Vanity

Mr. Lowe was the sole music teacher at my elementary school. I think he may have been involved with the music at his local church, but as I did not attend his local church this claim cannot be substantiated. I can tell you with certainty that he was bald. He kept what straight brown hair that remained on the sides and back of his hair neatly combed. I often thought that his hair had a distinct rounded puff like quality to it. I’m told he rode a motorcycle, but again, I never saw him on a motorcycle, or any other car for that matter, but I can imagine very easily that he did ride a motorcycle. He had a very resonant baritone voice and always taught setting down, which in later years I learned is not the best way to sing.

Mr. Lowe’s music class was held in a single wide trailer on the western side of the school. You had to walk outside, in a single file line with your mouth closed while you held your thumb behind your back, in order to reach the classroom. By the time all of us had filed into the trailer, the cool air had rushed out of the room, and we sat for the next hour or so listening to the window unit air conditioner work overtime as Mr. Lowe rambled about cows eating grass and good boys finding.

Music was taught in an odd fashion in elementary school. All of us, more or less, showed up on our first day at Kindergarten with at least good conversational English. For the next five years we were taught vocabulary, grammar, and composition. But with music, we were thrust almost immediately into music theory before we had any experience on a musical instrument. If we excelled in theory, we might then be encouraged to take up an instrument.

I enjoyed music time. Mr. Lowe introduced us to all of the least practical instruments for playing the type of music that I was exposed to at home and at church. He showed us maracas, sand blocks, guiros, and my personal favorite, the bells. I vaguely remember a piano, but no guitars. He would sometimes let us “play” these instruments. I don’t think any of us were very proficient at these odd instruments.

Mr. Lowe taught us the Peanut Butter Song.

First you take the peanuts and you dig ’em

You dig’em dig’em dig’em

Pea-nuuut, pea-nut butter, and jelly…

Mr. Lowe introduced us to Jerry Lewis in the movie Cinderfella. Before we started the movie, Mr. Lowe to pains to make it very clear that Jerry Lewis was not a sissy. Being a sissy was about the worst thing that anyone could call you. Mr. Lowe’s preliminary speech didn’t convince me.

Mr. Lowe tried his best to teach us about sharps and flats, rhythm, melody and harmony, but like many of my teachers, he spent far too much of his time trying to get the attention of children who’s only desire was to do anything but learn.

In about the fourth or fifth grade, Mrs. McManus sat our class down for a speech before we were to go to music class. We all prepared for another, “Y’all better learn how to act or we’re putting you on silent lunch” orations. What followed caught us off guard.

“Students.” Mrs. McManus began in a grave manner.

“Today when you go to music class, Mr. Lowe is going to look different. He’ll have hair.”

She paused for a moment to see what our reaction would be. We were so taken off guard that not a word was spoken. She took advantage of the silence and proceeded.

“Mr. Lowe has decided to wear a toupee.” Here she went into detail about what a toupee was, our french not being what it should be. After she was convinced that we had been thoroughly educated on what a toupee was, how it staid on, why you would want to wear one, and what it was made of, she made it very clear that we were not to “Stare, ask questions, or even acknowledge that anything was different about Mr. Lowe.” Now this is a lot to ask a group of rowdy fourth and fifth graders, but aside from one or two well meaning compliments, we acquiesced to this strange demand from our pedagogue.

This absurd experience made a bigger impact on me than all of the musical knowledge that Mr. Lowe tried to impart. We had seen Mr. Lowe every week for five years and now he was going to be radically different and we weren’t allowed to talk about it. That’s the way with vanity: we spend a lot of effort trying be something that we’re not and hope that it comes off as normal.

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