Meet Mr. McCampbell@MusicLovers

The same spot, on the same street, since 2004. That’s how long Charles McCampbell has taught music on Main Street in Duncanville. He began with a clear goal: “Pursue perfection through private lessons.” Empowering students—even the disadvantaged—helps them stay off the streets, wandering without purpose. It builds confidence, perhaps the key to success. Yes, there are essential techniques for breathing, correct posture, pitch, projection, and pronunciation that identify professionals. (He has a liking for alliteration, too.) But Mr. McCampbell believes that even if all those are in place, and even if a student has notable talent, without confidence often not much happens.

Born in Michigan, Charles McCampbell moved to New York City as a teenager. When she was just 39, he lost his mother to breast cancer while in Michigan which later motivated him to become a certified holistic nutritionist and fitness trainer. Another “p” might be added for him—purpose. He knew what was important and sought excellence from the beginning. He studied theology from a correspondence school in Fort Wayne. At the time, he was studying at JazzMobile, which gave him opportunities to in Manhattan and travelling widely.

This is how to tell a true teacher: Rather than talk about themselves, they talk first about their students. With pride, usually. Charles McCampbell has had several vocal students on The Voice. The famous Tejano singer Selena left a brother, A. B. Quintanilla, who formed a popular group called Kumbia Kings. In fact, they played in Dallas last July. Mr. McCampbell taught Ramon, their lead singer. Diego Salazar started drums with him when he was only five years old. Diego is an all-state level drummer who performed with the jazz ensemble. He could have gone on, of course, but we diverted back to him as a teacher—oh, and he has special needs students, too.

Charles McCampbell has three brothers. They all sing, and sing well. Some years ago, Norm Sonju, award-winning co-founder of the championship-winning Dallas Mavericks, approached the brothers and asked them to sing “God Bless America” at a game. And so they did. A capella. These brothers formed Mac Band as vocalists adding drums, bass, guitar, and keyboards. Here is their #1 chart-topping “Roses Are Red.” (No, dear friends of a certain age, this is not a Bobby Vinton cover.)

When the band was touring, Charles McCampbell began praying about where to go next and what to do next. He considered Atlanta, Dallas, and Nashville. The answer was Dallas. He was performing with another group from New York when the change was needed. The group performed at Kiest Park where they met Dr. Anthony Evans Sr. at the function where he was speaking. Travelling was a strain, but Dallas was central and in the Bible Belt since they were doing Christian music. Members of the band came, too. Finally, Mr. McCampbell’s brothers moved to the area as well.

And Duncanville? He was driving down Main Street 18 years ago and saw a rental space—completely empty, no working a/c, bad carpet—but it spoke to him. The landlord gave him a simple direction for the problems: “You fix.” Walls went up, a/c issues resolved, better flooring, and it was ready for students. Now Mr. McCampbell is at Fielder Church in Arlington, part of a multi-campus organization with beautiful buildings and many forms of outreach. His brother Derrick plays at a Methodist church in McKinney.

A bonus! Linda Johnson teaches piano at Music Lovers. Following 23 years of teaching in and around Dallas, she retired and continued piano instruction. Her areas of expertise include AP music theory and piano pedagogy. Her students (yes, another real teacher) have won Music Memory competitions at WRR and played at the Majestic Theater. She and Mr. McCampbell wrote the school song for Wilmer-Hutchins. Plus, there is a young student—now just in the 7th grade—who auditioned for the Dallas opera and has appeared in The Magic Flute and Carmen.

Linda Johnson began her music training at age 7 with piano lessons. Without an instrument for a time, her mother made her a keyboard out of cardboard, and she practiced on that. She added that her goals for students are high: “Wherever you set the bar, that’s where they will go.” Linda Johnson is also a real mother and mentioned her son Isaiah; he has a master’s-level performance degree in violin and teaches in Garland. He gives private lessons at Music Lovers. That’s a double bonus, really.

These are the instruments you can learn @MusicLovers on Main Street in Duncanville: bass guitar, guitar, drums, congas, and piano. You can learn theory and composition from Linda Johnson, too. And voice—the most basic of all instruments. We all have a voice and can learn to use it better. Reasonably priced and lovingly taught.

But this isn’t an introduction without meaning. Music heals, something that we all need. With his background in health, Mr. McCampbell is obviously involved in healing the body. He can also heal the heart.

A favorite movie, The Visitor (2007), includes several plot lines, all relevant these days. Richard Jenkins stars as Walter Vale, a man who in his own voice tells us he has no purpose; everything he is doing is a sham. A professor, he berates a student. As a piano student, he berates his teacher. When he goes into Manhattan to attend a conference, he discovers two illegal immigrants living in his apartment, scammed by a swindler. After initially throwing the two out, Walter lets them stay. A friendship develops. Tarek, the man, plays a djembi. He teaches Walter—but it’s more than teaching, really; it’s healing. Walter was studying piano because he missed his late wife, a concert pianist. He had no talent and no real interest. Drumming transforms him. When he and Tarek play in a drum circle in Central Park, there is electricity. There is life.

Think about this gift of music for yourself or for a child. It’s never too early, but it’s also never too late. Mr. McCampbell and his team can help.

On Becoming a Statistic

On Wednesday, September 8, at 6:01 pm, the call from Parkland Hospital’s 214-266-0000 came. I officially became a statistic, the 6162nd case in Dallas County (long weekend, delayed reporting by two days, so completely inaccurate), the 1421st in Texas, and the 184,189th in the United States. A new—and unexpected—breakthrough case of Covid. One of the options for “Where were you exposed?” is “No idea.” Check.

  1. It’s not the new leprosy.

There is just that tinge of fear, of aversion, of don’t-get-close with the virus if you say you have it. Confinement is thereby a blessing: you don’t have to tell anyone except those you were close to within the infectious period. But you do. I worked (remotely) on September 7 and told my workmates I was a little under the weather. I gave details. One person on the call had the virus in November 2020; it wasn’t pretty—10 days of misery, 8 months of severe headaches following. Her mother had it as well, and she now suffers from phantom smells (phantosmia), essentially odor hallucinations. They can be pleasant, but life being what it is, they’re usually not. Cigarette smoke is common, for example. I’d texted the people I was with at a socially-distanced, everyone-vaccinated-and masked, temperature-screened meeting I’d had when it felt like a slight cold. My PCP assured me I’d be fine but to let her know if I needed an inhaler.

When I was recovered per the CDC guidelines (10 days after beginning of symptoms AND 24 hours with no fever without meds AND symptoms improving other than taste and smell—see phantosmia), only one person moved their chair away from my masked self in a waiting room. No one else has seemed to flinch. Leprosy has a terrible reputation, thanks to millennia of fear. It’s actually not very contagious though it does spread—who knew?—via cough droplets. Here are 103 movie titles that feature the disease, beginning in 1925. Most of us know of Ben-Hur (1959) from the chariot race, but the healing of the leprous mother and sister remains moving. 

  1. It’s real, it’s recoverable, it can be fatal.

At first, when we heard of it in February 2020, it didn’t seem particularly bad. Not the flu because it was really a cold virus, but not scary. This January New York Times story quickly proved inadequate. At a conference March 5-7, we thought we were smart to put out some hand sanitizer. The next weekend, though the lockdown came. I was kicked out of the hospital where my husband lay direly ill with pneumonia; it wasn’t until June I was even allowed to see him through a window. Well, I’m sure everyone has memories although by now they may too numerous to recount: toilet paper shortages (and jokes), bread baking (heavy on sourdough), memes galore (here are hundreds), calls to friends and family (nothing else to do), names for the thing (corona virus, Covid, etc and a really long and scholarly article on all the variations). I know exactly how long ago I got bored because DuoLingo tells me I’ve been working on Russian for 508 days (April 30, 2020). Правда (pravda)=truth and justice. 

Vaccines remain controversial for some, but I won’t get into that here. I know some perfectly capable, IQ’d people who refuse them. Mine were finished in January 2021, well ahead of many others, and I’m up for the booster. The recovery rate is great, technically: 98.2%-99.75%, depending on what you read. This AP article is short and explains why that doesn’t matter.

There’s more to statistics than the quick answers, as everyone knows. If you were elderly or had an underlying high-risk condition, the numbers shift. Dramatically. Using 18-29 year-olds as the base number of deaths, those over 85 have a 570 times higher rate of death. By July 2021, 40% of deaths were among those with diabetes. Then there are the anecdotes: A 60-year-old in my town said he was healthy and decided not to take the vaccine. He contracted the virus and died. Dozens of similar stories, I’m sure. The bottom line is that there are no guarantees here. We were wrong to compare it to flu. In the 2019-2020 flu season, there were 38,000,000 cases. Deaths? 22,000. For COVID-19, to date 42.9 million cases. Deaths? 674,000. Yes, cumulative but note the difference between numbers of cases of each is small. We are still being vaccinated for the 1918 Spanish flu. Yes, not a SARS like Covid and colds, but we will be fighting this forever.

How to address the sadness for the loss of those who have died? Last week, some dear friends buried their husband and father. A neighbor died early on. During another work session, an analyst reported two of his friends had died that morning. The sadness isn’t over. If you’re reading this, I probably love you. Please try to stay.

Lew Sayers: A Tribute in Five Paragraphs

As I write, today is September 11, twenty years after a terrible day. An assault on the homeland had not happened since 1812. My college freshmen and I were in class that day. With nothing else possible, the students wrote about their fears, the things most tender to them. We watched the towers collapse a few hours later. One of our sons was on a mission in Oregon; another, traveling for work. The youngest and I went to hear Brahms’ Requiem a few days later. Much has been written about how that event changed us forever. I cried for months after when hearing of a loss, a hero, a new commitment.

Ten years ago, a friend died suddenly on our campus. I wrote the tribute that follows, but I don’t know who read it or even who saw it. But on a day of remembrance, it seems fitting to reflect on his passing as well. Because of people who spend hours taking pictures for just that reason, we can see his gravestone and its inscription: A WONDERFUL TEACHER

It was a privilege to know Lew Sayers. He was one of those people about whom it can be said, “This one was beloved.”

Lew Sayers: A Tribute in Five Paragraphs

The scene is a familiar one: we wait outside his door while he continues with a student. His voice is quiet, direct; the advice, specific. He bends near the page, pointing out what needs to be done.  When he is finished—and not before—the student leaves; Lew smiles up at us and asks, “What can I do for you?” It was a time to be treasured both then in its grace and now in its memory. Although he would have never dreamed of calling himself a hero, that’s what Lew Sayers was. Becoming a hero does not require planning or thought or even greatness; a hero lives within each of us, waiting for the call. Lew never waited.

The word “hero” finds its way into broadcasts, its definition one we believe we know even without the dictionary. A hero does brave things as “a man of superhuman strength or physical courage.” Originally, a hero was part man and part god, according to its Greek root heros meaning “demi-god.” An even older variant adds more relevant information: the PIE base ser- means “to watch over, protect” (“hero”). So, a firefighter can be a hero, rushing into a burning apartment and carrying out a woman in a wheelchair, but so can a mother or a father forbidding a child to play a violent video game. A teacher—a fine teacher—is also a protector. Lew understood that students need to be encouraged or pushed, directed and guided, protected from their own worst instincts and watched over as they struggle.

As is often the case, Shakespeare has something to enrich our thinking. in the opening of Henry VI Part One, Act I, scene i, the Duke of Bedford speaks:

Hung be the heavens with black, yield day to night!
Comets, importing change of times and states,
Brandish your crystal tresses in the sky,
And with them scourge the bad revolting stars
That have consented unto Henry’s death!
King Henry the Fifth, too famous to live long!
England ne’er lost a king of so much worth.

This description of grief encompasses the heavens, if not our hearts. Students and colleagues alike have felt the heaviness of Lew’s passing. His fame—a word used in its sense of being well-known for Shakespeare as well—applies to Lew in ways we might not expect. Campus-wide sadness reigns as it might not for most of us. To continue with the theme of the hero, however, we must hear from the Duke of Gloucester:

England ne’er had a king until his time.
Virtue he had, deserving to command:
His brandish’d sword did blind men with his beams:
His arms spread wider than a dragon’s wings;
His sparking eyes, replete with wrathful fire,
More dazzled and drove back his enemies
Than mid-day sun fierce bent against their faces.
What should I say? his deeds exceed all speech:
He ne’er lift up his hand but conquered.

Hyperbole indeed. What teacher has ever thought of conquest when lifting a hand to the dry erase board? Eyes may flash and spark but drive back few enemies-as-comma-splices. Our picture of Lew, then, might be in the writing lab two weeks ago. He sits reading, at the end of a bank of computers. Students are around, but he is not in class. Lew brandishes no sword; his eyes are not sparking, any more than usual anyway. No, Lew is wearing a gimme fishing cap with a life-sized trout on the bill, a plastic fish, with assorted hooks and sinkers and line as if further decoration might be needed. More importantly, Lew sits as if nothing is at all unusual. Asked what the occasion might be, he says he heard it was crazy hat day. He is smiling. Lew’s words could make the whole day smile. Shakespeare couldn’t have done any better.

Few of us will find a place in history as Henry did. Few of us will have the opportunity to run into a burning building or to jump in front of a train to rescue someone. Most of us have students who don’t remember our names even before the semester ends. Neither fame nor danger makes a hero. Another definition comes to mind, a simple sentence from Romain Rolland: “A hero is a man who does what he can” (in a short documentary about 9/11 narrated by Tom Hanks, Boatlift). Men, women, the young, the old, the strong, the infirm, the educated, the not—we can all meet this definition.

A smile may be a heroic act, if the time is right. Refraining from an unkind word could be heroic. Lew did these things better than most. How he understood that, how he came to be a hero, how he was such a gentle wonder we may never know. The opportunities are with us everywhere, every day, to be a bit more like Lew Sayers.  We need only be ready, although the call may not come. More likely, we make the choice to be a hero. It is the right thing to do, love in the active voice. It is the tribute Lew might most appreciate.

Let it be…

Today’s title is not about the Beatles’ song “Let It Be.” According to Paul McCartney, he had a dream in which his mother—whose name was Mary—came to him in a dream and comforted him with those words. He was troubled perhaps by too many “substances,” which were in wide use at the time. And so it may sound like he is referring to the Virgin Mary, he’s not. Here is a 1999 version with many other iconic musicians.

At least that’s the official version. Another story has a different slant altogether. Malcolm Evans, a manager/mate of sorts, came to McCartney in a vision and also gave him those words of wisdom. Yes, the original words were “Brother Malcolm comes to me…” Regardless, Peter Jackson’s documentary called The Beatles: Get Back releases November 25-27, 2021, on Disney+. Here is a 5-minute montage. He’s a genius, they are all geniuses, and apparently “Get Back” is also a song title.

No, it’s not about that. Instead, today is about the phrase in Luke 1:38. The angel Gabriel has told Mary that she will give birth to the Savior of the world. She doesn’t ask why, just how. That explained, she agrees by saying, “Let be unto me according to your word.” With that, the angel leaves.

From time to time, a profound awareness of a potential future comes in a flash of recognition. It’s not as simple as “This is what will happen” but an understanding of “This could be you and this is why it will be all right.”

Leaving a nursing home after visiting a friend in the rehab unit, I looked up at the skybridge between the buildings of the large, well-run facility. Along the windows were three or four of the elderly sitting in wheelchairs, very still, blankets on their laps, hands folded. Perhaps their eyes were closed. Perhaps they watched the gentle wind on a spring day as it rustled leaves around the parking lot they faced.

I could then imagine myself in one of those chairs, waiting. In Dylan Thomas’ famous poem “Do not go gentle into that good night,” he urges his father to “rage against the dying of the light.” Truth is, that is rarely what happens. Even in the poem, at the end, his father can neither bless nor curse him from his bed.

The lack of rage, however, shouldn’t be considered a lack of use. Too often we hear of people not wanting to be a burden. If all our lives we have been tools, or instruments, at some point we may become the opposite. We may become a being who is acted upon rather than acting. Almost an object that needs tender care. A service that must be rendered, a care provided. Those of us who dash in and out of those quiet rooms to visit often leave before we weep, fearing the same end. Now, I think I can face it more bravely, accepting what may be.

Today’s picture is a friend’s child, swinging. The contrasts between ages seem stark, her youth, my age. It is all the same arc, hers and mine. Different needs, different times. Hand in the Hand.