Meyer & McGuire
Song of the Month #15 - “The Underrated One”
(Track #8 on the Home Town CD)
Lyrics: If your web browser does not support the Flash Player* included with the Lyrics, or you are uncomfortable allowing/downloading the plug-in/add-on, you can still listen to this song while you read. Just go to our Downloads Page and click on the link, “Buy Home Town Songs from Napster”. Then, click on "The Underrated One." You can listen to it for free (not available outside the USA).
*Not being a techie, I use the term “Flash Player” loosely.
If you have worked in any major bureaucratic system you most likely have been subjected to training workshops, and if you are like me, after attending several of these instructional sessions, you get a bit cynical sometimes. Here’s why. Quite often you get a bad facilitator, a person who does not have a good command of the topic, or a person who has no ability to make the presentation interesting. Another major turnoff is discovering the information you are receiving looks great on paper, but it would be impossible to implement within the confines of your job. I could go on and on about the downside of teaching seminars, but I think two examples are enough here to explain why I approach them with great skepticism. With that said, I want to make it clear that not all workshops are bad. In fact, I have attended some great ones, and it was an excellent writing clinic that stimulated the development of “The Underrated One.”
Back in the late ‘80s I attended a summer workshop for teachers of writing. The facilitator was a disciple of Nancy Atwell and Donald Graves, two gurus in the field of writing instruction. Atwell and Graves did not believe the teacher should instruct and then give an assignment. They suggested the teacher should engage the student in a meaningful writing assignment, and then serve as a guide as the student worked towards revising and improving the work. So, being a devoted student of Atwell and Graves, our workshop leader enthusiastically followed their proposal by simulating a week-long lesson plan. She gave the twenty of us an assignment I still vividly remember to this day. We had to write about an important moment in our life. From Monday afternoon through Thursday afternoon we wrote, and while we were writing, the head of the seminar would visit with each of us and talk to us about our topic. Rather than critiquing our work, she would ask questions and offer suggestions, a technique she encouraged us to employ in the classroom. On Friday we met in a circle and read our work to each other. After each presentation, we, like the teacher, asked questions and offered comments and suggestions.
On Monday at the start of the workshop, when it came time to choose a topic, several memorable events came to mind, but choosing a subject was not my problem. My dilemma was I was not going to be able to read the finished work aloud to the rest of the group at the end of the week. After I went blind at the age of sixteen, I learned to read Braille, but I never read it fast enough for someone to enjoy my reading out loud. I could memorize material very well, and I relied on this ability when I was teaching, but this skill only worked well with poems, songs, and short excerpts from books. Since I knew I could write, arrange, memorize, and perform a song in one week, I presented this idea to the workshop leader, and she eagerly gave me the go-ahead.
Writing the “Underrated One” was a new experience for me in songwriting. Before this, I always waited until a song was ready to be developed. Now, I had to create a song within a certain amount of time. Also, before this, I never wrote a song for a specific audience. Now, my audience was a group of teachers who were my friends and colleagues. Since I knew my listeners were going to be a group of educators, I decided a song about the experiences of a teacher had the best shot of connecting with their emotions. With my focus established, I began to list the trials and tribulations of every teacher, and my details fell into three groups which materialized into three verses. The first of these illustrated the struggles teachers have with their colleagues, administrators, parents, community, etc. It was followed by a verse depicting the many everyday problems teachers faced with their students in and outside of the classroom. Finally, the last verse portrayed the reason educators contended with all these difficulties. It described students reaching various levels of success in all walks of life.
With these three verses in place, I still was not satisfied with the song. There were two other concepts I wanted to present. The first focused on why teachers got into such a demanding job for such low pay. I resolved this issue by developing an introductory verse that described the reasons, and to emphasize these motives, I repeated the verse at the end of the song. The last idea I wanted to include appeared in the chorus of the song. It showed that, contrary to the perception of most people, the job of the teacher never ended. With my lyrics in place, I memorized them, arranged the song, and practiced it until the day of the presentation.
When Friday rolled around, I asked the coordinator if I could go last because my song was going to be a tribute to all the people who were in the audience. She agreed, and I sat back and listened to my colleagues read their works. Over twenty years have gone by since that day, and I still remember how moved I was by all the wonderful presentations that made me laugh and cry. I knew then the tribute I had written for these people who entered the trenches with me every day was more than well deserved. After the last reading, I played “The Underrated One.” I, too, forced the appearance of some handkerchiefs and tissues, and I knew I had connected.
“The Underrated One” is a sensitive folk song that will easily stir up your emotions. John Dady and I present this one with just two guitars. While I accompany my voice with a gentle pattern picking of the chords, John deftly and delicately injects exquisite leads throughout the tune. In addition to these great leads, he adds an unbelievable subtle harmony in the chorus. The instrumentation in this song is designed to be unobtrusive because the lyrics are the dominating force. They naturally encourage contemplation for educators, parents, and just about anyone who has played any part in the development of the lives of children. I have played this song at the opening of several teacher conferences, and I recommend that all principals should let their teachers listen to this song at the opening of one of their faculty meetings. While not coming close to something like Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young’s classic “Teach Your Children,” it evokes a similar feeling. Hope you have time to check it out! I like it, and I hope you do, too.
I dedicated this song to the members of the infantry who entered the trenches with me every day throughout my career at Canandaigua Academy. While this dedication encompasses the entire faculty, it more specifically is dedicated to the members of the English department. From 1974 until 2006, I worked side by side with some of the finest English teachers in the business. Like all successful teams, we had our struggles at times, but no matter what difficulties we encountered, we always managed to come through for each other.
Jim Lynch, the department chairperson at the time I was hired, took a big risk when he added me to his platoon. Because I was visually impaired, he had to extend a little extra energy to justify why I was the best person for the job. Since only twenty-nine percent of visually impaired people in America are employed, it is easy to see that not many employers extend that little extra energy. So, thanks, Jim!
Since I left the English department in 2006, I have continued to develop the music business I have with Siobhan. We meet new people every day, but when we walk the streets of Canandaigua at night or go bike riding on a country road, I often find myself reflecting back on some of the fine moments I shared with my colleagues in the English department. Thanks to all of you for such great memories!
I recorded this song in 1993 at The Garage, a little studio in Rochester, New York. The Garage, as I have told you before, is owned and operated by John and Joe Dady, two quintessential musicians. When you record with them, you can always count on great coffee, good stories, and an aching stomach from laughing. I highly recommend John and Joe if you are interested in recording. Also, The Dady Brothers, John and Joe’s group, have many recordings of their own, and they tour the United States and Ireland. Check them out on the web at www.dadybros.com.
Well, there you have it. I’ll have another song of the month for you next month. If you have any comments or suggestions, please pass them on to me. This is a work in progress, and I am always looking for new ways to improve it.
E-mail us at McRiley@Frontiernet.net