More often than not, I wake up in the morning with a random song in my head. Also, more often than not, there is no reason I can think of for that particular song to be there.
Recently, the song that greeted me was one I had not heard, or even thought about it since 4th or 5th grade. My class had performed a musical program on the history of the United States. It may have been for the bicentennial in 1976. We wore jeans, white shirts and bandanas, stood on the bleachers in the gym, and sang folk songs about the beginning of the country into the depression era and so forth. My memory is kind of foggy on the content, as the depression era is not typically something taught to, much less grasped by, kids of that age. We just sang the songs. But Tzena was a catchy tune…
Tzena, Tzena, Tzena, Tzena
Come into the fields and we’ll begin to work the land.
Hoeing, sowing, new things growing
Pioneering all together, come and lend a hand
Tzena, Tzena building a new nation
Toiling busily all day.
Soon we’ll dance and have a celebration
But first we’ll work and then we’ll play.
This was all under the direction of our music teacher at Barnes Elementary School. Mrs. Aylor was a lovely woman, kind and generous, but also very serious about music. I can see her now, behind that piano, banging out the beat on the top while we sang. She seemed to have as much fun teaching as I had in being taught. Many of the songs I learned in her class I can sing from memory to this day.
Every year, we “tried out” for choir. We all made it, but the try out was to determine where we stood in the bleachers. Alto, soprano, etc. I remember the year I was no longer an alto. I had no idea what an alto was, but I had been one for the last couple of years, then suddenly, I was a soprano. Mrs. Aylor would take the entire choir to a competition wherein we would join with other schools to perform. Parents did not go. We traveled to a large auditorium by bus. I do not remember where it was. It could have been a local high school, a college or even the Myriad Convention Center. All the schools would have a chance to sing. I do not know if there were prizes or whether we won anything, but it was the highlight of our year in music class.
The day before the concert in 5th grade, I got the mumps and was unable to attend. Back then, they didn’t vaccinate for mumps, and eventually we all got them. I woke that morning with a large lump on one side of my neck. Mom told me I had to stay home and be quiet and still. Was I ever mad! Somehow I got the idea that the mumps could possibly travel down from my neck into my girl parts and do something that would prevent me from having kids in the future. The thought of having children or not having children was so completely off the radar for me at the time, there was no motivation for me to “stop making a fuss about it.” I wanted to go to the choir concert.
My first day back at school when the mumps receded, Mrs. Aylor gave me a good natured scowl. “Where were you?” She asked. “Why weren’t you at the choir concert?” I told her I’d had the mumps and Mom wouldn’t let me go. “Well, you look fine now,” she said; her hands on her hips in feigned aggravation. I was disappointed that I had missed the concert. But, what was that other feeling? The feeling of being missed? The feeling of importance? Was my absence at the choir concert really felt that much? I was pleased, it felt oddly very good.
It is well known among my family and current peers, that I am, without a doubt, a terrible singer. I know this about myself, now, and I’m OK with it. I sound fabulous in the car. I am Beyonce in the shower. But, in the presence of an audience, all that talent goes down the drain.
But, Mrs. Aylor never let on. She never told that small, skinny, homely, insecure child in hand me down clothes, that she was a terrible singer. She let me believe that I was as important as any other member of the choir and my absence was felt. What a kindness. As a child who felt less than …. well, less than everything at that point in time, being told that I was simply no good at something I enjoyed so much would have devastated me. I would have been crushed. She made me feel like I mattered.
So, that day when I awoke with Tzena in my head, I immediately thought of Mrs. Aylor and how I enjoyed singing for singing’s sake. I will not forget her generosity and encouragement. I realize I could not have been the only child to whom she extended such loving kindness. To that I say: Thank you, Mrs. Aylor on behalf of all of us who sang from our hearts, if not from our talent.