Statistics Saturday: Tunes I Remember Learning For Introductory Violin In Elementary School

Part of my recurring series, On Reflection I Don’t Understand My Childhood At All.

  • Mary Had A Little Lamb
  • Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
  • Jingle Bells
  • Memory (from the musical Cats)
  • Tomorrow (from the musical Annie)
  • Theme from Masterpiece Theater (from the not-necessarily-musical Masterpiece Theater)
  • I Love Rock and Roll
  • Daisy, Daisy

I think it was even in that order in the music instruction book too.

Reference: Asimov’s Chronology of the World: The Story of the World From the Big Bang to Modern Times, Isaac Asimov.

Not to Name Names

I was struck with a bizarre fact about the young me. Like, younger than middle-school me. When I was in early elementary school — before even Laverne, on Laverne and Shirley, had gotten her job at that aerospace company — we were expected to bring valentines for everyone else in our class. And I did that too. Thing is that means I knew the names and faces of everybody in my class. That’s like thirty people and I kept them all straight. I couldn’t name thirty people today, much less match their names with their faces, even if you spotted me the core cast of Peanuts.

They must have sent home ditto sheets with everyone’s name on it, right? That’s the only way this sort of makes sense. But then how did I get cards to everybody correctly? Maybe I didn’t, and everybody I messed up was trying to get mad at me, but they weren’t sure who I was? And maybe, like, they got mad at Michael Bellaran instead? Well, if that’s what happened, Michael, I’m sorry. I’d make up for it by buying you lunch if I ever see you. But that’s going to depend on you recognizing me. Sorry.

A Follow-Up Thought

I got to thinking about a particular 1982 installment of the comic strip Frank and Ernest. If you’re wondering why I was thinking about a particular 1982 installment of the comic strip Frank and Ernest? Then, hi there. It’s nice to meet you for the first time ever. In your journey to someday not interacting with me anymore you’ll find I have thoughts like, “is there a 4X-style game to be made out of the story of time zones?”. Or, “are there any good pop-history books about the origins of standardized paper? How about bricks?”. Maybe, “who was the first person to propose the flush being a valuable hand in poker, and how did they convince other people to agree?”. This is why I have two friends who’ve put up with me for longer than ten years, and one of them is my wife.

Anyway the particular Frank and Ernest had them walking past a movie theater, remarking how there was already a sequel to the heartwarming summer sci-fi blockbuster: ETC. This strip I remember annoyed me. I somehow knew that Steven Spielberg had declared there would never be a sequel to E.T. You might think this is a reason they treated me like that in middle school, but, no. I wasn’t yet in middle school. This was a warning sign that they would treat me like that.

But you know why that particular strip is seared into my memory? Other than that I have the sort of memory that latches onto, say, the theme song to the 1984 sitcom It’s Your Move starring Jason Bateman and Garrett Morris? It’s because this comic got used as a project in school. We were assigned the task of writing titles for a sequel to E.T. even though, as noted, I was aware there would never be such a thing. I don’t remember that we were being graded on quality or quantity of titles. I do remember getting competitive about it. Also, please remember that this was 1982. While it was not literally impossible, it would be difficult for any of us to submit E.T. II: The Secret Of Curly’s Ooze. I want to say I got up into sixty-plus sequel titles before running out of ideas. I also want to not say I got up into sixty-plus sequel titles. It is thoroughly daft to have come up with sixty-plus possible sequel titles for E.T., even under the direction of a teacher.

It’s one of the most baffling school experiences I remember. It’s up there with the time they took us to the Garden State Arts Center and instructed us to clap with our hands cupped. I think we were also there to have music played at us, but I remember the clapping instruction.

But one further reason I remember this so well is that this was no ordinary class project that got us writing out imaginary E.T. sequel titles. This was something we did for the school district’s magnet program for gifted students. The Education Through Challenge program. You see how we had to think about this Frank and Ernest. The program had the educational philosophy that students who test well should do things for school that are fun and creative and maybe a bit weird. Everyone else can … I don’t know. I would say diagram sentences, except I thought that was fun too. If that hasn’t shaken you off knowing me I don’t know what will. Also I guess we had days the teachers didn’t feel up to challenges.

What the program mostly did, though, was take a couple students from each grade and from each school in the district, and bus them to a different school for a half-day each week. You can see why I clung to participation in this program. Who would turn down a built-in field trip every week of the school year? It gets better: the last year and a half I was there, they didn’t take us to a different school in use in the district. They took us to a whole separate school that was completely closed except for administration needs and our program. That’s right. I was part of an elite cadre of students who once a week got to go to school in an ex-school and, one time, do a list-writing project based on Frank and Ernest.

This is the value of a good education. It gives you thoughts to enrich the rest of your days.

In July 1982 E.T.‘s director Steven Spielberg and writer Melissa Mathison wrote a treatment for E.T. II: Nocturnal Fears.

My Excuse For Not Being Able To Get Anything Done Today

And I’m sorry for it. But I got to remembering how I took violin lessons in elementary school. So I have to have gotten the violin from home to school, and back again. So … I must have walked to school on violin-class days carrying the thing, right? Yes, I’m with me so far. (I was with me then, too, but it was earlier on.) So this part I’m fine with. It’s just that I’m trying to think what I did when it was violin-class day and it was raining. I can’t have just carried the violin, in its case, out in the rain, right? I can’t figure how I would put up with letting the violin case get rained on all the way to school and back again. And yeah, I know when we look back at ourselves as young kids, we always imagine that we were basically the same people with the same foibles and quirks and issues, except that then we were basically happy and not tired all the time. But I can’t see how I would just let my violin case get rained on. And I can’t imagine deliberately leaving it home. And I certainly wouldn’t use a borrowed violin from school, not when I had a perfectly good one at home that I could bring. I have to conclude that either it never rained back then, or I didn’t actually go to elementary school, or I never actually took violin lessons in which case why did I still have the violin as recently as 2012, or I don’t exist. And I’m not sure I want to know the answer if it turns out my non-existence is on the table.

Anyway the server problem is with something called “Roslyn”. I don’t know here but apparently she’s known in the Microsoft IIS communities on StackOverflow. Maybe you can do something.

What Amazon Thinks I’ll Buy

Yes, it’s annoying that big corporations insist on knowing everything about us. And insist on tying everything into big identity profiles ready to be swiped by hackers or sold to marketers. But at least they repay us by being uproariously bad at guessing what we might want to buy. From a recent Amazon list of suggested things I might give them money for:

Amazon's first four guesses about what I might want: earphones, cocktail food, a power cable, and a clarinet.
Deeper in the e-mail, Amazon guessed that I might want a cabin air filter or an omelette pan. They are right so far as I want omelettes, but not so much as to actually do anything myself about them.

OK. Headphones, I can’t really argue with. I’ve got consumer electronics, I’ve got ears. We have a plausible match here.

Nutritional diet for cockatiels. I don’t have a cockatiel. I never have. I can’t get within four feet of a cockatiel without it eyeing me and opening its beak to figure out how it can eat as much of me as possible before I can react. I get enough of that from my friends, I don’t need it from my pets. My best guess: they worked out somehow that my sister had a cockatiel, back during the Reagan administration, and they’re hoping that she still has that bird, that it’s quite old, and that I want to give my sister pet supplies for Christmas. We don’t have that kind of relationship. She takes care of horses, so her wish list consists of incomprehensible pieces of horse gear that, based on the price, are made of high-grade americium lined with platinum, plus some e-books. I buy the e-books.

Lightning cable. Can’t argue that much. I did buy an iPod Touch over the summer, and of course it can’t use any of the estimated 28 USB cables we already had around. Well, the iPod Touch came with this cable, but I’ll lose that one eventually. They’re just premature here.

Mendini Clarinet. Just … no. Amazon, I hate to break this to you, but woodwinds? Me? I’ll have you know I played violin from third to like seventh grade. I can’t say I was the best violin player in the world, just the best one in my elementary school. I was able to always hit the notes you get by just running the bow across the strings, and I was often able to hit the notes you get by putting your fingers on the strings before running the bow. So if you need a scratchy, nearly-in-key rendition of Jingle Bells, the Theme to Masterpiece Theater‘s Non-Challenging Opening Bits, or the musical Cats’s Memory, well, find me a violin and give me some time to warm up again. But a clarinet? Rank foolishness, that’s all there is to it.

Though looking at it … this does seem like a pretty good deal on a clarinet, doesn’t it? Except according to this a three pound bag of cockatiel food normally retails for over one hundred twenty-five dollars and sixty-nine cents and they’re marking it down to ten bucks? Of all the things they think I might buy, they’re putting that alleged fact on the list?

I’m No Good At Music

There are a number of things that any of us should be grateful for. I estimate the number of things to be at least fourteen. But I think the biggest thing any of us can be grateful for is that I’m not singing for you right now. Very likely I’ll never sing for you. You probably won’t believe just how very good this is for you. Fundamentally, I’ve got a deep incompetence about music.

I used to play the violin in elementary school. They trained us in the classic sequence: “Jingle Bells”, and then “Memory” from Cats, and then the Theme to Masterpiece Theater, and I was all right on the notes where you don’t have to put your fingers on the strings, which are like one-eighth of the notes any song expects. For the rest, again, there’s this wondrous sequence of approximate notes that nobody even knew violins could produce, and certainly not that they’d produce on purpose. The violin teacher was nice, though, and often interrupted class to ask whether the song was “Memory” or “Memories”, which could take the whole day to not resolve, while she walked down to the far end of the hallway. I gave up the violin in middle school, where the hallways were shorter.

Heck, I’m even shaky at listening to music. Like, I’ve seen other people turn on the radio and they get all kinds of songs and musicians and musical styles and such. I try it and it’s pretty near always playing “Friday I’m In Love”. It’s a fine song, sure, but there must be something I’m getting wrong if that’s always on. If I try the Internet radio then they’ve got Dennis Day singing “Clancy Lowered The Boom”, which is a less fine song, the kind that makes me want to walk to the far end of the hallway.

I’m not talking about my voice just being untrained, although it is, because the last music teacher who listened to me singing looked sadly at me and walked to the far end of the hallway, and that was elementary school, when they had a good thing to say about your skills in coloring because you managed to stay mostly within the bounds of the school building.

There’s this part of singing, though, where your voice is expected to hit some note. Most songs are kind of fussy, you’re supposed to get this one particular note that the songwriter expected and was planning around. Maybe you can go into a different octave and find some compatible note, but, that’s not me. I have a hard enough time hitting any note, whether or not it’s in the song and whether or not it’s any note that any human agency has ever been capable of. The correct response to stop paying attention to me and hope I’ll stop, and since I’m not paying attention to me, I keep going. I know, but it makes sense in the middle of the tune.

Worse, most songs require whole dozens of notes, some of them not the same one you started with, and there’s just no hoping I’ll get to any of those either. My chance of getting back to the note I started on are pretty much nothing either. This is why I’m better off sticking to my skill in turning songs into Morse code and a string of humming. Nobody cares about what note you’re humming, because if you’re humming people either don’t pay attention or else they’re looking for things to complain about what you’re doing, and either way it doesn’t matter what you’re doing.

You’d think some practice could train me out of this, but, no. I’ve tried playing Beatles Rock Band, for example, and that gives this little indicator about whether the pitch is too low or too high, and I find, like, in the midst of “Mrs Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter” that Ringo gets out from behind his drums and slugs my avatar and George just walks sadly down to the far end of the hallway. Paul and John just bury their heads in their hands.

Overall, I like music, and think it’s a fine concept. I’d like to be on better terms with it, but I just haven’t got the knack. I’ve got the Cure, but see where that’s gotten me.