Monday, April 10, 2017

Epiphanies: The Music Student

When some anonymous girl from my first freshman-comp class back in 1976 walked into my office -- more of a bullpen actually, housing five of us stellar grad-student T.A.s -- I didn't really know what "sublime" meant and I had never read Yeats's "Among School Children" or Frost's "Never Again Would Birds' Song Be the Same."

"Sublime" would've been Greek, not Latin, to my student, and she certainly had no clue as to who Yeats and Frost were. She wasn't very good at English, a required course, so she was just one of my required students, nameless then, nameless today.  

And she was merely dropping by for one of those required conferences we teaching assistants had to endure. She wondered if she could get out of the C+ rut she was in.

To keep from boring each other shitless, we started talking about FSU's Pow Wow, its annual homecoming concert. Rita Coolidge (an FSU alum) and her boy Kris Kristofferson were going to be there. 

I liked Coolidge a lot, mostly because I thought she was beautiful, and though her voice wasn't quite as beautiful, it became closer to being beautiful when I pictured her while she sang. My student liked her, too, so I asked her which Coolidge song she liked best.

"Hm. It's not 'Higher and Higher.' It's the other one they used to play all the time. What is the name of it? Anyway, it goes something like this."

Then, her eyes drifting to the wall behind me, she began to sing "We're All Alone." 

Lovely Rita's song, sung now by a finer voice, became a clear river of glass, borderless, bankless, luminous, flowing gently, sweetly, and as she continued to sing, she occasionally looked at me in passing. 

My fellow grad students cut short their dreary mini-lectures on the features of the ideal thesis and aimed their squeaky office chairs toward my singing student and listened.

As the crystal river flowed, "sublime" defined itself to me. I felt the truth in Frost's lines "Never again would birds' song be the same. / And to do that to birds is why she came," though I had never seen the poem. 

My student, who is now 60 and probably has yet to read a poem, taught me the meaning of "Among School Children's" closing couplet: "Oh, body swayed to music, O brightening glance, / How can we know the dancer from the dance?"

And how can we know the singer from the song?

My God! Invisible child made of music, I love you so much then, now.


Appendix (but not the disgusting body part):

"Never Again Would Birds' Songs Be the Same"

He would declare and could himself believe
That the birds there in all the garden round
From having heard the daylong voice of Eve
Had added to their own an oversound,
Her tone of meaning but without the words.
Admittedly an eloquence so soft
Could only have had an influence on birds
When call or laughter carried it aloft.
Be that as may be, she was in their song.
Moreover her voice upon their voices crossed
Had now persisted in the woods so long
That probably it never would be lost.
Never again would birds' song be the same.
And to do that to birds was why she came. 

                                 -- Robert Frost

And Rita's song. Don't be a fool. Play the damn thing.

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