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Listening to notes in class

Back when I was a kid, it was common for my parents to tell me to turn off the radio and stop listening to music while doing homework. How times have changed.

Recently, a University of Florida researcher found that a surprisingly high percentage of teachers around the state are playing music in the classroom while their students work, presumably because they think it enhances the atmosphere for learning.

"More than one-third of the teachers I surveyed reported that they used background music in the classroom," said Glenn H. Buck, who produced a 220-page study on the topic for his doctorate in education. "That's higher than I expected."

Buck mailed a questionnaire about the use of background music to 1,600 preschool, elementary and high school teachers in Florida, and more than 60 percent responded. "The topic is very popular among teachers," he said. "At a time when stress levels are increasing in classrooms, and teachers are leaving the profession, anything that promises to improve the educational environment is taken seriously."

Buck, a former teacher of children with disabilities, has firsthand experience with background music in the classroom. "I often used Baroque music in the classroom, and I noticed it had a real effect. The kids were a lot calmer, and so was I. Even the worst-behaved kids developed halos and wings."

Classical music topped the classroom charts, with 62 percent of the teachers saying it was their choice for background. They play music when students are engaged in creative writing, art projects and independent study.

Some teachers reported running into trouble with parents over new-age music in the classroom, according to Buck: "They had to discontinue playing that kind of music because of objections from parents for religious reasons."

Buck's research does not provide comfort to those seeking to interest young people in serious music. Instead, it suggests that teachers may be using music as a tranquilizer.

"Music teachers would criticize this kind of use of music in the classroom," he said. "Their whole orientation is to get people to listen to music, not to use it as background."

Play about AIDS opens tonight

Susan Hussey has a resume that sounds like something from a movie by Fellini. "I worked as a magician's assistant in the circus between 1977 and 1982, when I was right out of college," Hussey said. "I got sawed in half."

Tonight, Hussey's new play about AIDS, The Dressing Room, opens an eight-performance run at the Falk Theater in Tampa (428 W Kennedy Blvd.). It is being presented by Stageworks and the Gorilla Theater company, formed three years ago by Hussey and Aubrey Hampton, owner of Aubrey Organics. Since 1984, Hussey has been employed by the natural cosmetics company. She does marketing and promotion and edits the company's quarterly publication, Organica.

Gorilla Theater's mission is to cultivate "plays that are both political and entertaining," said Hussey, whose previous play was Plutography in the Slave Trade, a sex farce. Hampton wrote Mixed Blood, which is about AIDS. Both were staged at the Loft Theater.

The Dressing Room is a collaboration between Hussey and a gay man with AIDS. "We call him S. Kane, because he asked to be pseudononymous," she said. "He was a beautiful man, an actor who performed in drag shows around the area."

The two met in 1990 as participants in the AIDS Artreach project, which brought together artists and people with AIDS. "He chose me to help tell his story," she said. "For 17 months, we met every week over coffee and hot chocolate and just talked."

The two-act play includes a dialogue between a man with AIDS and a woman with breast cancer. "I wanted to free AIDS from its stigma," Hussey said. "Nobody is particularly fearful of someone with cancer, and I wanted to show the similarity of the experience. It's the world of terminal illness, but it's also a world of laughs."

S. Kane died in April 1992. The last time Hussey saw him was in the hospital. "It was the night before he died," she said. "I held his hand."

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