Monday, March 15, 2010

Score one for the old people

When we are old enough to have experience, we are often seen as merely old. I am reminded of this frequently.

I recently took my daughter (who is 15) to see Jazz at Lincoln Center with Wynton Marsalis at The Walton Arts Center. We've been seeing live theater and attending concerts since she was old enough to sit through performances, many of which she doesn't remember. This particular event was high on her list, however, because she plays the trumpet and often listens to her favorite Marsalis CD. It was high on mine for several reasons.

Art, music, poetry, and literature are all--in some form or fashion--about history. Sometimes the history is of a people or a society, sometimes of an individual. And educating our youth to be productive members of society requires some understanding and respect for history. The recent concert was full of history, from Count Basie (one of my favorites) to Dizzy Gillespie and exciting new compositions commissioned by The Metropolitan Museum of Art (where I've also taken my daughter).

Soft-spoken Marsalis (who did not, by the way, command the spotlight very often or for very long during the recent performance), talked with respect, affection, and a gentle sense of humor about the jazz greats on whose shoulders he stands. He described one gentleman as being "old when I was in high school" and the one who would hang around "to tell us we were playing the music wrong." Marsalis went on to say that seeing the man as old meant Marsalis wasn't seeing (or hearing) the right things. This "old" man became Marsalis' mentor, teaching him much.

Being in the presence of history and learning from it is a rare gift. Most of us realize far later what opportunities we had, what lessons we spurned, what greatness we missed. Teaching, for me, means cherishing those moments when the magic happens...and realizing that most of the time my role is to offer what I have, letting others decide what they see or hear...and whether they need it. And, sometimes (as my daughter says), we can "score one for the old people."

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