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Friday, March 23, 2007

Up, Up and Away


Dr. Lester CN Simon

Mirror, mirror on the wall, how do you teach teenagers anything when they are thinking of sex, sex, sex and nothing else at all? The mirror shook violently until it was thrown about in many tiny pieces in all directions. It serves me right for asking a rhetorical question.

Writing meaningfully and truthfully about sex and teenagers is almost always difficult because most adults see teenagers having sex as an interrogative pronoun. Teenagers are having sexual intercourse because it is prohibited, dangerous, powerful and exciting and it makes adults angry. Many teenagers think that everyone else is doing it all the time.

If we want teenagers to stop having sex and being so demonstrative about it we must find other activities that are just as dangerous, powerful, exciting and demonstrative. I can think of one such thing: music. But there are many others. By the time you become a teenager you should have discovered, or have started to explore, or know from watching others, that you can find something (other than sex and drugs) that you feel so passionate about you would live and die for it. No wonder someone said that John Coltrane had the whole of life wrapped up in B flat.

I was terribly disappointed listening to the Trinidad and Tobago Panorama Finals 2007 DVD. Once again, there was very little difference between the first and second placed large bands and the arrangements were formulaic and sterile. The music did not reflect our Caribbean landscape, our rich variety of flora and fauna, our heritage and the range of human emotions. After all these years, is someone saying that all we can do at carnival and panorama is jump and wave like we are jumping from a slave ship? Who dictated that calypso rhythm on steel pan was synonymous with a constant, blazing tempo? And thank heavens they have all stopped the token decrescendo in the middle of the arrangement.

Music, like sex, has become very easy to make. But music, like sex, exists on many levels. The highest form of our music should be played by an orchestra comprising the four instrumental families of strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion. The percussion family includes steel pan and piano. It requires a large mass of well trained musicians playing various instruments with distinctive timbres. When they interplay musical lines and passages, they make thematic statements and restate them with masterful and even jocular variations. All of this requires more than the foreplay of the usual three-minute pop song. Our musicians must reflect and direct our attention and attitude to each other and to the world around us. When we see and hear the resolution of dissonance and the expression of the full range of human emotions from such a large, diverse ensemble it sends the most powerful and practical signal on earth that we the audience can resolve our problems too.

The classical music magazines are buzzing with the idea that the future of classical music will be in China because of the huge mass and high quality of young musical talents there. It might be tempting to imagine or consult the mirror on the wall again about Chinese musicians teaching music to our children and a local orchestra performing at the Sir Vivian Richard Cricket Stadium which was built by the Chinese. But life and music do not work like that, like magic. They require hard work that starts simply and grows into something as beautiful as it is wonderful and awesome; like sex, a teenager might say.

Incidentally, the Internet records that Bluetooth, the technology used in mobile phones to spread the pictures of school children having sex, was the code name given by mobile phone engineers to honour a tenth-century Viking king, Harald Bluetooth. King Harald was credited for unifying Denmark and bringing order to the country. Bluetooth, to teenagers, is simply the new, unifying chatterbox, in living colour and digital sound to boot.

The time has come for us the adults to go back to school. Choose your primary or secondary school and simply ask the head how you can help. That’s all it takes. Go back to school. Or choose a school if your alma mater is overseas. You might even recall going up and over the same hill that Jack and Jill are climbing. And you might be thankful that mobile phones with camera and Bluetooth technology were not then invented. In our own small ways, like an orchestra actually, we can change teenagers’ views of sex from being a demonstrative pronoun and a gerund to a transitive verb worth waiting for.

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