First Class

The car radio wasn’t holding onto the signal of my favorite station. Without warning, I suddenly had two radio announcers speaking at the same time. One was giving an update on news, while the other sounded like an interview with an author. The gargled sounds were annoying. I stopped at the red light and before turning right reached over and pressed a button. Discordant sounds turned into soft swirls of classical music from the Public Radio station.

Relaxing, I began to picture the instruments. The violins dramatically sighed as they sang their part of the story. I pictured the people playing them, skillfully pushing the bow back and forth over taunt strings. Flutes added their cheerful version of the story. I marveled at the perfect control the musicians had in holding long notes and how gracefully they fingered the instruments to produce rippling trills. Unlike the two radio announcers, the two instruments blended and complimented each other.

When I listen to music, I like to identify the unseen musical instruments. The voices are distinct and recognizable, just like the voices of my friends. I have to thank Sister Chantal, my seventh-grade teacher for this way of listening to music. Through the years her teaching has made music more enjoyable.

One afternoon when I was trying to stay awake in her class, Sister Chantal pulled a small suitcase from behind her desk. The small, pretty young nun announced, “We’re going to have a music appreciation class.” Setting the suitcase on her desk, she opened it to reveal a record player. After plugging it in and putting a record on the turn table, she said, “I want you to learn to recognize the voices of different instruments today. I’ve also asked a few of your classmates who play in the band to help me.”

I thought, “Music appreciation? That sounds fancy. What’s the big deal?” Disappointed that we weren’t going to actually sing, I slumped down in my desk and rested my chin on the palms of my hands.

Five students from the class trooped to the front of the room. Sister Chantal announced, “Sally will play the piano for us.” Sally sat down at the upright in the corner of the room. After a few moments, I sat up straight in awe. She was good! There were so many keys, yet the tune she played was perfect. I noticed that as she played, she was also pressing on certain foot pedals under the piano. I murmured, “Wow!”

Peggy was next. She marched to the front of the room holding a shiny trumpet. The notes she played were loud and brash, perfectly matching her friendly, outgoing personality.

Tom played a trombone. I loved the way the instrument slide moved in and out as he played.

When a kid I didn’t know from another class came in with a violin, I was totally fascinated. Playing this instrument looked exhausting. Before even starting he made a big deal over how it had to be held under his chin a certain way. Then he guided the bow so carefully up, over the strings and back again.

The drummer was only allowed to do a short riff. Having no sense of rhythm, I was impressed that he was able to beat so quickly and steadily.

The class listened to the record for the rest of the period. Sister Chantal alternately played music and stopped to talk about the instruments. I don’t even remember what composition we listened to during the only music appreciation class my teacher taught that year.

On the car radio, a saxophone was playing. It’s lovely, throaty voice crooned a languorous and sensuous love song to everyone listening. Having arrived at my destination, I was reluctant to get out of the vehicle. Wanting to be on time for my appointment, though, I sadly pushed the car door open and stepped out into the crisp winter air.

As simple as Sister Chantal’s music class was, I often find myself thinking back to it and feeling grateful. The class didn’t teach me a life-skill by which I could support myself, yet it added value to my life. I wish I could find her and tell her what an impact her class had had.

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