“Tropism: The turning of all or part of an organism in a particular direction in response to an external stimulus.”
We know how that works in plants. Phototropism— plants reaching up toward the light. Gravitropism —roots going down into the earth. Those mysterious inner workings of living beings, energy fields affecting other energy fields, drawing us one direction and not the other. I suppose there is a lovetropism that makes us want to talk to this person at a party instead of that person, a subliminal attraction that magnetically draws two souls who need each other toward each other. Or a geotropism that finds us visiting a city, village or country and feeling that it calls to us and insists we stay.
I think there is a musitropism as well. That could mean the particular artist or style or instrument or cultural expression that we somehow need at a particular moment and notice it when we find it. But here I’m also talking about the way that the energy released in live music-making affects the energy fields of all making the music and those listening as well and acts us a kind of sunlight drawing the participants upward below their conscious intention.
I felt this so strongly at school yesterday when a kid who has never seemed comfortable in his body and for the long time I’ve known him has been stiff and unexpressive in his movement astounded me with some vivid body percussion that really danced. He was with a group of great dancers and their collective energy somehow entered his muscles, bones and nervous system and drew him up higher than he had ever flown. And another kid who generally sang unexpressively was carried up in a similar way from the power of the choir and suddenly her body started moving with the music and her face shone with the emotion of the song.
I often comment about the phenomena of taking 15 new 6th graders into a music program where kids have been doing this work for eight years. When we first started this some twelve years ago, I was terrified that the new kids would lower the level of musicality in the class. Instead I discovered that they were drawn up into the existing musical culture and ascended more rapidly than they ever would have if all the 6th graders were new. Musitropism.
I say it again: We have music classes at my school, we have a music program, we have a music curriculum, but more than all of that, we have a musical culture, a musical community where music permeates each day and all aspects of the kids’ lives. We have three music teachers who have the self-generating and inexhaustible energy, heat and light of the sun radiating in our beings and our work appears so effortlessly and generates such stirring results simply because it works below the surface in nature’s mysterious ways, urging forth without speaking the musical seeds lying dormant in each and every child to start sprouting, growing and blossoming toward the light. That light is the music we make and love and prepare and release into the room in full faith that all present will feel its power. We don’t need as many behavioral strategies to motivate and get the kids to pay attention because the music is almost always more interesting than chit-chatting with your neighbor or mindlessly fooling around. The kids feel its power and feel their own power and feel the delight of the conversation between the two.
My advice to music teachers? We can’t just stand in the middle of the room and radiate our musical heat and light—there are a thousand details to attend to in lesson plans that can’t be wholly ignored. But at the beginning and middle and end of the matter, yes, live the music that draws us all upward and all will gather around to feel the warmth and add their own bright light. Be a musitropist!