Music and the mind

A while ago I came across a report in Science Daily about the long-term benefits of childhood music education. And if what the study found is true then I owe a much greater debt to my wonderful music teachers than I realized. You can see the report on this study here.

Lloyd and Agnes Pfoff
After my mother and my teachers in my first couple of years of elementary school, Mr. and Mrs. Pfoff were my first real music teachers, probably the first music teachers for most Rochelle children in the 1950s. Mrs. Pfoff taught in the Rochelle elementary schools, traveling from school to school, classroom to classroom, to give us our earliest organized music instruction. Mr. Pfoff was music director at the junior high school, teaching a general class in music, conducting the student band and orchestra, and instructing us individually in the fundamentals of our instruments. And together they bravely managed the children’s choir of the Presbyterian church, in which I sang for many years. Mrs. Pfoff introduced me to the basics of music and musical notation; Mr. Pfoff taught me how to play the cornet.

Alice Ohlson
There came a time when my parents thought I should learn to play the piano. Mrs. Ohlson was organist for the Presbyterian church and also taught elementary piano, and she became my piano teacher. She persevered bravely in the face of my minimal practicing and timid performance in lessons, and taught me what the notes on the paper actually mean even if she didn’t manage to teach me to play the piano. That failure was mine, not hers.

Willard Gieske
Mr. Gieske lead the Rochelle Township High School music department, directed all its vocal groups, and directed the Presbyterian church’s adult choir (“chancel choir” we called it because it sat in the chancel, behind the minister). A kind and gentle man, he could be quite persuasive. He somehow talked me, against my extreme reluctance, into the high school chorus, the school madrigal group (for which I still have a blue ribbon for the group’s first place in the conference contest my senior year), and the church choir. And then in my senior year of high school he talked me into singing a solo in the spring concert (a very intimidating experience).

Robert Erbes
Mr. Erbes directed me through four years of high school band, first period every day — marching during football season and the brief parade seasons in spring and fall, concert band the rest of the year. After 50 years, I still feel the imprint of those marching lessons.

In my senior year Mr. Erbes persuaded me to prepare a cornet solo for the conference contest. I’ve never been quite sure why; he must have thought I had some potential, even though my performance in band was far less than stellar. He found a teacher to work with me, a trumpeter with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra who spent his “off” time traveling about northern Illinois teaching teenagers the finer points of his instrument. One hour each week he and I sat in a small practice room in the school’s music section while I slowly improved, much to my own surprise. I regret that I no longer remember the teacher’s name. As usual my failure to practice prevented me from excelling, but I did learn much and played much better than I had before. I didn’t place in the conference contest, but just competing was significant to me.

I never became a musician, despite all the efforts of these wonderful, patient people. I think I never actually thanked them for what they did for me. But I have long appreciated what I learned from them, both in music and in life. And so now, much too late, I offer a toast to music teachers everywhere, whether teachers by profession or by accident. Thank you.

Awaiting the Hummingbirds

I noticed yesterday that the ruby-throated hummingbird migration map showed a couple of sightings that must have been close to us, one on Saturday and one on Sunday. The hummingbirds are approaching. This morning I filled the feeder to welcome them when they arrive. There haven’t been any visitors yet, but I think they’ll be around soon.

Hummingbird feeder

Hummingbird feeder

The Origin of the Huldre-Folk

The Origin of the Huldre-Folk

Adapted from “The Origin of the Huldre-Folk: The Huldre Minister”, in Folktales of Norway, edited by Reidar Th. Christiansen, translated by Pat Shaw Iversen.

Kvamsøy i Øystese

Now you’ve probably never wondered where the Huldre-Folk came from. In fact, you might even think that you’ve never heard of the Huldre-Folk. But that’s not really true. Huldre is just one of the names people in Norway call the hidden people — but you might know them as leprechauns, or pixies, or brownies.

In Norway the hidden people can be found most often in the high hills, the mountain meadows, where the ordinary Norwegian people take their cattle and sheep and goats to fatten them in the summer after the long, cold winter. But, of course, you won’t find the huldrer unless they want to be found.

Many years ago in the highlands far to the east there was a farm, and the people who lived and worked on that farm frequently did business with the huldre-folk who lived around them. I can’t tell you how this came to be, but I know that ordinary people have often helped, and been helped by, huldrer. The old people say that every farm has its own guardian, a gardvord or tunkall, to protect it from disaster — especially from trolls and giants. And the people of the Seim farm in Hosanger still say that an ancient and beautiful table was a gift from a group of huldrer because the farmer had been such a good host to them at some time long ago.

In any case, it was widely known that huldrer were frequent visitors to this farm in the east. And one day the village priest decided to find out if this was true.

He journeyed into the mountain, and asked the farmer. “Yes,” the farmer said. “If you’ll sit down for about an hour, you’ll see him. He’s borrowed a pot of ale, and the next time the clock strikes, he’s coming back with it.” The priest sat down, and when the clock struck a tusse came to the house. You might think of the tusse as a sort of gnome or pixie. The old people say that a tusse can bring great good fortune to a farm, and since they are so much older than we are we know that what they say must be true.

Now the tusse was surprised to see a stranger in the house. He placed the ale pot on the table, bowed to the farmer, and tried to leave. But the priest had jumped to the door first and blocked the tusse‘s way. The priest started talking to the tusse as if he intended to convert him, even though he probably thought the little man was a demon. He preached a sermon from the New Testament, he talked of the “little baby Jesus”, and talked on and on about religion. The tusse tried to get out but the priest held the door closed, quoting scriptures.

The tusse struggled and tried to escape, but he never responded to anything the priest said. Finally the tusse said, “I’m not so learned that I can talk with you, but if you’ll sit down and wait a bit, I’ll fetch my brother. He’s a priest just like you.” He promised that the brother really would come, but the priest still kept him from leaving, thinking that if he let the tusse go he would never see him again and that the brother, if there was a brother, would not come. But the farmer said, “You can safely let him go. If he’s promised his brother will come, then he’ll come all right. He never lies.” Reluctantly the priest sat down to wait, and after a while the tusse priest arrived.

Now in those days in Norway priests wore special clothing to let the common people know that they were priests. Their clothing was always black. They wore a black frock coat. In case you’ve never seen a frock coat, it was a fancy kind of suit coat that buttoned all the way up to the neck, with satin lapels and skirts down to the knees. And they wore a stiff white ruffed collar that stuck out all around their necks — maybe three inches or more. If you saw one of these priests on the street today you would probably laugh, but back then only priests were allowed to wear this costume and they were quite proud of it.

Of course, on that day our village priest was wearing his frock coat and wide white collar, as he always did. And he was quite surprised to see that the tusse priest was dressed in exactly the same clothing, and clutched in his hand was a black, leather-bound Bible.

The tusse priest immediately addressed the priest.

“Do you know the book of Genesis?” the tusse asked. The priest answered that yes, he did.

“It says there in the first chapter that, in the beginning, God created a man and a woman. Do you know that?” the tusse continued. Yes, the priest knew that as well. Then the tusse showed him what it said in the scriptures and said, “But according to the second chapter when the world had been created God then made a woman out of Adam’s rib. Do you know that?” the tusse asked. Yes, the priest did know that.

The tusse continued, “Then Adam said: ‘This time‘ — why did he say ‘this time‘? Do you know that?” No, the priest had to admit that he did not know that.

Then the tusse said, “That woman, who was created in the very beginning, her name is never mentioned in the Bible. Some people say she was called Lilli, some say Lillo or Lillith, but there’s not much difference. She was Adam’s equal in every way, and would never be under him in anything. She considered herself as just as good a creation as he was. But God said that it wasn’t good for man and woman to be equal, and so he sent her and her children away, putting them into the hills to live. They are without sin, and they stay there inside the hills, except when they themselves want to be seen.” The tusse paused, then said, “But in the second chapter, God took a rib out of Adam’s side and made a woman out of it, and then Adam said ‘This time‘, because she was taken out of the man. Her children, and her children’s children, have sin, and that’s why God had to give them the New Testament. The tusse-folk only need the Old.”

The priest could not think of any way to reply to what the tusse had said, and he never went back into the pulpit again.