Every veteran teacher knows this simple truth: there are only about ten children in the world, recycled and reshuffled in various combinations, nuances and inflections. Wherever I teach a new group of kids, I can see in five minutes, “Oh, it’s you, is it? Thanks for letting me know."
The same is true for adults. I began my workshops yesterday with 36 Korean women (another interesting Wikipedia fact: “Korea is ethnically one of the most homogeneous societies in the world with more than 99 per cent of inhabitants having Korean ethnicity.”) and before we broke for snack, it felt like a class reunion of old friends. No matter the language, cultural background, physical racial make-up, I could recognize them all as easily as if they were my neighbor next door. Which, of course, they are.
All of this from a simple exercise where each in turn has to create a musical phrase from the first sound of their name and finish the phrase with their name, which the group then echoes back. Here is the first hint of character, revealing the boisterous, the funny, the shy, the quietly dignified, the energetic wild ones. I like them all, but have a soft spot in my heart for the latter, those eccentric personalities that are dampened down in most school settings, but are ecstatic to be given permission to show themselves as they are.
None of this would have come forth had I merely been giving a lecture to the crowd of students taking notes. Herein lies the deep joy of this work. Every moment of the day is designed to pluck the strings of the imagination, make it safe and inviting for all to kick off their shoes and kick up their heels, make it fun to play music without any of that baggage of lonely hours in practice rooms—and all within full view and admiration of the community.
And such music! A stranger walking in the room would guess we had been practicing for weeks listening to the complexity of interlocking rhythms and that we had known each other for months feeling the spirit and comradery in the room. And yet it all comes from simple, elemental and powerful ideas that reap complex, subtle and soul-stirring results. Always trying to distill this work down to its essentials, I’ve come up with my mission statement—to stimulate the mind, engage the body, open the heart, awaken the spirit and touch the soul.
And so my belief in education and culture as the powerful forces that can open and invite the best we all carry inside or shut it down. All you need to feed your cynicism about human nature is to read the daily news. All you need to feed your faith is to participate in classes like these. It’s as simple as that.
And for the record, I was deeply impressed not only by the humor, inventive ideas and social graces of these 36 women (men! you’re missing out on a lot here—and so are the children without your presence. Join the party!), but by their musicality. I always begin by noting the rhythmic qualities of a culture, the sense of being in-the-body and on the earth and my first impression is that Korean culture has it big-time.
Writing this in the wee hour of a jet-lagged morning, I can’t wait to go to work today!
PS The heat problem was quickly fixed.