Finding rhythm in a chaotic world

By Lower Elementary Teacher Amy Fujimoto

An elementary student uses an overturned bucket and two wooden spoons to “play drums” during a videoconference music lesson.
Learning rhythm in music class.

“What just happened? Where am I?” These are questions I ask myself every day when I wake up. To be honest, they were questions I asked before the pandemic, yet a little more targeted, “What day is it? What do I need to do?” The rhythm of waking, eating, driving, working and repeat, paced and structured my life. It was like a musical metronome that keeps the beat as I practice guitar.

The metronome of physical movement and predictability is changing. I desperately grasp for rhythm in our “stay home stay safe” world. I find solace in the technological miracle of my metronome app.

My music instructor (currently all Zoom lessons) encourages me to use the metronome. I play the pentatonic scale with a steady beat or attempt strumming patterns to perfect a rhythm. I love the repetition of the metronome. It taps away while I fill in with a strum of the G chord. With every day starting with “What just happened? Where am I?” the regularity of my metronome keeps me settled.

The musician, actor and author Carrie Brownstein, who is a member of the band Sleater-Kinney, wrote in “Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl,” her memoir, “We can’t name the feeling but we can sing along.” I am reminded of 15-year-old Amy singing and blasting music as she was heartbroken, wronged, angry or joyful. Songs connected my broken heart to someone else who wrote a song and felt just like I did.

My sister and I would belt out Richard Marx’s “Right Here Waiting” as I would leave for college after a break. Honestly, we still sing it to each other as adults! The song joined us in our love, friendship and sadness as I headed to the University of Washington.

As a class we have been sharing music remotely, singing, playing piano, guitar—even a xylophone. Some students have used guitars to create their own songs. Other students wrote songs for Earth Day. We are going to teach our third-year students some guitar chords for the song, “Lean On Me,” a classroom favorite.

Similar to what Brownstein said in her book, “We can’t name the feeling but we can sing along,” we perhaps can help each other find music that resonates for each of us today. It is a unique and unusual moment in time. “What just happened? Where am I?” You will find me strumming to the beat of my metronome.