Tuesday, November 04, 2003

A sad note, a pathetic one actually.
I was checking out the Diamond, Missouri website on the Wildcat Central links page and I discovered its link to Wildcat Central had been removed, undoubtedly at the request of the superintendent. I don't blame the teacher who is running the site for dropping the link. She has her job to think of, but it is amazing how petty the administration has become. Her website is not a school website. Neither is the one Alicia Bradley puts out on the high school band, but the band instructor had Alicia remove the link to Wildcat Central because Wildcat Central is a negative, non-school site.
Fortunately, there is a replacement for Wildcat Central that has been put on the Diamond, Missouri page, the brand spanking-new official Diamond R-4 website, www.diamondwildcats.org You can feel free to make your own comparisons. I'll let Wildcat Central speak for itself.
An item I forgot to mention yesterday. I went over my evaluation with Mr. Mitchell and it worked out just fine. I won't plan on getting the old resume out.
Monday afternoon, as I was passing by the choir teacher, Mrs. Yonkers's room after school, I was reminded about the negative effect a teacher can have on a student's life. No, it had nothing to do with Mrs. Yonkers, but everything to do with music.
When I was a sophomore at East Newton High School, I tried out for the all school musical, "Anything Goes," at the request of the drama teacher Mrs. Matthews. She selected the actors and I was cast in the number one comedy sidekick role of Moonface Martin, Public Enemy Number 13, which I was eternally grateful for since he had the best lines.
But it was a musical, so it involved singing. The music teacher at East Newton in those days was Mrs. Florine Best. I don't know if she is still alive today, but even then she had a cadaverous look that reminded me of the late actress Bette Davis. In fact, she even resembled Bette Davis, though I am not sure if it was the living Bette Davis or the post-mortem version whom she looked like.
When the singing tryouts were held, I was allowed to sing one line of one song. All I remember about the actual singing was that it was in the wrong key for me.
When I finished singing that one line, Mrs. Best said, "That young man will NOT sing in this play," drawing out the word "not" for maximum effect.
I had never been convinced that I was a great singer anyway, but that just shattered my rather fragile self-esteem. Nonetheless, I did the role, did the Rex Harrison bit (speaking the lines of my songs) and both the play and I received good reviews.
From that point on, however, I knew I was a bad singer. That was the kind of effect one sentence from a teacher can have on an impressionable young student.
I still haven't totally recovered from that comment, but I made it part of the way back. A group from the East Newton Class of 1974 meets a few days after Christmas each year. Some of them are musically inclined. My friend, Richard Taylor, played backup to singers in Branson for a while, while Bill Lemaster sings gospel music, and Kathy Friend does traditional music, including playing the dulcimer. At those gatherings, the music would begin shortly after the meal ended. I was popular because I have a nearly encylopedic memory for songs from the 1950s and 1960s (a talent which is worth almost nothing) and I was the only one who knew all the words. Two years ago, Kathy asked Richard and me if we would perform with her at the String Fling at Crowder College. I wasn't sure about it, but it seemed like it might be fun, so I agreed. Kathy, her younger sister, Kristi Berner, their friend, Tammy Yost, Richard and I began rehearsing for the performance doing songs from the 1950s and 1960s. I was surprised when I was tabbed to do lead vocals on about half of the songs. At first, I figured it was because I was the only one who didn't play a musical instrument (and that may have been the reason), but they kept telling me how well I was singing the songs. And I did love those old songs, the Marty Robbins song, "Devil Woman," Ricky Nelson's "Travelin' Man," Elvis and Carl Perkins's classic, "Blue Suede Shoes," Terry Stafford's "Suspicion," Buddy Holly's "Peggy Sue" and others.
We were a hit at the String Fling, calling ourselves "Natural Disaster." (I still thought that name best described my singing voice.) We didn't perform together again for a few months, but Richard and I joined with two other guys to do some rock numbers at the Newtonia Fall Festival. The original group began performing again at the 2003 String Fling and we ended up performing several places, at benefits, music shows, and even on the Cerebral Palsy Telethon on Channel 12. The best moment for me came after our performance at a music festival in Carthage in June. The organizer of the festival came up to me and handed me an envelope containing $150. I was in shock. I never even realized we were actually going to get paid. Of course, after it was split six ways, it only amounted to $25, but I didn't care. (Especially since I had just received a letter a few days before from the Diamond R-4 School District telling me I was being put on an unpaid leave of absence. I needed every dollar I could get.
I don't know when or if Natural Disaster will ever perform again. I hope so. I had a lot of fun doing it and I love those songs. I still don't have a high regard for my singing ability, but the singing, as much as I enjoyed it, was not the most important thing.
Because of that one sentence from the late Florine Best (and if she's still alive, I don't know how you would tell the difference), I learned a valuable lesson that I hope I carry with me for the remainder of my teaching career...Never tear down a young person's self-esteem or crush his or her dreams.
Happy 17th birthday to my former student, Samantha Young, now a junior at College Heights Christian High School. Samantha is probably one of the four or five most talented writers I have ever worked with, and that's saying a lot since that list includes a former reporter for The Kansas City Star and the current journalism teacher at Lamar High School. Samantha's papers were always well thought out and provocative. Hopefully, she will have a wonderful day.

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