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A miniature, a concise meditation on the precarious and impermanent nature of human existence.
There is not a lot to say about this song. Man’s Life a Vapor is fittingly brief, as are my comments. (more…)
This song, whose origins are shrouded in obscurity, was hands down the most popular song that I ever taught to children.
When I arrived at Blue Rock School to begin my tenure there in February 1991, Ho! Young Rider was already the student favorite, and in my memory, I learned this song from the students themselves within the first couple of weeks I worked there – in a bit of table-turning I asked the students to teach me songs they already knew so I could sing with them. Ho! Young Rider was first on that list. I soon added a guitar accompaniment and through repetitions in my music classes that spring arrived at the format in which I would teach this song to children for the next fifteen years.
This gem, beloved by my choirs, was one of my favorite canons to teach to and sing with children, and a staple of my children’s choir repertoire for many years. I first came across it the early 1990s in a book I can’t find right now, a little red book of traditional songs in English used for students of English as a foreign language at schools in twentieth century continental Europe. I taught As I Went Over Tawny Marsh to my students at Blue Rock School and at most of the other elementary schools I taught at afterwards.
My students always called this song Tawny.
I think something about this idea as an axiom for work and life was always there for me. When I was a child my father admonished me many times to do my best. I remember him saying to me on numerous occasions “Be the best at whatever it is you choose to do. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you are the best at it. If you decide to be a garbage man, then be the best garbage man!” It made a strong impression on me as a young child, and I am sure had numerous (foreseen and unforeseen) consequences for the course of my life.
At some point early in my teaching career someone told me:
They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.
…or something like that. I don’t remember who said it or when, honestly. Someone might have quoted it at a faculty meeting, or as part of a motivational speech at a workshop or professional development training, or I might have read it in a book or article. Various paraphrases of this proverb exist, purportedly from a number of people including the great Maya Angelou, but the wisdom of the internet currently attributes the first known utterance of this quote to a Mormon official named Carl W. Buehner.
It doesn’t matter who said it. This idea arrived on the scene for me early in my career, and made me begin to seriously consider: what would ultimately be the impact I made on my students? What would the experience they had in my classes, in my program, have on the rest of their lives? What would they remember?
What a beautiful ruin it will make!
~ H.G. Wells,
on first seeing the Manhattan skyline
Last month we traveled to New York for our summer vacation – a combination of seeing old friends and introducing our teenage daughter to the city. My wife and I lived in the New York metropolitan area for nearly 5 years in our late twenties: formative years. Our first child was born there. Although I have been back a number of times since we moved away in 1995 (several times for work) and seen old friends and colleagues before, it has been a decade or more since I saw many of them – more than 20 years since I have seen some, and since we really had the time to simply roam about Manhattan.