Friday, June 15, 2012

The Finnish Finish

I ended my time in Finland with an afternoon in Helsinki with my good friends Soili and Terhi. I can never get enough of the company of these two marvelous women. Conversation is always set high on the dial, with profound deep reflections not only about our mutual Orff paths, but about life and culture in general, punctuated with humor and song. Just one of a hundred examples: Soili told me that in Senegal, drummakers making a drum with two heads will use the skins of animal enemies (say a lion and an antelope) so that the relationship of predator/prey will change to two voices combining to make a single rhythmic song. Such a beautiful metaphor. And that in another place (India?), the cremated ashes of a loved one are mixed with the clay to make a clay drum, giving them a voice to keep singing in this world. See what I mean? Such a refreshing change from the conversations I hear far too often around American lunchtables: “Whoah! Cool! Is that an i-Phone IV? What aps do you have?”

As mentioned before, Finland has some impressive models that we in the U.S. would do well to pay attention to, giving priorities to the important things in life—like education, health care, preserving the environment and so on. Like so many places in the world (Nicaragua where I recently visited or Argentina where my daughter lives), they have had a woman president while we in the U.S. are still thinking about this possibility as if it was the most radical idea imaginable. I found the people in general highly educated, fluent in at least three languages—Finnish, Swedish and English (the latter spoken consistently at a higher level than our former President), an interesting combination of reserved and wild (jumping naked into cold lakes must feed the latter a bit) and very interested in the world beyond their borders while also grounded in their own rich culture.

They were also very appreciative of what I had to offer. Four different people interviewed me for either a magazine or their doctoral thesis, an experience extremely rare in my U.S. experience. It was a pleasure beyond words to be able to share so much of my work in a mere six days. I taught Levels I, II and III in the Orff course, gave a 90 minute lecture about brain-based learning, taught children in a demonstration class, performed jazz piano, played my Bulgarian bagpipe, shared music from Mother Goose to jazz to South Africa and beyond, taught a Jazz Course and even got to tell some of my favorite jokes that everyone else I know has heard far too often! When evaluating what to do, what work to take, what project to undertake, I often ask myself “How much of me does this use?” and the more it does, the happier I am. My time in Finland was simply wonderful in that respect.

At the same time that I appreciated the differences and some of the admirable ways the country has resisted some dubious current trends, I don’t want to be too na├»ve or romantic. Talking to Soili and Terhi and others, they’re facing some of the same challenges we are. Teenage boys are addicted to computer games in almost epidemic proportion, depression, alcoholism, suicide, already a danger in the long winter months, is on the rise when machines trump human relations. Kids don’t know their own folk music heritage nor are they uniformly versed in classical music, seduced into the glammar and glitz of the Pop world. As Terhi so eloquently put in, teachers in general are not as “widely civilized” as they used to be. And there’s always the clear and present danger that politicians will lean towards the mindless models of the U.S. and up the testing in schools, take out the music, make decisions based on money instead of culture.

In short, Finland is like any other culture or country, struggling with the eternal conflict between healthy and harmful, helpful and greedy, intelligent and ignorant. In my view, they are well over the 50% mark in the good things of life, but one can never relax (except in the sauna). Always a work in progress. Thank you to Finland and my new and old Finnish friends for a marvelous ten days. 

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