Wednesday, March 2, 2011

My Birthday Present

Another glorious day playing, singing and dancing with children. I know, it’s getting boring reading the same old thing, but it’s just the way it is. One 2nd grade class learned a folk dance, broke into groups and created a new version, shared their creation, discussed what they liked and what worked and what could be better (with eloquence and clarity), learned one of the groups’ version and suddenly, it was time to go. The next class began with the story of my breakfast and ended with 15 kids with drums and bells, 15 more on Orff instruments, performing a rollicking version of “Jelly on a Plate.” (These classes are large! Generally around 30.) In another, we sang non-stop, moving from feeding cows and chickens to the intriguing adventures of Johnny and ending with his aunt who came back from various countries bearing gifts. 

Then 4th grade came in to clap their way with a partner through chocolate and mochi before mounting four white horses for a rollicking finish to the “children’s games around the world” theme. A brief pause of lunch and back to “Mama lama kuma lama kumala bee-stay,” moving step-by-step to a thrilling jazz arrangement, half the kids playing, the other half singing and dancing with joy and abandon. For the final class of my five-weeks teaching abroad, I treated the kids and myself to “Stations,” a movement-drama game where kids in groups think up a series of words based on the letter at their station and create a moving mime picture using their bodies together (as in Tina Turner Teaching Tai Chi to Turtles). One group is the judges, circulating around and watching and then selecting their favorite at the end, at which time each group shares (verbally) their idea.  I select the music, from James Brown to Swan Lake, and half the fun is watching them respond to the music. The last selection was Tony Bennett singing “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” with the S group masterfully showing Sensuous Singers Skillfully Singing a Sad Song about San Francisco. A perfect ending! (For those interested, a more detailed description of Stations is in my book Intery Mintery: Nursery Rhymes for Body, Voice and Orff Ensemble).

My 60th birthday is approaching way too soon for my taste, but if anyone wants to give me the gift of a lifetime, it would be to have the chance to lead a workshop for members of Congress before they convene to vote, to play Stations at the United Nations, to teach the Swedish conflict-resolution dance (Oxdansen) at a Peace Treaty Talk. Or better yet, do this work at the onset of a conflict before it heads into violence. 

And why not? Goodness knows we’ve done everything else and the same-old same-old has been an ongoing disaster. I’m not naïve enough to expect that simply singing songs together, dancing with partners, creating a piece of music in a group, is enough by itself to solve very really territorial squabbles or the accumulated hatreds and distrusts of centuries of human folly. But it sure as hell is a good start to a different kind of conversation. It’s almost impossible not to see at least a glimmer of shared humanity in someone you’re working with to create something of beauty. At the very least, it makes it more difficult to objectify them as the other, the enemy, the infidel. And it is precisely that objectification that gives and has given permission for the atrocities we heap on each other. On one level, racism, sexism, religious persecution and all the rest of those sad stories are nothing but strategies for people who hurt people to sleep peacefully at night. As long as the victim is less than fully human, one can carry on without guilt.

I asked one of the second grade groups “Why do I like children so much?” Without missing a beat, the girl next to me replied, “Because we’re playful!” Thank you, my dear. But also because you’re closer to God’s creation and thus, innocent, flexible and open to figuring out how to be on this planet together with your neighbors. Maria Montessori famously said that adults are hopeless, already set and fixed in their ways and willing to go against their best interests in the name of God, country or badly-formed philosophies or life-habits. The only worthy reform is to start with the young.

And that’s why I’m a teacher.

P.S. But I still would like to do those workshops for the Congress or U.N. Any contacts?

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