Reaching Everest: In Memoriam Geoff Emerick

I don’t smoke cigarettes, but if I did, then my brand of choice is Everest. Beatles Recording Engineer smoked Everest cigarettes. I should mention that I am not espousing tobacco usage in any way shape or form. Additionally, I am not some blind follower of my favorite band that I have to emulate certain vices just because they did. The Everest brand is my nod to a recording hero whom we just lost this past week. He was 72.

Next month, I was to meet my hero in person at The White Album International Symposium.  at Monmouth University.  Excited being a speaker at this event along with Mr. Emerick, even though I am below the bottom of the bill, I had this notion of that we would become fast friends. I imagine him listening to my fandom babble with polite respect as he signed my well-worn copy of his memoir, Here, There and Everywhere. He may have discreetly looked at his watch as I attempted to explain my minor footprint in the Beatle Universe as the author of The Pepper Effect.

What do you say to a person who literally sat feet away from The Beatles as they recorded masterpiece after masterpiece? He become more than a 9-5 sound engineer dutifully turning knobs to balance volume. Emerick was a willing participant and collaborator on The Beatles’ quest for innovation in recorded sound.

Geoff Emerick started his tenure as lead sound engineer  with The Beatles and Producer George Martin at the age of 20. He began the quantum leap forward that was the “Revolver” album. On that album, he helped capture the technical and emotional  essence of John Lennon’s image for the song, “Tomorrow Never Knows.” Lennon wanted his voice to sound like a thousand Tibetan monks chanting from a mountain. Emerick delivered request and then some on that track.

Later, a Grammy Award for Best Sound Engineering would grace Geoff Emerick’s hands for his innovative contributions on “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” That album reached a standard for the band due in part to Emerick’s willingness to experiment and push against the status quo of his industry’s constrictions at the time. Emerick had worked for a large conglomerate that was fixed it traditions of capturing recorded sound. Sound Engineers were supposed to be in the background clocking in their hours and silently turning knobs on a mixing board.

Geoff Emerick did not settle for bargaining with the status quo. He did not settle for it as he entered into EMI Recording Studios with The Beatles for their final studio masterpiece. I imagine this scene:

Gathered around the audio comfort of a sound board on a Spring day in 1969, The Beatles are listening to a playback of “Here Comes the Sun.” Geoff Emerick lights another Everest from his trusty pack. Ringo nods in agreement at the audio pole position of the beautiful hand claps on the song. Paul gives a thumbs up as the vocal harmonies balance just right on the song’s bridge. John sneaks a sly smile of approval to George’s acoustic guitar fretwork. George listens intently to make sure that his song captures the warmth of sunshine. 

Paul notices the sound engineer’s cigarette pack. A simple, serene drawing of Mount Everest is imprinted on the package. A revelation hits him. “We should get the lads to fly to the Himalayas and have our picture taken in front of Mount Everest for the album cover. We could even call the album, ‘Everest!’ It would be a nice nod to our friend, Geoff.”

The idea of calling their final album “Everest” was indeed bandied about by The Beatles. A fitting title for a band that had conquered many peaks along the way to establishing an immortal musical legacy. Here they were about to embark upon a final peak with Geoff Emerick as one of their collaborative sherpas guiding them upward to a new and final pinnacle.

The album that was to be called “Everest” morphed into the title that we now know as “Abbey Road.” The fanciful idea of flying to Mount Everest for a photo shoot was abandoned due to logistical realizations by the band. We now have the iconic image of The Beatles crossing that famous street emblazoned on memory.

Thinking of Everest, I bet Geoff Emerick would have made an amazing sherpa. His calm guidance, solid perseverance and collaborative mindset would have benefitted any mountain top expedition. Pushing the image of sherpa into the classroom, I can see how those attributes would serve Geoff Emerick if he were a teacher. Gently pushing the status quo in service and support of kids and leading them towards the creation of daily masterpieces, I believe that is quite the legacy for an educator.

All of these things come to mind as I ponder this imagined conversation with Geoff Emerick at “The White Album International Symposium.” Arms extended, we shake hands and I realize that thanks to a young sound engineer our world is a better place when you listen to Sound at the top of Mount Everest.

Advertisements

On Big Dreams and Being The Fifth Beatle

This is a fan letter.

As a slightly rabid Beatle fan, I often find myself dwelling within a recurring dream. It involves being an official 5th Beatle. The dream defies convention and I am probably prime fodder for some sort of Sigmund Freud Dream Symposium. Regardless, it’s a dream that pops up on my subconscious soundtrack.

Here’s the dreamscape scenario:

I am outside a grand and ornate concert hall located in a city of unknown origin. Emanating from the walls of this venue is some of the most beautiful music I have ever heard. The music is serene yet uplifting in tone. I hear acoustic guitars, sitars, strings, bells, pianos, mellotrons, harps. Then, I hear familiar voices blended in stunning harmony. This piece of music sounds like a hybrid between “Across the Universe” and “Because,” two familiar Beatle songs. Somehow this music is new and different. I walk closer to the concert hall and I see a poster on the marquee. Pictured are familiar faces of The Beatles, yet they are older. It’s a reunion show. Then, I noticed myself pictured among them. Panic erupts in the recognition of my visage accompanying the Fab Four. I realize that I am supposed to be on stage with the band. I reach for the nearest door and it is locked. I begin to run around the perimeter of the building and furiously grab at any entry point. All doors are locked. I hear a familiar voice addressing the audience along the lines of, “We are not sure where our fifth bandmate is but we will carry on without him.” It’s Paul McCartney and he sounds irritated by my absence. I have let my band down and I am forming apologetic words hoping my four friends will allow me to remain with them.

I awaken with a numbing rawness at the realization that I could have been in The Beatles.

Now, please know that I am nowhere near the status of those who have been anointed 5th Beatle status. I do feel an affinity for the band having been a fan for forty of my forty-eight rotations on this planet. I am pretty certain that I am not the first to imagine being in the greatest band in the annals of music history. In my mind, John, Paul, George, Ringo and Sean has the nice ring to it. We could be bandmates, indeed, as I imagine running along side them during the cinematic opening of “A Hard Day’s Night.”

As we approach the fiftieth anniversary of the release of “The White Album, ” many esteemed authors and speakers will share the brilliance of this double album. An oft-told tale of Eric Clapton guesting on lead guitar for George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” will definitely be shared. Clapton is mentioned in Fifth Beatle Guessing Games as a logical addition to the band. Later, Clapton’s name is mentioned as a possible replacement by John Lennon during the angst of the “Get Back”/”Let It Be” Sessions. Clearly, Eric Clapton is the Fifth Beatle! Or, is he?

The Fifth Beatle conversation is a fascinating and rich conversation for fans and critics alike. Many names have been bandied about in debate proclaiming finality. Billy Preston, Eric Clapton, Yoko Ono, Pete Best, Stu Sutcliffe are all names that have been clothed in Fifth Beatle regalia. Paul McCartney has mentioned Producer George Martin and Manager Brian Epstein as contenders for Fifth Beatle status.

I think of the beauty of The Beatles’ collaboration over their short life span as a band. They were a tight little band who immersed themselves in a brotherhood that few could enter during the course of their musical union. That tight brotherhood might have seeped into my subconscious that prevents me from joining the band in what is supposed to be a dream of my creation.

As I muse over the Fifth Beatle debate, I think of the band’s performance of “Hey Jude” on David Frost’s “Frost on Sunday” broadcast in 1968. This classic song has reached universal proportions as not only a huge hit for a pop band, but it has evolved into an anthem for solace and inspiration. The band’s performance on Frost’s program is iconic for many reasons. An enduring image from that performance is a throng of people surrounding The Beatles as they perform. They were invited to dwell among the band during their televised performance.

The array of audience members is diverse and eclectic. They represent our human family joined together by the universal language of music. The Beatles are interacting with this group in such an authentic and loving way as they sift through the musical marrow of “Hey Jude.” The members of the audience are not succumbing to past tenses of Beatlemania. There is an understanding between band and audience that is something special. The interaction is innocent and joyous.

As the camera pulls away at various intervals, it is sometimes difficult to determine where John, Paul, George and Ringo are located. The group is so large and they are literally immersed in the performance with the band. (Click Here for the performance.)

Then, it hits me like Ringo’s opening drum fill on “Hey Jude,” we are all the Fifth Beatle. 

We are all invited to join the band. All are welcome to this unit because The Beatles music transcends category. Their canon is universal and timeless. Reflecting our experiences, The Beatles invite us to embark upon “long and winding roads” that compel us to consider love, peace, loneliness, fantasy and many more keys embodying our collective humanity.

This lesson of inclusiveness has seeped into my leadership as a classroom teacher and principal. I took a page from my father who often rallied me to aspire to greatness with his wisdom: “Everybody plays. Everybody is off the bench. We are all starters.” I used the same line in my professional role as an educator. I guess I have been inviting kids and teachers to join our schoolhouse band for years. Everyone is in my version of The Beatles, too.

There are no locked doors at a fantasy reunion concert that prevent us from joining the band. We are a part of the music. We will always have that connection as long as there is sound and the sound is infinite, deep and beautiful.

Everyone is in the band.

Turning On: Sgt. Pepper Visits New Amsterdam Hospital and Joins Two Principals Together

“Are we really doing this?”

“Yes, of course, we are!”

That gleeful exchange of words in a conversation I had with Principal Mariah Rackley brought me back to a famous moment in Beatles Songwriting Lore.

Fade back to a time over fifty years, when the Lennon-McCartney partnership is at its zenith. John Lennon and Paul McCartney are scribbling down ideas for a song that would eventually close their 1967 album opus, “Sgt. Pepper Lonely Hearts Club Band.” Both men are filled with synergy of their collaboration. They have taken two seemingly disparate songs and combined them to form a mini-rock opera of sorts.

One bandmate tosses out the idea of embedding a certain lyric within the framework of the song: “I’d love to turn you on.” The other bandmate takes notice and places a pause on their writing momentum. The lyric echoes the zeitgeist of the late 1960s: Hippies, Day-Glo, and Psychedelia. It’s a mild, inside joke between Lennon and McCartney, but both know exactly what they are implying:

“You know what we’re saying?”

“Let’s do it!”

Both scribble down the lyric and “A Day in the Life” is ready to make history as the unforgettable, apocalyptic denouement for the “Sgt. Pepper” album.

Belief in the collaboration. I explore this in The Pepper Effectmy book from Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc., in which I attempt to illustrate the lessons The Beatles give us in the creation of their “Sgt. Pepper” Masterpiece. Encouraging a mildly suggestive line to illustrate the signs of the times takes belief in the collaboration. That belief in turn requires that trust and encouragement are implanted in the marrow of the collaboration. Lennon and McCartney proved that in their collaboration for “A Day in the Life” and have left us with a creative legacy for us to look to as educators to build our own masterpiece in the schoolhouse.

That same synergy happens daily within the marrow of a Schoolhouse, Professional Learning Network or an #EdCamp. More educators are sharing and connecting via various social media networks and at in-person events such as a #CoffeeEDU or #EdCamp. I have been very fortunate to connect with many inspiring faces to take things beyond a tweet or swag table.

These connections are very meaningful to me as I search for my own type of #EduBeatles since I am the sole Middle School Principal in my school district. Even though I am surrounded by an inspiring band of dedicated teachers whom I cherish and support, I do yearn for a colleague who is stepping to the same beat as a Middle School Principal.

Enter Mariah Rackley, principal of Cedar Crest Middle School, in Lebanon, Pennsylvania. Principal Rackley is going through the same bit as the sole middle school principal in her district. She values culture, collaboration and simply doing what is best for kids. Her posts have always intrigued me and filled me with admiration.

Recently, a Twitter Post regarding a trailer for an upcoming NBC Medical Drama entitled “New Amsterdam” from Mariah caused me to take pause. She shared this trailer with her faculty as kickoff for her school year. I was compelled by this event and I wanted to discover more as I tweeted back an affirmative response to Mariah. A conversation starts in Twitter DM between us. Then, a scheduled phone call occurs to explore ways to build a collaborative network between our respective schools. We are in uncharted territory with a rough sketch for our direction. Echoing a moment shared by Jennifer Williams, author and friend, in her “Foreward” for The Pepper Effect: “We are on to something here.”

Somehow we will take the seemingly disparate pieces of our two schools marked by a distance of 450 miles apart and we will create a new connection for the respective faculty teams we serve. An upcoming medical drama will serve as our weird and random link.

Echoing John and Paul huddled around the lyrics for “A Day in the Life,” we preluded our phone call conclusion with next steps statements like,  “Yes, we are indeed onto something. We are going to do this.”

Possibilities abound in conversations turned on for the belief in one’s collaborators.

A brand-new, unaired television program is going to link two schools together catalyzed by two principals whom have never met in person.

Well, why not? 

 

 

 

 

A Year Saved: Trending the Positive with an Earthrise and Carpool Karaoke

“Thank you, Apollo 8. You saved 1968.”

Astronaut Frank Borman, eyewitness to a pivotal moment in human history, eternally etched in his memory the words of this statement from a telegram.

Borman along with the other members of the Apollo 8 Crew: Jim Lovell and Bill Anders helped to briefly pause the tumult that was greeting Year 1968. This particular team of astronauts were engaged in the project to place the first human being afoot on the Moon. The Apollo 8 Mission was designed to place astronauts for the first time on a journey from the Earth to the Moon. In essence, Apollo 8 was to set the stage for the first Moon Landing that was to follow in July 1969.

The journey of Apollo 8 served as a positive bookend to a year marred with assassination, war and unrest. Ten years after the odyssey of Apollo 8, I remember as a young boy watching an ABC News documentary commemorating the impact of that year entitled “1968: A Crack in Time.” I was eight years old and I always had a love for history that was shaped by the warm world of periodicals like “Junior Scholastic” or the Saturday Morning Television Joy of “Schoolhouse Rock.” Here, I was watching a prime-time documentary filtered with news footage capturing images of the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. I watched images of war transmit from a place called Vietnam. There was anger in the streets of my parents’ hometown of Chicago.  Later, I remember asking my mother what it was like to live during such a year of social and political unrest. Mom simply said, “I thought the world was going to end.”

What I don’t remember seeing from that stark documentary is anything pertaining to the inspirational journey of Apollo 8. It may be that I had to go to bed or my parents discovered that I was being exposed to some pretty harsh imagery. My guess is that they would have enjoyed watching footage with me of the Apollo 8 Crew reading from Genesis on Christmas Eve 1968 aboard their spaceship orbiting the Moon.

I can only imagine the collective universal breath that humanity took in 1968 as they witnessed through the eyes of Borman, Lovell and Anders the vision of Planet Earth rising over the Moon. Human Beings had never traveled this cosmic distance and the achievement must have brought us closer together amidst the storm and stress of 1968. Seeing the image still stirs the imagination. Gazing at our global neighborhood adrift in the vastness of space, one sees a world without borders, strife and bloodshed.

297755main_GPN-2001-000009_full.jpg

“Earthrise” from Apollo 8 (www.nasa.gov)

The words of the telegram Astronaut Frank Borman echoed for me as I experienced “Carpool Karaoke” earlier this summer.

The comedic bit on “The Late Late Show with James Corden” has always trended and placed collective smiles around water coolers and Facebook posts. The premise is achingly simple and blissful: Host James Corden literally drives around in a car with a group of celebrity guests singing songs. There may be a famous musician or two gleefully singing with an unabashed James Corden several hits. “Carpool Karaoke” Passengers have included Michelle Obama, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Stevie Wonder and Elton John.

An epic pairing took place when Paul McCartney rode shotgun with James Corden for a recent episode of “Carpool Karaoke.” It was Paul’s first adventure with James. What was unique about this episode is that it took place in Paul’s hometown of Liverpool. Upon first glance, I am sure Corden and the producers sketched out an outline for the episode involving Paul McCartney revisiting his Beatle classic hits coupled with new songs from his upcoming album. I am sure there was excitement about the arrangement to have Paul visit old haunts and chance upon the actual street namesake for “Penny Lane.” My guess is that the original plan to secure a music icon did not include the cultural phenomenon that would follow. Then again, Paul McCartney as a Beatle and Solo Artist is accustomed to making a visceral global impact.

Corden and McCartney provided the expected comedic bits and sing along flavor of “Carpool Karaoke.” The Beatle Fan in James Corden probably couldn’t pass up the once-in-a lifetime opportunity to sing “Drive My Car” with Paul McCartney in tow. Walking side by side with the man responsible for composing “Penny Lane” on the actual strip was priceless. As segment progresses, a certain transcendence occurs taking us into private glimpse of two men connected by the love of music.

Our journey takes a three-fold path during this segment. An emotional triptych transpires for us as the observers into this manifestation of our humanity. First, we experience Paul McCartney walking in his boyhood home, now an official British landmark. He is taking us on a journey into his humanity. Here is an icon who has spun memories into the soundtrack of our lives for over fifty years and we see him lovingly gaze upon his living room thinking of his father providing feedback during the composition of The Beatles hit, “She Loves You.”

Another second emotional highlight is James Corden learning the origin of “Let It Be” from Paul McCartney. The song invokes “Mother Mary” who is a reference to Paul’s own mother who passed away from cancer when he was a teenager. His mother made an appearance to Paul during a time of strife with The Beatles disintegrating as a band. She simply advised him to “Let It Be.” Paul and James then belt out “Let It Be” with such vigor and song is reborn for those who were unaware of the song’s origin. Corden builds upon the moment wishing that his deceased grandfather, who had introduced him the music of The Beatles, was present in the moment for the conversation with a Beatle. Paul simply states that Corden’s grandfather’s is indeed with them.

The part of the emotional triptych is the surprise concert McCartney performs at a local Liverpudlian pub. Patrons are completely blissful at the fact that hometown hero, former Beatle and music icon is getting back to his roots for them. The response is visceral and identifiable as the impromptu audience stands on their feet in time to songs such as “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Love Me Do.” The evident joy on the faces of those patrons is contagious.

In the midst of this karaoke journey, one finds a sense of being a willing passenger in the joyride of Corden and McCartney. You can almost feel the happy electricit being in the car joining in what Paul cites as “…the power of Music.”

Music is our universal language that keeps us treading on common ground in the human experience. Regardless of political affiliation, aligned border or professed belief, Music transcends barriers and always serves as a loving bond in our humanity.

A whimsical jaunt between a British Comedian and Pop Music Composer serves as a salve in the sharp and constant melee of 2018. This particular year has been marred with the top-heaviness of 21st Century tumult and tribulation. Headlines abound with negativity wrapped in global uncertainty, political shrapnel and natural unrest. Check any social media channel for a harsh personal attack that at any given time. Channel surf along any form of news program and it is bound to lead down a road of negative and uncivil discourse. Violence is our constant companion. Negativity stands tall amidst the rubble.

Although the years of 1968 and 2018 have different layers of historical marrow in which they resonate, there are parallels in the level of global unrest. The elements of the Apollo 8 Moon Mission and Carpool Karaoke serve as cultural rest stop in our human journey. These cultural rest stops serve as reminders for us in the chaos that our world is still a positive and joyful place. Taking pause to witness the Earth rise in outer space or sharing in the divine connection that can be discovered in a Beatles song, unexpected gifts of the love inherent in our humanity are experienced.

Hopefully, these cultural moments will also serve as catalysts for other events which illuminate that there are always positive possibilities in our human experience. Tuning into the positive provides us insight into “…the better angels of our nature.” Furthermore by sharing and proclaiming those positives, we do find a connectedness that outpaces the plague of the negativity.

Skimming the pages of 1968 and 2018, we can discover other positive moments. Imagine the sunlight dancing on the faces of a group of boys in Thailand. They have been trapped in a cave for days without much solace. A diverse crew of grown-ups gathered their gifts of courage on a perilous journey of rescue as our world held their collective breath wishing for their safety.

In 1968,  a young bass player is driving out to visit the soon-to-be ex-wife of his best friend. He wants to comfort their five-year old son who may not be able to cope with the understanding of divorce. The bass player is humming an impromptu song for the boy. Little does the bassist know that this song will evolve into a universal anthem of hope entitled “Hey Jude.” Also, unbeknownst to Paul McCartney in 1968 that his song written for his friend’s son would serve as a source of jubilation for the patrons at a local pub in Liverpool during an episode of “Carpool Karaoke.”

A song that would serve as a joyful rest stop for 130 million people upon first view on Facebook and YouTube.

Thank you, Paul and James. You saved 2018.

Click HERE for the epic episode of “Carpool Karoke.”

Paul-McCartney-Carpool-Karaoke-YouTube

 

 

 

One Beat, One Spark

There is a wonderfully poignant scene in Ron Howard’s documentary on The Beatles entitled “Eight Days a Week.” Paul McCartney is sharing the first time all four members of the band played together. As McCartney recalls the first time they played together as a a unit, he calls it an “Oh, My God Moment.” He describes the moment from when Ringo kicks in with the drums and the band almost stops mid-song. All four members share an acknowledging telepathic look which Paul translates to, “Yeah, this is it.”

As Paul shares this anecdote in the documentary, tears well up in his eyes. It is indeed a powerful moment. Seeing Paul’s revelation of the emotional weight of this life-changing moment is intimate and revelatory. In most Beatle interviews I have observed the band downplaying their impact and adulation. Occasionally, the former members of the band will let their guard down in interviews and reveal a very human moment shared.

Examining Paul McCartney’s anecdote in more detail, it is intriguing to reflect on similar epiphanies we may experience as educators. Do we have moments akin to McCartney’s when we recognize that special collaboration bond with our colleagues? Teaching can be an isolating pursuit. Sometimes, we permit that isolation too much freedom to roam in the marrow of our noble profession. We sometimes close our classroom doors both physically and metaphorically to a colleague. There may be the early arrival or departure to avoid collegial interactions.

When we do open our professional hearts to synergy of collaboration, then the noble beat of teaching our kids becomes something much more meaningful. It is absolutely magical when one feels the collaborative vibe kick in with a colleague. Those moments happen more than we may even realize. Think of that colleague who takes you on a deeper journey during a PLC. It may happen when you walk down the hallway and hear the echo of a teacher doing something that sparks your passion. I encourage you to capitalize on that moment and relentlessly seek out that colleague for a conversation to collaborate.

I think of a fateful tweet from a few years ago. A member of my PLN reached out with a simple question in a tweet. The request was anchored in asking if others could recommend a book to read. I readily responded to Jen Williams tweet not knowing that it would lead down a journey of friendship and collaboration for the next three years and counting. I am very fortunate being connected to an inspiring educator such as Jen who makes you want to be better. Collaborating with Jen is akin to what Paul McCartney was sharing about the first drum beat Ringo exalted over The Beatles when they first played together. One tweet like that first percussive swipe by Ringo sparked a rich and enduring collaborative friendship with Jen. I am grateful to be in the band with Jen.

Recently, Jen and I co-presented at the National School Board Association Conference. Our topic was on building conversation starters for collaborative professional development. There was natural balance in the scope and sequence of our presentation. There was a natural flow the our sharing. We could fill each other’s gaps naturally. All of this due to the value we placed on our collaborative ethos. Even though, we are separated by many miles and prepared as much as we could within the confines of hectic schedules, there was a professional synergy that I felt in the course of our presentation. At one point, I stood still in appreciation of the ground we had walked together. It is what the Allman Brother Band called “Hittin’ the Note.” It’s the moment where there is complete simpatico among the musicians of the band. A sound is created and harnesses energy with the audience. It was evident upon the attendees. A few came up to us afterwards sharing that it was the best presentation experienced at the conference. Presenting with Jen simply made me feel like I was in The Beatles. I could almost hear Paul echoing “Yeah, this is it.” from the “Eight Days a Week” film as we were presenting.

One of the Assistant Principals I collaborate with in my current school assignment sparked collaboration in a recent conversation. Monty Gray shared an inspiring tweet he read from a valued member of our PLN—Danny Steele. Danny writes eloquently about our noble profession. His tweets are succinct yet packed with resonating meaning. Monty shared with me one of Danny’s maxim’s. This one tweet sparked a powerful conversation between Monty and me on how we needed to take more intentional action in modeling building relationships. I felt that same collaborative spark resonate again and I was excited to take giant steps with my colleague. I look forward to seeing what collaborative music is ahead for Monty and I that was all sparked by one tweet from Danny.

Let’s tune our awareness into those collaborative sparks and reach out to our bandmates. Creating a collaborative sound that will infuse deeper hues of learning for our students is the key for all educators.

One tweet is all it took.

One spark to ignite bold, dynamic action to create change.

One beat to change the world.

 

Spreading Wings

I missed my band.

We never picked up a single instrument nor wrote a song together. There was not some godforsaken one-night stand of a gig at a decrepit Ramada Inn or the classic arguments over musical direction.

This band was a trio line-up. Some of the great power trios like The Police and Cream have their share of the sublime and wretched. We had our moments, too. Through those moments, the school admin. team that was my band inspired me to be a better educator, collaborator and dreamer. Our shared vision to make our school a place of inspiration for students, teachers and families is what bonded us together in the same key.

Now we are broken up and pursuing other paths in our individual career trajectories. I am proud to have played with Leigh and Ian. They were supportive assistant principals and I am grateful for the many lessons I have learned from both of them. Both made me a better person and leader.

Approaching the schoolhouse through the lens of music, it is easier for me sometimes to have a niche to carve out understanding and perspective as a school leader. For me, that niche involves what Beatles Producer George Martin termed as “thinking symphonically.” My past and current colleagues patiently put up with many references to obscure bands, set list jargon and hep cat allusions. Step into my office sometime and you will see Beatles ephemera, framed album covers and possibly hear an obscure alternate take from Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” album.

Yet, it was a band in my mind that consisted of a three-member administrative team during my first stint as a principal. We were bonded by a clear, school-wide vision to inspire innovative minds. Our gig was to serve and support students, teachers and families experiencing the sweet symphony of school transformation in the key of magnet school theme implementation of STEAM. The odds were seemingly against us with a community that had abandoned our school with negative perceptions, grapevine talk machinations and all kinds of flight from the marrow of educational purpose. There were a few stalwarts hanging onto the gem of school change that we were arranging together.

It was our band and we were unified in the key of school transformation fueled by a collaborative purpose. Every one was invited to play in the band. Every one was called to share gifts and challenged to play outside their respective comfort zones. This band could play amidst discord and cacophony. We could blend harmonies together strewn in loving notes in our sincere attempt to change the world for kids.

Now, two school principalships later and a few years since that first band performed, I am missing my two colleagues. This happens in organizations. The team moves on without various members due to a myriad of reasons: individuals seek out new challenges, shifts in leadership, or the mission is accomplished. In my case, I believed that my mission was completed for my first principalship and I was itching to move other gigs and play with new bands. It was time to spread my wings.

Paul McCartney had a similar move when The Beatles dissolved in 1970. The dream of the band had faded away and it was time for John, Paul, George and Ringo to express themselves as solo, independent artists. Their split was fueled with pain, miscommunication and lawsuits. McCartney pulled drastic manuevers to free himself from a band that he loved. Those actions involved legal actions that spun itself into an apocalyptic ending for the band that took years from the individual members to arrive at peaceful terms.

Prior to the shattering end of the Beatles, Paul McCartney attempted to rally the band back to being a band again during the “Get Back”/”Let It Be” Album Sessions. He felt that the band needed to get back to being a live band again and falling in love with the music that formed their collective vision. His efforts did result in one last final, impromptu rooftop performance but the band was never the same again after that event and dissolved within a year.

McCartney created two solo albums in the wake of The Beatles. One was a total solo affair and the other was a collaboration with his wife, Linda. Even though both of those albums resounded with hits and success, I surmise that Paul missed the concept of being in a band. A concept that is rooted sometimes in misery and euphoria. Bands fight. Bands break-up. Bands reform. Bands compromise. Bands take risks. Bands band together and lock protective arms around their shared vision.

Missing those above-mentioned sparks is my interpretation for why Paul McCartney formed Wings. He wanted to create music in a collaborative environment that was not quite like The Beatles. He wanted to move forward with his inspiration and learn, grow and experiment with a new set of bandmates.

I am sure he initially felt loss in the wake of the Beatles acrimonious divorce. They had conquered all kinds of heights and forged new musical expressions that were unprecedented. It is difficult to capture lightning in a bottle twice when you are in a band like The Beatles.

The other day I had the opportunity to run into one of my old bandmates. We picked up where we left off without missing a beat. The conversation was rich and witty. It was just like the old days. Walking away from my yesteryear colleague, my emotions quickly devolved into a melancholic nostalgia. I felt adrift as I began to miss the support from which I derived much energy.

There have been a few moments of this melancholy which have buzzed around me the last few months. I missed the riffs of being able to collaborate with past friends. My attempts to re-create that collectivity buzz to work like my old bandmates had fizzled–invitations to new colleagues for a CoffeeEdu or Book Study had been politely declined. It seemed like there was no time for a quick cup of coffee or even a movie from new bandmates. I was falling into a pitiful display of self-doubt. I had no one to play with anymore. I was cursing the heavens bemoaning that fact that I could never go back to my old school like Steely Dan.

One recent evening, my beloved wife Deb had to endure another riff bemoaning my homesickness for old friends. I made the over reach of a comparison to Paul McCartney. Placing myself in his post-Beatles state, I overestimated my self-importance and arrayed myself as one of the greatest pop composers of all-time.

Deb heard my overglorified metaphor and simply said, “Didn’t Paul McCartney make music after the Beatles? He kept going on, you know. You can do the same thing. Focus on those new people you collaborate with.”

The statement rightly cut me down to perspective and renewed a new awareness. Paul kept on after The Beatles split and discovered renewed purpose in collaborating with new members. He did not rest on the past and kept moving forward even as Wings, his new band, changed line-ups. If Paul did not persevere with Wings, then we would not have a masterpiece like the “Band on the Run” album. He discovered new musical lands with a new crew of collaborators as the expedition with Wings flourished throughout the 1970s. His records with Wings established McCartney as an enduring musical force and his success resulted in more hits, gold records and universal musical statements still resonating today.

As educators, we are called to dance to the beat of collaboration. It yields greatness when we are able to harness the synergy embedded in collaboration. We have many faces before us in the schoolhouse who are connected with us for various reasons. The vision binds and sometimes not everyone is able to hear the music. When this happens, we cannot dismiss those who are not playing at Beatlesque proportions. Rather, we need to tune into the goodness that is embedded in all of those we have the chance to work with under one schoolhouse. We are called to sincerely discover those gifts in our colleagues in a positive way so that those gifts may be illuminated. By embracing the present moment with those in our immediate work world, we are being good stewards for the students we serve. Collaboration cannot be ignored be the old bandmates from past glories are no longer there.

I can imagine Paul McCartney doing the same thing with Wings bandmates like Denny Laine and Jimmy McCullough. Paul does call Jimmy out in the middle of the “Junior’s Farm, ” a 1974 classic hit for Wings. Listen carefully for Paul to shoutout to Jimmy before an amazing guitar solo.

Instead of pouring over the loss of collaborators from days passed, we need to take the value they added to our lives and share those lessons with present colleagues. Taking a move from Paul McCartney as he morphed from being a Beatle to spreading his Wings is a lesson for all educators to emulate. Moving forward with vision emboldened with new ideas and a growth mindset will provide the basis for new adventures in collaboration.

Spreading our own wings as educators and looking for opportunities in new collaborative pursuits will transform present colleagues into lifelong bandmates.

I still miss my band but I am looking forward to future adventures with new colleagues. It is important to keep the gaze in forward dynamic motion when sowing the seeds for next collaborations. Our music as educators is far too important and exciting.

As I conclude this and share this post with Deb (my best and most honest collaborator), she challenges me to take my own advice. I am gladly spreading my wings and looking forward to new collaborations with an open heart cherishing the lessons from old bandmates.

Or as Wings frontman Paul McCartney says to his new guitarist in “Junior’s Farm,” that incredible collaborative hit from a band discovering its voice and taking bold steps from the shadow of The Beatles:

“Take me down, Jimmy!”

 

 

 

Suite: Sustaining the Vision with The Eagles

Part I: Not Another Meeting Or When the Principal Is “New Kid in Town” 

This is not a typical School Improvement Meeting in our Schoolhouse.

There is no deep data dive or spreadsheet review.

There is synergy.

There is collaboration.

I am seeing teachers lean in closer and wrapping their pens around words that will take our school to the next level. We are building a vision together and I am smiling.

We are pouring over our newly-minted Core Values and determining next steps for the collective writing of our vision statement. It has been a long journey in my first year in our schoolhouse as the new principal. This is my third principalship and I am aware of the sensitive minefield that denotes change for a school. I want to be deliberate, sensitive and compassionate in my steps as a servant leader principal. I desire for the vision seeds being planted here collectively to resonate and stand the test of time like the my beloved Classic Rock Bands.

My mind drifts to the Eagles and their recent reunion efforts with a new line-up. I want our vision statement to resonate like the collective vision of the Eagles. I want it to echo like lyrical guitar solos on “Hotel California.”

Tears are peeking out of my eyes and I am doing my best to hide them. It is a joyful moment and I imagine Glenn Frey sitting next to me with an acoustic guitar slung over his shoulder. He is nodding in approval and says, “You done good, man.”

Part II: Frozen Eagles in Hell 

“Hell Freezes Over.”

Don Henley’s curt response to the press when an inquiry about an Eagles Reunion would surface. Occasionally, I would hear this piece of trivia bookended by a radio disc jockey after I would hear “Hotel California” or “Tequila Sunrise” on one of my beloved Classic Rock Stations when I was a kid. I would often wonder why bands like the Eagles would break up within the marrow of bitterness.

Then, that would get me to wondering why other bands like The Beatles, Led Zeppelin or The Kinks or The Who would fade away due to discordance, tragedy or intra-band animosity. I idolized the golden era of these bands and I would want the dream to continue.

Occasionally, there would be ill-fated attempts at reunions by these bands. Some of these reunions were simply embarrassing and the reunited members knew it. Something was missing when they attempted to re-kindle the sonic magic of past musical glories. I remember pouring through well-thumbed copies of Rolling Stone Magazine looking for any signs of reunion magic with my beloved Classic Rock Bands. I would take the bait and wait with fan-obsessed anticipation only to face letdown due to missed notes and sloppy performances by some of these reunited bands.

Part III: Vision Echoes into Infinity 

The previously mentioned phrase morphed from a dismissive comment to the name of a reunion album by the Eagles. It was released fourteen years after their acrimonious dissolution as a band. The album was a huge commercial success but it also served as a catalyst for a true reunion. Somehow the band figured out a way to create new music and balance it with a seemingly never-ending tour where greatest hits were revisited. The members of the band carried on in dignified fashion with even a new studio album of freshly minted original music released in 2007. Looking at their new live performances, it was evident that they were having fun again. It was wonderful hearing those harmonies blend again from the lips of Glenn Frey and Don Henley. Seeing Joe Walsh make his lead guitar sing a symphony of solos over “Hotel California” was a revelation. Timothy B. Schmidt adding solid and stately bass lines added to the musical proceedings.

During this band renaissance, the Eagles did face various levels of animosity from within–one of the band members was tossed out and a legal battle ensued. In spite of that, they carried on as a band.

The death of a founding member did not stop the Eagles. With Glenn Frey’s passing 2016, it seemed as if the band would cease its operation. This is typical when a pivotal founding member of a band passes away. The energy of the band cannot persevere. The band fades away into myth and memory. The Eagles had a brief spark in what was billed as a grand finale at the Emmy Awards later that year. Don Henley stated that out of respect for Glenn Frey that the Eagles would turn one last page and close its book at this final performance. It was a stirring and fitting final chapter for a band that withstood so much and inspired many generations of fans.

The Eagles did not close the book on themselves after that performance. A new lineup was announced with Vince Gill and Deacon Frey, son of Glenn, filling in and carrying on the mantle. This new chapter of the Eagles’ story was inspiring. It revealed a new testament to a band that had given so much. This revelation showed that the vision of a band when shared and centered around love is infinite. With the addition of two new band members, the Eagles are moving forward to a new height. The sincere and sacred nature of their collective vision is preventing them from declining into caricature or quick cash-in selling out for profit.

As I reflect on this latest incarnation of the Eagles, I am swimming in the meaning of what vision stands for in the schoolhouse. How can we create a vision that is able to sustain itself amidst tribulations, setbacks and letdowns as the Eagles? The Eagles created that music that had a clear thematic and lyrical thread. Songs were created with loving care. The band felt kinship with an audience that grew up with them over the course of a couple of generations. They felt a responsibility for the music.

Imagine a schoolhouse having that same collective drive for a vision. The vision resonates at such a level that it goes beyond a pretty font on school letterhead. The vision is so forthright and pure that it becomes more than an unattainable dream. Educator collaborators know that the vision will sustain itself beyond their time in the schoolhouse. They know this because there is a respectful awareness of the impact being made on students. There is a loving care that sustains that school vision in such a way that students, teachers, administrators and families will go to battle for it. The vision will withstand any false or negative perceptions. It becomes both iconic and organic. The vision is not fixed or static. The vision becomes the DNA of the school and serves as a lasting, growing testament.

Coda: 

A vision has to be more than just mere canned words. It has to echo and dance in the synergy of the schoolhouse. The vision resonates in the beliefs of all in the schoolhouse. One feels it in the urgent joy of the first steps in the building. The vision lasts and lingers in the tenor of the gatherings in PLCs, school assemblies, faculty meetings. It is rings loudly in any school milestone. It withstands the voluminous snares of those dejected days that do happen. The vision pulls a principal out of the doldrums of doubt and serves as reminder of the purpose to do great things. The vision is the catalyst to change the world for students, teachers and families. It is the spark that will light up dreams for the future.

Take a page from the Eagles and build a vision for a school that will both inspire and stand the test of time.