Several times a day in the hallways of the Orff Institut, I passed the large photo of my teacher Avon Gillespie and greeted him. How he changed my life! Maybe there comes a day when you stop thanking your mentor, but I haven’t reached it yet. How happy I believe he would be to know what I’ve done to carry his work forward. And perhaps he does.
Avon awakened an intuition I carried in my childhood that ritual and ceremony were essential to a life well-lived. They bring color and shape and meaning and public affirmation of the little and big rites of passage we humans share everywhere. Many are tainted with dogma or narrow views or celebration of one group of people at the expense of another. But in the neutral ground of an Orff workshop, Avon created a sense of instant community that included everyone in the room. Songs, movements, rhythms would arise magically out of silent gestures, carry through to some booming or quiet conclusion and the air would be charged with the sense of something larger than business as usual. Avon’s soulful presence and beautiful voice would release emotion and he was well-aware that there needed to be some ritual containers to set our feet back on the earth. So at the end of every course, tears often streaming down cheeks, he would clap the archetypal “shave and a haircut” rhythm and the group would respond with the clapped “two bits.” Class was over.
In my own teaching, inspired by Avon, a fascination with ceremonies world-wide and an intuitive need to pay close attention to beginnings, middles and endings of things, I found my own way to creating connected communities. From the little rituals of each class to the arc of the one-day workshop to the school’s annual ceremonies that I helped create to the larger attentions from baby showers to memorial services, I have used music, dance, poetry to charge the air with the sense that this moment is worthy of a different kind of attention.
And so I came to the end of nine glorious days with thirteen beautiful souls in the Orff Institut Special Course and true to form, treated the final class like the cadence of a stirring symphony. We reviewed material, playing short versions of all the games, songs, pieces and rhythms. We miraculously remembered (them better than me) the body percussion version of our names from our first class. We sat in a closing circle to say out loud what happened for us, one at a time. And then a closing song in a spiral, ears pressed to shoulder blades of our neighbors to feel the vibration, closing words from me and it’s over. Or rather, will live on as ripples in the pond, echoes in the air, affection for lovely people carved into the synapses of memory.
On to the train, wave goodbye to the fairy tale castle on the hill and head toward Munich and the next page in the next hello and welcome. It’s a marvelous life indeed.