Wednesday, December 26, 2007

December 20,2007

School of rock makes stars of parents as well as kids
by Amy L. Cornell
Community columnist |

December 20, 2007

You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em,
Know when to walk away and know when to run.
You never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table.
There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealin’s done.
Kenny Rogers, “The Gambler”
My son’s band, one of a dozen or so kid rock bands put together by Dr. Music’s Little Bands School, performed at Rhino’s Saturday afternoon. We heard one group play “Wild Thing” and another play an original composition (by a 6-year-old) called “Breakfast Too Hot.” Would-be rock and roll musicians and their parents mingled, ate, talked, watched the show and took pictures. After a few bands came and went, my kid came on stage with the rest of his band — The Cheetahs — and they played “Knocking on Heavens Door” and “My Guitar” while the audience sang along. Hey, that’s my kid up there playing keyboards.
I considered leaving after intermission, but two more acts caught my attention. Parent bands. Josh Grekin, who is the president and mind machine behind Dr. Music’s, had started a couple of parent bands. He thought mothers and fathers would enjoy the opportunity to play music in a rock band just like their children. Kids practice more when suddenly they have to compete with dad for guitar time. Parents learning music can collaborate with their kid on correct fingerings. Music lessons become a family experience.
The first band, a fairly experienced parent band, played “Go Your Own Way” by Fleetwood Mac. A mother carried her baby in her arms while she sang. Another mother, who played drums, told me that she loved the parent band practice and making music alongside her daughter, but performing made her nervous.
I held my breath for a moment when the second parent band came on. You see, two of the members of this fledgling band were longtime friends of my husband and mine. They work at IU like I do. They sit at desks and write code for Peoplesoft and watch television and go to bed at a reasonable hour. Not many of us 40-somethings take these kinds of chances any more. By the time we celebrate our 40th birthdays, we have figured out what we can do well and we stick to doing only those things. We don’t learn new sports, camp out in tents or trek in the Himalayas. Now here, up on the stage for the first time, two friends of mine prepared to play rock music with guitars and amps.
Kurt sang lead vocals and played guitar while his wife, Montse, played keyboards and fellow band member Yaniv sat at the drums. They performed “The Gambler” by Kenny Rogers. The sweet slow train story and catchy refrain reminded me of high school in the ’80s. Other parents cheered and clapped and sang along with the chorus. Was it my imagination or did a few of us get a little misty at the end when the gambler broke even?
It seems strange to say, but I almost felt more proud of that parent band than I did my own kid. See, I expect performances of my own child. In the past month, I’ve attended a Veterans Day assembly at school, a Cub Scout ceremony and ice skating lessons. As every parent, I go happily to support and encourage our child.
But who admires and cheers parents to try new things and be new people? All the parents who performed on stage that day paved the way for the rest of us to try something new. We might all have 9-to-5 jobs Monday through Friday, but come Saturday afternoon at Rhinos, we might do something extraordinary like playing “On a warm summer evening . on a train bound for nowhere .”
By the way, if you are interested in a real school of rock for you or your kid, please e-mail Josh Grekin at Dr. Music’s Little Band School:
Amy Cornell’s column appears every other Thursday in The Herald-Times. You can reach her at

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Community Column December 6, 2007

During college, my roommate Mary and I fell in love with a Chicago-area Christmas tradition called the “sing-along Messiah.” “Messiah,” by George Frederick Handel, is an oratorio in three parts which celebrates the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah of Christian tradition. Handel’s oratorio is famous for a short chorus called the “Hallelujah Chorus,” which is often sung at Easter and Christmas.

Singing the “Hallelujah Chorus” can take one’s breath away, both literally, as it is fast moving and bold, and figuratively, because of the rich music and brass instrumentation, which conveys transcendent joy over the miracles of the season and of life. One year, while pregnant with my son, it was hard not to cry during the climax of the “Hallelujah Chorus.”

Mary and I traveled into the city to the Chicago Lyric Opera, which generously provided the setting, as well as the orchestra and the soloists, for this rendition of “Messiah.” Would-be singers came with their musical scores and became part of the audience choir. Fortunately for Mary and me, there were no tryouts or auditions. No one asked us to prove we could sing. We simply showed up, picked our section, followed the music and sang the choir parts when the altos sang. (It helped me to sit next to someone who could read vocal music so that I could simply match pitch with a real singer.)

That first year I went, I remember spending $10 cash for my own personal copy of the score. I wasn’t sure if I should do it. Ten dollars was a lot of money in college, but I have managed to use it almost every year since then, so it was definitely a worthwhile investment and now a valuable treasure. Every year, I tuck a program from the Messiah Sing into the pages of the score so that now I have an archive of about 15 years of worth of this program.

Mary and I looked forward to this experience every year we were in college. In addition to the start of a personal holiday tradition for me, it started the understanding that Christmas could signify more than the retail trappings and holiday parties and cheesy music piped into stores. Christmas became pleasure at singing and reveling in a moment of sublime musical perfection. Even if I was an imperfect alto, I was still part of the choir.

Mary has long since gone a different path than I have. We have not communicated in years, but every season, when I participate in this glorious holiday festivity, I think of those giddy Christmas “Messiah” sing-alongs in the bleak midwinter of Chicago, belting out “Hallelujah, Hallelujah” and knowing that somewhere she is probably attending one just like it and remembering me.

Lucky for me and for other singers and lovers of this piece of choral music, the Bloomington Chamber Singers hosts an annual public reading of “Messiah,” where I can continue this tradition I started in college. Gerald Sousa, the conductor, seems nonplussed by the fact that I sometimes try to sing soprano, alto and tenor, depending on when I can find my place in the music. Price of admission for this revelatory experience is one can of food for the Hoosier Hills Food Bank.

This year’s public reading of “Messiah” is Dec. 16 at 2 p.m. at Faith Lutheran Church. They will do a second public reading of “Messiah” at 5 p.m. later that day at a church in Nashville.

The ability to belt out the “Hallelujah Chorus” at the Messiah Sing is one of the greatest gifts I am given during this season.

I hope you can join me. Go to for details.

Amy Cornell’s column appears every other Thursday in The Herald-Times. You can reach her at