David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 58: Simon and Garfunkel (Scarborough Fair)

June 23, 2020

Oh, the power of a middle school teacher. Joyce Bertalan, who taught middle school (we call it junior high school in West Virginia) music at Suncrest Junior High School in Morgantown, West Virginia, in the 1970's, comes to mind every time I hear Simon and Garfunkel. That's an amazing association, especially given the fact that Mrs. Bertalan probably never remembered David Fleming after about 1977.

I am sure there were more, but basically I remember singing three songs in Bertalan's class: "Scarborough Fair," "Bridge Over Troubled Water," and "I'd Like To Teach The World To Sing."  I'm sure she had us sing others, but they are long forgotten, and I am sure every secondary music education teacher across the country was making the students sing those songs in the mid 70's. There is nothing unique about my music education experience, but the experience is more unique than Mrs. Hillary having us read The Scarlet Letter in English class, probably like most other middle and high school students across the country at this time (or for infinite time). I can see that book and not necessarily think of her. (Pen inks on my arm are a more likely association with her, but not one either she or I want to address. She certainly didn't want to then.) For Hawthorne's great novel, I am more likely to think of Demi Moore than Ms. Hillary, which speaks volumes about the influence of the movie star over the teacher.

The nature of music and its ability to revive long-standing associations is why our music education through secondary school is so unique. Every time I hear Paul and Art sing "Parlsey, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme," I remember trying to be ready to come in with my round on the vocals. But it is more than that. I can't even look at these damn herbs in a store and not want to sing my part. If I am not careful, I remember Ms. Bertalan as Rosemary Bertalan.

I don't remember if she had us singing the "Canticle" parts, the criticism of the Vietnam War. I sure hope she did, after all I was probably just too much of a butthead to think about lines like "Generals order their soldiers to kill." 

I was a butthead (aren't most of us at fourteen?) so I probably missed a lot.  I wonder if she went into any of the details about the song's structure, minor scale degrees, tonic triads, or alternating eighth notes (don't be impressed, I got these from a Google search). I hope she did and I was just too stupid to pay attention.  I have to believe some of my more talented classmates learned all this. I learned what a Cambric shirt is -- seems appropriate for a guy obsessed with words.

Simon and Garfunkel seemed ancient at this time. Heck, Simon, with his receding hairline, was hosting Saturday Night Live episodes in the mid 70's, and I wondered why they were bringing in the aging hippie. However, "Scarborough Fair" was barely 10 years old (the Simon & Garfunkel version; the backstory about Simon not crediting another musician's earlier version of a century old ballad is fascinating about the rules for song copyrights) when I was in Middle School. "Bridge Over Troubled Water" was barely 5 years old, and "I Want To Teach The World To Sing" was even newer (I did realize at the time that this song was a Coke commercial and not Simon & Garfunkel). I don't know if Bertalan chose these songs because she thought we would know them and appreciate them (if so, she should have chosen Sweet's "The Ballroom Blitz" or Alice Cooper's "School's Out") or because they meant so much to her.

Nevertheless, what are middle school music teachers having their kids sing these days? Are there many middle school music teachers left? If a middle school music education teacher chooses music kids will identify with from a decade ago, are these pimply-faced choirs singing Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance" -- "I want your ugly/I want your disease?" Are boys smirking and backslapping each other to Katy Perry's "California Gurls?" -- "Sun-kissed skin so hot/we'll melt your popsicle?" Do the class nerds mock Train's "Hey, Soul Sister" -- "Isn't that Mr. Mister on the radio, stereo"? I just don't see it.

Lord knows I could never be a middle school teacher. To Joyce Bertalan, we do remember you as one who lived there. We also remember you every time we eat rosemary-chicken. That's not a bad legacy.

"Scarborough Fair." Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme. Simon and Garfunkel. Columbia. 1966. Link here.

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Day 59: Charlie Sexton Sextet "Sunday Clothes." ->

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