Friday, June 19, 2009

REPORT CARDS / The Passing of Charlie Mariano

It's that time of year: I'm working on report cards. I must encabin myself, hunker down, and write 200 reports of how my Grade 5 and 6 music students have done this term. As usual, there are kids who lost all enthusiasm, or enthusiastically avoided stumbling upon accomplishment (or their trombones.) There were students who found great strength in themselves and conquered their own fears of failure or inadequacy. There were the bright sparks, always full of ideas, creativity, enthusiasm, and joy. And the consistent, diligent ones who just plain worked hard.

Working with kids can be exhausting and frustrating. Why can I be confounded by a bunch of 10 year olds? But it can be such a great pleasure. I was reminded of this yesterday. I dragged myself into work for the last day of classes, feeling ill and quite blue (and not because classes were over!)I was accosted by many of my students bearing gifts, jokes, enthusiasm, and obvious, what's the word, friendship? I have so many running jokes with different kids, different silly names that they call me: Greensleeves (from a bad joke about snot and the song Greensleeves), Homey G (from our rap assignment) Dr. Gary, Mr. Dr. Sir Barwin (at school, I'm Doctor Barwin), Gaaaary Barwin, Boing Boing Showerer (from a misheard statement of mine, a kind of homophonic translation), Barwinga (from my email login name), and many others.

All of our shtick is a means to share pleasure in each other's company and wit. I think the students appreciate that I appreciate their cleverness and creativity, and appreciate them for who there are. I was also reminded of how my perceptions are often entirely different than the kids. Kids who seems to want to avoid me in class, who disrupt and fool around, and appeared not to enjoy my classes at all, made sure to get me to sign their yearbook and draw one of my silly cartoons (I draw these on all of the papers that I hand out and on the board.) My shtick with the yearbook is to write things in mirror writing so that the kids have to find a mirror to read it, or carefully decode what I've written by themselves.

One student gave me a card that said that I made each class like an episode of Saturday Night Live. Another (a preternaturally gifted 11-year old writer) gave me a book and wrote 'to an appreciator of wordplay and wit' on the card.

Tonight we have the end of year graduation/awards assembly. A thousand people in a banquet hall, a piper, and all of the teachers in academic gowns. The whole thing is as formal as the most formal of university graduations. The choir which I direct is singing a song. So...first, back to report cards, then to build a trampoline for my daughter's birthday party, and then, back to being Boing Boing Showerer Mr. Dr. Sir Barwin one more time this year.


The brilliant saxophonist Charlie Mariano died a few days ago. I discovered his playing when I was 13 playing on an Eberhard Weber album (which I bought with babysitting money) playing extraordinary soprano saxophone.

I went to high school at Interlochen Arts Academy. One day, I was in a jazz class and the teacher put on an album and mentioned to one of the students, "here's a recording of your father." She was incredulous. She didn't know. The girl was Monday Mariano. (She has become a well-known singer, known as Monday Michiru) I'm sorry for her loss.


we go through the sky
for fingers

we leave our unearthly possessions
the black road
the smoke bed
float the foal-like rivers of our breath

fingers split thoughts into hands

if we had gods
their throats would be dry

our names fill with ghosts
twilight again becomes two

there are thoughts
we will never need

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