This wasn’t what I was expecting to write about today, but, here goes: a story from early on in my teaching career.
Back when I taught at Bolton Hill Nursery School - - the same class that wrote to the Stadium Doctor - - one of my students, Jon, was quite small for his age. His hair was blonde and curly, and he was full of such energy and bounce that it was almost as though he was constructed of bendy materials like pipe cleaners. To know Jon was to love Jon. He was just an extraordinary kid. He was the perfect definition of the phrase, “he never met a stranger.”
At school conference time his parents related the story of a recent trip to Cleveland where they had been eating breakfast at the hotel. Jon spied Bob McGrath across the dining room. Without hesitation he got up, strode (bounced?) over to his table and put out his hand.
“Hi, Bob! I’m Jon. Why aren’t you on Sesame Street?”
By this time Jon’s sheepish parents had caught up with him. They listened with admiration to McGrath’s gentle and friendly conversation with their son. He may have had other things on his schedule that morning but, for that one moment, Bob from Sesame Street and Jon from Baltimore were new friends who had just met. And that was all that mattered.
I was familiar with Bob McGrath and his many musical contributions to the show. But this story gave me a glimpse of what it must have been to be “Bob from Sesame Street” every where he went for the majority of his adult life. It also speaks to how he lived with that responsibility, what it meant to be recognized and beloved by children - - young children.
I came across this exchange on Twitter recently which sums this up quite well.
Q: What's a little thing about someone that tells you a lot?
A: How they talk to children who aren’t in their immediate family. Can they have a conversation with a child they don’t know, even if it’s about a topic they don’t care about but the child does?
I went through a time in my teens and young adulthood when I found McGrath’s singing to be hokey and almost saccharine. He was definitely not cool. Once I started teaching young children my opinion of his work began to change. After learning of his chance encounter with little Jon, I started borrowing tapes of his music from the library. Later on, when I was teaching music to young children at Grace and Saint Peter’s School, I bought this CD to use in my classes.
It’s the “oldies but goodies” but with a twist. The promotional materials describe it like this:
When you hear these fresh, new arrangements of your old favorites in the styles of Jazz, Pop, Latin, and Motown, they might inspire you to be a child and sing and dance around the room!
If you’re a Sesame Street purist this CD might not be for you. But as a teacher of early childhood music and movement, I needed music exactly like this. And McGrath, with a degree in music from the University of Michigan and a Master’s in Voice from the Manhattan School of Music, brought that ingrained musical sensibility to all his work on Sesame Street. (Just for fun, take a look at his complete discography. You might be surprised.)
I spend a lot of time here writing about local people and their stories. I guess it makes sense that I have a deep fondness for a man who encouraged us all to learn about the people in our neighborhood. Little Jon is now grown and may be married with children of his own. I wonder if he still remembers that chance encounter at breakfast all those years ago.
I have no way of knowing, but, I’m going to guess that he does. The experience of being respected and valued when you are a very young child has staying power. And that’s a big part of the mission of Sesame Street - - and all child-centered early childhood education, actually. It empowers you to grow into the possibilities of who you are.
And now, Bob McGrath, rest easy. Thank you for sharing your gifts and taking on a lifetime of being Bob.