Sunday, March 30, 2014

Other people's birthdays

The world revolves around me.

There. I said it. That is the entire summary for what you are about to read. 

Birthdays are days. Birthdays are regular ol' days like any other day. There are very few people in my life who understand this philosophy. You have to be raised to believe this philosophy out of necessity. Necessity is "we don't have money for that." 

I was raised blue collar working class. We had money. Not much. Whatever Dad earned in his paycheck....he cashed it, paid bills, and bought groceries. You can't even enter gas into the equation because in the 80s it was cheap - between 79 cents and $2 per gallon. On a good day, it cost $25 to fill up the van. We never traveled very far either. Whatever Mom earned in the random paychecks she received....well, the money was spent before we knew it existed.

Back to birthdays.....we were allowed a birthday party every 3 years because there were 3 children. On the other years, Mom cooked our favorite dinner and made a cake. Beautifully decorated. For several years, I had Holly Hobbie cakes - every year was a different color dress. If Mom was broke on your birthday party year, no party. I remember my 12 year old birthday party. We must have had money that year. I invited friends to my party. We ate at Mama's Pizza in College Station and went to see Splash with Tom Hanks & Darryl Hannah. We sat on the front row. That was cool. Mom & her friends sat further back. Otherwise, I don't remember birthday parties. 

Birthdays are not a big deal. No fanfare. The MOST special thing about all of our birthdays was that MeMe called at 7:30am and sang Happy Birthday to us. She never, ever failed. Still to this day, I long to hear the phone ring at 7:30am on March 23 and hear Lucille Newcomb's sweet voice. She sounded like an old lady before she was really old. She was divine. She gave gifts later in the day, but that first gift of the morning was priceless. Grandma (Dad's mother) baked a white cake in a pan with white frosting and made homemade ice cream in a stainless steel bowl. That was the weekend before or after our birthday at the farm. Grandparents born in between WWI & WWII were sincere minimalists. 

Musical moments that will make you GASP: 
1.) I cannot just whip out "Happy Birthday" on the piano. I know it is probably a C7 chord to begin with, but that's all I can do. I do, however, own the printed sheet music because the song is STILL under copyright, never to grace the doors of public domain. 
2.) I cannot sing harmony on the song. I can sing harmony on nearly every song in the known world, but never learned that one.

It wasn't until I started teaching that I began to understand that other people don't celebrate birthdays the same way. I would call out an event date in class (upcoming concert or contest or social event), and  a hand would be raised in the air. Not to ask a question, but to say "That is my Uncle Tony's birthday!" or "That's 5 days before my  mom's birthday!" or "That's MY birthday!" 

I've been teaching 19 years and that situation has happened a thousand times. I just did the math, at most I have taught 3,363 days. Just 1/5 of my life. No trumpets on that one? Darn.

Early on, I made it my classroom policy NOT to sing Happy Birthday to every student. Teaching in the elementary music classroom, I would have been singing that song 2-3x daily. I tried. Oh, how I tried! I tried to get into it, but nobody liked my silly version of a Vowels Only Happy Birthday. And at the middle school, I would be singing it 4x every week. I gave up. 

Here is my classroom birthday acknowledgement policy:
I will say "Happy Birthday" to a student IF I am reminded that it is their birthday, but I will not sing it to them OR let the whole class sing it to them. If I sang that song EVERY DAY of the year, "Happy Birthday" would not be special on MY birthday. For the record, I could care less if anyone sings it to me on my birthday. Non-musicians, please don't attempt it.  I do not want to hear ANYONE sing this song out of tune or the worst of all.....spoken loudly in something near the original rhythm. Musicians who can sing in harmony - you are encouraged & appreciated for your efforts.

I am the Ebenezer Scrooge of Happy Birthdays.

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