Nov. 16, 2009

Middle School Band Concert

by Christine Rhein

Their uniforms—starched white shirts,
      black bow ties, cummerbunds—
         shine on a stage with chairs and stands

crammed close, young bodies merged
      into one great whole, while the tall girl,
         standing in back, waits, waits

to deliver a crash of her cymbals,
      their timbre meant to rouse
         like the march being played,

the baton insisting along with the push
      and pull of the teacher's palm,
         melody secondary to precision,

proof of lessons learned, the gleaming
      slides of the trombones synchronized,
         unlike the drums that pound within,

or the rumble of applause as parents, unable
      to hear their child's isolated notes, rise,
         eager to say Good job! or Next time,

sit up straighter!, knowing tomorrow,
      when the students watch their performance
         on video, the teacher will grade

their rhythm, their emotion, reminding
      them about medals they can pin above
         their hearts if everyone's music

starts and stops at exactly the same time.
      And now, as they exit, the backs
         of their heads are dark and dreadful

like the whispers resuming in the lobby
      about the 7th—grader who hanged himself
         at home over the weekend.

"Middle School Band Concert" by Christine Rhein, from Wild Flight. © Texas Tech University Press, 2008. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of the playwright Paula Vogel, born in Washington, D.C. (1951). She's the author of many plays, including The Baltimore Waltz (1992) and How I Learned to Drive (1997), which won the Pulitzer Prize for drama.

It's the birthday of the playwright George Kaufman, (books by this author) born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (1889). He was a humorist and a collaborator on many satirical plays, including Animal Crackers (1928), Strike Up the Band (1927), and You Can't Take It with You (1936). He was also known as one of the fiercest drama critics of his day. Once, while viewing a play he didn't like, he poked the woman sitting in front of him and said, "Madam, would you mind putting on your hat?" And he was once asked by a press agent how to get a new actress coverage by the major newspapers, and he responded, "Shoot her."

It's the birthday of essayist, poet, and fiction writer Phillip Lopate, (books by this author) born in Brooklyn, New York (1943). His essay collections include Bachelorhood: Tales of the Metropolis (1981), Portrait of My Body (1996), and Against Joie de Vivre (1989), in which he writes: "Over the years I have developed a distaste for the spectacle of joie de vivre, the knack of knowing how to live. Not that I disapprove of all hearty enjoyment of life. A flushed sense of happiness can overtake a person anywhere, and one is no more to blame for it than the Asiatic flu or a sudden benevolent change in the weather (which is often joy's immediate cause). No, what rankles me is the stylization of this private condition into a bullying social ritual."

Lopate started college as a pre-law student at Columbia, but switched to be an English major and became editor of the campus literary magazine. After graduating, he taught creative writing — including poetry — in New York public schools. He wrote about his experiences doing this in a memoir, Being with Children (1975).

He's written a few novels, including the recent Two Marriages (2008). His essay collection Notes on Sontag (2009) was published earlier this year. He said, "The prospect of a long day at the beach makes me panic. There is no harder work I can think of than taking myself off to somewhere pleasant, where I am forced to stay for hours and 'have fun.'"

It's the birthday of the novelist Andrea Barrett, (books by this author) born in Boston, Massachusetts (1954). She is known for writing fiction about botanists, oceanographers, and geologists. In order to finish her novel The Voyage of the Narwhal (1998), about a group of British scientists exploring the Arctic, Barrett traveled to the Arctic herself. Andrea Barrett said: "I think science and writing are utterly the same thing. They are completely rooted in passion and desire, if they're any good at all. You can fall in love with the natural world in the same way you fall in love with a person. There's that same sense of helplessness, of lacking control over how much of your life you want to devote to it."

It's the birthday of Jean Fritz, (books by this author) author of books for young readers, born in Hankow, China (1915), the only child of American missionaries. She's written a number of historical novels and biographies related to American history, including Where Do You Think You're Going, Christopher Columbus? (1980), Can't You Make Them Behave, King George? (1977), And Then What Happened, Paul Revere? (1973), Why Don't You Get a Horse, Sam Adams? (1974), What's the Big Idea, Ben Franklin? (1976), and Will You Sign Here, John Hancock? (1976). And Then What Happened, Paul Revere? was named a New York Times Outstanding Book of the Year.

Her autobiography, Homesick, My Own Story (1982), won a Newbery Honor Book Award and a National Book Award. It's based on the journals she kept while growing up in Hankow.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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