I feel a little superior, being of the Walkman generation. My contemporaries may share this conceit, born of the toil before music became personal and portable at the same time. We remember when moving through the world to a soundtrack was limited to elevator muzak which was piped into shops and malls through strategically placed speakers. As we cruised through K-Mart, an easy-listening version of some Rolling Stones song would play in the background. I remember thinking that it must be terrible for Mick Jagger to go shopping: imagine the Piano Guys performing Satisfaction. There was technology that would allow a person to take music for a walk, but it was limited to a transistor radio small enough to carry comfortably; and then we were at the mercy of the station DJ’s playlist. I often dreamed of walking or pedaling my bike to my playlist, a soundtrack I would choose. In the summer of ’79, my dreams came true!
At the local Radio Shack, I was amazed to discover there was such a thing as a portable 8-track player! Although it weighed about five pounds and needed six C cell batteries to operate, with it, I could take my music (well, one 8-track tape) anywhere I went. It felt incredible to ride my bike – the nylon strap of the player wrapped back and forth across the handlebars – listening to the funky bassline of Rickie Lee Jones’ Young Blood filling the air around me. Only a short time later, I was able to retire this ponderous portable for a device which weighed less than a pound and could be clipped to my belt. Working in a record store and making my own mixed tapes gave me total control of my life’s soundtracks, and the earphones meant that only I could hear the guilty pleasures included in my choices.
As long as people have been making music, listeners have coveted favourite pieces; we have chosen our songs and assigned them to moods, occasions, and events in our lives: graduating classes carefully choose the song to which caps are tossed; couples select the perfect song for their first dance. Of course, music players today are ubiquitous, and we carry complete catalogues in our pockets. For better or for worse, and more than ever before, music accompanies us through much of every day. Despite this saturation, we still seek particular music that serves to mark a special time. Here in June, the special endings and beginnings which abound are in search of soundtracks.
Forty years ago this week, Paul McCarney and Stevie Wonder topped Billboard with Ebony and Ivory, and I stood on the verge of the rest of my life. For the first time in my school-life, September was not scripted. I did have plans, but they had not been determined for me by parents or policy. The path ahead was clear, but it was untried and unknown. And while at that time in my life I was more Van Halen than Van Morrison, it was a song of the latter singer-songwriter from Northern Ireland which captured my attention. Because of my years in the record store, I was familiar with his jazzy Moondance and the easy rock of Brown Eyed Girl; but in 1982, the B-side of his new single entered my life’s soundtrack.
The song has an easy-going swing, with a persistent high-hat backing Mark Isham’s buoyant trumpet. It is a vibe for lazy days of summer and carries no urgency. The music caught me first; the lyrics grabbed me next. The song’s mood belies a rather serious contemplation of the ultimate moving on, of, “standing in the darkness … waiting at the door … [walking] into the light … the dawn will end the night.” As with all poetry, there is metaphor, symbol… and interpretation. Morrison gave me these lyrics at a significant milestone in my life. A door was firmly closing behind me while I stood in its frame, poised with uncertainty before making the next step. And here I am once more… cue soundtrack. In this month, when the dark and the light strike a momentary balance, many school leaders find themselves in such moments of transition, re-creating to inhabit new roles and new settings, re-discovering capabilities and limits, re-learning as they perceive that which has been veiled. Again, re-setting for the months ahead.
I believe it is fair to say that our communities are, with cautious optimism, anticipating the weeks and months ahead, too. And for both leaders and those in their charge, these transitions – whether modest or grand – will be paced accordingly by those crossing the sill. We are each a dweller and every dawn a threshold.
The door is closing on my days at the BCPVPA office. My term will recede in time and memory; and like all experience, the sharp contours of its images will blur and dull with age. Yet, the poignant emotions of these two years will remain keen for me. And, when evoked, they will remind me of the blessings I realized in the service of our members. A tremendous blessing of this service has been the invitation to share, in writing, my weekly perspective with our members. And this week, by the time readers have arrived at my final paragraph, I may well be on the road home, returning to Kootenay valleys “the moon could be rolled in.” Once there, I will embark immediately on my next journey, excited for the transition.
In all the words I have written, and all the words I could know, a simple pair best convey the sincere gratitude I feel for having been given this opportunity to serve as President for the BC Principals’ & Vice-Principals’ Association: thank you.
Keep well and safe.