Take it from the top
“Boys! Girls! Quiet now. Let’s take it from the top,” Miss Da Silva’s voice trilled over the rumblings that were going on at the back of the class.The boys sniggered when they heard the word ‘top’ as they liked to snigger at anything that reminded of something gross that they associated with words that only teenage boys do. They were frankly bored and would rather be outside with the other boys of Class 9 who were playing a game of basketball in the Quad.
The last period on Friday afternoon was always a trying time for everyone in school ( teachers included) and we looked forward to the bell that would announce the end of the week and two days of unfettered freedom. Our school, in its wisdom tried to keep this time for more pleasurable activities than Maths and Physics – subjects that would require less brain power – and the whole school was involved in some extra curricular activity. Some classes had Scripture, some had wood work, some had craft, some had art, some had Physical Education, some had Home Science and we had Music.
Now Music in itself was not a bad subject to learn in school. It is a great way to encourage young minds to explore the world of rhythm and harmony and the beauty that sound can produce. Apart from the regular singing classes, once a month we had a Music Appreciation class where we were encouraged to bring in our favourite piece of music and share it with the rest of the class. Many brought in the latest ‘pop’ song that was recorded on a cassette which was played on a tinny tape recorder (do you even remember them?)the size of a regular tiffin box. In between class, the boys would furtively play songs from the tape, safe in the knowledge that it wouldn’t be confiscated by a Prefect on the prowl or a master scuttling between classes. Some, of course, with more high brow tastes would bring in music by the masters – Beethoven ( which only they could pronounce), Mozart and even Rachmaninov! It was not only the boys who brought in the music, many girls too shared their musical tastes and it was a class we looked forward to – a lovely end of week class when we heard music, discussed it and learnt something about the different genres of Western Music.
But Music also meant singing and this is when all the trouble started.
Class 8 was the year when most boys in our class had a growth spurt and suddenly found the hair on their legs and faces growing longer. They also found themselves growing taller so that by the end of the year, there wasn’t a single boy standing in the front of line as the classes lined up for Assembly every morning. It was also the year when many of them began losing their dulcet tones and would suddenly find their voice crack when they hit the high notes on the top.
Everyone seemed aware of this fact save Miss Da Silva, who was all of 25 years old and undoubtedly the prettiest teacher in the school. She not only wore the highest heels that tapped rhythmically when she walked past, but she wore the miniest skirts that were allowed by the Principal. Everyone in the school simply loved her – the girls because she personified femininity and softness which they all wanted to emulate, the boys because they loved watching her skirt up ride as she settled down before the piano, not to mention the wiggle as she walked down the corridors. So she was a very popular teacher with the students and the staff. The teachers loved her because she stayed out of their hair. She was young, pretty and open to new ideas. She encouraged the children to learn ‘pop” songs unlike the earlier teacher Mr. Swamy who only insisted we learn hymns and at best Gospel songs.
When one of the boys suggested we learn to sing the 1970 “Knock Three Times” by Tony Orlando & Dawn, Miss Da Silva was thrilled with the suggestion that came from a class of distinctly disinterested boys who preferred to keep quiet during the arpeggios and scales that she made us la la la and oo oo oo as preliminary exercises to warm up our voices.
“Ok boys,” she said,”Next week we’ll start with this song” and the class trilled ” Good afternoon and thank you Miss da Silva” before they trooped out of the class, some of them smiling slyly. Miss Da Silva had fallen into their trap.
The next week there was actually a rush to go to the Music Class and the boys lined up even before the girls could put away their things. Something was afoot as the boys exchanged knowing glances. We wondered what it was as we marched down the hallway and took our places on the stage.
Miss Da Silva was already there with cyclostyled sheets of the lyrics. After we wished her, she came up the steps to the stage and handed us each a sheet.
“Now, let’s do some warm up exercises, ” she said and sat down before the piano and banged out the chord of G Major.
“Come along now, we’ll sing to aaaa”.
The class lustily sang the scale upto two octaves with just one or two boys cracking the note at the top. Miss Da Silva winced but chose to ignore it. After going through eeeeeee sung in A Minor and wa wa wa wa wa in F Major, she began to play the song so that we could sing the words silently and fit them to the music.
Surprisingly, most of the class mouthed the words correctly and when we put it to music, the song was near perfect. Finally, she thought, she was making progress with the group of teenagers especially when she found the boys happily tapping out “knock 3 times on the ceiling if you want me, twice on the pipe if the answer is no.”
Emboldened by this success, she decided we should learn “A world of our own” by the Seekers. This time the boys were gleeful and sang out the lyrics with such a leer that Miss Da Silva actually winced.
“You there!” she called out to the boy at the back with the biggest grin. “What’s so funny about that?”
“Nothing Miss,” he said, not in the least bit remorseful.
“Well, if it’s not funny, you will sing it alone.”
He obliged and the class tittered.
“Ok! That’s it!” she shouted. ” No more songs. We are just going to do scales.”
And she began hammering out the scales, one note after the other. And more boys cracked the high notes. And she got more annoyed. She made the boys sing out the scales one by one. But their voices still cracked.
After two consecutive lessons like this, she complained to the headmaster.
From then on, our Music lessons were cancelled.
The boys got their way!
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