Schools Out for Summer

It was quite a random invitation. Having worked with kids, written for kids and produced a stack of children’s TV series in the past I thought I was familiar with the genre and comfortable with all forms of creative processes around the little ratbags. I had also played live with and for them in various guises. Sometimes as a musical director and others simply as a rank-and-file, gun-for- hire, play-what’s-on-the-paper, tart; For that is what we all are.

There is nothing scarier and sobering than being told by a young audience that they don’t like you or the material. Many times, I would play a ‘work in progress’ either for a studio session or live production only to be told that it was ‘pants’ and unsingable. Despite moving swiftly on to the next experimental idea to cover my disappointment it was often a tough call to get over. But a simply rewrite and genuinely listening to what they said sorted the problem to return with a better song and more rewarding reaction.

Now with several grandkids that know there are guitars in the house, ‘Old McDonald’ gets a serious bashing but woe betide getting the animals in the wrong order.

Back to the invitation. I had been working with one very lovely and loyal client who also had a day job as a music teacher. Never a session went by without hearing a new infectious song or how many more ukuleles she’d acquired to teach an entire class ‘My Dog’s got Fleas’ and other memorable ditties in a concoction of eye watering tunings.

During one session, she asked if I’d consider playing at her end of term summer musical. “It’s not very good”she added, “But it’d be great to have you play along on guitar to add some support.”

I had assumed that it would include a decent padding with drums and bass so at least we could make a noise and hope we wouldn’t be the first to end the songs. Due to various commitments and possibly fear, I remained the only one available and without an excuse. So, I decided to go along and see if I could add anything to the multi-faceted proceedings using a simple acoustic guitar.

What struck me initially was the privileged life I had enjoyed as a composer and producer. I’m not saying it’s been easy and for a time I did do some teaching when times were tough and money was even tougher. I was seen as a soft touch and an excuse to trade some Rock and Roll licks while they had a nifty smoke when no one was looking. We did achieve a few positive things over time under the ‘no pain no gain’ principals but so often I couldn’t wait for the final bell so I could escape.

The dedication of the teachers I met when I arrived for the performances didn’t compare. Despite the fact that they had all done a full twelve-hour day, they remained, setting up the room, busy and focused. Policing the parents and steadying the performers, they were a well-oiled machine with one thing in mind; to get this show on the road with no serious causalities and ready to present to the unsuspecting audience of parents and friends.

Exhaustion and self-preservation set aside they all worked as a team. I was humbled by their enthusiasm and indeed, their compliments to me for showing up to help.

I don’t think I made that much difference if anyone indeed could hear what I was playing. But it did make me appreciate the work these guys do on a daily basis, most of the time with no moaning or griping. They deserve what they get and more.  These are the people that see our kids more than we do each day. And they have a significant influence that can inspire and encourage in unimaginable ways.

Next time you happen to go in either as a contributor, helper or simply as an observer tell them how much they are appreciated. It may well make a difference to how you are treated when your ratbags grow up and know better.

Major toast to all you amazing teachers out there!