The annual MLK performance at my son’s school is the major all-school event of the year. The entire student body participates, even the kids who claim to hate singing. (How can anyone hate singing?)
The music teacher, let’s call him Dr. Mercury, is pretty much in charge of the whole thing. Yes, there’s an MLK committee. And yes, the other teachers assist with class presentations. But the music teacher pours his soul into MLK every single year.
This year he poured in his appendix, too. Two weeks ago, Dr. Mercury went to his doctor for an evaluation of abdominal discomfort. While driving home, he received word from the clinic that he should turn around and come back to – no wait – GO DIRECTLY TO THE ER! YOU NEED TO HAVE YOUR APPENDIX REMOVED!
A lot happens in the two weeks prior to the annual MLK performance. The kids return from winter break in a state of sleep deprivation and hyperglycemic coma. Then they cough and sneeze on each other. Germs happily re-locate and multiply. In a normal pre-MLK period, half the student body succumbs to the typical catarrh, while the other half is evenly divided between Influenza (The Real Deal), gastroenteritis, and relatively good health. Spoken lines and vocal solos are reassigned on a prn basis.
Those who are well enough to stand on their own two feet for ninety minutes perform in front of a live audience, a live LARGE audience. The MLK performance is, for many, the highlight of the school year. Grandparents fly in from other states. Alumni return and reminisce about the MLK show devoted entirely to gamelan music. It’s a BIG DEAL.
Dr. Mercury’s appendix put a small crimp in the plans. Okay, it was a massive crimp, an almost crippling crimp. And it festered and demanded removal after the stage manager had already gone out sick and the tech goddess was sidelined with a major back surgery.
I met with the principal ten days before showtime. I’m Dr. Mercury’s self-appointed Room Mama and I try to keep my finger on the Mercurial pulse. The principal wondered if we should cancel. Our school focuses on process over product. Would the performance put undue strain on an already stressed system? Was the universe trying to tell us something?
I knew what Dr. Mercury would say but I encouraged the principal to make her own decision. After consulting with the teachers and staff, she came to her conclusion: THE SHOW MUST GO ON.
Dr. Mercury returned to school 106 hours before the concert. The day after his return, in a confluence of strange events involving cats and mittens, the principal required foot surgery and subsequent lower extremity immobilization which precluded her involvement in the MLK performance. And the cellist suddenly realized she had double-booked – and backed out of the gig.
The students persevered. They learned their lines, memorized the songs, and manufactured a lovely shadow play basically out of thin air. We found another cellist and assembled a rocking orchestra in a 75 minute rehearsal. Dr. Mercury coaxed magic from the kids’ mouths: “Peace Like a River”, “Imagine”, “Bambelela”, “Que Canten los Ninos”, “Waiting On the World To Change.”
No one fainted, everyone sang (except a couple of the seventh-grade boys who stood on the risers like pillars of salt), and Dr. Mercury made it through the night sans narcotics.
We lift our voices and sing for those who have been silenced. We sing for our sisters and brothers in Nigeria and France. We sing for Rani Crowley and Kendrea Johnson. We sing for Diana Showman, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and Carey Smith-Viramontes. We sing for Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, and Nina Simone.
Life provides unexpected circumstances. We add flexibility, creativity, and resolve. We can’t sit around waiting on the world to change.
Let’s change the world.
Musical Moment #2 I’d like to alter the lyrics a bit: “We are the champions FOR the world.”