Don McLean sang about Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper Richardson’s deaths when he wrote the lyrics, “The Day the Music Died” in his beloved “American Pie.” Current events make me think of another sad meaning to those memorable words. Anyone who’s worked with teens over the past forty years will relate.
As a high school ball player and forensic team member, I recall quiet trips to events. Coaches didn’t turn on the bus or van’s single radio because they wanted us focused on our competition. The ride home was another story. Team members honed negotiation skills to select a radio station from the many choices others shouted out. Once noisy teens determined the favorite, they convinced the driver to crank the volume high enough that riders in the back seat could hear the lyrics clearly. Music was a group activity in those golden days.
Over the four decades of my teaching and coaching career, this changed. During my first twenty some years of loading kids in a district vehicle to haul them to distant schools, life continued much as it had when I was a participant. Passengers were expected to be quiet as they would be in a prayer chapel going to our destination. However, trips home began with lively discussions about what music to listen to and raucous sing-alongs to ever-changing tunes. This was karaoke before it became a popular party fun.
My favorite memories of these good old days revolve around December bus trips when girls who loved to carol filled the seats. Headlights guided us homeward over the dark plains while greenish console lights inside set a holiday mood. Sweet voices of tired round-ballers sang about hay-filled mangers, heralding angels, gift-bearing wise men, and silent nights. Following those serious toned old tunes, the vocalists would throw in a crazy version of “Jingle Bells” or “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.” I may have been exhausted after a 16-hour day teaching and coaching, but I treasured those after-game songfests.
Technology that I normally loved assassinated these singalongs. Over time, as more teens climbed onto buses with personal devices and earbuds, travel became quiet as a morgue. Eventually, the driver or I picked the radio station uncontested because the passengers were listening to individual playlists. By the time I retired, I had to wave my hands or tap someone on the shoulder to make contact.
The positive side of this new reality is that no one has to listen to music he or she hates. Folks who don’t enjoy interacting with others slip into private worlds while sitting shoulder to shoulder and remain there until the vehicle stops. The negative involves the same issue. No one learns to deal with the frustration of other people’s preferences.
The element that makes me saddest is that pre- individual electronic devices, music brought students, coaches, and drivers together. It didn’t isolate them. Those mostly dead after-game soirees taught tolerance for other’s musical tastes, negotiating skills, and an appreciation for noisy camaraderie.