Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Make Your Own Kind of Music

My son (previously discussed as Tuxedo Boy) is getting ready to graduate in a mere 2 ½ weeks. To say that I am unprepared for this chapter in our lives is an understatement! I am trying very hard not to think about it too much, because it will be the most difficult thing in the world for me to let my children go out into the world. I have just recently become comfortable with Tuxedo Boy separating from me when we go to Wal-Mart, and he’s been 18 since November!

So our house has become a flurry of deadlines and gatherings and events such as you can imagine. Mother’s Tea was last night, Senior Boards tomorrow. We are mailing out announcements and planning gifts for his friends…it’s crazy.

Their graduation has been a tightly guarded secret, or so one would think. As parents, we have had little communication from the school, and we have had to trust that everything was going along and being planned. And in some respects, it has been, but there are a few holes.

Tonight, Tuxedo Boy told me that he would be playing a song at graduation. Now, mind you, he doesn’t play an instrument. (For years, he told me that he was “not a band kind of guy”…but relented and played keyboards for a couple of years just to make me happy) He and two friends will be playing a song on Rock Band, the music video game that is ubiquitous these days. It seems that no one else had come forward to present special music on this night.

I was thrilled. Let me tell you why…

When I graduated some…oh, ten or twelve years ago…hee hee…we wanted to use a more jazzed up version of Pomp and Circumstance to walk out to. We were flatly refused by the school district, who said that this was a solemn occasion, and therefore, something that we could not “mess with”. We came back with the benign request to graduate in black gowns, as opposed to girls in white, boys in black. Again, we were refused. This time, because our parents had spent so much time and money raising us, and if we all wore black, they wouldn’t be able to tell the boys from the girls. I’m pretty sure that after 17 years with me, my parents would recognize me in any color, but apparently there are some real challenged parents out there that we had to accommodate.

We were frustrated that the ceremony was planned by and for someone else, and not us. At the last minute, my classmates chose a little-known song from the movie “I am the Greatest”. No one had ever heard it: it was called The Greatest Love of All, later made popular by Whitney Houston. (Go ahead, look it up and you’ll see how many years ago that was) I was asked to sing, and of course, I agreed. What an honor to sing at graduation!

Well, like I said, it was a new song. No one knew it. My pianist – my grandmother – was not arriving until late on Friday afternoon. We had about an hour to practice before I had to leave for the ceremony. I thought that I had it down pretty good, and kept singing it in my head. I was confident.

And then they rearranged the ceremony! I would not be singing early in the evening, as planned, but after the scholarships. A regional scholarship was being awarded, very prestigious for my school, and the honored guests would be allowed to present this scholarship early so that they might leave.

Okay, okay. I’m still singing in my head. I’ve got this. Just keep working on it until it’s time to sing, and I would be fine. Ignore the speakers…just sing.

Trouble was that the regional scholarship was being awarded to…ME. Oh, wow. I was ecstatic and surprised, and thrilled and overwhelmed. And mind blown. Uh oh.

The moment of truth arrived, and I stepped up to the podium. The lyrics were right in front of me, I just had to concentrate on the tune. I heard my grandmother begin to play, and I sang the first words.

The piano was across the gym floor on the opposite side of the stage. The speaker, which was now blaring my voice, was right next to my right ear. Not good. Not only could I not hear the piano, but I was hearing way too much of me, and I was completely unnerved. And mind blown. And had no idea what the tune of the dang song was!!!

I couldn’t run, couldn’t hide. What was I to do? I kept singing the lyrics, to a tune that I believe that I made up on the spot, and somehow, Gram followed along. We started together, we ended together, but in between…not so much. My mom was sitting in the audience thinking that I was a little pitchy. Thank heavens that no one knew what the song was supposed to sound like.

I sat down after the song with great relief. I had completely massacred it, but it was OVER. My classmates raved and thanked me for singing this inspirational song, and all I could say was, “But that wasn’t the song that you asked me to sing!”

Flash forward 5 years, and my brother is graduating. As they discussed options for music, he insisted that I would sing for them. I have no idea why, if he really loved my voice, I was the best option at the time, or if he was hoping that I could redeem myself…but again, I was honored beyond words.

The song that they chose was a current Whitney Houston hit, “One Moment in Time”. This one, I knew. I practiced. I was ready. I was ready to prove to myself that I could take the pressure of another graduation. Two days before the big event, I caught a cold that settled in my throat. I pressed on, with a pocketful of Hall’s Cough Drops.

This time, we used a background tape, so the speaker blared not only my voice, but the music, as well. One hurdle down! The cough drops had done their job…I remembered and knew both lyrics and tune. It was flawless. As the graduates marched out of the gym, my voice boomed across the crowd…

“And in that one moment of time, I will be…I will be…I will be free!”

They fell into place for the reception exactly as the song ended in a crescendo of voice and music. The graduates flung their caps into the air and screamed. It was one of the most powerful moments of my life.

Friends sitting in the audience gushed my praises. Except for Dennis, who noted that I had sung the entire song with a blue tongue. Dang those Hall’s!

When Tuxedo Boy mentioned that they would be playing, I was so happy that they were able to do something innovative and personal for their graduation ceremony. No stuffy principal to tell them that they had to be completely traditional.

I do believe that graduation is a…perhaps not solemn…but rather, important occasion. I am not for showing up naked under your gown, or tie dying your gown to your own color scheme, as it is a serious event. But I do not believe that this needs to be so set in stone that they cannot see the ceremony as their own. Kudos to the administration that allows this creativity.

Rock Band is a staple in the American household, let’s face it. Who doesn’t own this or Guitar Hero? Or two or three versions of Guitar Hero? That it is here and now and very representative of their generation makes it all the more interesting.

Who doesn’t want to be a rock star? We’ve all sung into a mirror or played air guitar at some time. We all wanted to be able to perform and hear the crowd roar. Rock Band allows even the most musically challenged individuals a chance at fame, if only for a moment on the screen. To feel that they are talented and worshipped.

We are in some tough times, both economically and socially. The future is uncertain, and our graduates face challenges that we never dreamed of when we were wearing a cap and gown. Their situation is much more grave than ours was. They are entering an educational system that is bogged down with budget cuts and unable to accommodate all that wish to attend college. The work force is not much better. With nearly a 10% unemployment rate, these young, fresh faces have a great deal of competition in any field that they may be pursuing. Rising political situations threaten to destroy our way of life.

But on that night, our kids will be rocking out to a graduation-appropriate song, even if the instruments they play are nothing short of joysticks. They will be rock stars, playing to an adoring crowd that understands the power of the video game. This is their time, their world. They will be making music in their own unique and contemporary way.

Sure, it’s out of the ordinary. Maybe even quirky. The way that I look at it, they are good kids who have worked so hard to get to this night, against all odds. They have avoided drugs and alcohol and have not only finished their high school education, but have done so without reproducing or ending up in jail. They do not have piercings, tattoos, or brandings. Their hair, albeit long and shaggy on some, is not blue or shaved or anything aberrant in any way. If this is the worst that they have done in their short lives…I think that we should be darn humbled to be in their presence. Tradition is overrated in some respects, anyway.

If we can give them one night of glory, one night of good, clean celebration…I say, bring on the X-Box!

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