Mistress of the Mix for Friday: Too Cool For School


I’ve only been kicked out of three classes in my life. Permanently, I mean. I guess I was just too cool for school.

The first time was in the eighth grade, and I briefly mentioned it in a recent column, when I wrote about the events that led up to the moment I met my husband on a soccer field after transferring to a new junior high. The punishment for standing up in English class and telling the teacher to eff off while flipping her the double bird was being removed from her class permanently, and getting suspended from school for a week. Gotta be honest, it didn’t really seem like punishment to me. I also found a new school across the city to attend ninth grade. The reason I behaved so atrociously was that she’d criticized a creative writing assignment I’d turned in, giving me a C- on a deeply emotional story of a young woman who commits suicide on a ferry because I deliberately switched from past to present tense as she climbed over the railing and jumped to her death in Puget Sound. I guess you could say she gave me a bad review, and I followed up with a rebuttal.

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The second time was in high school. I was in Mr. Tredway’s history class, and I was skating on thin ice. I had a D in the class for not handing in homework on time, and I’d already been warned to keep my mouth shut, because Mr. Tredway didn’t appreciate my exuberant, talkative nature. This particular teacher was also the debate coach. I’m sort of surprised that he didn’t recruit me for the debate team. Instead, he removed me completely.

On that particular day, as I said, I’d been warned. And I respected that warning. Because his class was not only mandatory to graduate, he was the only one who taught it. I took his warning seriously and tried to do exactly as he’d told me. So when my friend Dawn sitting at the desk to my left leaned over and attempted to engage me in conversation, I shushed her. “That’s it!” Tredway yelled, “You’re outta here!” I told him it wasn’t me. Even Dawn stood up and apologized, and told the teacher it was her, not me. He didn’t care. He wanted me out of there.

Later, when we were in the principal’s office together, he told Principal Smith that one of the reasons he wanted me gone was because my hair (which was green at the time), was a distraction. Well, you got me there. He refused to believe the truth, and also refused to allow me to come back into his classroom, even if it meant I couldn’t graduate.

Fortunately, my punishment for the crime of doing absolutely nothing was independent study. I got to study history subjects that I was interested in (but still had to take the tests that the whole class took), and I ended up with a B+ in the class.

The third instance, my crowning misachievement, was in college. I’ve known plenty of other students who have been sent to the principal’s office or suspended from high school, but I honestly don’t know another soul who has been forcibly removed from a college class by the instructor. Not that I’m wearing it like a feather in my cap or anything. It was actually pretty humiliating at the time, but I think I got the last laugh. You’ll see why.

When people ask me what my major was in college, I used to laugh and say, “KSOR.” Those were the call letters of the public radio station on campus that has today grown into the largest regional public radio network of stations in the country. For reals I was a Communications major, but most of my time at Southern Oregon University was spent in the basement of Central Hall, first as the station’s first news department volunteer, then  spinning vinyl as a late night Jazz DJ, and then landing a job there as the Chief Student Announcer. I recruited, trained and scheduled all of the non-staff announcer shifts, both student and community volunteers. It also meant that occasionally, when one of the professional staff would take a vacation, I would be tapped to fill in. Once it was for the News Director. Another time it was the afternoon Classical host.

Up until 1988, the only requirement to become an on-air music shift at the station was that you pass an audition and complete the training. You’d think it might be a cakewalk, but just try to sit down in front of a live mic when you know you’re being recorded and judged by someone. It gives me anxiety even now, and I’ve been doing this radio gig for 34 years.

Then someone had the idea of adding on a new prerequisite for student announcers. From that moment forward, any student at the college who wanted to become an announcer at KSOR (which was in the process of becoming Jefferson Public Radio at the time), first had to take a music history class offered by the college.

A likeness of me, 1988.

There was only one. And I was the guinea pig.

The class wasn’t what I was expecting, and I doubt it’s what the person who made the decision to make it a prerequisite was expecting either. We never got around to learning about how modern music evolved (and by modern, I’m talking about the last three or four centuries). We never discussed anything in the 20th, 19th, 18th or even 17th century. We never got around to learning about  how the musical child of Negro spirituals was the blues, and its grandchildren rock and jazz. We didn’t hear about Rachmaninov’s writing block, or even about the invention of the piano.

We sort of got stuck way back in the 9th or 10th century. Perhaps the most modern concept (at least while I was still in the class) was learning about the invention of Gregorian Chant in western Turkey. Since I didn’t keep my notes, I’ll have to quote from Wikipedia: “Gregorian melodies are traditionally written using neumes, an early form of musical notation from which the modern four-line and five-line staff developed. Multi-voice elaborations of chant, known as organum, were an early stage in the development of Western polyphony, which is one type of musical texture. A texture, generally speaking, is the way that melodic, rhythmic and harmonic aspects of a musical composition are combined to shape the overall sound and quality of the work……”

Zzzzzzzz.

Have I lost you yet? I was nodding out after Turkey.

This class was not for radio announcers. It was for composers and performers. I really didn’t feel there was much information that was interesting nor really relevant to what I was doing, even if I did enjoy the occasional Gregorian chant. But I did the required reading, I memorized terms like polyphony, contrapunctus, modes, intervals, semi-tones and melisma, and I showed up to take the quizzes. Just not always right on time.

One day I showed up to class a few minutes late for a quiz, and the teacher confronted me as I walked into the class room. She invited me to leave, and told me (in front of the entire class) that I was no longer welcome in her classroom. Because I had not cared enough to show up on time, in her opinion I wasn’t worthy of being in her classroom or being her student. Because clearly I was not interested in the subject. Of course I was interested in the history of music, just not the narrow, ancient focus she was putting on it. But I had no choice in the matter. I was booted out.

Does anybody else see the irony developing here?

Here we are, exactly 30 years down the road, and what’s my bread and butter? What I live and breathe every day and pour my passion into? Three things, in a nutshell. Creative writing, studying history and sharing ancient music.

I suppose if I had aced the music history class, it would given me a deeper understanding of the form of classical music, but I believe that telling listeners about tempos and keys is boring and sounds pretentious. Instead, I’d rather do some history research and give listeners some context to what they’re listening to by opening a window into the life of the composer and what was going on in the world around them while the piece was being written.

The incredible Sergei Rachmaninov.

Just to drive home what I’m talking about, which do you find more fascinating about Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2?

The last movement opens with a short orchestral introduction that modulates from E to C minor, before a piano solo leads to the statement of the agitated first theme…..in the recapitulation, the first theme is truncated to only 8 bars on the tutti, because it was widely used in the development section. (That’s from Wikipedia again.)

or

Rachmaninoff was so devastated by harsh critics of his first symphony, that the composer suffered writer’s block that lasted for years. How did he get over it and go on to become the writer of some of the most celebrated and enduring Romantic piano concertos? Hypnotherapy! That’s why his second piano concerto – by far the most popular of all his concertos – was dedicated to Dr. Nikolai Dahl, the therapist who helped cure him, making it possible for us to hear this masterpiece today. (That’s from me.)

I rest my case.

And that my friends is why – when I am fortunate enough to be asked to participate in Career Day at my daughter’s former high school, I always stand in front of the class and ask which kid, out of all these 8th graders, is the troublemaker. The one who won’t shut up and is always a major distraction, walking to the beat of their own drum. And then I tell that kid they’ve got a great career ahead of them in broadcasting.

Hope you get a kick out of today’s Too Cool For School playlist. I dedicate it to all those teachers who couldn’t handle Hurricane Valerie. While you listen, I’d be curious to know what the worst thing was you ever did in school, and for the teachers out there, how do you handle students like me?

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Valerie Ing
Valerie Ing has been the Northern California Program Coordinator for Jefferson Public Radio in Redding for 14 years and can often be found serving as Mistress of Ceremonies at the Cascade Theatre. For her, ultimate satisfaction comes from a perfect segue. She and her husband are parents to a couple of college students and a pair of West Highland Terriers, and Valerie can’t imagine life without them or music. The Mistress of the Mix wakes up every day with a song in her head, she sings in the shower and at the top of her lungs in the car.
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13 Responses

  1. Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

    A couple of old songs come to mind:
    Mr. Lee
    Teacher’s Pet
    School Days

    • Valerie Ing Valerie Ing says:

      Teacher’s Pet….I don’t think I’ve ever earned that title!!!! Good offerings for the list though!

  2. Avatar Eleanor Townsend says:

    Well I, of course, never did anything wrong in any school. So I am skipping your actual question and asking to include “‘Rachmaninoff: ‘Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini: Variation 18′” (my excuse being you did mention his work)

    Also known as “The Story of Three Loves”.

    Listen and Weep, what with Valentine’s Day coming up and all.

    Thanks for another great story, Valerie! (And you have so very many!!)

    • Valerie Ing Valerie Ing says:

      What a great idea! Done! In fact, I also included the most famous movement of Rachmaninov’s 2nd Piano Concerto too! It’s the one Eric Carmen borrowed for his hit pop song “All By Myself!”

  3. Adrienne Jacoby Adrienne Jacoby says:

    My cure for the troublemaker? GIVE ‘EM A SOLO!! I’m kidding, but in truth it worked more than once.

    • Valerie Ing Valerie Ing says:

      YES!!!!! I wish you’d been my high school history teacher!

      • Adrienne Jacoby Adrienne Jacoby says:

        Oh Val . . . . had to laugh at that one. One of my (many)soap boxes , or maybe it’s a tenant of belief, is that if you want to know the history of a country or an era, LOOK AT THEIR ARTS!! Given that some years I had all incoming 6th graders for 9 weeks, I decided the best music education I could give them was the GREAT AMERICAN MUSICAL. More than once when I was talking about what we were going to see, a kid would raise their hand and ask, “Ms. Jacoby, is this music or history!”

  4. Avatar Candace C says:

    I love that you pick out the “troublemaker” kid and I love your stories. I could pull up a chair and listen to to you all day long.

  5. Adrienne Jacoby Adrienne Jacoby says:

    P.S. If you were a child of the ’40’s (ahem!) you would recognize many of the classical themes, not only from Rachmaninoff but from Chopin, Liszt, and so on and so forth. They were made into the popular songs of the day: I.E., “Could the be Moonlove?” Tonight we Love.” “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows.” even the theme song for “THE FBI IN WAR AND PEACE.” (this was WWII and radio, remember) was the theme from Love for three Oranges, suite by Prokofiev. Great way to remember classical themes: put word to ’em!! Didn’t’ work quite so well for Stravinsky and Schoenberg. LOL

    • Valerie Ing Valerie Ing says:

      But you know who probably did more to instill all those great classical themes into young people? Warner Bros cartoons!!!

  6. Joanne Snyder Joanne Snyder says:

    I so love this article Valerie. And I love it more because I listen to you every day and you talk about the lives of the composers whose work you share on the radio. You let us relate to these extraordinary people on a human level.
    Too much of any teacher’s day is taken with maintaining order with a bunch of individuals, period after period so I can’t applaud your reaction to criticism in a a classroom…disrespecting a teacher is bad karma, but you moved on to bigger and better things.
    Having the skills to be a broadcaster is a skill and a gift. Training and experience and that certain something that most people lack! I’m so happy to are willing to share your knowledge with young people.

  7. Valerie Ing Valerie Ing says:

    You’re right Joanne, and I was definitely disrespectful if that 8th grade teacher, and that doesn’t deserve applause. I’m only pointing out the irony that the three teachers who couldn’t handle hurricane Val (and I AM a handful!) were the ones who taught the subjects that became my life’s work. Pure irony.