Rob Ullrich

Playing it by ear

by Rob Ullrich | 5-minute read

 

Occasionally, when my seventh graders are working in my classroom, I’ll play jazz. They don’t know they’re hearing Django Reinhardt, the guitar giant who shaped a genre around himself. They couldn’t trace his influence to the musicians on their YouTube channels. They can’t tell the story of his terrible accident and miraculous comeback.

It’s an anonymous background tune for them, but a time machine for me. Reinhardt’s style is frequently featured in World War II movies and dramas of that same period. Picture that scene in a smoky, low-lit jazz club.

For the past few months, there has been no jazz crooning from my classroom speakers. Teachers had to improvise to transform their classrooms into remote hubs for e-learning. This task took extemporaneous technique. It was a jazz number and I was playing it by ear. Read More

Coffee in the driveway

by Rob Ullrich | 4-minute read

 

“It’s hard to believe, but this used to be a nice place to live.” 

My dad’s car crawled past sagging houses, half hidden behind waist-high weeds. 

“There. That was our place. Over there, the Olsons and there, the Zimmermans.” He went on naming the whole block, narrating his old neighborhood legend. “See that addition on the house? We put that up in one day. Every guy on the block was there.” 

I didn’t think much of those stories at the time. But my neighborhood experiences have been very different. I definitely don’t know the whole block. We haven’t built anything together. In fact, I only know many of our neighbors as the lady with the dog or the guy with the sunflowers or the house with the oversized election signs. Others I’ve never seen.  Read More