Topic: Time Well Spent
A couple years ago Zurf hosted a gathering of Chordians on the Shenandoah River in Virginia. I spent one day driving around and visiting Civil War battlefields, hoping to get some inspiration to write some songs for a CD project I've been working on for the 150th anniversary of that bloody 4-year war. Last fall I spent a weekend paddling a kayak with a group of local recreational boaters (Southern Ohio Floaters Association, aka "SOFA") and playing music around a riverside camp fire at night. I played several of the new songs I'd written and afterward was approached by a lady who is an elementary school teacher. She knew her history class would be studying the war and asked if I would be willing to come and play for her pupils. Her theory was that children learn different ways, and as most seem to like music, maybe songs about the war would reinforce their learning.
I had forgot about it until 2 weeks ago she called and asked if I would still be willing to perform for her students. She informed me that there would be three 8th grade history classes involved. I had hoped that they would be younger students as my memory of being in the 8th grade was a classroom filled with smart-ass 13 and 14 year old boys and giggling girls passing notes back and forth, so I was a little apprehensive when I arrived at Hamersville Elementary yesterday (about 70 miles southwest of where I live) with guitar in hand.
The kids were a little rowdy as they walked, ran, skipped and hopped into the classroom, excited about it being their last week of school and happy that they didn't have to take a test or sit through a boring lecture, just endure an hour of some old grey-haired guy plunking on a guitar and wailing some songs about some forgotten war. I was introduced and began telling them about how my interest in the war came from my great-grandfather fighting as a Union soldier and being the last battle casualty of the 39th KY Mounted Infantry. I had also brought along some books from my Civil War collection (59 so far) so they could see what the soldiers wore, what equipment they used, etc. I could see their interest grow as instead of being asked to memorize names of generals, dates of battles, etc they got more of an insight into the life of a farm boy turned infantryman. I was surprised that they were so attentive during the songs I played and afterward would look up information about people like John Bell Hood, George Thomas and Henry Haupt or about battles like Franklin, Saltville and Chickamauga - battles fought by "western" troops mustered in at Cincinnati, Ripley or Portsmouth - southern Ohio towns where their ancestors would have mustered in the Union Army. Afterward I asked if they had any questions and eventually after a couple Civil War questions they would ask about songwriting and music. I don't know if any were inspired to be guitar pickers or songwriters but it was a joy talking to them. This scenario was repeated three times during the day for classes of about 25-30 students. I even got to eat lunch in the school cafeteria and was reminded how healthy but tasteless the food is. It was a day well spent.