is part of the chromatic. There is a big picture, but it is made up of a whole bunch of little parts. Sometimes one of those little parts can be very interesting. Sometimes we need to step back and try to take in the whole view.

I hope that there will be others that will find this view interesting. Perhaps you will be able to introduce me to a part of the big picture that I haven’t seen before. I also hope to introduce any readers who might follow this blog to some new things as well.

Recently, I became involved in a mentoring program. At the beginning of this program, I was asked to fill out an information sheet. One of the blanks was simply labeled, “Favorites.” How would you fill that blank?