Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Sound of One Finger Snapping


Those of us who have dabbled in Eastern thought will recognize the reference to the famous Zen riddle: “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” Answering that enigmatic question means you are graced with a Buddhist enlightenment. The answer to the “one finger snapping” is less mysterious— it is an Iranian body percussion technique practiced nowhere else on the planet, but virtually a required skill for every Iranian citizen. (I myself have been working on it off and on for some eight years and can only produce a feeble version.) Answering that question means achieving a different kind of enlightenment— that the people the newspapers would have us vilify as enemies are fun, intelligent, open-minded, artistic and expressive folks—and exceptionally good looking as well! At least the ones that I have met.

I met my first group of Iranian music teachers in Salzburg some ten years ago and it was love at first sight. They began attending both summer courses and the year-long Special course at the Orff Institut and I had the good fortune to teach many of them. Thanks to that training and some coming to our International Orff Course, the Orff movement is flourishing in Iran and exciting things are happening! But like many places, there is a disconnect between the people and the government. Or rather, the people who have ascended to government are those with the most narrow ideas, an intelligence disconnected from compassion, a closed mind fearful of expression and critique, an aesthetic limited to one or two colors of the rainbow. These types are everywhere and because their inclination is to wield power and rule over others rather than savor the full flavor of life, they often wreak havoc as they ascend to positions of authority. So that those of us who would rather just laugh and sing and cook and play together need to gather our own collective power to create a space for ourselves in a repressive society.

But here in the Turkish countryside, we can let go of that for the moment and live life as it’s meant to be lived. Formal classes with accent on play and playful free time with fun conversation and more music and games freely shared. And let me clear: I’m enjoying the Turkish folks here every bit as much as the Iranians, often don’t know yet who is who and of course, it doesn’t really matter. Here we are all much larger than our ethnic identity.

Finishing this at an outdoor café in the small village of Sirincé, sitting with my Orff student turned colleague, Estevao from Brazil. (Such a pleasure, that. Love this young man, who will carry the work forward for beyond me!). Hot, dry air, welcome tree-covered shade, fresh orange juice, an Internet connection and music piped out from all sorts of places. Yesterday I heard Del Shannon’s Runaway, a 45 my sister owned in the early 60’s, just now a Cha Cha Cha version of The Continental, made famous in an old Fred Astaire movie.

In our way of thinking “life would be perfect if only…” I’m still anxiously awaiting the news of my overdue grandson’s birth. Tomorrow is a week overdue. Every day, I open e-mail hoping to see "Kerala's in labor!" or better yet, "He's here!" Instead my wife writes, "We are soooo ready for this baby to be born."

While writing, 8 lovely Iranian men and women spot Estevao and I and rush over for photo opportunities. (I freely confess that at an age when I’m wholly invisible if I walk into a bar with young people, that's a great perk of this work!) Now French café music on the speakers, me with nothing really left to say and yet I keep on writing. If I could capture the scene well enough that you, the armchair traveler, felt carried to this table, I believe you would enjoy it as much as I am. But my high school English teachers are rolling their eyes— stick to the topic, man! If I could find the perfect sentence to tie all the disparate threads together, I could come out of this alive. How about:

“Malik, if you come out tomorrow, I promise to take you one day to this spot, where we’ll sip fresh orange juice, eat ice cream, listen to the music and enjoy the attention of all the beautiful Iranian and Turkish peoples who will serenade you with the miracle of one finger snapping.”

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