“Heaven is not a place we go to. It’s a place we recognize.” So said Martin Prechtel in a talk and I know exactly what he means. After a joyful day with enthusiastic, dynamic and smiling musicians accompanying me on their virgin voyage to Orfflandia, I went with my hosts to the Ipanema beach, where a group called Companhia Folclorica do Rio played drums and sang for a dancing circle at the water’s edge. Over two hours of the varied Afro-Brazilian songs and dances—Jongo, Sambe do Roda, Ciranda, Maracatú and more with people of all sizes, shapes, skin colors and ages singing along and dancing in circles and in the middle of circles. Everyone seemed to know the words and the steps and such joy in it all! The presence of the Ancestors from all the free Africans across the water and enslaved Africans was palpable, those remarkable folks who kept their spirit alive with dancing circles everywhere.
Some of the steps and quality of the games and rhythms were so parallel with all we had just done in my workshop and no wonder the participants were so enthusiastic. I had this same experience many years back in Recife in the north of Brazil— people still living in a vibrant musical culture from the street or town or neighborhood or home recognizing the same spirit in this Orff class in a school. Often there is a large disconnect— the natural, organic, soaking it all in through the whole body and brain manner of the living culture checked at the door of the school, where kids or university students go through the disconnected, dry, sequential paces of isolated, dull exercise and practice alone in cubicles of the European system. I’ve long felt that Orff Schulwerk properly practiced and understood is the marriage of the intuitive music as a home language approach with a scientific pedagogy designed to sequentially elevate musical skill and understanding. Orff training in Brazil, Bali, Bulgaria or Botswana has the potential of connecting the dots of a still living musical culture outside the school gates with a thought-out pedagogical music education within them.
One of the highlights of last night was the four little kids watching the adults and then going in the center themselves with such encouragement and smiles from everyone. My kind of music education! And there was more to help me recognize the Heaven of Rio. (Though with machine-gunned soldiers on the streets, there’s a Hell here as well). The playful flirting between men and women acted out in the steps of the dance, the strutting one’s stuff and circling hips and fully embracing one’s sexiness (all ages!) in a healthy sexuality so different from the sad pornographic pole dancers. The backdrop of the crashing waves and twinkling lights of the distant hills and cool night breeze and swaying palm trees. Honolulu, San Diego and Miami may have similar urban beachfronts, but hard to come by such postcard-perfect scenes with such beautiful community music and dance to complete it all.
That’s a heaven I recognize. No need to promise me anything else.