By Mahlon Miller
We try to teach a new song every once in awhile to our students. Every couple of weeks we try to bring a new song into the rotation. Right now we are working on teaching the children the song “America, the Beautiful.” We want to use it in the children’s program on the last day of school.
We try to teach a new song every once in awhile. Every couple of weeks we try to bring a new song in. Right now we are working on teaching the children the song “America, the Beautiful.” We want to use it on our last day of school program.
“Above the fruited plains.” My voice climbed uncertainly , hesitated, quavered for a note or two and cast about for proper pitch and finally gave up and died. Forty-two heads looked up and 42 faces registered expressions ranging from disappointment to amusement. It was certainly one of the most embarrassing moments of my teaching career.
I was disgusted as well as embarrassed. What can be so hard about singing America the Beautiful? I have known that song for a long time. I took a deep breath and started over.
“Oh beautiful, for spacious skies”
Everyone joined in. This time it was going to go better.
“For purple mountain majesties”
Everything was going well. Very well. But I couldn’t relax with that line coming up. But we hit it with gusto.
“above the fruited plain.”
By the second syallable we were in no man’s land. By the fourth, about half of us were back on track. But by the second “America” we officially lost the trail again.
Again, 42 heads bobbed up. A few sympathetic faces still showed but the bigger percentage wore grins that betrayed how much they were enjoying this. I cleared my throat and toyed with my cuffs, and all the rest of the nervous teacher routine. A little pep talk and a few deep breaths later my ears were back down to 98.6 degrees. And I said: ” we’ll give it one more go.”
We didn’t get as far as we had on the previous try. This time I skipped the nervous teacher routine.
“Let’s sing something we know.” I said, exasperated, flailing my “America the Beautiful” copy onto the class table and picking up my songbook. It was first grader Jerry’s turn to pick a song and he was all ready.
“Three hundred thirty one” he announced.
This was an old time religion song and everybody knows it almost by heart. We really raised the roof. The next song was “When the roll is called up yonder“, another old favorite. And then it was time to start classes.
We got our German lessons under way but my mind was still in our singing period trying to figure out why our “new” song fell flat. I had heard America the Beautiful only once before our trip to Colorado and all I had retained of the tune was the last two lines. But several times during our trip we heard it at tourist traps. And by the time we got home I thought I knew it. I still thought so now. And yet that trip was 10 years ago. And some of the students claim to also know the song. If there was a discrepancy I didn’t quite dare push my version and so we ended up in confusion. I decided it would be better to take a small group aside and clear up all the fuzzy details first.
When we dismissed for recess I asked the big girls if they would go upstairs so we could practice the song. This went much better. Six people in an informal cirlce is a much more ideal setting than 42 people facing you. When we got to that troublesome line I was quiet while the girls sang on. We got through both “Americas,” finished the verse perfectly and sang the other three without a glitch. The whipped topping on the pie for me was my version and the girls version matched exactly. We just had had too many enthusiastic but misguided helpers earlier and had not been able to hear each other. For good measure we sang the whole song an additional 4 or 5 times until we could do it well without copies. The next morning in singing period we made it all the way through the song. There were still a few aftershocks felt especially in that troublesome line but nothing devastating.
This whole experience reminded me of a story one of my teacher friends told me about the honesty of the little children. My friend was in his first year of teaching at an Amish school and singing was not his favorite cup of tea. So for awhile they just sang the old favorites. Finally, though, he started feeling a little negligent for not teaching any new songs. So he decided on an easy one and introduced it. After a couple of mornings of practice he decided he must have misjudged the song. It seemed the students weren’t picking up on it really fast. That very morning at recess one of the second grade girls cleared up the mystery for him. She was from a family who had previously attended the public school and she told him “last year (in public school) it was easy to learn new songs because the teacher played them on the tape player. And the tape player sang it exactly the same every time.”