Sunday, December 18, 2011

When Necessary, Use Words

One of my favorite teachers, St. Francis of Assisi, is credited with the saying “preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary, use words.”  While he first uttered these words over 800 years ago, the truth contained in them is immortal regardless of whether or not you follow his Christian teachings.
I believe that if we were to boil the teachings of the gospels down to their basic element, they could be summed up through an answer Jesus delivered to the Pharisees when asked which was the greatest commandment in the law.  Jesus’ response was love - first for God, second for everyone else.  This is what St. Francis implores us to do.  Absent communicating the messages contained in the gospels with our mouths, our actions demonstrate exactly what is in our heart.
Too often, I find people straying from this ideal, particularly during the holidays.  For a season that is supposed to focus on joy and goodwill, many people succumb to the stress of holiday shopping, overwhelming crowds, and over spent budgets.  As we look forward to whatever vacation we have managed to plan, we end up loathing the time we spend at work.  Our stress causes us to sleep poorly and we turn into grouchy, unpleasant people.  Happy Holidays everyone!
Our unthought actions, typically reactions to how we are feeling on the inside, reflect where we are in relation to Jesus’ teaching.  The unhappy person who cuts us off in the mall parking lot deserves our love.  The screaming baby in the restaurant and the parents who appear to ignore the grating noise deserve our love.  The homeless man who approaches your window with the a bucket of water and a squeegee deserves our love.
Now, imagine yourself in any one of these situations as either of the participants.  No matter which one you are, you have the power to change the other person depending upon your response.  You can make their day better or you can make their day worse.  St. Francis would implore you to reflect on the gospel message and act through love, reflecting the teaching of Jesus.  Perhaps in any one of these situations, your love could infect the other person, helping to spread love through their interactions as well.
Or you could spread the opposite of love; it is just as infectious, and too often the easier, quicker choice.  
St. Francis’ message applies all year round, not just at Christmas time.  I understand how hard it is to stare down rudeness, selfishness, and even hate, and respond with the most truly loving (and not sarcastic) reactions.  We are usually so eager to protect our ego that we tend to sink to the level of our attacker instead of raising them up to our level of love.  But imagine how different this world would be if we could do that.  How many ego driven actions did we take today that could have easily been derived from love?  How differently would you feel right now had you chosen to respond with a smile instead of a grimace?
American culture is a paradox of sorts.  From an early age we see that being the best is rewarded the most.  We practice as much as we can, putting others down, creating victories where there is no competition just to say we are the best, generally acting without love.  But, America claims to be a Christian nation, espoused in Christian ideals.  If this were true, wouldn’t our first choice always be love instead of ego?
I think if Jesus or St. Francis were to see the America we have created, they would be severely disappointed in our efforts.  Instead of a nation built on the Christian ideal of love for others, we have built a nation focused on loving ourselves, which was not the answer Jesus provided to the Pharisees.  Well, not unless we have usurped the throne of God and placed ourselves upon it.
The beauty of this world is that we can change it.  We can use love to guide our every action, reflecting on the teachings of these wise men.  Our influence can spread beyond our own lives, beyond our own communities, spreading love everywhere.  So today, as you go about your business, reflect on your actions towards others.  Are you living up to the expectations set for you many centuries ago?  I hope so.

Frank Chambers

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Death and Texas

There is a saying - the only certainties in life are death and Texas.  After living in this great state for the past 30 years, I can say that it is true.  Texas is more than just a place, it is a state of mind.
When you are driving down the road and some giant truck fills your rearview mirror, urging you to get out of its way even though you are in the slow lane.  That is Texas.
When you are at a restaurant and the waiter asks if you would like the small chicken friend steak or the large and you order the large.  That is Texas.
When you shoot a Coyote during your morning run because it was in your way.  That is Texas.
Texas is about big.  It is about tough and rough.  It is about over doing it, and then doing it some more.  Texas is about how much, how often, and how long.  Texas spelled backwards is Saxet.  Don’t mess with Texas because Texas knows where you live. Texas wears spurs while asleep.  Texas is.  Texas does.  And Texas did.
Walker, Texas Ranger is Texas, which means that Chuck Norris is Texas as well.  Nothing can compete with Chuck Norris.  Looking at Chuck Norris is like trying to have a staring contest with the sun.  You lose.
Texas is football.  It is band and cheerleaders, drill team and pep squad, costumed mascots and live animals.  What do people farm in Texas - linebackers.  Our Gross Domestic Product is measured in rattlesnake skins.  Texas has a National Beer - Lone Star.  Every morning, millions of students say a pledge.  To Texas.
Texas is the home of the Alamo, remember that?  We say “Y’all.”  What are y’all going to do about it?  Nothing.  I thought so.
As Davy Crocket told his friends - “You may all go to Hell and I will go to Texas.”

Frank Chambers

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Rinse and Repeat

Most of us are familiar with laundry.  We wear the clothes we like, we wad them up and deposit them into a basket (or the floor), and when we run out, or it is laundry day, we wash them.  This cycle continues constantly throughout our life, with only the clothes varying.
There are many cycles in our lives, some larger and over arching like the seasons, others subtle and hidden.  We perpetrate cycles without ever knowing it, running certain habits and behaviors over and over again.  Many of us are often familiar with our cycles and welcome them like old friends come to visit.  Some of us detest our cycles, yet still we succumb to their familiarity despite our loathing.

Much of the content in Being Frank can really be summed up in one idea - break the negative cycles.  We are too frequently the victims of a vicious cycle of abuse we commit against ourselves; I see the results of my own and others’ cycles rear their heads all too often.
Amazingly, every single cycle we allow ourselves to fall into can be broken.  All it takes is a simple decision.
I use the word simple weighted with as much sincerity and seriousness as I can muster.  The idea of simple would imply that the the action of breaking the cycle is easy, which it is not.  The decision is the simple part.  We make up our mind about issues constantly during the day, choosing behaviors to manifest our experiences.  Making a decision is easy.  Following through is hard.
In a way, this is a cycle as well.  We decide we want to change aspects of our life, we craft a plan to enact the changes, we fail to follow through.  The next time around we do the same thing, accomplishing nothing more than creating frustration.  If we can find a way to break this cycle and others, we will find more fulfillment through our existence.  
One of my friends, Roland, recently exposed a cycle I have fallen into for the past couple of years.  I, like many Americans, complain about my weight, my fitness level, and my overall health.  Roland, who I have written about before, called me out.  He pointed out that while I have a goal, I don’t have a goal. Simply wanting to lose weight, even having a desired weight goal, is not enough.  He is right.  The most productive I have ever been with fitness training was while training for the Houston marathon.  While a knee injury prevented me from finishing my training, I dedicated myself to the program because I had a goal.  Roland told me I needed to set a goal, an end date, at which point my obligation would be complete.
This is certainly not the only way to break a cycle in your life.  First you must make the decision and second you must follow through, but having checkpoints along the way that motivate you to work and to change certainly helps.
Don’t succumb to the repetitive nature of our being.  Identify the cycles you no longer wish to repeat.  Make a decision and follow through.  Break the cycle.

Frank Chambers

Sunday, December 4, 2011

No Respect

Rodney Dangerfield used to complain about not getting any respect.  His entire career was built on this bit, driving every joke.  No one respected Rodney - his parents, his wife, even his dog.  Sometimes I feel like that about the University of Houston football team. 

As a University of Houston alumni I have followed the Cougar’s football exploits over the years, cringing at the bad and cheering at the good.  If I didn’t already bleed red, I would bleed red.  As a student I survived the 0-11 season and now as an alumni I enjoyed cheering the Coogs along to 12-1 (as of this writing).  I have to tell you, the Cougars have never received the respect they deserve.  They are the Rodney Dangerfield of college football.
If you follow FBS football, you might wonder how I can suggest they get no respect, be it that they were ranked No. 6 in the nation before losing the C-USA Championship game.  It comes down to this - the nation’s sports writers, bloggers, and pundits always seemed to grudgingly give UH some credit while eagerly waiting the day they would fall from grace.  Now, after being thoroughly out-played in their last home game, the national “I told you so” will begin.  The BCS system has taken a collective sigh of relief.  The lack of respect will continue.
Despite the grudging national attention, the Cougars have held their heads high the entire season, playing with class.  I have seen games where they kneeled the ball on the 5 yard line three times in a row to avoid running up the score, where the coaches subbed the starters early in the fourth quarter to avoid embarrassing an unmatched opponent, I have seen class from Coach Kevin Sumlin and the players alike.  I have respect for the University of Houston.
Unfortunately, some of the excitement I felt at attending the C-USA championship game was muted by the actions of others (not the disappointing football performance by my Coogs, though).  Our seats were great, on the 35 about half way up the visitor side.  We were surrounded by a sea of red - it was awesome.  I have never heard Robertson Stadium so loud.  
Then, the drunks started up.  Mixed into the true-hearted Cougar fans were the slovenly drunks eager for nothing more than to shout obscenities at everyone.  I didn’t realize that college football was more about how many beers you can spill on an 8 year old boy than it is about cheering your team on.  I heard many words spew from the mouths of these men (not college boys) that I hadn’t heard since I myself was an undergraduate.  Did I mention the 8 year old boy?  Did I mention the 6 year old girl sitting with her parents dressed like a UH cheerleader?
After halftime, the young boy and his father did not return to their seats.  I assume they were tired of showering in a mix of beer and spit.  The parent of the little cheerleader spoke up during halftime to one of the men.  At least he had the grace to realize how offensive he had been and promptly sat down, falling into an embarrassed slumber for the third quarter. 
There was a tussle where one of the drunks wanted to smoke a cigarette in the stands.  He had already smoked one.  This time the other drunks corralled him.  He disappeared a little bit before the cops came by.  Another drunk was reprimanded for his language by security.  He slowed it down for a little while, but started back up not long after they left.
I will take solace in the fact that, as far as I could tell through their conversation, most of them were not UH alums, because their behavior demonstrated that they had no respect for themselves or for the Cougars.  As a result, I have no respect for them.
Then there were the fans who walked out on their Cougars with eight minutes remaining in the game.  Sure, they were down by 21 at that point, but this is when a team absolutely needs their fans.  Instead, the exits were filled with rivers of red, clogged with people who came only to see a victory, not with fans who came to support the University of Houston, win or lose.  It would appear that half of the 32,400 people that were at the game didn’t respect the Cougars enough to stay through to the end (or at least closer to the end).
During the fourth quarter, there were about ten players Southern Miss players who chose to heckle and ridicule the fans instead of supporting their team in a well deserved victory.  I know heckling is part of the game, especially in a stadium with seating so close to the bench.  But, these young men took it too far.  At one point a coach reprimanded them, but they ignored even their own staff to continue goading the fans.  They were apparently unfamiliar with the term “good sportsmanship.”  Their lack of respect for the University of Houston extends to their own school, for they were not representing their team very well.
Regardless of all the disrespect, I have to say it was not contagious; I still respect my Cougars, as do many Houstonians. Just like how Rodney Dangerfield earned the respect of his fellow comedians and fans, I am sure, as long as UH keeps doing what they do, eventually people will learn to respect them.

Frank Chambers

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Open Planet

As a private music teacher, I spend a decent amount of time bouncing around the various schools in the community.  Needless to say, I get a lot of radio, but not a lot of full stories.  Today, one of the many partial shows I listen to was focusing on a pending US Supreme Court case dealing with privacy.  In this particular case, a drug dealer was convicted with the use of evidence gathered through a tracking device on his car.  
The concept of privacy as protected by the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution is very simple.  Each individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy within their own home or property - car, boat, etc.  The Constitution, of course, never discusses whether or not an individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy when it comes to electronic tracking.  It becomes an issue of the courts to decide exactly the intention the framers had when writing the Constitution.  
What it does make clear is that we are never to assume a reasonable expectation of privacy the moment we step into public space.  The topic of discussion on NPR turned from the pending court case to the future of privacy, and particularly the role tech giants Google and Facebook will play in defining what exactly privacy means to each of us.
At any given time during your day, computer systems and private and public security cameras provide a timeline of your daily activities.  For instance, here is a log of my day and the systems that can identify my location:
  • Woke up and checked email (internet company)
  • drove to teach at first school (traffic cameras)
  • entered school (security cameras)
  • in between lessons sent email/text messages, checked internet (cell company)
  • changed schools (traffic cameras, phone call, security cameras)
  • starbucks (mobile app)
  • changed school (ditto)
  • restaurant (phone usage)
  • drove home (traffic cameras)
  • home (internet)
The combined information from these systems could theoretically rebuild a fairly accurate representation of my activities during the day.  The NPR hosts discussed the idea of “Open Planet,” an idea put forth by author Jeffrey Rosen in his book Constitution 3.0.  “Open Planet” is a concept that suggests Facebook and Google currently have the architecture in place to quickly introduce a system that would allow users to anonymously view any public security camera in the world, identify a face with facial recognition software, link to their Facebook page, do a search of that face in all security cameras, then track that individual’s movements at any point in the database’s memory.
Creepy, huh.  Kinda makes an electronic tracking device seem quite elementary.  The Constitution has enough safeguards in place to protect our privacy from government, but does it have anything to protect us from private entities?  You wouldn’t have to worry about the FBI as much as your creepy neighbor.  Parents could know exactly where their kids are at all time (something college kids prefer not happening).
This scenario would definitely have interesting ramifications.  Personally, I am curious how my behavior would change if I knew that people could track me where ever I went.  Maybe I wouldn’t go to Starbucks as often.  Maybe I wouldn’t eat fast food as often.  Maybe I wouldn’t care.
The whole situation begs the question: what is privacy?  Do we have any expectation to privacy beyond our homes?  Either way, it certainly presents an interesting possibility for the future.  

Frank Chambers

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Back in the Saddle

One of my long-time friends and fellow bloggers recently jumped back into the blogosphere after a seven week hiatus.  While I know it was difficult in her situation to take time away from her responsibilities (read: writing dissertation), getting back to your goals and what makes you happy is oftentimes a cathartic moment.
Her blog - called Not-A-Fortune - highlights the fortune cookie inserts she and her friends discover while satisfying those frequent Asian food urges.  Each insert, while not necessarily the best of fortunes, offers some guidance on how to live your life.  The blog both lampoons and validates these fortunes, offering a dose of humor combined with dash of serious life lesson.
The reason I bring up Not-A-Fortune is because her return to blogdom has reminded me of the value of getting back in the saddle.  As many of you know, when I departed my stable high school teaching position, it was for the joy and excitement of writing a novel, yet in the five months since I made that decision, I have only written about thirty-four pages worth of content.  Compare this to the two hundred and fifteen pages I had written in the three months before.
This took up much of my July and August.
Sure, I have been busy with other creative efforts, and my time has been occupied by discovering exactly how to go about this new life I am creating for myself, but ultimately those are excuses, and as I have said before, I should be stronger than my excuses.  So, this week, while I am mostly free of distraction, I dedicated myself to writing 10,000 words, or approximately 40 pages.
Jumping back in was hard.  The last passage I had written during the summer was a cliff hanger of sorts, although that wasn’t the initial intent.  I left the scene assuming I would return the next day, my mind full of ideas of exactly what was going to happen.  When I came back to it months later, I had only minimal notes, and my outlines failed to mention exactly what happened and why.  First, I think it highlights the value of having a very clear and thorough outline before even writing one word of the first draft, and second, I think it provides an excellent example of what happens when you leave yourself hanging.
I immediately experienced frustration.  Unsure of what I was supposed to do next, or even how to overcome the gigantic speed bump I had inadvertently placed in my own way, I stared at the screen.  But then I started typing.  I will freely admit I hated the next twenty pages or so.  I felt like I didn’t know the characters any more, I didn’t understand their motivations or how they were growing.  I felt like I was picking up where some other author left off.  Sure, I had the notes, but the framework was created with the intention of flowing through it, not pausing for months at a time.
Either way, while I struggled with forcing the words out, my efforts to get back at it paid off.  I have finally returned to a place where I feel comfortable with my efforts.  I think part of my relaxed feeling is knowing there will be a second draft.  I will definitely have the opportunity to fix everything I hate this time around.  The importance of a first draft is to just get things down.
I think the message I take from my own mistake is to push through to the end when you have the chance.  In the midst of a project, even putting it down for one day chips away from the work habit you have created.  I think much of my struggle came not just from being unfamiliar with my direction, but being uncomfortable with sitting down and writing for extended periods of time.  Had I not broken off my efforts, even just maintaining my writing in a minimum way, I wouldn’t have had to expend such energy to get restarted.
I couldn’t tell you how many times I have started projects and failed to finish it.  While this isn’t the best way to go about it, getting back has always made me happy.  The exciting part is actually finishing, finding the satisfaction that comes with completion.  And while I am unsure of how long it will take me to finish my first draft, I am back at it and working more diligently than I have in months.  It feels good to be back in the saddle.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Being Thankful

The spirit of today’s holiday resides in our ability to gives thanks.  Many of us will find ourselves thankful for our families, our health, our station in life.  We will be thankful for the armed forces and the sacrifices they make for our safety; we will be thankful for our religions, and for the sacrifices associated with each of these.  We will thank the people around us for their love and caring, we will post generic status updates on facebook wishing everyone happy thanksgiving, or tweet our thanks in 140 characters or less.  Some of us will blog about it and some of us will simply offer thanks to an empty room.

Pie courtesy of @DuetHouston.
The meaning of the holiday sometimes gets lost in what has recently become tradition.  We stare blankly at the TV, the floats of the Macy’s day parade dance across the screen, pushed along by marching bands and little known singers.  We find ourselves wrapped up in the meal, eager for our favorite stuffing dish or drooling in anticipation of our favorite pie.  We go back and forth with our favorite football rivals celebrating our victories and agonizing in our defeats.  We cherish post meal naps, leftover turkey sandwiches, egg nog, or the family trip to the movie theater.

While all of this distraction swirls around us, tugging and pulling our attention away from the central theme of the holiday, some of us drift away from the idea of being truly thankful.  Avoid the temptation of giving lip service only, proclaiming thanks without meaning.  Instead of only saying that you are thankful for something, actually mean it.  If you find yourself in a place in life that seems to not merit thanks, dive deeper; I am sure you can find some reason to be thankful.

There are many people who live lives that seem absent of elements deserving thanks.  The universe appears to have conspired against these people, driving all positive elements from their experiences.  No matter how low the world seems to have pushed you, there is always something to be thankful for. 

Find it.  Pick yourself up.  Focus on anything good.  It could be as simple as the oxygen in the air you just breathed.  Find some joy in the sun shining, in the color of the leaves, in the fact you are alive to experience at all.  Be thankful for anything, no matter it’s insignificance.  By finding thanks in it, you have just increased its value, and by feeling thanks, you have increased yours.

Finding one thing to be truly thankful for will allow you to expand your sphere of thanks.  Move it beyond the bounds of that one item, encompass your surroundings, find anything to be thankful for beyond yourself.  Eventually, your thanks will grow; you will find that as you allow it to expand outwardly, it will soak in, bringing the feeling of thanks to the center of your being.

As you travel through this Thanksgiving holiday, I encourage you to review what you are thankful for.  Do you skim the surface, or do you allow your thanks to delve deep?  Are you the kind of person whose every action is determined by a feeling of gratitude and graciousness, or do you only play at being thankful.  This Thanksgiving, choose the first option.  Allow yourself the freedom to live thanks and not just give it.  Be the person whose actions reflect their words.  Enjoy the feeling of existing in a world in which thanks are necessary and not just optional. 

This is Thanksgiving 2011.
The excitement today brings should be a celebration of a year of thankfulness, not just one day to honor that towards which we are thankful.  Thanksgiving 2011 should be the cannon which launches you into a full year of an attitude of gratitude, ensuring every experience between this Thanksgiving and next is received with a spirit of thanks.  Appreciate what the universe has to offer you; find something in every situation to be thankful for.

I am thankful for everything in my life, for every good and bad experience, for every good and poor choice I have made.  I am thankful for everyone who has ever participated in my experience, everyone under whose influence I have operated and everyone I have had the opportunity to influence.  I am thankful for my teachers and my students, those I have met and those I have not.  I am thankful for the plethora of lessons I still have left to learn and to teach.  I am thankful for family and friends, for food, and sports, and the Macy’s parade.  I am thankful for love and happiness, for joy and tears.  I am thankful for everything the universe has chosen to offer me.

I am thankful that you have taken the time to read my blog today.  Be thankful for something, big or small, it does not matter.  Simply be thankful, the rest will follow.

Frank Chambers

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Band Isn't Fun

One of my private students complained to me this week that band was no longer fun. I listened to her, letting her blow off the steam she felt she couldn’t (or shouldn’t) share with her band directors.  She was on her soapbox for a long time, expressing her opinion buttressed by the thoughts of other students her age.  They, the juniors and seniors of her school, had decided that band simply was no longer fun.
Of course, at the end of her speech, she told me that she wouldn’t quit band, but that many others were thinking about it.  Why would they continue to pursue something the no longer considered fun?
I smiled at her, not necessarily because of how she felt, but because this was definitely not the first time that I had heard this speech.
High school band directing is a job with many facets.  One of these is to constantly be an emotional juggler, placating the variable feelings the four grades of students in your program feel.  Allow me to break them down:
  • Freshman - excited at the newness of marching band, discovering their place in the high school world, scared because they are the little fish in the big pond
  • Sophomores - encouraged by their survival of freshman year, comfortable with marching band, inspired by juniors and seniors in leadership positions
  • Juniors - unsure of how to balance added leadership responsibility, struggling with the fact that the newness of marching band has worn off, overloaded in classes
  • Seniors - ready to be done, unsure how to deal with the adulation of freshman and sophomores, tired
Each of these groups must be treated differently, otherwise the program risks alienating an entire class.  For my student, who is a junior, she is experiencing the same exact thing many of my juniors and seniors had experienced before.  For her, this was the sixth year in band, so the newness had faded.  All the experiences she had regarded as exciting were now expected and common-place.  She no longer found enjoyment in coming to band because she was now in the group required to set the example for the others, and the standard had risen, leading to frustration.
While I didn’t share this with her, I certainly have no concerns sharing it with you.  This is life.  Absent constant fluctuation, our lives run the risk of becoming mundane, pedantic, and boring.
Before writing today, I looked back on my own life, as I frequently do, looking for examples from which I could draw some conclusions.  Really, the only conclusion I could find provided an answer to why I hadn’t entirely felt this way until recently.
Growing up, school provided enough variety to keep me interested.  As the grades flew by, the activities in which I participated revolved - baseball, soccer, basketball, football, track, swimming - keeping me on my toes.  As I became involved with band, I experienced the undulating excitement Texas band offers - beginning band, concert band, high school marching band, contests, youth orchestra.  I kept my non-band life exciting by fluctuating my activities - working at Ci-Ci’s Pizza and Tom’s Ribs, German Club, Latin Club, Newspaper.  My four years of college were broken up with a variety of ensembles, music fraternity activities, and private lessons.  After college, I performed for two years before returning for my Masters.
I kept enough variety, unintentionally, to keep myself interested in what I was doing.  Until recently, the longest I had ever gone without a change in my life program was two years.
Then I taught band for five years.  This experience helped me understand, on a personal level, how these juniors and seniors felt.  Teaching band for me had become routine.  Just like with the junior and seniors, I had grown tired of the endless rotation of classes, the faculty meetings and standardized tests, the building of curriculum, the cycle of contest seasons.  Please don’t get me wrong, I was never tired of the students, nor was I ever tired of the music.  There was simply something I was not doing that might have altered my experience.
When I was teaching band, the head director always had the same response for the kids who would complain about the lack of fun, and it is one that I now see might have offered me a remedy.  He would simply look them in the face and tell them that nothing had changed except them, now it was time for them to make it fun.
Reflecting back, I can see how I was not doing that for myself.  I know many teachers who love their jobs, giving so much of themselves to their students, yet keeping their perspective new and invigorating.  They constantly reinvent their teaching or their programs, working to keep themselves from becoming bored in their chosen profession by the repetitive, cyclical nature of the occupation.
Any job, and for that matter, life itself, is the same way.  What you do with your time makes your life boring or not.  Sometimes you do need a change, but it may not be as drastic a change as you think.  For me, I am still in music education, I am just teaching on a more independent level.  For my student, she needs to quit attempting to live the same experience she had her first two years in high school band and find the fun she is missing.
I think all of us can take a lesson from this.  If band (or life) isn’t fun, it is because you are no longer making it fun.  So, instead of complaining about it, go out and do something about it.

Frank Chambers

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Moment of Inspiration

I recently watched The King’s Speech and loved it.  Aside from the superb acting, the excellent writing, and the inspiring subject matter, I was impressed that Director Tom Hooper took the risk of programming classical music into the score, highlighting two pieces by Ludwig von Beethoven - the Second Movements from Symphony no. 7 and the “Emperor” Piano Concerto.  While I am a giant fan of modern film scoring, I was delighted to know that the people who have seen The King’s Speech have been exposed to a little bit of music history.

There is part of me that wonders how much thought was put into the selection of Beethoven as King George VI’s triumphal herald.  In a way, the two - King George VI and Beethoven - share a common thread: both over came debilitating handicaps to accomplish greatness.

For King George VI, a lifelong stammer prevented him from speaking in public.  His attempts to treat the condition frequently met with failure, causing further stress to the future monarch.  Finally, he met a teacher who combined the appropriate set of skills with sheer determination to help the King minimize the impact his stammer had on his speeches.  The pinnacle of that progress, at least in the movie, is when King George  announces that Great Britain has entered World War II.  It is this speech that is accompanied by the pulsing, undulating melody of the Second Movement of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony.  

As many reviewers have noted, the selection of this particular movement was perfect for the scene.  It reflected the rhythm with which the King spoke, mimicking his breathy phrasing and his rhythmic articulation.  There is no doubt in my mind this scene cemented The King’s Speech capture of the Academy Award for Best Picture.

Beethoven, like King George VI, fought a disability directly related to his craft.  Where the King, occupying a position in which public speech is mandatory, continually fought a speech impediment, Beethoven suffered a condition that gradually rendered him deaf.  His Seventh Symphony premiered during a two year period in which his hearing went from poor to non-existent.  How Beethoven was able to compose something so gentle, subtle, and emotionally pulling, while barely being able to hear it himself is a miracle.  Beethoven continued to write many great works after he became fully deaf, the greatest and most well-known of these is his Ninth Symphony, in which he crafted the famous “Ode to Joy” melody.

Watching The King’s Speech, and later thinking about what both of these men had to overcome in their lives, made me consider my own petty excuses.  Does “I’m tired”, or “my stomach doesn’t feel well” matter any more when compared to King George’s struggles?  Does a cold or a headache really compare to composing great music while deaf?  

Honestly, we are all going to encounter some sort of obstacles on our path that will attempt to derail us from our goals.  Succumbing to our excuses only allows our obstacles to win.  Neither Beethoven or King George gave up, though they frequently wanted to.  They had the will to push on and fight through all the reasons the universe offered for them to quit.  

One of the mantras Samantha has brought home to me from her Mary Kay meetings is the idea of being stronger than your excuses.  We will all have excuses at one point or another, we have to recognize this fact and be comfortable with it.  Then, we have to allow ourselves to be stronger than our excuses.

Both King George and Beethoven were stronger than theirs.  They fought through the tribulations their lives encountered, persevering to the end, providing excellent models for us to follow.  Whether or not Tom Hooper knew it, he provided more than just a perfect soundtrack for a moving scene in a movie, he combined the powerful spirit of two great men into a moment that should inspire us all.

Frank Chambers