Music has always been an important part of my life. The fact that it can transcend all boundaries, whether it be race, religion, or generations, only highlights its importance in forging those connections amongst the places and people around us. On April 19th, the world lost a superb musician. Levon Helm, the drummer and one of three lead vocalists of the group The Band, lost his battle with cancer at the age of 71. Well known amongst music fans as the voice behind the group’s hits such as The Weight and The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, Helm was an integral member amongst a group of multi-talented musicians that first backed up Bob Dylan during his tumultuous transition to electric rock in mid-1960s. After releasing several critically acclaimed albums, The Band called it quits in 1976 and enlisted the help of producer/director Martin Scorsese to release The Last Waltz, now widely considered one of the greatest concert films of all time. Helm, however, never hid his dislike for the film; he reformed the Band for another two decades before the group disbanded and for the past decade, he had been holding jam sessions at his Woodstock home that featured the likes of Steely Dan and Elvis Costello.
What I truly admired about the Band was the fact that they played together so flawlessly and so selflessly. There was no main guy; they were each so talented that they just played off of each other’s chemistry and really, for the fun of the music. As a musician, it’s an amazing feeling to play with a set of people that you can depend on and have good chemistry with. This could help in the education realm as well. If we encourage more students to pick up an instrument and teach it to them in a structured setting where they can be part of a larger whole, then it will work wonders in teaching them teamwork. There’s so much that can be gleaned from learning to play with others. It unites people towards a common goal and it diverts students from the whole “me” aspect to an attitude that is more conducive to working well with other kids.
I think music education should be supported in the school system as a way to provide an artistic outlet for students. It sure helped me out back in the day. And it made me appreciate the hard work that other people put in to get their skills down to a T.
As for Levon Helm: safe travels, you magnificent fellow.