Ban on Christmas music isn't such a bad idea

December 22, 1993|By MIKE ROYKO

Any time something concerning Christmas is banned or challenged, it's almost a cinch news story.

But in that regard, this has been a quiet season. I haven't read of even one nativity scene in a public building causing hysteria at the ACLU.

The biggest story has been the court battle between the Arkansas businessman who strings a million lights on his mansion, and his irate neighbors.

So my ears perked up when a woman caller, from a Chicago suburb, shouted into my ear: "They have outlawed Christmas music at Oak Park High School. It's hallway music. They've always played it between classes. It's an old tradition. But somebody who doesn't like Christmas was offended and complained and now they don't play it. That makes me sick. How much political correctness can we take?"

My first reaction was: Good. We are bombarded with far too much Christmas music. Everything from Rudolph and his nose to beer wagon commercials. By the 25th, I have joy to the world squirting out of my ears.

But part of my job is making mountains out of molehills, so I promised the angry Oak Parker that I would look into the Christmas music ban and expose the guilty parties.

As it turns out, though, this really isn't about banning Christmas music, although that is a small part of it.

It's a lesson in democracy. To be more specific, why democracy isn't necessarily the best way to run some institutions, such as high schools.

The story begins about a year and a half ago, when an idea came to Frank Danes, associate superintendent of Oak Park-River Forest High School.

"I developed a plan to make the five-minute passing time in the hallways a little bit more palatable," he says.

"So for the nine five-minute passing periods, and for a while before school, we played music. We started off pretty vanilla. You know, elevator music.

"Then on St. Patrick's Day, I played Irish music. On Halloween, I played scary music. On Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, we played music celebrating American history. And we had Christmas music.

"After a while, I decided it was too much for me to do with all my other responsibilities. So I gave it to the student council to take over.

"We had very clear rules: no trash, no heavy metal, no suggestive lyrics, nothing obscene, and they must respect all ethnic groups.

"It started out pretty well, but soon they were playing songs with lyrics and turning the music up so people could hear the words. Then there were some suggestive words. And then they were squeezing in some heavy metal.

"It really detracted from the academic atmosphere, which is the opposite of what I was trying to do.

"The kids were be-bopping down the hall and then you had to calm them down to study history.

"And there were complaints. Last year there were complaints about Christmas music. Some non-Irish kids complained about the St. Patrick's Day music. Some complained we don't play enough African-American music. Someone even handed me a polka music tape.

"You just can't please everybody. All the complaints were

getting to be a nuisance.

"Last summer, I met with the administrators and said I'd like to take the music back from the student council and play strictly classical. No lyrics, instrumental only. No celebrations, no more St. Patrick's Day music, nothing.

"Just classical. And it has to be at least 100 years old. A study came out recently in some medical journal saying if you listen to Mozart, you're more likely to learn. I figure, we're not running a dance, we're running a school.

"So as a result, we're not playing Christmas music this year. Yes, I've had a couple of calls from parents who complained that we should be playing Christmas music, but I guarantee, if I was playing it, I'd get more complaints.

"The music was a no-win situation. You couldn't please everybody. Now, with the classical only, it creates a nice atmosphere. I've had many compliments on it."

As you should.

And if any students complain, just tell them that Mozart was a young cutup who loved to party, talk dirty, shock his elders, spend money, and break the rules.

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