At the front of a tiny middle-school classroom, students pass by a smiling teacher and find their way to worn out desks. He makes his way to the piano, sits down, and with nothing in front of him, plays a tune familiar to everyone present.
"Get out your books, students," he says. "Turn to page 214. We're going to sing the wonderful song printed there."
A rustle of movement echoes through the concrete-block room. The teacher pauses, listening to the sound of pages being turned. He starts to play again, his steady voice leading the students.
"Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket / Never let it fade away / Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket / Save it for a rainy day."
The song ends and students begin to grumble under their breath. The teacher begins another song.
"Down the way, where the nights are gay / and the sun shines daily on the mountain top / I took a trip on a sailing ship / and when I reached Jamaica I made a stop."
The grumbling returns.
"It doesn't sound like the music I listen to," one student muttered.
"I'm tired of singing that song," another said a little too loudly.
"OK class. Let's turn over in our books to our favorite song," the teacher said without missing a beat.
They all sang loudly.
"You get a line and I'll get a pole, honey / You get a line and I'll get a pole, babe / You get a line and I'll get a pole / And we'll go down to the crawdad hole / Honey, baby mine."
The kids said that was a little better. At least they could tap their feet and invent motions to that one.
As the bell rang, the students snatched up their books and took off for the next class, still humming the songs they finished singing moments ago.
This was one of my initial introductions to an unconditional love of music. And for everyone who went to Norris Middle School, the teacher in that story is a familiar voice and face.
James Isom is a great music teacher and a great man. Who else could mix Perry Como, Harry Belafonte and traditional southern folk in the same class? He's been retired from teaching for some time, and he recently retired as music director at Springfield Baptist. But I can't ever imagine him not being involved at some level with music of some sort.
I appreciate all he did for me in fostering an admiration for the eternal art form. His work made a huge difference in the lives of many McDuffie Countians, more than he will ever know.
Thank you Mr. Isom. May God bless you inasmuch as you have blessed the lives of others.