The Olympics have begun and the air is a-buzz with excitement. TV screens in Sports Bars are filled with pageantry, motion and emotion as dreams are realized or shattered in full view of millions worldwide. Our urge to push our bodies to the limits of possibility, to defy gravity, to court grace, to run, jump, swim, throw far beyond what the average bi-pedal human can ever dream of doing is the stuff of high drama, given a stage and 24/7 media coverage. The three-year old on the playground monkey bars shouts to the parents, “Look what I can do!!,” and indeed, we all want to show off our physical accomplishments. So when Olympic athletes put in countless hours training their body and perfecting their discipline, we are in awe of accomplishment and are quite happy to pay them the attention they deserve.
And though politics can leak in—who can forget the upraised Black Power fists in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics or the horror of terrorism in the 1972 Munich Olympics—the general spirit of crossing borders as athletes worldwide share the field and pursue their common passion is intended to uplift. Of course, they are in competition with each other and countries are counting their gold medals, but amongst the athletes themselves, I’d like to think that the old meaning of competition — co-petitioning the same god—is in the foreground. An Israeli and an Egyptian who both run marathons or pole vault or play basketball may indeed understand and respect each other more than the people in their own culture who have markedly different interests and jobs. They share a common love, a common struggle against the limits of their field, a common lifestyle of practice and discipline, a common admiration of what their fellow competitors achieve. I hope that people watching the Olympics notice this and feel the way that these disciplines brought together in this international event can supercede all the usual cultural barriers of race, religion, political belief.
Meanwhile, tonight another kind of Olympics will begin that will get no media attention, no newspaper coverage, no affirmation that it is worthy of attention. Down in a retreat center tucked away in the Carmel Valley, some 100 people will gather from the U.S., Canada and Mexico, from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Venezuala, from Finland, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Russia and Spain, from Iran, Quatar and Turkey, from China, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, from Nigeria and South Africa. Instead of carrying a torch, they will pass down a xylophone mallet. Instead of leaping for height or sprinting for speed, they will be jumping, twirling, skipping, swirling for the aesthetic pleasure and beauty of the dance. Instead of manipulating balls or paddles for points, they will be using hands and sticks to coax beautiful sounds from bodies, bells and bass xylophones, often at lightning speeds and with intricate coordination. Instead of pushing against each other to win the medal, they will pull each other up to encourage their highest possibilities in learning better yet how to teach and reach young children in classrooms around the world. The Orff Olympics have begun.
Should the cameras start rolling and the crowds gather to watch, it’s just possible that it would ruin everything. The advertisers would descent, the product-placement banners would hang from the blackboards, the lessons would be interrupted for “a word from our sponsor” and the teachers might start teaching for show, prepped with make-up before each class and turning up their natural charm for the cameras. But if all the respective cultures were alerted that this is important stuff and paid the same respect and awe for a lesson well-taught, a song sung with heart and soul without a trace of American Idol expectation, a blues improvisation on the xylophone the astonishes the person playing it as they discover their buried musicality, if the people who make decisions in these countries gave this the same attention as the superstar athlete and aligned their politics and culture accordingly, well, wouldn’t that be a refreshing change. The children would certainly benefit from it and the viewers might just realize that they themselves might reclaim their musical selves that they sold to the devil of music consumerism.
Of course, I know it ain’t gonna happen. We teachers are going to have an incredible two weeks where miracles abound and not a soul will know or care anything about it. Except for the 10,000 or so children who will joyfully receive the fruits of the harvest.
Let the wild rumpus start!