RICHARDSON: ‘I want to be like that’

December 22, 2013 

For my family -- mostly my wife and me -- Christmas season really doesn’t get started until we take our annual journey with Richard and Sandra Kiel to the Atlanta Symphony’s Christmas concert. We started this tradition more than a decade ago, and it’s something I cherish. They are dear friends.

I don’t know why this year’s concert was so special. The symphony orchestra was in great form, led by conductor Norman Mackenzie. It just seemed livelier. The Symphony Orchestra Chorus seemed stronger, and the Gwinnett Young Singers sounded great as did the Morehouse College Glee Club.

My mind wanders at times. That’s just the way I am. I tried to imagine what brought all these performers, individually, to this time and place. I looked over the scene. I’m always drawn to cellist Christopher Rex’s solo “The Song For The Birds,” and David Coucheron’s violin playing “Allegro non troppo.” All you need to know is “allegro” means fast.

I watched the younger performers marvel at the Symphony Chorus as they sang many of the Christmas songs in Latin. The Morehouse men, doing their signature song “Betelehemu,” always draws a standing ovation. The glee club has three outstanding solo vocalists. What made them different from the boys we see locked up or parading their ignorance on Facebook or YouTube? How did all of the skilled performers get there?

My mind went back to 1963. I was a seventh-grader at George Washington Carver Junior High School in Los Angeles. It was the first assembly for new students. The school’s marching band came in the auditorium, strutting and playing. I was fascinated. I wanted to do that. I wanted to be like them. I had a musical ember already, but the band stoked the flame. I couldn’t wait to get home and ask my mother if I could play in the band. Little did I know this would cost money, money we probably didn’t have. I believe I annoyed my mother into going to the instrument rental shop. All the clarinets had been rented so I ended up with a trombone. She didn’t think I would stick to it -- and to a degree, she was right. I haven’t played in 30 years, but I did actively play the trombone and other lower brass instruments through high school and college. The music I learned has enriched my life. Who knew?

All kids have an “I want to be like that moment (moments).” Too many times adults (like my mother) pooh-pooh their dreams for one reason or another. Adults have the responsibility -- unbeknownst to the children being manipulated -- to provide situations that could be an “I want to be like that” moment. Manipulated is the wrong word. No matter how we try to turn a child on to what we like, it is impossible to do. When it comes, it will hit something in their spirit.

Parents and grandparents aren’t the only ones responsible for creating “I want to do that” moments. I was listening to NPR as they interviewed Steven Strogatz, a professor of applied mathematics at Cornell University. He talked about his lifelong relationship with his high school math teacher, who turned him onto a subject many of us find daunting.

Strogatz wrote a book about their 30-year relationship, “The Calculus of Friendship.” Teachers can create “I want to be like that moments.” Unfortunately in the atmosphere of extreme testing, that’s harder to do, but good teachers always find a way.

There was a young man, Savion Wright, my Rotary Club’s student of the month. Aside from the academic success he’s found working with Ray Rover at “Streets to Success,” he’s a budding entrepreneur. He was displaying a bow tie of his own design and creation. He found his inspiration.

Most important, adults have to remember children learn by osmosis. They model. For boys to become men, they have to be around good men. Same with girls. Sperm donors and hoochie mamas need not apply. If children follow good examples -- as most will -- the cycle those behaviors perpetuate will continue. The opposite is also true.

Charles E. Richardson is The Telegraph’s editorial page editor. He can be reached at 478-744-4342 or via email at Tweet@crichard1020.

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