Thursday, July 31, 2014

Wild Thing


I began my annual summer course lecture with a guitar, three chords and a rendition of the Trogg’s big hit, Wild Thing. Because fact of the matter is that it is the wildness I encountered in my first—and subsequent— Orff class that “made my heart sing” and made “everything groovy.” I didn’t care about any “rubrics for assessing the SLOs aligned with the current levels of DKOs using FIP techniques.” I was much more interested in the LSD-like ecstacies induced by vibrant music and dance. And still am.

Several generations removed from the initial groundbreaking-work of Orff, Keetman and Gunther, people who talked about “freeing powers of our primeval nature, awakening to the profundity of things, releasing the power of the spirit,” their radical work has become diluted and deluded. I read these articles that sound like dry sociological tracts with pseudo-scientific jargon and wonder, “Where is the art? Where is the poetry? Where is self-discovery and awakening? Where is play? Where is the electric energy? Where is the changing screen with mystery and intrigue and sexuality and sensuality changing clothes behind it preparing for the Witch’s Dance?  (This the story Orff chooses to open his autobiography “Das Schulwerk: Volume III,” telling of a friend visiting the dancer Mary Wigman.)  People have turned the stunning verbs of shaping artistic impulses and the charged adjectives Orff used to describe Wigman— “wild, electric, proud, mysterious”— into the heavy bricks of dead nouns like “creativity, collaboration, 21st Century thinking skills.”

Orff often spoke of his work as a wildflower, a plant that established itself where it was needed and where conditions were favorable. He warned that “wildflowers always prosper in places where carefully planned and cultivated plants often produce disappointing results.” In various recent American Orff workshops I’ve attended, Orff’s wildflower feels like an endangered species. Little did he know just how over-planned and cultivated those plants would become when sucked into the vortex of American schools and a materialistic culture obsessed with measurement. We’d much rather go to the mall than engage in conversation with the wildness lying dormant within or go hiking in the wilderness without. 

In my talk, I invoked Gary Snyder’s “The Practice of the Wild” for some thoughts on its place in the ecology of human culture. He frees the word "wild" from it's perception as "unruly, rude, licentious, destructive, primitive, savage" (all Oxford English Dictionary definitions) and restores it to it's life-affirming qualities of "self-propogating, self-maintaining, flourishing in the beauty of its innate properties within the order of natural systems, outrageous, spontaneous, physical, ecstatic, sexual, free." The overlap with Orff's language is noteworthy.

Western culture has a long history of distrust and fear of the wild, with disastrous consequences for people living close to the earth in small communities. It projected that fear onto Native Americans and Africans and used it to excuse genocide and slavery. It associated women with the wild and led to witch-burning. And most importantly for us teachers, it feared the wildness of children and incarcerated them in places called schools. There their wild spirits were—and still are— cut away and chopped up and neglected and punished in those prisons, held “hostage from love.” In this repressive climate, putting a little Orff class in the corner that must conform to the standards of the bureaucrats is simply an amusing entertainment far from Orff’s injunction to prevent spiritual erosion.

But here in Carmel, the weird and wild is alive and well as some 100 folks from around the world convene to play, sing, dance, cavort with an electric energy sufficient to light up Las Vegas. In American classrooms, I don’t find those icons of the wild—the majestic lion, the soaring eagle, the playful otter, the howling at the moon wolf. Or even the independent house cat or the caged parrot screeching embarassing swear words in front of the company. But I feel them all here and it’s glorious.

As I write, night descends and music is everywhere— recorders, Brazilian songs, jazz jam session, raucous laughter, ukuleles. We’re away from the assessors, from the ugly language and narrow thought, from the mindless bureaucrats poised to “put a sharp knife into the sacred, tender vision of our beautiful hearts.”

I closed with a poem from Hafiz and everything he dreams of is happening here. The world may constantly fall short of what it could be and consistently disappoint me, but here is the one I want to live in— and I am! For at least 8 more days. The poem, translated by Daniel Ladinsky (with one short stanza omitted):

We have not come here to take prisoners.
But to surrender ever more deeply to
Freedom and joy.

We have not come into this exquisite world
To hold ourselves hostage from love.

Run, my dear, from anything that may not strengthen
Your precious budding wings.

Run like hell my dear
From anyone likely
To put a sharp knife
Into the sacred, tender vision
Of your beautiful heart…

For we have not come here to take prisoners
Or to confine our wondrous spirits.

But to experience ever and ever more deeply
Our divine courage, freedom and
Light!

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