By Myra Lee Adams Goff
As the last article of the year 2013, I would like to tell you a story that is factually true but of little historic significance. I remember the programs put on by school children for their parents before Christmas vacation, in the Spring, and at the end-of-school. They had one thing in common – everyone was glad when they were over.
My first teaching job was here in New Braunfels at Lamar Elementary. Although I had a secondary degree, my first job was in elementary school. That’s because I could play the piano and in those early days it was very important for a school to have a teacher that could play the piano. Every grade had a music and an art class.
On Friday afternoons all the children filed into the auditorium where they learned patriotism through singing “Texas Our Texas” and the “Star Spangled Banner”. There were other historical songs like “Over There” from WWI and “Just Before the Battle Mother” from the Civil War. The idea was that history could be learned through music and I do think it works. What teacher could resist the teaching moment when a child would ask, “Why is it our Texas?”, or “What’s a Star Spangled Banner?”, or “Where is over there?”, or “What battle?”
Not having any training in what children were capable of singing, my expectations far outreached the limits of their capabilities. I still remember for example one Easter program when the little fourth graders sang “The Holy City”, a piece that only the Mormon Tabernacle Choir could perfect.
In the mid-1960s, I was teaching music at Carl Schurz Elementary. The Texas Education Agency decreed that sixth grade students were to be taught music, art, and performing arts every day. It was loosely called Fine Arts. Teachers were not supplied a curriculum; it was up to the teachers.
My fellow sixth grade teacher Georgia Brooks and I guided 60 sixth graders through Broadway classics, old songs from the 1920s that my mother taught me and a few that her mother taught her. We taught anti-war songs like “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”, “Yesterday”, and “The Cruel War”.
I led the music portion of Fine Arts while Brooks held those 60 children in place. When we taught the art part of Fine Arts, Brooks directed with me helping with discipline. For Performing Arts we taught the students to dance. Brooks danced with them while I played piano. We danced “Put Your Little Foot”, “Ten Pretty Girls”, the polka, two step and waltz. They were ready for the Kindermaskenball.
Then the sixth grade was transferred to New Braunfels Middle School. The transition to a school where there were 7th and 8th graders was difficult. There was no bad influence on these younger children like many were afraid would happen; the older students would have nothing to do with the 6th graders.
Our Fine Arts program transferred with us to Middle School, only the music was in the boy’s gym with basketball going on at the same time. The art segment was in a double classroom shared by Brooks and me.
At Christmastime our principal asked our Fine Arts class to put on a program in the gym before the holidays. This was a most difficult audience but 6th graders were eager to perform. We put on our version of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”. The art part of the Fine Arts class made elaborate scenery – mountains, artificial snow and a little red wagon for a sled. It was a success. And so our stock went up with the 7th and 8th graders.
The next year our Fine Arts class was again asked to put on the pre-holiday program. What glory there is in success! This time we created our own version of “Toyland” and we worked like little elves.
The day arrived and once again the 7th and 8th graders poured into the gym. Everything was going as planned until the last number.
Picture this: Two rows of students lined up facing each other playing the part of the figures that come out of a German “cuckoo” clock. They look at each other and then go back in the clock. To make things a little more exciting, each child had an aluminum pie plate filled with shaving cream. They were SUPPOSED to act like they were going to throw it at each other. Instead of acting, one pie flew through the air and hit another child. Now twelve pies flew and soon the gym floor, covered with shaving cream, became a slip and slide for merrily sliding children.
Can you imagine the audience? They were wild with enthusiasm and wild with the appreciation of our talent! These people have a strange sense of humor. The assembly was called off, every one filed happily out of the gym and Brooks and I stood there stunned. One math teacher came back and helped us mop the entire gym floor.
The floor has never been so clean and this, our swan song, was the last time our Fine Arts class was asked to put on the Christmas program. Without saying a word, the look on the principal’s face said it all.