The Chronicles of Marla Callahan, Teacher – Part 2

Shirley, Marla’s supervisor, was quite pleasant when she welcomed Marla into the office for “a little conference,” she said. It was never a good thing to have the “boss” call you in for a one-on-one!

Marla wondered which of the spoiled little brats had ratted on her. She could just imagine Shirley saying, “I didn’t make the rules! I’m just following the syllabus distributed in the school’s registration manual!Marla imagined herself replying, “In that case, change the requirements to read, ‘Effective contingent upon the students’ desire to follow through,’ unless the catalogue’s not going to have any legitimacy.”

“Hi, Shirley,” said Marla. “What can I do for you?”

“Hi, Marla,” said Shirley. “Hope you’re doing fine! I wanted to mention to you a currently un-official complaint lodged by one of your Private Instruction Students. Like I said, it’s not official, but the student just wanted to make me aware of your actions in her lessons. She said you spend a lot of time talking about yourself and your career and all the songs you know and all the stars you’ve sung with. She says every lesson she comes to is another session reminding her of your resumé. She said you make her feel like she will never get anywhere or be successful at anything, because you seem to have ‘done it all!’”

“I wonder, Shirley, is this one of the students who brings in their assignment? Did they mention that they didn’t get to sing their assigned songs? Or did they say I was talking about my experiences since they had not brought in their assigned songs to sing to me!”

Marla did have an anecdotal style, especially when the student came in with no music, sat in the chair next to Marla’s desk, and didn’t have any of the “stuff” she’d given them to work on in their previous lesson in their bag. Perhaps it was unfair, but Marla knew her career experiences were substantially more interesting that anything these young people could dream of to talk about, so the only other option was to allow them to talk about their boyfriends or girlfriends or enemies or bands they liked to “stalk” on the internet. When she talked about her actual experiences on the road, sessions and the artists she’d sung backup for, the tour life she’d led, the things she’d learned as she’d packed and unpacked over the years, Marla tried to stay positive and joyful about her career, always finding the most hilarious or sarcastically humorous way to narrate her stories. And there was definitely no shortage of stories!

I oughta write a book, Marla often thought. At least a written account of her experiences would be a guide for a novice singer to compare notes. Then she could cash in on her autobiographical saga by assigning passages to be read and discussed in the next class period. That was how the instructors used to do it, Marla remembered, only they were called teachers when she was in school. They were actually hired to teach back then, instead of babysit. That’s what it seemed the occupation had evolved to, a baby-sitting job, watching young people grow up and decide what they wanted to do with their lives and careers. Nice, except that this was college, and Marla had always thought that college was for developing and training for the career that had already been chosen, not an incubator for waking up the minds of the brain-dead.

She was always thinking, “Come on, you people! Don’t you have any idea what you want your life to look like? By the time I was your age, I had already won my fourth Grammy in my mind! Of course, I didn’t have a clue how to get it, but I at least knew I wanted to win them!”

It seemed these young people didn’t have any idea what kind of music they wanted to sing, let alone what paths to take to get to the Grammys’ stage and accept the highly-revered sculpture. They just wanted to sit at the piano slumped over, play those same three chords over and over, riff and run, then go to the “caf” and hang out, happy to be back with their friends again, in the company of fellow disciples of dereliction. Somehow, and often when she thought of standards and all the melodies she knew, she longed to compose her own anthem of laziness, call it, “I Do Nothin’, and I Do It Good!” She’d only have two notes, ti and doe; that would be all the singer would have to memorize, to make learning and singing the song as easy as possible.

Now here was another one who was only interested in herself and didn’t want any input from the instructor, just wanted to arrive and be praised for doing nothing and then leave and return to the world of “Me.” Seemed she hadn’t gotten to talk about her boyfriend or the fabulous time she’d had in New York city the previous week. But no music had been memorized and no choices had been made of selections she was going to sing in her final proficiency examination. The thirty-minute lesson that her folks had paid so much for her to blow off was essentially only important in the registration process; as in, “I got Marla Callahan!”

Marla was so unmoved by the hype. She knew that the moment she told the student, “Come in,” he or she would be recording everything she said, soaking in all her wisdom like a sponge, totally expecting the marvelous miracle of her wisdom to fall on them like alpine honey. Yeah, but if you don’t believe in yourself without me, how are you going to make it? thought Marla. What’s your four-year plan, your career goal, your personal destiny? How are you going to take what I say to you and in ten years still be interested in being a professional musician? She had asked this so many times to a myriad of students, some of whom now would “hit her up on Facebook” and thank her for the “heads-up.”

“I learned everything I am, I do, I teach from you, Mothah!” She’d read it just the other day. Luanna, her student organizer back in the day when Marla had been a rooky on the PROTEAM, the group of faculty who helped to put on all the semi-professional shows at the school, had written her to play a vocal production idea she’d sung all the tracks to for a new artist she was producing. It was actually incredible, and Marla heard traces of her own extensive career as a backup arranger coming through as she listened to this sweet intoxicating arrangement.

Luanna had written, “I learned it all from you, Mothah!”

Marla was proud to say the least. But more than just proud, she knew her griot style of teaching, word-of-mouth, experientially, credibly, was fading, and that her steadfast commitment to this form of spreading of the musical “gospel” had to continue through her students. The ones who listened anyway. Marla knew without a doubt that even a student like Arianne would write to her one day with the request she’d once had for Mrs. Jörgenson: “Tell me, what was that you said about lower-body support?”

Marla would have the pleasure of repeating it again for the millionth time to Arianne one day, if instinct served her, just as Mrs Jörgenson had to Marla! Lives and priorities changed, but physiology and pedagogy did not. Ever.

 

© Donna McElroy. All rights reserved.

(picture courtesy pixabay.com)

 

ZELLA’S HOUSE CLEANING

by Donna McElroy

 

First of all, organization was never one of Zella’s greatest features

She never stopped to think; she was a hurry-scurry creature

Referring to her lack of order as a sense of style

She used to say, “I never file, I always stack and pile!”

Well, guess you know what happened when she plugged in the fan

Stuff went flying everywhere, creating the mess that stuff can

The choice was clear; it stared at her directly in the face

She either had to clean this up of bear her own disgrace

For years she’d looked at cards and letters collecting dust,

A-waiting, for Zella to just get it done and quit procrastinating

“Today”, she’d say, “I’ll take this pile and put it over here!

Been sittin in this corner now for goin on two years…

Oh, there’s that number I needed back when we planned our trip!

And here’s my scarf all wadded up! And here’s my black half-slip!!

I must call Mika later and tell her that I found

That card she sent to me that time when I was feeling down.”

Zella couldn’t remember if she’d called Mika back;

“We haven’t talked in forever! I really have lost track!”

Now, Zella lived so long in such dishevelment and chaos,

We’d all become accustomed to whenever she’d delay us

We’d sit out in the taxi and watch the meter run

And be the last at everything, arriving ALL undone!

So we sat her down, and asked her

what was going through her mind

She said, “I don’t know what you mean!

You know it’s just my sign!”

We said, “What sign? HELP WANTED?

‘Cause, Girl, you are a mess!

We think you should be filing more

And piling a little less!

Look here, you can’t keep sliding in by the seat of your pants,

And we won’t play the victims of this stylish circumstance!”

Zee knew this was no ordinary meeting of her pack

This was that famous straw that broke the dromedary’s back

“Shape up, Ship out, sink or swim!”

She knew they meant no malice

You really could get started in this funky junky palace

They told her to prioritize, to plan, to persevere

They told her lots of painful things she didn’t want to hear

Sybil told he, “Pace yourself-don’t try to do it all,

Just take it one room at a time, and try not to drop the ball!”

Now Zella’s head was swimming with the passion of their pleading

So she made up her mind to change, and blessed their interceding

She took a legal pad, a fine-point pen, turned of the TV

And sank into her deepest chair. She was concerned, believe me

The more she tried to see beyond the scope of her demise

The more depressed she got, and after several weary sighs,

She squared her back and said,

“Things may not look so great right now,

But seeing is believing… I’ll make a change somehow

You’ll see! You come back in a month; I’ll have you all for dinner

Some shrimp, champagne and crumpets,

You’ll see, I’ll be a winner!”

She heard again what Sybil’d said, “Remember what I told you-

One project at a time-you’ve got a lot of change to go through!

So Zella took the plans for her soiree to a pro

Which left her time to straighten up her old domestic foe

And thinking of the most enjoyable thoughts that she could think of

The task began, and pretty soon she’d come right to the brink of

The strangest new sensation she’d never felt before

She’d swept and dusted, mopped up everything from door to door

A puzzling new feeling, so different, not a bad one

Except that in poor Zella’s cluttered life she’d never had one

If I could keep this place a little neater all the time,

I wouldn’t have to spend my hours digging through such grime!

When all the unimportant stuff was cleared and left for hauling

A wiped off mirror faced; she said, “Girl, you missed your calling!

In no time you have finished something that for years you dreaded,

And now you see with a new clear path

Exactly where you’re headed!”

So Zella learned her lesson, and as she disbursed the ale

To all her friends she made a toast

Which turned them all quite pale

“It seems”, she said, eyes gleaming,

“My whirlwind days are through,

And I owe the well-kempt woman I’ve become to friends like you!

To think, I mighta gone on for years with piles a-heaping

And never known, with all your help, the joy of good housekeeping!

Here, Here!!”

 

© 1984 Donna McElroy. All rights reserved.