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Cub Scouts and Musical Instruments

By Daris Howard

       My assignment as the Cub Scout packmaster was challenging. For the pack meeting each month, I was supposed to have activities that would keep the attention of 25 boys that were between 8 and 11 years old. There was always a theme that we were supposed to follow, and the boy scout handbooks provided suggestions of what to do.
       Less than half of the time their ideas worked. More often, an activity that the book said would last 30 minutes would result in the boys losing interest within minutes.
       I was especially concerned the time that the theme was on music. Months before, when the theme had been about our cultural heritage, I had tried to have the group sing some folk songs. I led and
Daris Howard.
Courtesy of darishoward.com
started us off. The “us” part is a slight misnomer because I sang, and a few parents tried to be supportive, but by the time we ended the first verse I was pretty much soloing.
       It was at that point that Johnny raised his hand. “Can I be excused from this? Singing is for sissies.”
       Well, no cub scout wants to be a sissy, so singing was pretty much dead. I made it through the night with my backup plan of telling stories of Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill. I mean, what cultural heritage is more interesting than a giant lumberjack and a cowboy that never really existed?
       But it would be really hard to tell stories when the whole night was supposed to be about music. I thought hard about what little cub scouts like, and I hit on a plan.
       My wife repairs band instruments. She always has old instruments sitting around that are not in good enough shape to really play. But I figured the boys wouldn't really be interested in playing music anyway - only in making noise.
       We laid the instruments out on a table, and instead of saying they couldn't touch them, we encouraged the boys to handle them and blow them. In between each boy's attempt to play something, my wife used her disinfectant to make sure germs were not passed around.
       This kept the boys busy far longer than I expected it would, the din of blaring, beeping horns filling the hall. The parents had retreated to the farthest end away from us, and sat around talking as they usually did, paying little attention to what we were doing.
       When the boys' interest finally started to dwindle, I had them pull up their chairs in a semicircle around me. I had purchased a ton of cheap combs from a local store, and I passed one out to each boy.
       “What does a comb have to do with music?” Johnny asked.
       “Maybe it is to comb your hair up like Elvis,” another boy suggested.
       They all started combing their hair that way, but when I passed each of them a piece of cellophane, they really became curious.
       I then told them that, as a boy, I had been the king of comb players. I wrapped the cellophane around the comb, put my lips to it, and buzzing my lips while humming, I made music. Of course, some might question whether that sound is truly music, but it was noise, and that is what cub scouts love.
       At first they could hum or buzz, but not both at the same time. Finally they got it together, and after considerable practice, I led them in an orchestral rendition of “You Are My Sunshine” that would make anyone of any musical sensibility wish they were tone deaf. We ended the night with our usual cookies and punch, and the boys went away, happily practicing to become the next comb virtuosos.
       When Sunday arrived, a group of parents surrounded me to tell me their boys had continued playing the combs since then. Johnny's dad, as spokesman, summed it up.
       “If you ever teach our kids to play something like the comb again, don't blame us if in our state of insanity we accidentally hurt you.”

       Daris Howard, who grew up on an Idaho farm, is an author, playwright and math professor at BYU Idaho. His website is darishoward.com.

(Posted 2/27/16; Opinion: General)

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