Thursday, June 20, 2013

Teaching in Petri Dishes

I have updated my other blog with commentary about our system for training teachers:

Feel free to argue with me!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Pipe Dreams of Organ Nightmares

[This is a re-post from facebook.]

I had an amusing dream last night in which I was the designated church organist, and everything went wrong one Sunday.


Even though I left the house with plenty of time to spare, I somehow went through a time dilation field and showed up two minutes late. "I don't even have children in tow!" I kvetched to the Heavens. "How did that happen?"

The bishop (who in this dream was a generic figure, not a real man of my acquaintance) had tapped an emergency replacement, and she looked like she was about to faint from the pressure. I imagined her banging her head on her way off the high organ bench and winced. She had already started the introduction to the opening hymn, though, so I figured I would replace her smoothly after the first song was over. Instead, the Bishop cut her off, glared at me, and insisted that I replace her immediately. The congregation, interrupted halfway through the first verse, gaped at the drama.


Next song, I discovered my hymn book was missing the appropriate page. I "winged" it, meaning I played the hymn from memory--mostly. There were some awful mistakes, but by the third verse I had adjusted reasonably well. It's amazing how well one can vamp with just I-IV-V chords. Especially with most of our unimaginative LDS hymns arrangements.


The intermediate hymn, 2/3 through the service, was horrible. Both the young men and young women had been at camp the previous week, and the bishop had decided--impulsively, just that morning!--to celebrate their return by having everyone sing rousing camp songs.

It got worse. The bishop announced the change from the pulpit. He handed the tattered book of camp songs to me, realizing only then that he had forgotten to make photo copies for the congregation. Undaunted, he pressed on.

Unfortunately, the book of camp songs was poorly organized and indexed. His instructions to play "Number 52" were unhelpful since there were four different songs of that description. (The book was divided into sections: Fun, Folk, Patriotic, and Gross. Each started numbering from 1.)

The bishop's efforts to enliven a normally dull meeting were hampered by the five awkward minutes he and I spent, conferring desperately at the organ, trying to find the "appropriate" song. When we finally found it, I realized that it had almost no musical notation. All I got was solfege: "Do mi re do la fa do ti do...."

Rolling my eyes, I played a very awkward monophonic solo, randomly guessing the rhythmic values of each note. Nobody sang, since they didn't have the music or words. That's just as well, because the lyrics were awful.


Having learned (a little) from his previous errors, the bishop made a minor tweak for the final musical number. He announced a very common camp song, one he figured at least half the congregation would know. It wasn't in the book, but I managed to pick out "Great Green Gobs of Greasy Grimy Gopher Guts" by ear. Almost I wished it was "Pink Pajamas" since that is to the tune of "Battle Hymn of the Republic" which I have mostly memorized. Of course, a song about jumping naked into bed would have been horribly inappropriate for a staid LDS worship service, so it's just as well....


Once Sacrament Meeting was over, I pounced the bishop.

"What were you thinking?" I hissed. 

He went on the offensive. "You were late!" he argued. "So how dare you criticize?"

Ignoring his obvious efforts to change the subject, I persisted. "If you ever try to do that again," I announced, "I will quit. Resign. Go on strike. Maybe even apostatize, if that's what it takes to avoid a repeat of that...that..." I sputtered, struggling to find the right word. Somehow, my fevered brain hit upon the perfect portmanteau. "...that PIPEmare!" I proclaimed.

This blend of "organ pipes" and "night mare" struck me as so hilarious, I doubled over in giggles. "That...was...a...GREAT...pun!..." I wheezed, and collapsed in helpless, hysterical laughter. After several minutes, the bemused bishop and his two counselors finally wrapped me in a straight jacket and hauled me off to the funny farm.

On the plus side, my rapid descent into madness obviously helped to enliven the LDS meetings that day. On the negative side, when I woke up, I realized that calling it a great pun was really a pipe dream.


I can only add two notes:

1. At least I didn't face a screaming autistic four-year-old coming up on the stand and throwing a huge tantrum in the middle of the Sacrament hymn. (Oh, wait, I've actually endured that in real life.)
2. Obviously, I do not covet the job. Matthew Calabresi, you're doing fine. Keep up the good work.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013


I am experimenting with splitting my blog.

Family photos and stories would stay here.

Broader cultural and literary commentary would migrate to a new blog:

I have two whole posts up! Check them out.