Author: Lewis, Trish

Dances With Urchins

The lions’ share of my Jamming 101 participants are adults, sometimes a few teens or timid 10 year olds. Rarely do I encounter jammers in the toddler category, although I had always thought it would be neat.

So when my student Brent asked me if I would consider teaching a class for the elementary school he taught at, I said, “Sure, that sounds awesome!”

“Oh, you’ll love these kids, they’re little angels.” Brent gushed. “I’m sure they’ll just love you’re class!”

My primary experience with the 4 to 8 age group was a few private students, and my lessons with them consisted of chasing then around my studio and occasionally banging on things.

“No problem, I got this,” I said. “When do we go?”

So Brent booked me at the Orotown Elementary School: an hour class with the entire student body. I was to hold my class in the gymnasium at lunchtime, and there would be almost 300 kids there.

Cool! I had a week to prepare. I wanted to impress the faculty so I went over the top with my curriculum. I made cool stickers, fun kid-song lists, and invested in a dozen shaker eggs.

A week later I rolled up to the school with my bass player Johnny, and we assembled our PA in the gym. The teachers all seemed to have an odd smirk on their faces as they watched us set up, as they stood in a line along the wall as we waited for the students to arrive.

It all happened so fast.

Like a scene from Gladiator, the iron door of the gym swung open and they came pouring out, a mass of small bodies thundering toward us with the speed of a buffalo herd.

In seconds the room was packed with stomping, snorting, wild eyed toddlers, eyes glued to our every move.

I looked over at the teachers, but saw no sign of support. They were vultures, waiting for us to die.

I launched my attack.

“OK!” I commanded, mustering all the authority I could. “Who wants a SHAKER EGG?!”

There was a split second of dead silence, and then the crowd screamed back in one voice: “MEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!”

In shock, I hurled the first shaker into the horde.

As it sailed through the air in slow motion, I realized the enormity of my folly. There was no way I had enough percussion toys for this army of little beasts. They were going to tear us limb from limb. But it was too late to turn back now.

“OH KAY! HERE YOU GO!!” I screamed, hurling my remaining eggs into the crowd.

And then, it was pure carnage. Like pieces of bread thrown to ducks, the shaker eggs disappeared under piles of little bodies, with a chorus of screams and grunts filling the air. Johnny and I watched in horror as eggs were battled over, hair was pulled, and a total free-for-all ensued.

One round little girl appeared to bite another child on the leg, while two other tots duked it out with rabbit punches.

Suddenly a frail, large headed kid broke loose from the crowd and bolted toward the door, shaker egg held high. We watched in horror as the crowd of rabid tots turned and surged after the him, covering him like a wave. He disappeared under a dog pile, and then a tiny shoe flew through the air, followed by crumpled glasses and tufts of hair.

A red faced ogre of a kid burst from the dog pile, clutching the shaker egg and screaming “I GOT IT I GOT IT I GOT IT!!!!”

The teachers shook their heads sadly.

Suddenly I realized that if I was going to live through the next hour, I would have to find a way to control this herd of rabid five year olds. And quickly. I looked back at Johnny, who was hiding behind his bass, shivering like a Chihuahua. He had the look of a man seeing his own death.

Then it hit me. In times of crisis, when doom is imminent, one must do whatever it takes to survive . And so I did. I turned to the dark God of Rock and Roll.

“OK!” I screamed, my voice shrill with panic. “IT’S TIME FOR WE WILL ROCK YOU!!!!”

The horde looked up from mauling each other, their beady red eyes locked on to me. A Cro-Magnon looking boy let go of a bug-eyed kids’ neck and pushed his way to the front row. Two freckle faced girls stopped yanking each other’s pigtails out and jumped up and down, their tongues dangling from their mouths.I took a step back. Yes, these kids were definitely insane. Every last one of them.

I hit ‘play’ on the PA, and the drum beat descended on the room:


Suddenly, the sea of kids began to move as one, stomping out the beat like an army of baby zombies. Stomp stomp clap, stomp stomp clap they went, their sightless eyes staring into space.

I gasped in relief, stomping and clapping with all my might. We’re gonna make it, I thought, tearing up at the thought of being allowed to live.

Then came the stroke of genius. The Fog Machine! I had brought my ancient fog machine and set it up just in case, knowing that blasts of thick white fog usually won any crowd over. I inched toward the foot pedal that trigged the fog, while the army of kids continued to stomp stomp clap, oblivious to their surroundings.

Biting my lip I stomped down, and a cloud of white exploded over crowd. It smelled of rotten eggs and cat poop, and I realized that I had never changed the liquid in the machine. But it was too late. The cloud drifted over the front row, and all I could see was blurry silhouettes through the dirty white haze. Then the sounds began.

“Fire!!!” I heard a shrill girls voice scream, Followed by hacking and coughing and a pitiful wail: “I…can’t…breath…”

Again the teachers shook their heads. I turned beet red, realizing I had just asphyxiated half of the class. Somewhere in the back of my mind I heard myself say “quick…must…do…something… else…”

I lunged for my banjo, and began an epileptic dance.

“Tiiiiiime for a sing-a-loooooong!” I screamed, launching into a desperate rendition of Comin’ Round The Mountain. The sea of kids stared at me, mouths agape.

Then the bell rang, and I collapsed into a heap. My God, I thought, it’s finally over.

We drove back to Chico in silence, nursing our wounded egos and pondering new career choices. I wonder how much plumbers make these days, I mused. But for better or worse, we’re still teaching music. Just with more shaker eggs now!

Musical Tip: No matter how prepared you are, you never quite know what what’s going to happen at the show. If you can think fast and improvise, you’ll increase your chances of survival. Be a musical MacGyver!

Posted:  4/2/2013

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