I’m back on Bloor St. again in Toronto. I have a special affection for this city for three somewhat personal reasons.
1) It was the first “foreign” city I ever visited on a family trip when I was 11 years old. I had my virgin taste of “puppy love” with a girl named Lizzie, memorized the license plate of our host’s car who we followed to the Casa Loma (and still remember it—B23882), went to a cool fort and some impressive botanical gardens and generally felt like I wasn’t in Kansas (well, really New Jersey) anymore.
2) After San Francisco, Salzburg and Madrid, I’ve taught more summer courses here than any other city. Jazz, world music, poetry and music, each one a pleasure with lovely and memorable people.
3) As a result of these courses and workshops, I know
lots of folks here and enjoy getting together with barbecues in back yards, nights
out at a jazz club. going out for meals (Toronto is
apparently the most international city in the world—surprising, but seems to be
true—with lots of great restaurant choices).
The streets are not quite as bustling as Madrid, the city not quite as scenic and charming as Salzburg, the culture not quite as vibrant as San Francisco (sorry! my biased opinion!), but it is rare these days to arrive in a place where my host tells me “The economy is going strong, all my music teacher friends have good jobs, the Royal Conservatory is happily hosting Orff programs in the summer and year round.”
This morning I kicked off yet another Jazz/Orff Course with 100 people, 60 or so only able to come for the opening morning of activities. Off we went into the multi-faceted Lemonade Crunchy Ice piece and I noticed that after playing one part of the game, I would stop and talk about some overarching principle that lay behind the activity, complete with stories from a life of teaching, and then Boom! back to the game for the next development section. More stories/talk, then the game and on we went like this. It was a lecture format unlike any I’ve witnessed— short five-minute talk, play the game, another talk, play again with variation, another talk and so on.
Don’t know what that experience felt like for the students (I’ll check in with them tomorrow). Maybe too weird, at one moment in the whole-body, whole-hearted fun of playing around, the overly-analytic brain shut down in favor of the bodily, social, and imaginative pleasure and the next, keeping still while listening critically to information, points of view, stories—and then suddenly, back to the game. Perhaps too schizy, not able to wholly relax in one world or the other.
On the other hand, the game opened up the mind and heart for maximum absorption and the points made directly related to the experience everyone just had might hit deeper and with more meaning. Who knows? Again, I’ll ask the folks and report back.
But the bottom line is the power of the Rondo form, that hero sandwich (bread-cheese-bread-tomato-bread-lettuce-bread-turkey-bread) of structures that offers the perfect balance between repetition (bread) and variation (cheese, tomato, lettuce, turkey). It offers the familiarity and comfort of the known balanced by the surprise and novelty of the not-yet-known. It is a winning combination in Orff classes and found throughout music—Mozart’s Rondo a la Turk and Dave Brubeck’s Blue Rondo a la Turk just two of thousands of examples.
And so I’m thinking about taking credit for a new lecture format, New Rondo a la Doug, balancing metacognition, neuroscience, pedagogy, didactics, anthropology, psychology, mythology, ecology, spirituality, health and well-being with playing children’s games or dancing or singing songs, each in five-minute doses. One is the reflective side of human understanding, the other the active experience of understanding, each feeding into and off of each other. Ted Talks, take note.
Meanwhile, grateful for the various Rondo forms of my life. School — travel — school —different travel —school—stay home and write—school. And within those cycles, other rondo forms— like the returns to Toronto. Always a pleasure!