Imagine this scenario: you’re standing at the pearly gates, yourhead in the clouds as always (though in this case, it’s quiteliteral), and St. Peter is glaring down at you from a big floatinglectern, looking like your stereotypical white-bearded philosophyprofessor, and he’s throwing a pop quiz at you, the bastard.
A pop quiz you haven’t had time to study for. Even in death,there’s no room for fun. Why? Because the learning process is notabout enjoying anything. It’s about memorizing things so you canregurgitate them on a test.
First question, multiple-choice: “When you cheated on your wife inthe thirteenth year of holy matrimony, you were violating which ofthe Ten Commandments? A) first B) eighth C) seventh D) third E) allof the above. F) none of the above.”
You wrinkle your brow, stroke your hipster goatee, adjust yourbackwards baseball cap and try to recall the details of your wife’spre-divorce lecture, but for the death of you, you just can’tremember.
You clear your throat. “Well,” you say, boldly, “I hate tonitpick, but you never said that would be on the test.”
St. Peter rolls his eyes with disgust, muttering under his breath,”Damn collegians.”
Before I say anything else, you should know this: I love jazz.I’ve considered pursuing a career as a jazz musician or educator offand on (currently off). I have dozens of seminal jazz albums layingaround my apartment. Jazz is the music for me because its philosophyis completely in line with the way I’d like to live my life:improvising over a predetermined structure.
Having said that, I’m not embarrassed to tell you I probably justfailed an exam this morning. The class? Jazz History andAppreciation.
“Well jeepers,” you’re thinking, “if the guy loves jazz so much,why did he fail that exam?”
The answer is pretty straightforward: I haven’t had the time tostudy. I’ve been too busy 1) working two minimum wage jobs so I canafford food, shelter, transportation and other essentials of modernliving; 2) writing and doing homework for other classes; and 3)volunteering on film projects to help friends and gain experience inmy field of study.
You’ll notice I didn’t list 4) firing up the bong; 5) perfectingmy golden-brown tan; or 6) cultivating extra glute tissue on thecouch. Why? Because I’m a hard-working lad, doing the schoolwork thatneeds to be done so I can … fail exams? I’m so busy with schoolworkI’ve no time to learn anything — sound familiar?
Half of the jazz test involved listening to snippets of classictunes and identifying them by name. Honestly, I hadn’t the slightestidea what the difference between Charlie Parker’s “Donna Lee” and”Charlie’s Mood” was. Listening to those tunes, the only thing Ireally knew was that I sure dig listening to Charlie’s improvisationson the saxophone. Unfortunately, no self-respecting professor wouldever issue an exam with the multiple-choice question: “Do you enjoythe content of my class? A) yes B) no C) all of the above.”
Why? Because taking a test is about getting good grades. Gettinggood grades is about being an exemplary student. Being an exemplarystudent is about graduating with honors. Graduating with honors isabout getting a great job. Getting a great job is about making a lotof money. Making a lot of money is about living the high life. Livingthe high life is about … whatever!
It hardly matters if everything is about something else; astepping-stone on the never-ending stairway to happiness — a climbmore exhausting than the Statue of Liberty by stairs. And really, isthe view from the top of the Statue of Liberty all that much betterthan what you can buy on a fifty-cent postcard at a New York deli?
That’s a question to think about, my friends. Because there’salways a few of you in each class taking rigorous notes, interruptingthe lecture to ask, “Will this be on the test?” Within that question,there’s an implied suggestion that if it’s not on the test, it’s notworth listening to, and that is where I beg to differ.
I’m interested in learning about jazz because I love jazz, notbecause I want to get a good grade in a jazz class (though theinstitution has made that my primary concern). In an ideal system,we’d be most interested in the enjoyable aspects of being educated inthe here-and-now for the sake of learning new things. There areteachers who live by this credo, and students who should take note oftheir wisdom. For those among us who do, I don’t think I even need tosay it, but I’m going to anyway, as reassurance: never let anyonetell you that just because you failed your jazz exam, you don’t lovejazz.
And when you’re up in the clouds, and St. Peter’s grilling you onthe Ten Commandments, don’t be afraid to improvise: “You know, Pete,I could guess which commandment I violated in the hopes that youmight be appeased and open up those gates for me, but the truth of itis, I don’t really know. I never studied the Bible. I know I cheatedon my wife in that 13th year because I’d fallen in love with anotherwoman. I know it was wrong because I’ve suffered the consequences ofmy sin. Since that time I’ve done all I can to make atonement.”
If heaven is any kind of decent place, chances are he’ll nodapprovingly and say, “My … what an exemplary student you were.”
–Andrew van Baal is a communication senior. Send e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
–This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of TheDaily Aztec.