One of the major advantages of homeschooling is freedom, the freedom to work on your own schedule, to ignore inconvenient educational mandates, and to do unconventional things. That is of course, also a potential disadvantage, but let’s forget about that. This week, I decided to do something unconventional. Because I can.
I give more emphasis to the humanities than a public-school education would. Backing up a bit, I got this idea from a series of academic bees that my son participates in, the International Academic Competition. By IAC’s definition, the humanities cover a diverse set of topics including literature, visual art, auditory art, performing arts, religion, mythology (delicately separated from religion in this list), and philosophy. I try to delve into one of these subjects on a weekly basis. Theoretically, I follow the list in order, then start again from the top. In reality I drift through it according to my whim.
When we lived in New Mexico and my son was attending school on a daily basis, humanities lessons involved a short talk, a few books from the library, and maybe some videos on YouTube (massive props to Crash Course here). Now that we’re in New York, there are a wealth of opportunities for enriching experiences in the humanities. As I get better at scheduling my homeschooling week, we have been more able to take advantage. One week we spent an afternoon at the MOMA with Picasso and Frida Kahlo. Another, we took a walking tour to track down all the places where Edgar Allan Poe spent time in the city. The possibilities are only limited by my creativity.
This week, we had worked our way down to the “auditory arts”, which in Orwellian education-speak means music. I had the idea that it would be fun to attend either a jazz or blues show but knew that it might be difficult to find something that a 12-year-old would be welcome to attend. So, I bit the bullet and went on a scouting mission to a handful of live music venues in the Village. I ended up in one of my favorite New York neighborhoods, the collection of streets between 4th and Houston. To be honest, I don’t have a name for the area. Perhaps it’s just the Village? NoHo? Somebody help me with this one.
I found two places willing to let a child my son’s age attend a show. One was a jazz bar called Zinc. The following night, they had a Cuban band playing with a reasonable 20-dollar cover. I loved the look of Zinc, with a 1920s feel right down to the outfits on the bouncer and bartender. Unfortunately, the band went on at nine, perfectly reasonable for a show in New York, but a bit late for a 12-year-old to start a night. So, I chose to go with Terra Blues.
We were there on a Wednesday night at 7:30 and the crowd was light. The hostess was refreshingly friendly when she saw us on our strange mission and seated us towards the front at a table that said Reserved. In hindsight, I guess that is just a cover for an embarrassingly small crowd. We ordered a Shirley Temple, a whiskey and coke, and a bowl of hot peanuts for the table. The performer was Junior Mack, who was once nominated for a Grammy. As he began a set of acoustic blues songs, I tried to give a little background on the music, but as is often the case with the arts, I am not much of an expert in the field. My theory is just to let the exposure sink in.
Junior worked the crowd in a way that was just as much fun as the music, eliciting strange curt replies about where people were from. He asked my son if I played the guitar. I’ve been learning for the last few years, so I expected a bit more than the reply he gave. “No, not really.” Everyone’s a critic. At one point, we got to sing harmony as a crowd. That was fun, because we had talked about the concept of harmony only a few weeks ago when I tried to teach a few basics (and I do mean very basic basics) of music theory.
There was a full electric band going on at ten, and we were tempted to stay, but it was getting late, so as soon as the acoustic set was over, we got the check. While I was paying, Junior came around to say hi to us and asked my son a few questions.
Overall, the experience went as smoothly as could be expected. One thing I’ve learned as a parent is to plan things, to fight my natural impulse to spontaneity as much as possible. Scouting out the terrain for this night out was essential. No, I don’t know much about the blues, but at least I was able to expose my son to the music. We’ll go to a jazz club sometime soon, but next week is Buddhism, so stayed posted to hear about our trip to the Met, and give Junior Mack a follow on Instagram, he’s a great musician and seems like a great guy!