January 31, 2017

FTV: It’s about Time

    Time is a tricky subject and there are so many musical tie-ins that pop to mind, coming up with a catchy title got a little tricky.  A title based on Does Anyone Really Know What Time It Is (Chicago),  Time is Tight (Booker T and the MGs), Time is on My Side (Rolling Stones), Time of your  Life (Green Day), and of course Time, Time, Time, Time, Time (Jack Spann) would have worked equally well.  These  few examples came to mind without spending too much mental energy and those are just from the musical end of the spectrum.  Don’t even get me started on Einstein’s theories on time and space.

    Speaking of the relativity of time, I think Alice Cooper nailed it on the head when he said the song School’s Out (for the Summer) was inspired by the two longest stretches of time he remembers.  One was the minutes that dragged on just before ripping into your Christmas presents and the other was the snail’s pace that happened at the end of the last day of school.  He told his band, “If we can capture the energy in those two moments, it will be a big hit.”  Good old Alice hit that nail right on the head and a golden nail it was!

    I relate to both of those situations, but especially to the school part.  If I add up my years as an inmate (I am sorry, a student) from grades K to grade 12 and on through college, then add in my teaching career, I can lay claim to nearly 60 of Alice’s “last day of school” moments.  Toss in the similar feelings generated by the first day of school, the day before an extended vacation, and the first day back after an extended vacation and my version of “Alice end of school moments” sky rockets into the hundreds.  I often repeat the following description of a typical school year relative to Einstein’s Relativity Theory:  “The longest days of the year are the first and last day of school, followed by the day before and the day after a vacation.  All the rest of the days seem to be about them same length.”   Back in the day when we were allowed input into the school calendar, some of the staff would get themselves into knots about when the school year should start and end.  A wise old time educator once stood up at a meeting and said, “If there are 180 school days between the first and last day, does it really matter when it starts and ends?”   I am sure there is a variation of this feeling that applies to just about any job or major life change that people experience.

    When I began my teaching career in Ontonagon, our school day ran roughly from 8:30 AM to 3:10 PM and a typical school year spanned 180 days.  The number of minutes we were required to put in per day (and over the entire year) were always above the minimum amount set by the State Department of Education.  Over the years, the State DOE began tinkering with the time formula reasoning that schools could save money by running fewer, but longer days. It didn’t happen all at once, but eventually some districts were running as few as 170 days and daily hours that could run from 8 AM to 3:40 PM.  This made for an especially long day for those students who logged a considerable amount of bus time in large districts like Ontonagon.

    The best evaluation of this time management system that I ever ran across came from someone in the DOE in response to school districts who wanted to take this to the next level by cutting back to a four day week.  This official said, “Any school district that adds minutes in lieu of operational days is doing their students a large disservice.”  He went on to explain that the quality of a student’s education suffers when their noses are kept to the grindstone too long.  In layman’s terms;  when the students are overworked, the quality of their work falls off as their attention wanders.  With the wandering attention span comes an increase in discipline issues.

    With the template of fewer, longer days in place, the DOE reversed course and began adding days back to the calendar.  Thankfully, local districts have, for the most part, recognized that they could replace the longer school days with the added calendar days and have taken steps to reduce the length of the school day.   By replacing the one remaining study hall in the schedule with regularly scheduled classes, Ontonagon was able to trim 90 hours of instruction (30 minutes per day) putting the school bell schedule back  (pretty close) to what it was when I started in 1975.

This simple time adjustment has had a noticeable effect on student and staff morale.  If the longer school days had a negative effect on the quality of work being done, then it stands to reason that slightly shorter school days should produce the opposite effect.

    When I was in seventh and eighth grade at good old Graveraet Junior High (which is now one of Marquette’s elementary schools), we couldn’t escape time.  The clocks in the classrooms were of the type that didn’t move smoothly as time passed.  No, these clocks would sit idle for 59 seconds at a time, and then make an audible ‘chic-CLICK’ as the hand moved one minute ahead.  It was very difficult to ignore the passage of time when one could hear every minute of the period pass:  ‘chic-CLICK’ . . . pause . . .’chic-CLICK’ . . . If the class was quietly engaged in an assignment or test, I actually think they had a way to turn up the volume.  It was as if the clock was taunting us. The only places we escaped this torment was in they gym and band room.  As a band student, I only had one true study hall period in all my school days and that was during my eighth grade year.  Study hall was held in Kaufman Auditorium (picture spending an hour doing homework in the Ontonagon Theater of Performing Arts and you get the idea), and even in that large hall, we could hear the relentless ‘chic-CLICK’ of the clock that most of us couldn’t even see from our seats.

    It was during those two years of time torture that I was also a bus riding student.  In my student days, I lived one block from my elementary school and two and a half blocks from the high school.   Junior high was a couple of miles away so I got to be a bus rider and that is probably why I sympathize with our students who spend a good deal of time each day on a bus.  If you are thinking, “Wait a minute – a bus ride of a couple of miles?  Even with pick-ups and drop offs, that shouldn’t be more than a fifteen minute ride.”  This is true, however, with 1000 students being transported to and from Graveraet (and we weren’t the only school in town with bus kids), they operated a system where the buses in town ran two routes.  The first kids in on the early morning run (like me) were deposited at school a good thirty minutes before the start of school and had to sit in the gym until the second bus runs came in.  After school, the second run kids (again, like me) got to sit in the auditorium until the first runs were done and the buses returned for us.  I could, and sometimes did, walk home and beat my bus riding arrival time by a good ten minutes.  

    Just to come full circle and connect the topic back to music, I am reminded of a story John Craigie told at the Porcupine Mountain Music Festival in August of 2016.  He said he was supposed to perform at the Burning Man Festival and was running a little late when he got there.  He said, “I made the mistake of asking the first person I saw with a watch what time it was.  He replied, ‘Man, it is whatever time you want it to be.’  We danced around the topic for quite a while and he never did the obvious, which would have been to look at the watch on his wrist and tell me what time it was.  I eventually realized that I am going to just have to bring my own watch next time I go to the BMF.”  Apparently time has a fluid definition for those attending Burning Man.

    I should also point out that the fastest ten or fifteen minutes for a band is the  contracted break they are scheduled to get during a gig.  When I was a card carrying member of AFofM Local 213, the standard contract said the band was to get a break during each hour they played.  During the third night of a three night run at a club, the break between sets seems to fly by in the blink of an eye.  The longer the engagement, the slower the sets seemed to flow and the faster the breaks seemed to fly.  Of course, that was back when I was playing a lot more.  These days, with the occasional gigs I get to play with Easy Money,  I have to invoke Einstein’s Theory of Relativity again.  Unlike the old days, the sets now seem to fly by and not the breaks.  If fact, we are usually having so much fun, we forget to take a break and just keep playing.  I would like to wrap up the topic of time by saying thanks to our listeners for taking their time to tune in WOAS-FM  88.5 YOUR SOUND CHOICE in Ontonagon.  Time is up for this edition of FTV.

Top Piece Video – How could we not use Alice Cooper for this?  I can only assume Randy Black (who posted this video with these comments) was the drummer in this 2014 All Star outing:  Black said ” This was the encore every night, what a thrill and honour it was to share the stage with such legends. Alice Cooper, Mick Box and Bernie Shaw of Uriah Heep, Kim Wilde, Joe Lynn Turner of Rainbow & Deep Purple and Midge Ure of Ultravox.”