Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Full Rainbow Palette


No matter who we are or what our talents, we all are seeking a place in the world to show ourselves, to be wholly used and wholly useful. Daily we sing to World, “All of me, why not use all of me?” —and yet, World is sometimes hard of hearing or indifferent. But today, It opened it’s arms wide and beckoned each color in my rainbow to come through.

It’s not often I get to play the Ghanaian xylophone and Bulgarian bagpipe and grand piano all in the same day, not exactly usual to do gumboot dancing the same day as singing Slavic songs with strong Finnish women, not an every day thing to teach a class to kids with strings, flute, trumpet, French horn and then give a solo piano concert and then watch, in company with many, the video of the Salzburg performance my colleagues and I put on with 17 kids two years ago.

I love teaching my jazz course and it’s probably the place I’ve moved the Orff approach the furthest into new territory. But I equally enjoy teaching this World Music Course. Every piece calls forth a story from my travels and then more stories from the kids at school who played them and then more stories created as I share them with folks in the various places I’ve taught this course—Vancouver, Toronto, Madrid and now Finland. And the joy of feeling so many distinct feelings evoked by music crafted over decades and centuries in cultures far and wide. This rainbow palette of emotion is no cliché— it’s as real as each song, dance, game that dips its brush into the human heart.

Amongst the day’s generous peaks, two stand out. The class with 12 Finnish kids from 8 to 16 years old may have been the finest I’ve ever taught in my entire career. Beginning with a silly game to see who could react fast and clap exactly when I do, we moved seamlessly through a 16-beat body percussion pattern, freely improvised xylophone duets and trios, learning the text and melody to a Slovenian song, finding it on the xylophones, improvising on the tune in groups and solos, then finding it on the band/orchestra instruments, then improvising on those instruments, then featuring three inspired improvisations that wove together masterfully, then transposing to a new key and then the hilarious finish of each choosing their own key— Stravinsky, move over!

The kids were wholly engaged every second of the hour-plus class, filled with good spirit and humor and willing to take daring risks. Uncharacteristically for Finnish culture, they were also quite full of themselves in an exuberant kid kind of way. The girl who said “I know” when I joked that she was my favorite student and the guy who shook my hand goodbye and told me, “You’ll see me on TV someday.” Well, there’s a topic. The naysayers will tell the kid, “Don’t be so full of yourself. Be humble” Or “Do you realize how many kids want to be on TV and how few get chosen? Forget it. It ain’t gonna happen.” And so they step on the young people’s dreams and start training them for cynicism, teach them to accept less than they could be, encourage them to give up and just get through. I told the boy, “I look forward to that.”

And then the day’s final epiphany. Showing the video of the Salzburg performance and me seeing for the first time this professional version, two years later. There were the kids who just graduated from 8th grade last week, there were the kids that just finished 9th and 10th grade elsewhere, there was my heavier mustached self, but once the show started rolling, I was right back in that moment and what a glorious thing that was. The show held up— the music, the energy, the comradery, the astounding variety, the audience’s wild enthusiasm, the love. The Finns felt it vicariously, clapping as vigorously as the people who were there live. By the end, my eyes were wet with the beauty of it all.

One more day of this too-short course, ready to venture to Nicaragua, the Basque country, Zimbabwe, Japan and beyond in music time, then begin a short journey to Estonia in car and boat time. Thanks to the guiding hands, seen and unseen, that made this all possible, the happy blend of deep desire, intention, perseverance, dedication, hard work, good luck and grace. 

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