Never Too Late

(Delacorte 1978, Perseus, 1991)


It is not our proper business as teachers, certainly not music teachers, to make decisions and judgments about what people are or are not "capable" of doing. it is our proper business, above all in music, to try to find ways to help people do what they want to do. To this a more conventional music teacher, a believer in aptitude tests, might reply: "Suppose you, John, had never met Arthur Landers, had never heard anyone say what he said about tone-deafness, what would you have said to Sam if he had told you that he wanted to make music and then given his tuneless chant?" I don't know what I would have said then. I do know what I would say now. I would say, "Sam, it certainly doesn't sound as if you could sing a tune, and right now I don't know of any way to help. But maybe someone does. Keep looking, keep asking, keep working on the problem yourself. If you want to make music, don't let anybody tell you, and don't tell yourself, that it is totally impossible for you to do it."

Are there , then, no limits to the possible? Of course there are limits. But they are much further out than we think. How much further out is made most vividly and movingly clear in a recent story, "The Acorn People," by Ron Jones. It is about very severely physically handicapped children in a summer camp, and what they were able to do once they had the help of people who were interested in helping them do what they wanted to do instead of telling them all the reason why they couldn't do it. One boy who had no arms or legs, just four little appendages at the corners of his trunk, learned to swim. Four other children, wheelchair cases, totally without the use of their legs, decided they wanted to climb to the top of a mountain that most of the other camp children had already climbed. They went up part of the way in their wheelchairs, but the last part of the climb, many hundreds of yards up a trail too narrow and steep for wheelchairs, they managed by sitting down, facing downhill, and hitching themselves up, a few inches at a time, with their arms. And there were many other such examples of handicapped children doing the "impossible."