Meet Mrs. Jacqueline Johnson – My Piano Teacher

Mrs. Johnson and I after my first piano recital - June 15, 1986

Mrs. Johnson and I after my first piano recital – June 15, 1986

You know, when I really sat and thought about it, I had NO idea why my parents decided to get me started with piano lessons. I couldn’t remember if it was to keep me busy with some after school activities or what the original reason was exactly. So tonight, I sent Momma Zo a text asking her about it. Her response was:

“I guess you showed an early interest in music. I had my piano… You present it, stimulate it, and wait to see what happens. …The lessons gave you a good foundation.”

…She may have had a point..

Me at age 2 banging on the piano at home.

Me at age 2 banging on the piano at home.

It's safe to say that I was excited about the piano at this age...

It’s safe to say that I was excited about the piano at this age…

Originally, I took lessons with someone else, but I can’t recall much about it at all… All I remember is that I think the lady lived in Oak Park and overall, I don’t think I took lessons there for a long period of time. Momma Zo told me recently via text that…

“The first teacher didn’t want you to leave because you were doing so well!”

So technically, Mrs. Johnson wasn’t my FIRST piano teacher… But it was her teachings that sustained the greatest amount of impact, by far. She was recommended by the mother one of my 1st or 2nd grade classmates – she taught both my classmate and her older brother. Mrs. Johnson’s house was literally right down the street from us – just a block away. If I remember correctly, we used to go every Monday at 4pm. To my parents, this connection was a multiple win for them because her daughter also ended up becoming the babysitter for my younger sister and I.

I’ll admit it… I wasn’t the easiest student to teach simply because I was a kid who found more pleasure in running around the neighborhood with my friends playing sports, freeze tag, and chasing down the ice cream truck whenever it rolled around. Whenever Moms stepped outside that front door to call me inside to practice on the piano, she was usually met with resistance. It always seemed like she had the world’s most impeccable timing because she used to pick the game’s most intense point to yell out… “LORENZOOOO!!!!”

*throws hands up*

“AWWWWWWW MAAAAAAN!!!! Can we get ONE more game in?!!?!!!?”…….

I would go inside the house angry. All of my friends were still outside having a ball, while I’m having to go inside and practice on this ole dumb ass piano. I wasn’t a fan at all. I would head to the basement, sit down in front of the piano and sloppily go through scales, arpeggios, and the songs I needed to learn and memorize for the week. Now, of course, my 6 or 7-year old logic had me thinking I could get away with practicing for what usually turned out to be 10 minutes, walk back upstairs and Moms would just be okay with that. That same young logic also didn’t explain the fact that through the floor and vents in the house she could hear every single thing I was playing and half-assing on……… Needless to say, she wasn’t buying it at all when I would walk back upstairs, walk up to her and say, “I’m finished!” The moment of truth would always come during the weekly lessons at Mrs. Johnson’s house. I can only imagine how embarrassed my mother was when I would sit down at the piano ill-prepared during lesson time. I get it now… I had not a clue back then. Mrs. Johnson had to have been one patient woman with me because I had more of a hate than love relationship with the piano… I mean, shit…. Some of those songs were DIFFICULT. Plus, at the time, my hands weren’t big enough to reach and play octaves as some of the songs and drills called for. So looking back on it… this era served as a ‘boot camp’ for me on the instrument. Mrs. Johnson challenged me and remained patient through all of my episodes of resistance. She would look at me like…’Alright, cry it on out… But when you finish, we’ve got a song to wrap up.” Thank GOD for her persistence and musical education as well as for my parents’ encouragement to continue because…. well…. now, this is how I make a living.

How crazy is that?

Momma Zo could have let me get my way and allowed me to play outside until that street light came on everyday… Mrs. Johnson could have been someone who simply just gave in to my being hard-headed, but instead she pushed me harder. Maybe they knew something even back then, I don’t know… But whatever it was, today I am GRATEFUL. Not only did it impact my musicianship, but I even utilized some of her “I’m not really feeling any of your excuses” practices when I taught music in the classroom and today while teaching private lessons. While we have since lost touch over the years, but it would be dope if somehow she caught wind of this piece just so she could see how successful she was at influencing her sometimes difficult young piano student.

Someone find Mrs. Jacqueline Johnson for me please as I would LOVE to play for her …I think that’s the least I can do.

The original program from my very first piano recital.

A copy of the original program from my very first piano recital.

Music Moves…

Music. Moves.

Music moves so much that some of us have a handful of songs that we can’t even listen to in public explaining to others why you’re looking crazy by holding your eyes wide open in an attempt not to drop those tears that have been gathering since the music started is never quite on anyone’s ‘to do list’.

Music moves us to get our asses up and running in the morning…

Music moves you into a place of peace in order to avoid putting hands on people at work who you want to choke the absolute shit out of on a daily basis. Sometimes it serves as a necessary part of simply getting through your day…

Music moves us to reflect and to reminisce. It’s crazy how you can hear a song and quickly be dropped off at a very specific time in your life. How many times have you found yourself saying, “Oh woooow, this takes me right back to……”?

I’m gonna share this particular story about how music moved me one day while I was still teaching in the classroom – but not in the traditional “I heard a song and was moved”-type of way. This was actually via a student of mine, matter of fact… He was my best student. Like everyone else who came through my classroom, he knew that I was a working musician who toured, released music, etc. and he would always inquire about my shows and the music, in general. Remembering this, at the end of one school year, I surprised him by passing him copies of three of my albums (Passion & Definition, Re:Definition and Freelance). I let him know how proud I was of his successful school year in the music room and encouraged him to keep up his great work. We chatted a little while longer before he headed home for the summer… And to be honest, I didn’t think too much more about it after that… I mean giving praise to kids who are doing a good job in the classroom is all in a day’s work, right?

During that summer, I was in the middle of taking more classes at George Washington University for my Master’s degree in Special Education Children with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders. It was actually dope the way it was set up. The professors would come to US at OUR school and teach so convenience was completely in our favor in regards to not having to travel down overly-congested ass Connecticut Ave. to GW’s campus to attend classes. The thing was, I took my summers off every year so in order to continue with the degree and graduate on time with the teachers I started the program with, I would have to spend some of my time back at the school. Maaaaaaaan, I didn’t want to do that!! Didn’t y’all hear what the late, great Bernie Mac said?? “When Black folks ‘break’… We BREAK!!” He was telling jokes, but he wasn’t joking… I wanted NO parts of that school during my cherished summers off. Eh… With that being said….. my ass was right back at the school taking classes with everyone else during my summer break. Well, this one particular day after one of the classes was over, I decided to head downstairs to the music room just to check on things and make sure my spot was still in order. I got a knock at the door….. I thought to myself, “Dammit, who the hell is this?! I’ll bet it’s someone who saw me come into the room and now they want to try and come in here and bang on the drums…” ……Opened the door and saw that it was the student who I gave all of the music to. Helluva relief…. We chatted for a second to catch up, but I could tell that he was a little hyped up about something. He wasted no time cutting the conversation short with, “Hey, Mr. Ferguson, I want you to listen to this!” He proceeded to plug his guitar into one of the amps on the floor. I responded with, “Ah ok, what you got? You been working on some new material?” …Not quite. BUT, what he began to play rendered me absolutely motionless and speechless. My jaw damn near hit the floor as I realized that he was playing parts of songs from the albums of mine that I had given him a month prior! I’ll tell you what, after experiencing this level of extreme humility I have realized that it will automatically diminish your vocabulary, because all I could come up with to say in response was the SAT-vocab section worthy, “Yooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!!” …while repeating, “Come on man… Come ON man, really?!” It was CRAZY. He told me that he had been using the CDs to practice on during the summer. WOW. Listen man, lemme tell y’all something real quick… I’m not a crier, but this damn near got me good that day. Do you understand what it means to have a student of yours who has pretty much changed his life around because of the music instrument you put and helped keep in his hand and now he wants to get better by learning music you wrote….???!! And he plays back to you what he has taught himself by ear??!!?!? Not only was this a highlight in my teaching career, but a highlight in my LIFE.

Once again, Music. MOVES. Music is moving… Allow it to work in you.

I Do Miss Making A Difference… (Part One)

On the bass about to play along with some of my students during a school assembly… (2007)

In order for me to even begin addressing this part of my life properly, I have to flash all the way back to the summer of 2005 to a spot in Washington D.C. called Cada Vez. I was invited to Common’s listening party for Be, which I thought was dope because at the time I wanted to hear what he had to say about this new and upcoming album that was supposed to “bring old Common back” or “bring hip hop back” or whateverthehell…. I can’t remember which one it was supposed to do, but you know how that silliness goes with music. Anyway, I ended up meeting more than a few D.C. kats there, including Raheem DeVaughn and an emcee who I was already very familiar with as I listened to his music while in college… Asheru. We met and immediately landed on the same page after we started conversing about music, in general – then, for whatever reason he asked me out of the clear blue sky, “Man, you ever thought about teaching?” I probably took an awkward pause as the thought of teaching had never entered my mind…. like at ALL. EVER. In LIFE. I think I responded with… “Naaaaaaaaaaah maaaaan…” or “Ehhhhhh, I’m good on that.”  …Or something similar as I had friends who were teachers and NONE of the stories they used to share with me from the classroom were positive. We exchanged information anyway and said that we would keep in touch, particularly since I was planning to move east anyway.

…Fast forward to April of 2006. I had been in Maryland for only two months and was working sales at a gym in Gaithersburg, MD and hating every last minute of it. I quickly got connected with a kat named Omar Hunter who was looking for a keyboardist to play at this weekly joint he had over in NE D.C., a spot called Roses Dream. I soon found out that Omar was tight with Asheru… As a matter of fact, O had just started teaching at the school Asheru was Director of Arts and Education at… AND the two of them were in a group called The ELs – pretty small world. Once the dots were connected on how everyone was affiliated, the two of them damn near started a “Free Zo! (from his wack ass gym job)” campaign to get me working at the school. At that point, I wasn’t caring about the fact that I had zero teaching experience whatsoever. I also could have cared less about the fact that this Level 5 Special Education school was basically the step between a daily educational setting and a correctional facility for most of the kids who were attending – I just wanted OUT of that damn gym. Finally in June, Asheru set up an interview for me at the school… I suited up, went in and got the job, no problem. I would have LIKED to have thought that it was my “accomplished musician with a few credits under my belt” credentials that earned me the teaching position…………………… But uhhhh…. It was pretty much the fact that I knew Asheru. So it goes, so it goes… Regardless, I was all set up to start at the top of the summer semester which began July 5, 2006. One of the craziest things was, I’ve never really been nervous performing in front of large crowds of people before, but I’d have to say I was a bit nervous having to try and teach classes and hold the attention of 5-10 kids (per class) whom I’ve never met or seen before… Oh, did I mention that they were all diagnosed with either ED, LD, ADD, ADHD, ODD, MR, OHI or a combination of a few on that list?

“CHALLLOOOOOOONNNGGE!!!!” © Howard “Sandman” Sims

The dope part about the position was that Omar and I were set-up in the same class – a co-teaching situation. He had a semester’s worth of experience under his belt at the school already and many of the older kids either knew him or knew of him, so that was my open door to step through. We set each class up as a band. Different kids would play different instruments. We had a couple of keyboards, 4-5 guitars and eventually a bass guitar and a drum set. A good number of the kids took to it because hell, who doesn’t like music?! The fact that they were able to play music they were familiar with was usually the icing on the cake. We found that teaching theory to a high school kid with “oppositional defiant disorder” through music originally crafted by The Roots, Jay-Z, and The Isley Brothers, for example, worked much more effectively than passing along the “traditional” training that I received and hated as I was growing up. We had these kids playing together at every talent show, assembly, and school program there was and they took great pride in their performances. Their personal appearance at these shows was just as important as how they sounded. The kids usually agreed to coordinate colors as a group so that they would look like an actual “band” and we encouraged them to do so – it made them feel as though they were a part of something important. With the “new educator”  energy that we brought into the classroom everyday, we also felt personally responsible for not only their performances, but the therapeutic impacts the music was having on them as the music training served as a natural confidence builder for most of the kids. Matter of fact, I’ll just show you what I’m talking about. Here’s a peek at one of my classes from Spring Semester 2008 playing a pretty common R&B chord progression that I taught them… They learned it, practiced it as a class and put their own spin on it.

Ok, let me explain something to y’all, music is powerful… Let me say this again…….. MUSIC. IS. POWERFUL. It is so intensely powerful that it can become life-altering or even serve as a soundtrack to a major change in one’s life – I have seen it occur in many instances with the kids I taught. The same kids who had been kicked out of their neighborhood schools, abandoned by their families, in and out of juvenile facilities and/or jail, always performed at the bottom of their class, been told, “you ain’t worth shit” most of their lives are usually the ones who latch on to music the tightest. Why? Because when that kid finds something they are actually good, or in some cases great at… It will become something they almost obsess over. For example, Omar and I had a student who in his 8th grade year would run the hallways with his boys skipping classes, terrorizing other classes, and leaving school altogether… DAILY. Omar, who as I stated earlier was teaching at the school a semester before me ended up landing him in the music class he was assisting with and put a guitar in this child’s hands. Now, the one thing that was guaranteed to happen at that school on a daily basis was one word: unpredictability. No matter how much a kid said they loved music, or how badly they felt they wanted to be in your class and play <insert instrument of choice here>, the moment of truth came when they physically got on the instrument and started to mess around on it. The kid would either get frustrated and quit right on the spot, or stick it out and continue to work through the early difficulties of learning a new instrument. Well, this particular student caught on quickly by learning his notes and chord placement well before his classmates and even had a fairly nice tone when he played. Needless to say that after a few weeks, the child was hooked. As a music instructor, you know that the ones who are really serious about their instrument are the ones who make the effort to get access to that instrument in order to put in some time to play and practice it home – That’s exactly what this student did. One day, he walked into school with a brand new guitar and gig bag strapped to his back complete with a pair of sunglasses…You couldn’t tell him a THING that day. He told us that when he would get home from school, he would practice the guitar most of the evening and into the night. The results were very telling. Outside of the obvious fact that he became the top guitar player in the entire school, you also didn’t see him running the hallways as often. His grades began to improve slightly as did his overall classroom attendance. Later on, he even gave himself a “guitar influenced” stage name/nickname… The instrument and his newfound talent provided an unlimited amount of confidence that carried over into other aspects of his life and it was such a beautiful thing to witness. It assisted in his overall growth as a young man including coping skills and social abilities. He ended up graduating from high school and enrolling in college and now takes classes at a university in D.C. To this day, he and I continue to keep in touch as he is kid who I want to see WIN.

My students were even making a few waves outside of the classroom for what they were doing in it. One afternoon, I taught one of my classes the music to “Break You Off” by The Roots. After a day or two of practicing the piece, I let them know that I would be bringing my video camera in to record them in action as they loved when I had my camera on me – it let them know that they were improving, or at least good enough as a class to be recorded and posted on up on YouTube. Well, we worked out and agreed upon an intro arrangement and on the first take, they nailed it. I edited the footage and posted it up online and emailed the link to each student in the class (including a parent of one of the students who couldn’t believe that he was even sitting down in class long enough to learn an instrument). I then hopped on Twitter and sent a link in a DM to The Roots’ drummer and internationally known musical director, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson letting him know that my class is playing his group’s song… and playing it WELL. He in turn, tweeted this to his 1 million+ followers…

The link he tweeted directed everyone to check this video…

…I saw the tweet, hit the “Favorite” button and took a screenshot so that the kids could see it too. The following day as I saw each of them throughout the day, I told them, “I have a surprise for y’all when you get to class today.” When 6th period came, I told them all to come around my desk where the computer was located so that I could show them what I had been talking about all day. Now, they pretty much knew who The Roots were just through song recognition. About half of the class knew who Questlove was, so I went into what his exact role was in the group as well as other places they may have seen him (i.e. Dave Chappelle’s Block Party , Late Night With Jimmy Kimmel, various award shows, etc). And I finally showed them the tweet he sent out about them…. They all stared at the tweet on the computer screen…..looked at each other and let out a collective,


I got hit with about 15-17, “OH, that’s VICIOUS, young!!”‘s and “He KNOW who we are, we’re famous!!!” They were hyped up for the remainder of the day off of that recognition. Very rarely had I ever seen my students get that excited about something positive. That class remained one of the most collectively talented and enthusiastic groups I taught…. They were only rivaled a couple years later by a 5th period class I had of all 9th graders who couldn’t WAIT until their lunch period was over to come into the classroom and start playing. Were they rowdy as all hell?… Yes. Did they get on my nerves……AND each other’s nerves constantly? Yes. But they certainly had a drive to improve that I hadn’t seen from any other class that I had ever taught especially since they were all first-time players. The bass player from that class ended up convincing his father to purchase a bass guitar and amp so that he could practice at home. The kid came in a couple of weeks later sounding like a completely different person on that instrument, the improvement was incredible. He was another one who walked into class carrying a bass guitar case on his back with newly found confidence that was through the roof. He would stop by my classroom early in the day to drop his instrument off because he didn’t trust that his classmates could keep their damaging hands off of it. Maaaan, the bright spots in the classroom sometimes felt few and far between, but they shined brightly once shown – YET it’s always the arts they want to cut from education first when money gets tight. Go figure…

Student Quotables… Volume IV | School’s Out Edition

The school year that has lasted seemingly forever has finally come to a close… But not without a few more quotables to last us through these summer months. Some of y’all who follow me know by now that in addition to being a musician, I also teach music to high schoolers and duh-raaaaah…. They have been known to say some pretty unbelievable things… (see: Student Quotables… Vol. 1Student Quotables… Vol. II, and Student Quotables… Vol. III). To celebrate the ending of this school year, I will supply you with a few more quotables from the final semester… Enjoy!

• “What Time Is It?!?!” © Mo’iss Day

Student: “We’ve got time, there’s 20 minutes left in class”

Me: *Looks at the analog clock, which says 12:30* “Nah man, we have 10 minutes left… You know by now that class gets out at 12:40.”

S: “Ohhhh, yeah.. .I thought there were 10 minutes between each number on the clock.”

• Student answers her cell phone in the middle of class and gets off quickly after being asked repeatedly to hang up…

Me: “Why would you even consider answering the phone in class as an option?!”

Student: “My friend said it’s an emergency!”

M: “How would you know it’s an emergency BEFORE you picked up the phone?”

S: “She texted me first…. I HAD to pick it up because she doesn’t spell too well.”

• The day was Friday, and my student was attempting to argue me down by saying that Wednesday was THREE days ago rather than two…

“Mr. Ferguson… It’s THREE days ago!  

*counts on fingers* 

Friday is ONE, Thursday is TWO, and Wednesday is THREE. Wednesday was THREE DAYS AGO!”

I literally had to walk him to the calendar and count the days back to Wednesday to illustrate why he was incorrect.

• One morning, a ‘Temptations’ movie vs. ‘The Five Heartbeats’ discussion started with my class in regards to which one they enjoyed more…

Student: “I don’t like the ‘Temptations’ movie… It’s dumb. ‘The Five Heartbeats’ is better…”

Me: “You don’t like it at ALL? Well, tell me why you think ‘The Five Heartbeats’ is a better movie?”

S: “Because it has a better story… AND it has better graphics”

M: “Better……… It’s…. not…… a…… video…… game….. though…”

S: “But the ‘Temptations’ movie is in black and white and that’s stupid…”

M: “…….The first TWO minutes of the movie is in black and white! The rest is in color…”

• I had on an “Activision” t-shirt one day with their logo from the 80’s on the front of it…

Student: “Mr. Ferguson, you’re not gay…”

Me: “What are you even TALKING about?!”

S: *Points at the small rainbow part of the logo*

M: “That’s Activision, do you know what it is?”

S: “Yeah…. It’s a television”

M: “No, it’s a company that used to put out video games for Atari… an old game system.”

S: “Oh, well…. I was close then”

• One of my students had a grand epiphany in the classroom when he looked up and saw Stevie Wonder’s Talking Book album hanging up on my wall…

Student: “Stevie Wonder is BLIND?!?!”


Me: “Class?…. Uhhhhhhruuhhhh…. Is Stevie Wonder blind?”

Class, in unison: “YEAH!!!”

• I got into a conversation with a student about how I got interested in music and why I teach the music that I do to my classes…

Me: “I teach y’all music that you’re familiar with, as opposed to say uhh….. Mozart.”

Student: “Ohhhh……. That’s a website?”

• For my Tech Heads…

Student: “My teacher told me that there wasn’t any technology before 1996… She said that there weren’t any color TVs before 1996 either…”

Me: “PLEASE sit down to read and research BEFORE talking crazy…”

(9th grade student): 

“Get offa there and stop tryna fix that computer, you ain’t no technique!!”

• In showing my class the movie “The Last Dragon,’ I received these questions…

Student: “Is that Nick Cannon?!”

Me: “Is WHO Nick Cannon?!”

S: *Points to Taimak who plays ‘Bruce Leroy’* “Him!”

M: “You do realize that this movie was released in 1985 and Nick Cannon was BORN in the 80’s, don’t you?”

S: “Oh.”

Another Student: *Points at Leo O’Brien who plays ‘Richie Green’, Bruce Leroy’s little brother* “Ain’t that the midget?!…. The midget who died?!”

Me: *Running through my mental Wikipedia files… and mouthing the words, “Midget? Who died?”*  ….”Wait a minute, are you talking about Gary Coleman?!??!!”

AS: “Yeah…”

M: *puzzled* “NO. That. Is. Not. Gary. Coleman.”

The movie got to the part where DeBarge’s “Rhythm Of the Night” video came on… El DeBarge is on the screen singing the first verse…

Student: “Oooh, there go Michael Jackson!!”

• Rules?…. What rules??

Me: “So…. Why did you get suspended for so long?”

Student: “Because I brought a knife to school”

M: “Maaaaan, COME on!! What did you do THAT for?!”

S: “I didn’t know it was against the rules…”

M: *blank stare*

• Geography For $500, Alex…

Student: “Have you ever been out of the country on vacation?”

Me: “Yeah, I’ve been to Aruba, which is an island just north of Venezuela…”

S: *Puzzled look*

M: “Venezuela……… It’s a country in South America”

S: “Wait, South America and Africa are the same, right?”

M: *Exaggerated screwface* “NO!! They’re two different CONTINENTS located in two totally separate parts of the world!!”

S: “So you’re telling me that South America and Africa are TWO different places?!!?”

• In reaction to PBS’s website being hacked back in May…

Student: “Don’t you watch the NEWS Mr. Ferguson?! It was breaking news that 2Pac is still alive!!”

• Astrology

Student: “Mr. Ferguson, you hear about the changes they made to the horo… hor….. horophoric?” (she was attempting to say “horoscope”)

• Random

Teacher: “What is a thesaurus?” 

Student (10th grade): “A telescope.”

• An Old Favorite

During a school assembly, one of the students stood in front of the the high school students and staff to give a presentation. After asking a question to the audience and not really receiving a response, it turned into him ‘taunting’ his peers, which then in the same breath turned hilarious…

Student: “Man, I thought y’all were smart. Wait, y’all supposed to be smart right?!…. I mean…. Where the smarts come out at?!!?”

Educators, enjoy your summer breaks… Lord knows we deserve it. ‘Til next time, school a child… THEY. NEED. IT….

Student Quotables… Volume II

This is a continuation from the FIRST installment of student quotables… Just keep in mind, I can NOT make any of this up. Enjoy!

• One of the so-called tough persona students decided to get himself caught up in a situation where he was looking at catching an assault charge. While being questioned by the police in regards to naming who did it, he responds with the classic line…

“Now I ain’t no SNITCH… But uhhh…… All I’m sayin is……. Tony did it.”  I love it…

• After getting a “Soldier” tattoo on his forearm that was spelled “S-O-I-L-D-E-R,” one of the students defended himself with…

“That’s how we spell it in the STREETS!”

• Cultural Awareness…
“Maaan, you can’t be out here stealing, you’ve gotta get a job! Don’t you know it’s a reception out here?!”

• Music Appreciation… (directed to me)
“Man, you always playing the classics! Why don’t you play something new like 50 Cent’s “In Da Club?” …Word? This same kid told me that John Legend was old school… *shrug*

• On Tupac
“2Pac is still alive! I just saw him in a picture with Rihanna!”

• Geography Lesson
A student of mine walked into class with a pendant of Africa around his neck. He was not expecting me to quiz him about the continent. First, he told me that Africa was a “state”, to which I responded, “So who’s the governor of Africa then?”

After explaining to the boy that Africa was a continent and not a state, I asked him to name just ONE country in Africa… He responded with, “Peru”

Teacher: “If one side of the Earth is light, what is the other side?”
Student: “Heavy”

Teacher: “How many minutes are in a half hour?”
Student: “15”
Teacher: “So how many minutes are in an hour then?”
Student: “5?”

Student Quotables…

I think that by now, a lotta y’all know that I’m a Music educator at a charter school in Washington D.C. Honestly, if you are lacking in the sense of humor department, you won’t last as a teacher at this school… or ANY school for that matter. So with that being said, allow me to introduce you to some of my students and their special ‘quotable’ moments… They are always saying something crazy… or memorable, I should say. These joints are coming off of the top of my head, so I’ll be sure to keep this going with a part two sometime soon. Step into my life for a minute…lol

• On November 5th, 2008, the day after President Obama’s victory on Election Day…
Student: Mr Ferguson, you hear that Obama is gonna be President?”
Me: “Yeah, I believe I heard something to that effect”
Student: “That means we ain’t gotta deal with no more white muhfuckas no more!”

• Student sees paper pinned on the wall under “Honorable Mention” (where I normally put papers that receive a “B” grade)…
Student: “Mr. Ferguson, you terrible”
Me: “Huh? Why do you say that?”
Student: “You put my paper under ‘Horrible Mention'”

• The Grand Epiphany
Student: “Mr. Ferguson, I just realized last week that ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It’ was about Tina Turner and her husband Ike”

• I showed one of my classes the movie ‘Ray’ and the part came up where they showed Ray (Jamie Foxx) and his wife holding their first born child…
Student: “Mr. Ferguson, is that (the real) Ray Charles’ baby or Jamie Foxx’s?”

• Noticing the way that one of the students was rubbing off negatively on the other students, on staff member said, “That boy is a CANCER.” The student overheard what she said and responded, “I ain’t no cancer… I’m a Capricorn!”

• During bus dismissal…
Teacher: “Excuse me, do you ride bus two fifty-eight?”
Student turns around with a neck and eyeroll… “NO.. I ride bus two-FIVE-eight!”

• Payment plan?
Student: “I’ma sell enough weed to pay for my college intuition”

• One of the little 9th grade kids came up requesting his internship check in ‘all ones’
Teacher: “Now, why do you want it in all ones?”
Student: *In his high-pitched voice, while throwing both hands in the air over his head* “So I can make it raaaaaaain on them bitchesssss”

• A student was looking for a staff member and finally found them and said:
Student: “Where you was at to be fount?”
Teachers: “HUH?! What did you say??!”
Student: “Ohhhhh… My bad. Where you was at to be foouuunnddd-DAH”

Music (Class) Appreciation…

I had a chat with a good friend of mine just last week about how silly it is for people to say things

“Aww man, you don’t know nuthin’ about that!You’re too young to know about that music!”

Exposure and education are two amazing components when applied, aren’t they?I guess if we were too young to know and learn about ‘old’ things, then history would be completely irrelevant, huh?Fortunately, I had the pleasure of being exposed to some excellent music growing up courtesy of my music-loving parents.But even with all of the music that was receiving rotation in my house, I am still getting put on to new older music by groups I’ve never even heard of and even some by very well-known artists.The learning process is one that is never-ending and one that I love and appreciate a great deal.So naturally as a music instructor, one of my main goals is to expose my teenage students to music they may have never heard if not for my class.There are days where I will sit with a class and just listen to music, but in the midst of listening I’ll sneak in an original song that has been sampled and see if the kids catch on to it.I had one of my classes last year so amped up after one of our “sample day” sessions that a couple of them said that they were, “Mad with hip-hop,” to which I had to clear the air by then explaining the art of sampling, why it’s done, and that it has been a part of hip-hop since day one.But these kids are getting exposed to different types of music and becoming much more knowledgeable in regards to the roots of current artists.

One group in particular that I have an extremely easy time exposing to my students is The Temptations.They have a movie about them that the kids have seen at least two or three different times on VH1 or TVOne, their catalog of music is not only classic but in many circles it’s damn near considered to be a standby.Their lyrics are simple, yet catchy, while the music is undeniable – It’s like, if one of their joints comes on and you aren’t singing along, bobbing your head, or at least tapping your foot, I would be forced to place a mirror under your nose to check and see if you are still breathing.I mean, who doesn’t have a favorite Temptations song?It’s no different with my students.I show The Temptations (1998) movie in my class every year whether they have seen it or not simply because they ask me so many questions during the course of the film.It definitely helps my classes feel more connected with not only The Temps’ music, but with their accomplishments and fully established legacy.So the fact that my 4th period came to me last month with the idea of wanting to play and record the 1971 hit “Just My Imagination” wasn’t very surprising to me – Actually, I was more proud of them than anything…


My fourth period class ended up understanding and playing that music so well that the video shown above was presented to the entire school as their “Ode To Motown” assembly for Black History Month.

The craziest thing about Motown music is that it is very deceiving. You listen to a song like The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” and you may find yourself saying, “It’s a pop song… very simple.” Wellllll, not the case. Have you ever tried to play that bassline? Matter of fact have you ever analyzed the bassline for The Four Tops’ “Bernadette?!!” Wheeeeew!!! (James Jamerson)… All that to say, my first period class requested to learn how to play “My Girl”… sounds easy enough right? While “My Girl” may sound simple and straight forward, for a couple of kids who just started playing instruments weeks ago, I warned them that it may present a challenge. The piece that leads into the key change where The Temps are singing, “Hey heey heeeeeey!!” and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra brings the strings in is tough on a beginner because of the movements that must be executed on the instrument. But after two weeks of running the song into the ground, I was able to get them in front of the camera for one helluva take…

I think this exposure thing is working out for the better for these kids… Just my humble opinion. We will continue to build in class… and I’ll continue to update.

In Class With Zo! (Vol. 1 – 4th Period)

I’m now going into my 4th year as a music teacher and as soon as we got a drum set in the classroom it was like tossing two rocks in the middle of a circle of heads. These kids literally swarm to the drums… the funny thing is, they ALL play the SAME BEAT when ever they sit down on the set – a ‘bounce’ beat which is a cousin of DC’s Go-Go music. I guess it’s what the younger kats listen to… different songs, same beat…

Anyway, being that all of my students think they’re damn Dennis Chambers, I decided to have a competition between three of my students in my 4th period class… The rest is history.