Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Conversation with Ms. Fitzgerald

Firstly, I am so sorry for being terrible about posting on the blog. I realize it's been a while since I've written and though I know all God's children are busy- I really am. I'm currently at various stages in the midst of a myriad projects, requests and assignments. At any rate, my older class is graduating tomorrow and my younger class is currently mired in the English Olympics. So soon enough I hope to have more free time.

In the vein of my older class graduating, I have been enjoying doing fun classes with them (or what I consider to be fun). So, for example, we recently spent two days discussing art. I asked the what they think art is, what makes art good or bad and so on. Then I had them debate a Pollock, one team was assigned 'yes! it is art' and the other was 'hell no, spatterpainter!'. We then moved to Picasso and I had them try and decipher 'Guernica'. We talked about what it might mean and what Picasso was trying to say. They were surprisingly good at panting analysis; I had planned on 15 minutes, they gushed over the painting for 45. The next day we did a wrap up with the history of Picasso's epic work and a little more discussion. Today my idea of fun was a lesson on jazz and blues, the differences between the generas and the history therein. (I knew my stint at a liberal arts college would come in handy some day! In one week I successfully tapped into mental residue from both Art History 101 and History of Jazz.) My students knew precious little about the topic at hand which was neat because that meant I was exposing them to something completely new and different. First we talked about music, what they like and know and what they don't. Then I doled out copies of lyrics from Summertime, a ballad from Porgy and Bess, as covered and remade as it is sublime. We listened to Billie Holiday's distinctly jazzy, saxy version of the song, then switched to Ella Fitzgerald's slow, mournful cover. The kids weren't hugely impressed with the songs- they chuckled at Billie's high pitched voice, all cracked and retro and seemed to be lulled into a collective coma by Ella's thick song. But the class was ultimately successful. In the end I played Kanye West's recent hit "Golddigger" and Amy Winehouse's chart topper "Rehab" to prove that blues and jazz are still pretty darn sweet today. Overall they really latched onto the concepts and seemed excited by the whole lesson. Score.

Teaching the song 'Summertime' really gave me pause. It's followed me through my life with dogged persistence and had grown near and dear to my heart. It reminds me of my childhood, especially Ella's slow, sweet version. The low notes and soft words take me back to hot nights in Atlanta. Nights with humidity so bad you could cut it with a knife. My mind clouded with summer evenings when cicadas sang in my backyard and fireflys illuminated the firmament. For a moment, while teaching, all of this rolled over me and I stood there, dazed. I heard my freinds calling to me from next door, felt the swing in my hands, breathed the basil, charcoal and honeysuckle in the air, felt the weight of the heat. In the context of Ella and this melodious lullaby it seemed so strange to live in this cold desert place, a place devoid of Southern hospitality, oak trees, big hair or even sweet tea. These days my skin is caked with dust and smells of trash fires instead of being heavy with sweet sweat born of the South's oppressive moisture. My hands are always cold now and even though it's March, warmth is still a stranger. It seems ludicrous to think, with Ella's voice caressing the air around me, that I would ever dream of leaving place the place that I came from. A place where the fish are jumpin' and the cotton is high, a place where nothing can harm you. If you were born from sticky nights and loving arms, why would you leave? But then again, as Ella poses the questions, she ever so slowly croons the answer: you must spread your wings and take to the sky.

1 comment:

Linda said...

such a beautiful post.