Chapter Six: Snap
It was quieter than usual as Mr. Meinert walked into the chorus room on Thursday afternoon. The kids seemed a little tense, a little uncertain.
Mr. Meinert liked it. It was a nice change. As a young man starting his second year of teaching, he was the one who usually felt tense and uncertain. He thought, Maybe I should explode more often.
As he took attendance he avoided looking at Hart Evans. Even if he had, their eyes would not have met. Hart was also being careful not to look at Mr. Meinert. He had decided it was a good day to keep a low profile.
The teacher tossed his grade book back onto his desk and said, "Let's start off today with our new Hanukkah song."
A low groan rumbled through the room. Mr. Meinert ignored it. "We're going to have to work on some Hebrew words. Everyone please stand up in front of your desks."
There was more grumbling as the kids stood up. Again, Mr. Meinert ignored it. "We'll start with an easy one -- I'm sure you already know it. Take a deep breath, and let me hear everyone say 'Shalom.'"
The word that came back at him sounded a little like "salami."
Mr. Meinert shook his head. "No. No. Listen: Sha-lom. Say it."
Again the class made a sound.
Again Mr. Meinert shook his head. "No. Not 'Shiloom.' Sha-lom. That's a long o sound, like 'home.' Say it clearly with me. One, two, three: Sh -- "
Halfway into the first syllable Karen Baker pointed at the windows and yelped, "Look! It's snowing!"
The Hebrew lesson screeched to a stop. Everyone turned to look. "Hey! Snow! Look! It is -- it's snowing!"
Tim Miller shouted, "Maybe tomorrow will be a snow day!"
A spontaneous cheer burst out, and the kids rushed toward the long wall of windows.
The music teacher felt the anger rise up in his chest, just as it had yesterday. He wanted to scream and shake his fist at the class. But he resisted.
He walked slowly over to his desk. On his way Mr. Meinert noticed with some satisfaction that one kid had stayed at his seat: Hart Evans.
Mr. Meinert forced himself to sit down behind his desk. He opened a copy of Music Educator magazine. He flipped to an article about teaching the music of Bach to high school students. He made himself sit still and stare at the page.
He read the first sentence of the article, and then he read it again, and then a third time. He clenched his teeth and felt his jaw muscles getting tighter and tighter. He said to himself, I'm not going to yell. I will not lose my temper. The kids know that what they're doing isn't right, and they will stop it. Then we'll begin again. I will sit here and read until everyone sits down and the room is quiet.
It didn't happen. The kids at the windows stayed there. Ed Kenner opened one and stuck his hand out to try to catch snowflakes. In five seconds all the windows were open.
Around the room small groups of children formed, and kids started talking and laughing. Some of them leaned against the folding desks, and some sat down in clusters on the floor.
Even though he didn't look up from his magazine, Mr. Meinert could tell kids were sneaking quick looks at him. As three minutes crawled by, Mr. Meinert realized that since he didn't look mad, didn't look like a threat, the kids were perfectly happy to pretend he wasn't there. He had ceased to exist. Everyone was perfectly happy to do nothing. Apparently, doing nothing was a lot more fun than singing in the sixth grade chorus.
Mr. Meinert did not normally do things on the spur of the moment. He liked to plan. He liked to make lists. He liked to organize his thoughts. He liked to think, and then think again.
Not this time.
It was partly because of what had happened the day before -- the rubber band incident. It was partly because of everything his wife had said to him at dinner yesterday. It was partly because he hadn't slept well last night and had been feeling lousy all day. And it was partly because Mr. Meinert was sick and tired of trying to make this mob of kids sing when most of them clearly did not want to.
For a dozen different reasons, in Mr. Meinert's mind something snapped. He jumped to his feet, grabbed a piece of chalk, and began writing on the board.
Kids turned to watch.
In tall letters he wrote HOL -- but he pressed so hard and wrote so fast that the chalk broke. Mr. Meinert threw the yellow stub to the floor, snatched another piece, and kept pushing until he had written these words on the chalkboard:
December 22, 7 PM
Quiet spread across the room like an oil spill. Kids began tiptoeing back to their seats. His shoulders tense and his jaw still clenched, Mr. Meinert kept writing.
Sixth Grade Orchestra -- 20 minutes
Sixth Grade Band -- 20 minutes
Sixth Grade Chorus -- 30 minutes
Mr. Meinert underlined the bottom words three times, and each time the chalk made a sound that would have made a dog run out of the room.
Then he turned to look at the class. Each child was seated, every eye was on his face.
Mr. Meinert spoke slowly, pronouncing each word carefully. "Thirty minutes. That's how long the chorus will perform during the holiday concert. All your parents will be there. Grandparents will be there. Probably brothers and sisters. It's the biggest concert of the year. Well, guess what?" He slowly raised his right arm and with his fingers stretched out, palm down, he swept his hand from side to side, pointing at the whole chorus. "This holiday concert, this thirty-minute performance? It's all yours."
Someone let out a nervous laugh.
Mr. Meinert spun toward the sound. "Think this is funny? Well, just wait until December twenty-second, a little after seven thirty. That's when the real fun begins. You see, no one's coming to that concert to see me. I'm just the music teacher. Everyone is coming to see you, to listen to you. To watch the wonderful program. So that's when things will start to get fun. Because from this moment on, the holiday concert is all up to you. To you. Not me. It's not my concert. It's your concert. You don't like the songs I've picked? Fine. Pick your own. You don't like the way I run the rehearsals? No problem. Run them yourselves. You don't want to sing at all? Then you can just stand up in front of your parents and the rest of the school for half an hour and do nothing. Who knows what will happen on December twenty-second? Not me. Right now, there is only one thing that I'm sure of. On December twenty-second a little after seven thirty in the evening, I will make sure that all of you are on that stage in the auditorium. What happens once you're there...that's all up to you."
Mr. Meinert turned around, looked at the wall calendar, then picked up a piece of chalk and wrote on the board:
"Next Thursday is Thanksgiving. Counting today, there are twenty-three class periods left before the day of your concert. There won't be any after-school rehearsals like we had for the Halloween concert, no dress rehearsal the night before. You have only these twenty-three class periods. You've learned four songs so far. But of course, you might want to toss them out and choose different songs. All that is now up to you. So. Have a nice concert."
Mr. Meinert turned and took three quick steps to his desk. He leaned over and pushed. The metal legs screeched on the floor as he slid the desk to the far right side of the room and then spun it around to face the wall. He walked back, rolled his chair over to the desk and sat down, his back to the class. He picked up his Music Educator magazine and began to read the article about teaching Bach.
For the first time in more than a month, Mr. Meinert felt great.
Excerpted from THE LAST HOLIDAY CONCERT © Copyright 2004 by Andrew Clements, illustrated by Brian Selznick. Reprinted with permission by Simon & Schuster. All rights reserved.
The Last Holiday Concert
- hardcover: 176 pages
- Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
- ISBN-10: 0689845162
- ISBN-13: 9780689845161