Monday, September 24, 2012

Music and Speech

We got our piano tuned the other week.  Rose has been making great strides with her piano lessons, making the instrument sing each morning with her practicing -- so we wanted to be sure it was singing in key!  (Didja hear the one about how people keep having to break into song because they can't find the key?  Heh.)

Anyway, the guy who did the turning also plays a variety of instruments but is particularly skilled with the marimba.  He's won numerous awards, plays from a repertoire of over 250 songs, and has performed in Wisconsin's Capitol Rotunda.

He also has autism, and didn't speak until he was eleven.  Now, in his mid-thirties, his list of accomplishments is long.  In his work as a piano tuner, he is accompanied by his mentor, a retired piano tech who supervises his work and helps him stay focused.  His mom, who manages his scheduling, also taught him at home.  By the time we'd completed the whole transaction, I wound up with two of their CDs -- one of his performances, one of her compositions.

Mom's songs, as it turned out, were integral to his education.  Twenty-some years ago, public schools were open to students with disabilities thanks to the 1975 "Education for All Handicapped Children Act" (predecessor to IDEA) -- but in his case at least, they weren't very successful at figuring out how to serve him.  His mother was a kindergarten teacher, and she discovered that what he best responded to was music; that if you sang his lessons to him, the material would actually stick.  So her CD features the songs of his education, created as she put together a music-laced curriculum for him.

Joy, meanwhile, has gotten off to a fine start this school year.  I was concerned that the transition back into school, with a mostly new-to-her team and coming off a late-summer riddled with behavioral challenges, was going to be rocky at best.  But her new special-educator and teacher and student-teacher met with us repeatedly in August, processed the mounds of input we had for them, and felt like partners in the education of Joy before classes even started.

On top of that, Joy has been blessed with musical SEAs (special education assistants).  The past two years, she was met first thing every morning by an SEA who plays drums and teaches piano.  We were sorry to leave that aide behind as Joy moved up to 2nd grade, but simply delighted to hear her new morning-greeter SEA announce, "I'm a singer!"  Joy's affinity for melody and tempo was quickly evident to this new SEA.  We've been hearing updates about Joy echoing little tunes and tapping rhythms.

Then on Friday, she sent home this piece of artwork.

"Song Spots"

Joy, who had never made it all the way through art class before as far as I knew, hung in for a full 45 minutes with her singer-SEA on Friday and dotted this sheet in one marker-color after another -- in time to music.  It sounds like her art teacher got into the act with the music as well.  I know he plays the bass, and the note said "Teacher plays quiet jazz too!"

Teachers have been badly scapegoated lately in Wisconsin and nationwide, and SEAs are even further down the totem pole.  As a Madison teacher-blogger posted just yesterday:
SEAs choose to stay in a career where they are often sworn at, kicked and challenged. They do this, because they care about our children and they understand the importance of their role in our students’ lives. We need to start rewarding SEAs both financially and by treating them with the professionalism they deserve.  Most importantly, we must create school conditions that foster success for the students they serve.

In tandem with the new music delights, we've had a burst of words these past weeks as well.  The speech-settings on Joy's mixer-board are hitting new highs.  I now regularly hear at snack-time, when Joy finishes the first serving of goldfish -- "moh... CACK-uh!"  Not too long ago, when Joy was angling for her iPad (which was busy charging up on the other side of the bedroom door), we got a three-word prompted utterance out of her: "I... want... iPad"!  Heck, just yesterday JoyDad was watching football with her, and was teaching her to raise her arms and say "Touchdown"!  (Next on the list of sports-speak to teach her will be "Go Bears!")

Music to our ears.

And yet, while all this wonderful music and speech and overlap between the two is happening on the home front, down at Wisconsin's Capitol, a new Chief of Capitol Police has been tasked with squelching musical free speech in the Capitol Rotunda.

I've blogged about the Solidarity Sing Along before: red heart balloons, and holiday defiance in the face of an attempted December crackdown last year.  Since March of 2011, the Sing Along has gathered daily to continue expressing opposition to the ongoing depredations of the Walker administration.  This remarkable resistance-movement has been a thorn in the side of the Republican regime since the singing first began.  They tried to squelch us last December with a ridiculous, unconstitutional re-interpretation of Capitol permitting rules, flying in the face of the Rotunda's rich history of being a public square, intentionally designed with acoustics suitable for free political expression.  We showed up by the hundreds in December, daring them to arrest us all -- and, in large part due to the thoughtful leadership of the previous Capitol police chief, no arrests were made and the Sing Along continued.

Now, however, the arrests have begun.  Chief David Erwin, a former Scott Walker bodyguard, has led the Capitol Police in an anti-singer campaign.  The arrests and citations have targeted the people who attend the Sing Along most frequently.  While Erwin gives interviews complaining about disruptive protesters who go around "terrorizing" tourists and Capitol staff, the arrests are for holding signs.  Or banners (like the one held by JoyMama the rabble-rouser in the red coat below).  Or for attending an unpermitted event, or for sections of the Administrative Code that have never been interpreted in this way before. Despite repeated requests for clarification, the Capitol Police are declining to specify what activities might be deemed citation-worthy on any particular day.  They've taken to showing up at people's homes and workplaces to deliver citations, without having approached the individuals at the Capitol at the time of the supposed infraction.  It's intimidation, and they're pairing it with a cynical propaganda campaign that Rebecca Kemble wrote about compellingly in The Progressive the other week: The Two-Pronged Assault on Dissent in Wisconsin's Capitol.

The citizen-lobbyists of the Solidarity Sing Along believe that our permit to lift our voices in musical dissent is contained in the following words of Wisconsin's Constitution (Article 1, Section 4):

The right of the people peaceably to assemble, to consult for the common good, and to petition the government, or any department thereof, shall never be abridged.

"What part of SHALL NEVER BE ABRIDGED don't you understand?"

And if we poke a little bit of fun at Chief Erwin with masks and signs, that too is free speech, a bit of political theatre to bring home our message.  We gather and sing in peace, but we are determined.  We intend to keep singing until Wisconsin is back on the right track.  Even then, we will continue to be involved on a new level.

There's too much at stake -- and my Joy, who delights in rhythm and song, is at the heart of the future I'm fighting for.

See you at the Capitol.


Quiet One said...

Thank you, JoyMama for all you do - and for sharing your story so eloquently! Sing on!!!!

Anonymous said...

Joanne is that really you behind that mask? You go girl!!!!!!!!!!!

JoyMama said...

LOL Anonymous -- why no, it's Chief Erwin... I mean, JoyMama... I mean -- that's what Anonymity is all about, right? :-)