“If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair…”
This the song in the background during one of my kimchee/cornflakes breakfast at the Korea Orff Course. It must have leaked into my subconscious, because when someone asked me “What is the most important thing for the teacher to keep in mind?” I unexpectedly answered by talking about coming of age in the ‘60’s. I said something like this:
“When I was in college, I was part of a counter-culture that sought to change the world. We were convinced that we were the ones to eliminate war, erase injustice, eradicate racism and sexism and classism and lead the future into a loving place dressed with flowers in it's hair. We were hopeful and idealistic, but so young— what did we know of the world? It awaited us with its harsh lessons, its bitter disappointments, its crushing blows to our naiveté. And so of course, we failed miserably. War is still rampant, ignorance and greed still mostly run the show, George Zimmerman is walking free, fine jazz artists like Eliane Elias and Diane Krall still succumb to dressing in sexy nightwear for their album covers.
And yet we did indeed make a large impact. My daughters grew up with basketball and a can-do confidence, my granddaughter will grow up in a world significantly more capable of judging her by the content of her character rather than the color of her skin— and with Michelle Obama as a role model. Gay marriage is beginning its roll down the alley, knocking down the pins state after state and people who spout hateful vile publicly are mostly expected to apologize. Small but significant steps.
Back in college, we were all looking for the way to transformation. And for me, it came from an unexpected place— a chance class with my first and most important Orff teacher, Avon Gillespie. I felt a certain spark in his classes unlike any other classes, a quality of belonging and connecting with others in a shared venture. Avon loved to create big multi-layered events, often from a simple premise. One class, we made a spontaneous opera out of the song Frere Jacques with an accompanying story of a sleepy monk. Frere Jacques was never the same after that.
I found myself as a young teacher very interested, like Avon, in the feeling of the group as a whole, intrigued by the way certain songs, games and musical pieces could create a atmosphere in the room that was both fun and profoundly serious, relaxed and spiritually intense, personally transforming and collectively connecting. To this day, I tend to first feel the whole forest and it takes me awhile to see each tree. Both are necessary, but I found that my default setting was the group, the circle, the community. I began to create some all-school ceremonies and rituals with the community in mind and with music, movement, poetry and song at the center. Here was something real and concrete, far beyond the rhetoric of political revolution or the notion that because we felt good at the end of our yoga session, the world was healed. Here was a way to “be the change we want to see in the world.”
So for me, this became the most important guiding star of my daily classes— to have each class be the world I want to live in and the world that we all would like to live in. Naturally, there is conflict and problems and flowers that wilt in the hair (or can’t find enough hair to hold them!), but it all has the intention and possibility of healing through the power of music, dance and the presence of the imagination. Whether with children in San Francisco or adults in Korea, it is the world I still live in and still love to live in and by the smiles and tears I see here, I suspect it’s a world you all have enjoyed as well.”
A college buddy of mine just turned 60 and made the astute observation, “Hey, I’m back in the 60’s!” Now there’s a great perspective. And indeed, despite World’s best efforts to squash them, my hope and idealism are still kicking and mostly due to these blessed opportunities to witness the many ways both kids and adults rise to the invitation to show their best selves. In my 60’s, the 60’s are alive and well. Minus those illegal (well, finally legal in some places) substances!
And now back to San Francisco, with the metaphorical flowers refreshed and blooming in the few remaining strands of hair. Kamsahamnida!