The Great Gig in the Sky

Mike Lawson • ChoralPerspective • August 2, 2019

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Wow, summer is wrapping up! Some of you are back in school now, the rest of you are on your way back.

As I get back into planning the myriad travel for this coming season, I am reminded of how quickly summer rolls by and school starts back up. When I was not SBO editor and was just a guy with three kids in school out on summer break, it seemed like summer took forever to end so they could go back. Now I am back to where I was as a kid on vacation.

One thing I get to do year-round, but especially in summer, is play music. If you’ve been reading SBO since my taking over almost five years ago as editor, you might know I play guitar and sing in a tribute to Merl Saunders and Jerry Garcia called “Hooteroll?”. Yes, spelled with the question mark. I get to play with my band more in the summer with the various music festivals, special events, and the “high holy week” for fans of Jerry Garcia, which is August 1 through August 9, coinciding with his birthday and the date of his passing. This year, the band plays in Asheville, North Carolina at a great venue there, and I get the chance to see The Biltmore and explore the upcoming student music performance programs being put into place by Tim Hill, late of Disney Performing Arts program leadership. Then it is off to Knoxville the next day for another show, and then back to Nashville the day after for yet another show.

I’m still putting to use the skills I honed as a teenager in school music programs stretching back into elementary school. My music teachers taught me to muster the courage to stand in front of people and sing, by middle school, sing and play guitar, and by high school, play jazz chords in a swing band. From conquering the fear of public performance, quelling stage fright, the discipline of learning the music, rehearsing with others, practicing alone at home, coming to the show prepared with myself and my gear in working order, playing in an ensemble, and being entertaining, these are all lifelong skills I got from music teachers.

In July, the band played a double-billed show in Nashville with a group called “The Forest,” put together by Choral Director columnist and frequent SBO contributor Walter Bitner. They pay tribute to Pink Floyd. In the show we did with them, they performed the entire “Dark Side of the Moon” album. There are so many moving parts to those recordings, and they nailed them. Fans of the record know every sound effect and nuance, making the planning and rehearsing of the album in its entirety quite an undertaking. They did a spectacular job. The toughest song on the album is “Great Gig in the Sky.” The female vocal parts are extremely demanding and cannot be faked. The young ladies in “The Forest” brought the house down with their parts.

After the show, Walter introduced me to the band members, in particular, one of the singers of “Great Gig in the Sky.” He said, “She was in my high school choral program seven years ago.” He was beaming with pride – as he should be. Walter must have done something right in his program. Instilling a passion for lifelong musical performance is what great music educators do best. I wish you the best this year as you inspire your students to always play music.

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