Sunday, August 14, 2011

Who Needs TED?


A few years back, I wrote a letter to my friends asking that they consider nominating me to be a TED Speaker. TED is a series of videoed lectures on all kinds of topics that circulate through the Internet. The talks tend to be high quality, engaging and stimulating, the kind of intelligent public discourse that is so often lacking in mainstream media. Apparently, you must be nominated to be invited and so my letter-writing campaign. Indeed, many folks did write the proposed nominating letter (there’s a simple online form), but TED didn’t follow their lead. And so once again, that theme of my six-word biography: “Called world to quarrel—no answer.”

But after closing out the two-week SF Orff Certification Course yesterday, I thought about this strange notion I seem to have that TED would represent some important milestone in my professional career. If it ever came to pass, I would be ushered into some studio somewhere to talk for 20 minutes to people I had never met. I wouldn’t get to hold hands with them and dance, nor invite them to perform a blues solo on the xylophone and most likely, not sing a song with them that strummed the strings of our spirit. I wouldn’t get to give them a weekend tour of San Francisco and perform body percussion while walking the labyrinth, wouldn’t watch them create stunning stick dances or recorder trios, wouldn’t get to charge the air with bagpipe and 20 xylophones in 15/16 meter. I wouldn’t see one of their three-year old daughters dance so joyfully in the middle of our Brazilian Ciranda circle, spinning and twirling unselfconsciously while a hundred people danced around her and bowing with arms outspread at the end. I wouldn’t hear the constant laughter of 100 people spending two weeks together playing, singing and dancing, wouldn’t get to jump in on the vibraphone and join in the jazz trio jam, wouldn’t get the daily kissed and hugs from beautiful young women and men, wouldn’t witness the breathtaking array of talent I surfaced in our Thursday night show, nor remember how difficult it to sing in concentric circles when everyone around you is crying from the sheer beauty of the world we created.

“When the miraculous becomes the norm” was again the theme of these two weeks, made even more powerful from the particular blend of cultures that converged at The San Francisco School, from Brazil to Spain to Japan to Uzbekisthan—and some fourteen other countries. Every day was notable, but I gave up trying to capture it here. All of it was along the lines of “you just had to be there.” And I’m so grateful that I was.

If a TED talk ever came to pass, it would be nice to let people know what’s possible with both adults and kids and help move public opinion in the direction of a humane and joyful education. But it all would just be a finger pointing to the moon. These two weeks were the real deal, a “trip to the moon on gossamer wings.” We were flying high with our spirits rejoicing and digging deep into the moist soil of soul. And yes, the constant shifting weather of our human frailities was there too, the crossed-signals, misunderstandings, frustrations and sheer exhaustion of being surrounded by so much brilliance and talent. But the music was always around us to sweep our doubts into the corner where they belong and invite us back into the dancing circle.

And not to say I didn’t warn them (see July’s entry: “Beware all ye who enter here.”). This community has no room for self-satisfaction and security. When we sign-up, we’re agreeing to blow ourselves wide open, in faith and confidence that we’ll put ourselves back together at a higher, wider and deeper level, supported by our fellow travelers. We are dazzled and amazed and sometimes blinded by the accomplishments of our fellow humans, but the end result should be to increase our own light. One of the most remarkable moments of the Thursday talent show was a duet between Bay Area Jackie Rago on maracas and Estevao from Brazil on pandeiro (tambourine). The virtuosity, humor and communication of this improvised piece with two simple instruments was beyond human belief. When the thunderous applause died down, the next person was called up to perform. Talk about a hard act to follow! But non-plussed, up stepped a young woman with guitar and led us in a hilarious song about the 18 wheels on a big truck, counting them forwards, backwards, by twos and most delightful of all, by Roman numerals. Perfect! The spirit of this Orff approach is not to breed competitive virtuosi, but help each person find the core of their own character and share it with the group. As simple as that.

So I had to remind myself that none of this could ever happen in a 20-minute talk in a studio and that I was a fool to think that the TED invitation would be the best affirmation of my work that the world could offer. In fact, I’d be hard pressed to think of any experience that could top the few weeks I just passed with the most interesting, funny, intelligent, good-looking, warm-hearted, talented and committed human beings any one could ever hope to meet. And to think that each is dedicating at least a part of their life to teaching young children means more than the most inspired TED talk could ever deliver.

Thank you to each and every one of the nearly 200 teachers who generated enough energy in the last three weeks to keep us all re-charged—until next year!

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