Principal, What Principles? - Part I

Introduction:

In reference to my teaching career, the Chinese curse "may you live in interesting times" often seemed to apply.  After surviving a couple of particularly rough episodes, in which I found myself at odds with those in charge, I was informed that I wasn't legally able to sue these b....... unless I quit teaching. At the time, I wasn't prepared to give them the satisfaction of having me gone.  Now that I have retired, I don't think they're worth the effort but I had planned to write a book with the above title.   At this point, my website gives me a forum for starting what would be the book, without having to make quite the same commitment to finish.  I am also hoping to open this up into the kind of blog that people who have had similar problems with "the man/woman" can give vent to the frustrations that these vile sycophants cause.  They certainly never saw students as the priority.  Frankly, students were always the best part of teaching along with the subject of music of course.  almost everything else was a bloated bureaucracy.

No-Brain Cell

I was called into the Principals office.  "Mr. Ludwig. I understand you have a cell phone.  We don't allow the students to have cell phones at school." " I'm not a student", I replied.  and so it began..now this was in the days when a cell phone was the size of a boat radio.  I explained that I did not use it for personal use but that it made it easier for music stores to contact me when music came in or when an instrument was ready for pickup.  When I explained to the Principal that in over 10 years of teaching I had only had one personal call and that was when my wife called to say that we had a major housefire and that she had barely escaped with her life, the kids were safe, but our little kitty (who had woken her and saved her life) had been trapped in the flames and perished, and that I should come home.  His response was, "See! if you hadn't had a cell phone, then you wouldn't have had the fire".  I was so stunned by this response, that for once I was speechless.

Flash forward 10 years and of course I am having to stop a female (surprisingly enough) student from taking video pictures up students dresses from beneath the choir risers (I assume for posting on the web)...but that's (some) students.

Memo-ries I  stopped another Principal in the halls to say that I had sent her a memo about a week earlier and that I needed her response in order to coordinate an event.  She advised me that she had 2 piles for memos: the 1st to be ignored and eventually discarded and the 2nd was for people who sent their memo again.  That way, she said, she cut down on how much work she had to do as if it was really important, people would send them twice.  I refused to re-send and suggested that I still considered my (word-processed & spell-checked) request important and that I expected a response.   This did not make me popular.

Form-al Complaint

At the very beginning of a new year, our Senior band would play a song and then O Canada at the 1st assemblies of the year.  For the 2nd year in a row, one senior teacher (that's a euphemism for nasty old bag) refused to excuse the involved band members from her class.  I ended up sending the head councellor to plead for them to be able to attend.  The problem was that I hadn't sent a class list of who was in the band, primarily because I had cross-grade classes and creating a list was a hassle, especially at the year startup.  Because our band was not that large and because one of the students was our lead trumpet, it created a serious problem.  I decided that I would talk to her later when I had calmed down as I didn't want to react in anger.  When I later suggested in conversation that the students were easy to recognise because they were in concert dress attire and that most other 'hats on backwards' (today's 'pants on the ground') students wouldn't dress like that just to skip a class.  I also pointed out that band students tend to be some of the most responsible students and that what we were trying to do was to set a tone at the beginning of the year and build school spirit.  All this fell on deaf ears.   My final argument was that both the counsellors and the administration had requested us to do this and that if she didn't support 1) students, 2) the school, 3) the admin, that perhaps she shouldn't be teaching.  I then walked out because by this time, I was angry again....you guessed it, I was called into the office because she had complained to the principal that I had told her she should quit teaching.  It took the help of our school Union rep to calm things down and prevent my being seriously disciplined, as in. "Penny Pingleton, your'e Permanently Punished" (original lines from the Musical Hairspray).

Snakes are a Pain

A cable snake sends signals from microphones which are plugged into a box near the stage, to the mixing console located near the back of the hall.  Because they are quite expensive, having them run along the floor of an auditorium leaves them open to being walked on and broken, or worse, being cut.  At Lord Byng Secondary, I drilled a hole in the floor near the mixer and ran the cable under the floor (a very dirty, dusty, tight crawlspace), bringing it up through another hole near the stage.  It worked well for years and saved having to run it and remove it every time we had a concert or other event in the auditorium.  I hadn't asked permission and there was no objection.  At John Oliver, the same situation existed, made worse by the fact that wheelchair students would have to maneuver over it to get to the choir room or to find a place in the auditorium.  Often, their wheelchairs careened wildly and as may of these students were quite fragile, I was becoming increasingly alarmed.  By this time in my career, I had been advised on numerous occasion, that one should ask permission before genuflecting, flatulating, or breathing excessively.  I therefore went to the admin and said that I would like to run the snake under the floor.  I was told clearly that could only be done by qualified tradespeople and that a requisition to have the work done would be made.  It was.  After waiting over a year with no news, I began to pester for information.  Eventually I was told that it would cost $ 1,300.00 to do the job & did I want to go ahead with it?  I was outraged that in a time when all budgets were being slashed that this much would be spent internally.  I replied that if there was that much money lying around, I'd rather spend it on music.  Even though taxpayers money supplies the budget for work done by schoolboard tradespeople, the schools were individually billed for work done.  From what I could tell, these rates were highly inflated which begs the question, who was benefiting from the monies exchanged internally.  At any rate, I was suspicious.  After waiting for another few months (6?), I borrowed a cement drill from a contractor friend, came in after school and did the work.  It took about 1 1/2 hours and I paid my friend $ 50.00 to rent his cement drill.  Well!  All hell broke loose.  I was told that I had violated the sanctity of Union agreements, had endangered a tech student who had watched from the auditorium and passed the cable through the hole, and most of all, I had been in a dangerous off-limits area under the auditorium floor.  Now in truth, if you go down the access to the area under the floor, there are pipes along the wall that have the old style Asbestos wrappings but they are clearly marked and I did not need to go anywhere near them and definitely didn't disturb them.  This became the main rallying cry for those offended by my act of, as they referred to it, vandalism.  Interestingly, there is a greater asbestos hazard above the auditorium where some students would often be adjusting theatre lights for the various productions.  No one seemed concerned about them...  as well, as a young child, I used to mix asbestos powder with plaster of paris for making mountains on my trainset.  It slowed the plaster of paris drying time down which prevented cracks and gave more time for moulding and shaping...we didn't know any better in those days..regardless, I had to make apologies for offending the people who would have stood to make money off this chore and eventually the furor died down...but from that day forward, I am pleased to say, no wheelchairs were injured in the auditorium....I, was, however, being watched closely.   During the turmoil, I had mentioned that I had to route the cable through a cold-air return at the front of the stage.  When I removed the front panelling, I discovered about 50 years of black soot on the floor of the vent area.  When I mentioned that this was more of a hazard than my going under the floor, I was ignored.  That black soot is flying through the auditorium to this day.  By the way, when I was under the floor, I noticed that students had been going in through the various access points throughout the school and that there was lovers graffiti on the cement walls.  Epilogue: To send a clear message to the evil Mr. Ludwig, a large steel grate mechanism was placed over the access entrance in the closet where the p.a system was stored.  A large lock was placed on it and a huge danger sign was posted.  The next year, a tradesperson came to me to say that they had lost the key and did I have one.  I replied that I would be the last person "they" would give a key to, but that there were at least another half dozen entrances to the crawl space, which I showed him and he was able to carry on.  One of the other entrances was in the back corner practice room in the music room.  The final sad irony is that they paid more to put that cage on, which was useless, than what they were going to spend on running the cable in the first place.  I guess they got their money either way.  And boy, did they show me!

Little School of Horrors

John Oliver Secondary has had a strong tradition of music but had fallen on difficult times prior to and during my time there.  The students I did have were wonderful and one year I had a group of wonderful singers in my jazz choir who were also active in drama.  One student in particular was perfect for the part of Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors which I had directed (music) at previous schools and had been the principal keyboard player in 2 Theatre Under the Stars Productions.  When it came to the auditions my jazz choir members landed all the key roles.  At the first rehearsal they already had their parts down pat because they could all read music...it made my job easy.  We were also able to get the TUTS props because they had been snapped up by my colleagues at Hamber who lent them to us.  In order to put on a really professional show I decided to bring my own 32 channel mixing console in.  Because of security concerns (apparently I'm the only teacher who knew how to close and lock the auditorim doors after use) I approached the admin regarding building a sound booth at the back of the aud to house the sound equipment.  This was in the Fall.  I was told that the request would have to be sent to the trades people at the School Board.  I waited til the end of January and then was given the estimate of $ 13,000.00 building costs.  When I looked at their plans it included sound proofing the booth etc.  When I told them that what I wanted in the booth was for it to sound just like the room itself - not enhanced.  that way the soundperson can know what is needed acoustically.  At the same time as this I had also asked that the main PA speakers be moved forward so that they weren't behind the band.  I had been asking for years because my vocal groups often performed on the floor in front of the stage (so that the bands placement could be fixed and thus less time taken between acts).  Any moron knows that if the sound comes out the speakers and then back into the mics you get squeels of delight known as feedback.  By hanging them a little more forward and turning off the unnecessary centre speaker array you can get more sound control without feedback

On asking when the sound booth could be ready I was told that it would be finished by the end of May which was a month and a half after the production.  Knowing too that the price was ridiculous, and that having seen their design, they weren't qualified to build an outhouse much less a sound booth, I came in on a Pro-D day having got a donation from my local lumber yard, and for about $ 500.00 worth of plywood, built the booth.  I built it using wood screws so that it could be dismantled afterwards if they liked.  In that way it was no different than a stage prop.  They didn't see it that way.

In the process of construction,  I discovered that the one electrical outlet in the booth area had been placed there in the days of projectors (pre computer) and had no ground wire.  Because this posed a safety hazard I turned off the breaker and had re-run the cable up through a stud and was planning to properly ground it.  Unfortuantely I was suddenly given a cease and desist order and once again all hell broke loose.

In my disciplinary hearing I was accused of endangering students with this "live wire"..Of course they embarrassed themselves when I advised the panel that my booth had a locking door and students now could not have access.  I had to tell them that if it truly was a danger then they were the ones responsible because the ground wire had been missing for years.  They also couldn't argue that the breaker I turned off rendered the wiring safe - especially given that the electrical panel was in another locked space.  They tried to bluff me regarding the danger so I told them that my father had been a communications technician for BC Hydro and on a number of times had received a shot of 100,000 volts.  While he said that it definitely wakes you up, it is the amperage that will kill you, not the voltage.  Anyone who has wired "hot" knows what 110 volts feels like.  Unless you're standing in water, you'll most likely survive.   They became substantially quieter when their electrical terror tactic failed.  Eventually the District Superintendent who was in attendance, and who had come to the production and could see what it did for the students and the school,  came to my rescue and after my promises never to do anything again, the meeting closed.

Once my evil booth had been discovered a parade of ghouls came through the auditorium.  I had to reset my pit band 3 times:  Once because we were deemed too close to a fire exit and they claimed that wheelchair students would be endangered.  Unfortunately the exit in question led to a flight of stairs which no wheelchair person would have been able to use.  There were 3 other adjacent doors which we had kept clear...the 2nd time was because the sound baffling which I had put around the band to keep the volume down was deemed to block the site line of 3 or 4 seats in the front row.  The third time was because despite having arranged ahead of time the rentals department came in the week before the production and insisted it all had to be taken down for the Elementary choir festival.  I was not pleased.  The PA speakers never did get moved and when I used some other speakers placed in front of the pit orchestra I was told I had to take them down.

Despite all of this the production went off successfully - the students did an amazing job (the pit band was awesome!).  I had one parent at one intermission ask what the equipment in front of the stage was for.  Incredulously I said it was for the band...he replied that he thought the music was from a cd and hadn't realized it was live!  He must have been enraptured by the acting on the stage.  I guess the sound barracade worked!

The sound booth worked well and nothing got stolen..we had all the transmitters for the wireless mics in there which would have been easily stolen had we not been able to secure after every show.

Epilogue:

About a month after the production, the speakers got moved.   After the June year-end concerts our Vice Principal came up to me and said that the sound for the jazz choir etc. was the best it had ever been, and asked if the speakers being moved made the difference.  I was able to say yes.  Wouldn't it have been nice if they did it when the system was being installed in the first place when I first asked them.  but what do I know?

Despite their insistence that this booth abomination had to be torn down, it sat for the next year and a half and was used regularly.  Having had 2 summers with no auditorium use in which to dismantle it, I was distressed to suddenly have a crew arrive 4 days before my Winter Concert and prepare to dismantle it.  I told all concerned that I had the auditorium booked that entire week for my groups to rehearse on stage, and that I wasn't prepared to have that interrupted.  After some heated words with various minions I drove them off and got back to my rehearsal.  The next day they returned with the supervisors.  Again I reminded them that I had booked the auditorium and that they had had almost 2 years to do this, and that it was clear that this was suspiciously intentional timing.  I also advised them that it wasn't worth the health risk (to them) should they continue interfering with my rehearsal.  I suggested that they could do it on the day I wasn't teaching and no groups would be rehearsing.  With much disgruntlement they agreed to do this.  Because of the use of wood screws they were able to dismantle it in less than 2 hours despite having told me that they would need to be working on it for 3 or 4 days.

So the danger of the soundbooth has now passed:  Mr. Ludwig is gone - the booth is gone - the jazz choir is gone - the strings are gone  -Bye Bye Miss American Pie!

Oh I forgot; I had also long suggested that putting curtains on the walls would help the horrendous acoustics in the old aud.  Eventually they put some ugly greenish-grey things across the middle using old dust rags (curtains) collected from Elementary school stages which, thanks to killing off the Arts, weren't used much any more...they did help when there was a small audience but weren't what I had suggested which would have done that and more, at no extra cost..but what do I know?  30 years in professional entertainment and recording obviously didn't make me qualified to  assist with School Board sound design.  But the school bought (was sold) a nice reverb unit to go with the overwhelming echo already in the room...idiots!

addendum section to be added:  why get a 24 channel mixer when a 16 channel will cost as much? Huh?

O Canaduh

John Oliver Secondary had a wonderful Multi-cultural evening which among other things featured East Indian dancing with multi-coloured saris and always Philipino singers and dancersOur jazz choir was asked to participate and to open the show with O Canada.  Of course I accepted and began rehearsals with my students.  Because the Jazz Choir & Jazz Band had been cancelled by the administration, we had to work as a volunteer "club"  As a result, and because the same students tended to be involved in a lot of school activities including a trip by the Mini school students, it was difficult to get them together and I was feeling more and more stressed to achieve the calibre of presentation that I demanded.  As a special showcase, we had decided to do a "rock" arrangement that I had created years earlier for the opening of the Federal N.D.P. convention.  That premiere received a standing ovation. (the delegates had remained seated during the performance).

On the day of the Muliticultural show, I was sicker than a dog but had come in and set up all the microphones and the drums and guitar amps etc.  At lunch as I was leaving to return to class, one of the show organizers asked me how it was going.  I made the mistake of trying to remind him that the audience could remain seated during our O Canada as it was different enough that they wouldn't be expected to sing along.  The reaction was immediate!  O No! The audience always stand and sing along.  Nothing I could do could persuade what was now a chorus of "that's how they do it at hockey games and that's how it has to be"  The discussion escalated to a pont where the Principal was called in.  In true Solomon fashion, he said that we could do O Canada twice..once with everyone at the beginning and in the middle of the show as a special presentation.  My response was that O Canada is not that great a song to merit doing twice and that our rendition would suffice and was a special arrangement.  Years earlier I had written a jazz choral  arrangment for the visit of then Lieutentent governor David Lam to Lord Byng along with a choral arrangment of a famous Chinese song, Jasmine Flower.  I included a verse in Cantonese, one in Mandarin and wrote a third in English describing how we are all enriched by embracing mulit-culturalism.  Both were very well received with special comment made by our guest  This precedent made no difference to my detractors.  I said that to have to do it twice inferred that the students efforts weren't worthy enough and was an insult to them.  The fact that I had done years of concerts (plus a few multi-platinum albums and performances to 20,00 people a night) and had been paid generously to create the arrangement in the first place didn't make any difference to these people.  They kept insisting that people must stand (I asked whether the audience would have to put their arms out in Sieg Heil fashion as well to show true patriotism but that only made things worse).  Sicker than a dog, I had only come to school so that we could have one more rehearsal and then do the performance in the evening.  I then said point blank to the Principal, "We're done here.  I'm pulling the choir out of the performance."  He replied that he had lost all respect for me as a person and that I was punishing the students.  After briefly reiterating that my action was out of respect for the students efforts I went and called for a sub.  Of course I ended up teaching the rest of the afternoon because they couldn't, or wouldn't,  get anyone to cover my classes...and even after all this, I created a piano part on the computer so that they would have an accompaniment for the evening and set up a MIDI playback machine for them.  I didn't dare mention that it was the standard Eb version from the Anglican hymnbook as that probably would have offended someone.  At any rate, it was a clear statement that nothing I had ever done in the entertainment industry held any respect and that any "colleague' had more say when it came to music presentations.  It would be a little like me telling the P.E. teachers how to coach their basketball team, except that I at least had actually played basketball as a kid.  These teachers couldn't sing or play a kazoo.  Of course every year a few zealous teachers would get up in front of the school on the last day before Christmas break and butcher Chrismas songs in a variety of costumes, including what I thought were offensive 'in-drag' costumes featuring large fake breasts.  But what did I know.  They wondered why I didn't involve my music students in the aptly named "Holiday Madness" event.

So here's what caused all the problem

O Canada arranged by Frank Ludwig

NumberNamePlayLength
1
O Canada
(Frank Ludwig)
PLAY
PAUSE
STOP
On
Off
2:33 min
e

The Premiere:  When I first performed this version of O Canada I was introduced as a former member of Trooper and was politely received.  When I got to the usual end-point where it normally goes for the big high note, this arrangement drops the note down.  I could palpably feel the audience go "oh, Mr. Bigshot can't even hit the high note"  When the tag goes through it's buildup with the female background chanting O Canada they started to clue in.  When I held the high note at the end for over 4 bars they leapt to their feet, but I have to laugh that they were so quick to want to condemn me...ah, human nature.

 

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