Recently, I’ve been thinking about all the ways music education or music lessons are portrayed in books, television shows, and movies. These narratives can tell us a lot about what music lessons can do in people’s lives – and provide important examples of what to do – or not do, to really contribute to someone’s thriving along a musical journey.
With that in mind, I’ll look at some of the lessons that can be learned from “The Song of Jigglypuff,” which is episode 45 of the Pokémon Indigo series.
First, some context. Jigglypuff is one of the 151 original Pokémon, a balloon-type. It’s one of several Pokémon that are basically large pink balls of adorableness. One of its most distinctive powers is the ability to sing.
Or at least that’s what the humans in the Pokémon universe believe. When the gang comes upon this Jigglypuff sitting on a stump- they discover that it can’t sing, and it becomes very emotional by this perceived failure. The episode centered on the team working to help make Jigglypuff’s song realized, and then heard.
Lesson 1 – Never give up on anyone, or yourself
At first, the lessons don’t seem to make a difference. Misty struggles to try to get Jigglypuff to do vocal and breath control exercises, but it refuses to join in. She also helps increasing lung power by blowing balloons, but this just makes it inflate and blow around uncontrollably.
Through it all, Misty shows a great deal of empathy and support, being patient and understanding – and confident that Jigglypuff does in fact have a song within itself. Even when Ash says “forget it; it doesn’t want to sing…”, Misty continues to try – and advocates for Jigglypuff’s feelings. Misty teaches in a gentle and supportive way – that knows Jigglypuff is going to get it someday. She refuses to give up.
One of the main truths of music teaching is that anyone can do it. Music-making isn’t just a special talent that belongs to an elite group of special geniuses, but is rather something that anybody can learn. Different people learn in different ways, and some people may have to work harder than others at developing some aspect of the skill, but no one is without hope. As a teacher, I have a responsibly to accept everyone, and to never give up, believing that everyone can grow into competent music makers. As a student, your responsibility is to keep putting the work in, trusting that one day you will be able use music as a tool to express yourself freely.
Lesson 2 – If you seem stuck, try something new
None of the vocal exercises seem to be making headway, but Brock continues brainstorming. He brings everyone to a special tree, with fruit that can heal throats. With a “Jiggly!” Jigglypuff takes a fruit, eats it, and then lets out, for the first time, an adorable song sung beautifully and with confidence, that includes a series of complicated key changes:
When there’s a problem with music-making, it’s pretty common for people’s first assumptions to assume the problem is in their own heads. They try to force themselves to do what they “know” is the right sound they are trying to make. They just trying the same thing over and over again and still struggle. But music-making is not just mental; it is also physical. You must go beyond just having knowledge of something in your head, and do the motions in a way that is comfortable to you, practiced until it becomes second nature in your body. That is why paying attention to your body’s movement, and always striving to stay physically comfortable is so important. The answer to your musical dilemma may very well have a lot to do with ways your body has to grow or heal, as it did for Jigglypuff.
Lesson 3 – Rethink Your Motivations
So Jigglypuff starts to sing – but there is just one unfortunate and presumably unexpected side effect. That is, everyone who hears the Jigglypuff song falls into a very deep sleep. When this happens, Jigglypuff doesn’t take it well – to put it mildly. Puffing up with anger, it gets revenge at this perceived slight by drawing humiliating squiggles on the faces of its napping listeners.
Jigglypuff feels deeply hurt that its song is not being listened to. Misty recognizes that “it must be frustrating to have such a beautiful voice and have no one to listen to your song.”
Once again, the three trainers work hard to try to find a way for Jigglypuff to sing before an audience that won’t fall asleep. On this quest, they go to Neon Town, a Las Vegas-like city filled with 24/7 entertainment and people suffering from insomnia.
That plan ends up “failing,” as even the active citizens of Neon Town are no match for the Jigglypuff’s soporific melody. However, the song, even if not “heard” in a traditional sense – it does have a profound impact. See, as was explained earlier in the episode, no sleep had been making the citizens of Neon Town cranky and rude to each other. Fights were breaking out all the time, and no one felt happy. By forcing them to go to sleep, Jigglypuff’s somnolent effect had a transformational effect on the community. Everyone was in a much better mood, and also treated each other with politeness and friendliness. As the episode closes, even the members of Team Rocket, the show’s villains, are experiencing an unusually high level of joy at being alive.
When people fantasize about what life as a musician is like, many people imagine it is filled with fame. It is nice to get recognized and listened to, to receive admiration because of our talent. However, music can do so much more than entertain or impress people. Sometimes it can heal our souls, lift up our emotions, and make our world a better place. Jigglypuff had to learn that it’s song could do a lot of good for the world, even if (in fact, because) it made people go to sleep. In a similar way, your own creative voice might not bring unending wealth or popularity, or facilitate an empty fantasy of “sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll.” But sharing your creative voice and expressing something about yourself can have a power and an impact far more meaningful than superficially success.