Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Same and Different

I’m always fascinated how one thing leads to another, you start off here and unexpectedly end up there and it turns out to be exactly where you needed to go. In this case, it began with a simple need— free up memory on the computer to download new photos. So off to the old photos and videos to look for unnecessary duplicates and such and in order to decide what to keep, I started opening videos I hadn’t looked at for a long time, if ever. And they were mostly of students in my Orff courses around the world performing a little project I would give them near the end of the course.


Now, dear reader, pay attention, because this stuff is the heartbeat of the blog’s original theme—the tales of a traveling music teacher. Seeing these videos one after another was striking. Not only the pleasure of remembering some of these lovely people, but seeing clip after clip of folks doing similar kinds of things—playing Orff instruments, clapping games, body percussion, choreographing a simple dance or putting together a little drama— with so much joy and gusto and humor and at times, profundity. At first glance, they’re all exactly alike. At second, not entirely.

Because the second thing that struck me that I’ve tried to articulate time and time again, but showed so much more forcefully in these video clips, is the differences. Because they were doing similar things, the subtle differences felt yet more apparent. How to say this?

What I see looking at these groups is the presence of their Ancestors. As much as my invent-yourself-anew-American-self would like to ignore it, we are shaped by the culture that birthed us. Our blood Ancestors give us our faces, our bodies, our mother tongue, our voices and more, all of which play out in these little small group creations.

Watching the groups one after another from places as diverse as Poland, Portugal, Japan, Brazil, South Africa, Thailand and beyond, you could feel those Ancestors in the room. See them in the body shapes and the way people move and the parts of the body they move and the parts they don’t. Of course, you can feel how the way their tongue wraps around the sounds of the language creates a certain kind of person and the way their voice sings those black dotted notes on the page. (Today, at a meeting for the World Music Festival, we were looking at a notated Tibetan song and then a Tibetan woman sang it. The notes on the page were just that—notes on a page. The real song was in the whole style and delivery, which needless to say, was extraordinarily beautiful and real and authentic because the whole of Tibetan culture was coming through her voice.)

Then, of course, the musical styles themselves that invariably arise in the small group creations, with their signature rhythms and scales and timbres and structures and instrumental accompaniments. When teaching in other cultures, I always search for some universal and diverse base of processes and material, but insist that participants translate everything to their own native culture, in their own style, in their own language. For example, I might teach a stone-passing game from Ghana, Mexico or Brazil, but then encourage them to share their own. And most importantly, think about how to teach and why to teach it and where to take it from there.

So I hope someday I can combine these little clips into a sequence making a plea for diversity within universality and universality within diversity. Because as delicious as the differences are, the common ground is also impressive. Not only the fact that people in such different places are gathering together for the same purpose of improving their teaching and playing the same type of Orff instruments and dancing similar dances and such, but also the universal impulses they all share for the need to play, sing and dance together. And these days, they’re all online and have cell phones (except me!) and are connected by a common thread of technology that their Ancestors rarely shared.

Yet again, I find this work so refreshing and authentic because it covers the full spectrum of time. Part of everyone is in the past, inevitably showing the full force of the cultural expressions that led to them. Part is in the future, where we need to figure out how to imagine together, think together, problem solve together, have fun together, now not just for mere pleasure, but for the urgency of our planetary predicament. We need the full force of our diverse experiences and points of view to converge into a multi-dimensional and 360-degree imaginative new solutions to old and new problems. Finally, we are here now and might as well make the best of it! Most adults, like most kids, don’t care about an inspired Orff class because they are honoring their ancestors or preparing to become 21st century citizens. They want to have a good time here and now, awakening, strengthening, cultivating every fiber of their being. Good Orff workshops provide all three. And I hope good teaching in any field, good business, good government, will learn to do so as well.

PS Any filmmakers out there want to string together the Same and Different documentary? I’m talking Oscar material here!

1 comment:

  1. This reminds me of a passage from Anne Bogart's "A Director Prepares." Paraphrasing: "We are standing on the shoulders of those that came before us."

    I can imagine how profound that must be for you to witness these different cultures playing Orff.

    If my skills were in video, I'd help!

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