Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Perfect Ending


Spoiler alert! In the movie Everest, they all die at the end. Ha ha!
No, seriously, if you’re going to see the movie, stop reading. You can come back to this after you see it.
In my music classes, I always insist on “the perfect ending.” On the last note of the song, I expect five seconds of jeweled silence before anyone makes a sound. I want to hear the ringing of the metallophone disappear in its diminishing envelope before anyone can lower their mallets. I insist on a dynamic frozen posture at the end of a dance or movement exercises. Whether you’re three years old or 13 or 33, I expect the same.
And thus, I get it. Not always the first time, to be sure, but by noting “Oops! We didn’t get the perfect ending. Let’s try again.… Nope. Again… Nope once more.… Okay, whoever ruins the ending this time, no recess for you! Ah, there it is.”
I’m playful about this, but strict. It’s my way of respecting the music, protecting its birth from a moment of silence, its life as it goes through its changes and its dignified death at the end as we honor its existence with a moment of silence. Silence is the edge of the canvas in a beautiful painting, the moment before we open to the first page of a book and the moment after we close the last page. Without it, all our efforts are just another jumble of noise in a confused and chaotic world.
And so back to the movie. Two of the people who have an extra-special reason to make it to the summit do indeed make it. Their monumental, extraordinary persistence and effort are rewarded as they plant their flag amidst tears and cheers. And then they die soon after in the descent. Tragic, yes, but also triumphant. What a way to go! After achieving the pinnacle of their life’s quest, indeed, what would be left? How could they bear to go shopping at the mall in their post-Everest life or sit around listening to their friends complain that the Wi-fi isn’t working in Starbucks today?
Anyone who attempted this climb might be righteously and rightfully outraged that I dare compare my life—or anyone’s life— to an Everest trek. But don’t our dreams, no matter what shape or size, have that quality? That monumental effort to unzip the sleeping bag each morning and face the traffic in our commute, to trudge step-by-step through the hundred e-mails demanding our attention or inch our way across the icy bridge with the chasm of failure below us? Don’t we all have the sense that the summit of achievement is perpetually ahead and just out of reach? Obscured in swirling clouds or beating us back with raging winds and relentless snow? Don’t we find ourselves breathless with exhaustion in need of oxygen and sometimes the cannisters dangerously low?
And yet we soldier on, step by step, day by day, in pursuit of the perfect Orff lesson or the jazz improvisation that says precisely what we hear inside or the moment in the meditation where the solid walls of a small self break loose in an avalanche and finally connect us wholly with the ten thousand things of this world.
I often say that my path is called the Orff Approach (not Method) because we are perpetually approaching the summit, but never quite reaching it. And that’s what gets us up again for another day. If I really taught 7 perfect Orff music classes on any given day, I might succumb to the same fate as the two climbers in the movie.
And so next time you feel upset about the kids who are disrupting your perfect plans in your class, the ones that are creating that storm that blocks the top, consider thanking them instead.
They’re keeping you alive.

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