In more recent years of secondary school classroom teaching, much more thought has been given to the structuring of lessons, the way they begin and end, for instance –and when we think about the beginning, not just a ‘starter’ activity, but the actual process of what students (oops, sorry, ‘learners’) encounter as they enter a classroom. I suspect generally this was meant to mean some little challenging conundrum, or some curriculum based image displayed to get their studenty minds appropriately ticking over. All good, by the way. Me, what I liked (in those final years of my class-teaching when we all had PCs, interactive screens and access to youtube) was to put on some feelgood music as they filed in and shuffled to their seats. Particular coming-into-class favourites for me included Michael Buble’s ‘Just Haven’t Met You Yet’, Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Goin’ On’, and this one here – the opening over-the-credits song from the film musical ‘Rent’: ‘Seasons of Love’.
And I suppose I ought to confess at this point that I’ve never seen the whole musical ‘Rent’, and I half suspect that I actually never will. I have the DVD, but no reports from friends who’ve seen it have ever quite been sufficiently enthusiastic to make me want to remove it from the box. Oh I might, who knows – then I may have to add to this posting. Never mind, it’s this song that I love, and that I have found –as I have explained –most serviceable! The song’s ‘message’ if you’ve never heard it (but surely you have!) is pretty simple – How should we ‘measure’ and presumably validate, all of the things that take place in the course of one year? In the minutiae of daily trivia? (‘cups of coffee..’) in beautiful scenes experienced, in the maelstrom of emotions (‘in laughter and strife’), in movement, travel? No, proposes the song, let’s ‘measure’ it by the many ways that love has been demonstrated (in comradely companionship? fraternal empathy? Kinship and sharing? Passion and compassion?). Can’t argue with that.
While the song undoubtedly stands on its own, it’s hard to divorce it now from that brilliant piece of film that introduces the lineup of characters comprising the group of friends around which ‘Rent’ the musical is constructed. It’s starkly orchestrated – darkness to light via 8 spotlights on the line of characters, becoming visible as the piano strikes the key sequence of chords, gradually added to by other instruments. Then they launch, in unison , into the neat bit of maths for which the song is probably most famous – telling us the number of minutes in a year – 525,600, of course. The camera pans along the line (oh look there’s Idina Menzel, probably now the famousest thanks to Wicked & Frozen), and when we hit the chorus bit – ‘How about love?..’ the line breaks into harmonies and parts- and gets very exciting. In the second verse, we get terrific solos – Tracie Thomas the first half, Jesse Martin the second – and here the lyric, soulfully delivered, gets a bit heavier, maybe – ‘In truths that she learned/ Or in times that he cried/ In bridges he burned/ Or the way that she died..’ On the repeated chorus the vocal focus goes back to Tracie who in apparently semi-improvisational soul-singing ‘choose love – give love’ etc hits an incredible piercing (in a good way!) high note to bring the lyric, the performance, and the song’s injunction (Measure your life in love! )to its dramatic conclusion. Whew.
‘Sir can we watch it again!?’ Hmmm – but this apparent keenness may well have been just a wile to delay the onset of more demanding classroom activities. Or ‘work’, as we sometimes called it. Still, I like to think we launched into our academic endeavours all a little bit lifted, energized, stimulated or something like.