Friday, November 13, 2015

The 4H Club


Hand. Heart. Head. Hearing. As music teachers, that’s what we’re educating.
Train the body. Open the heart. Stimulate the mind. Awaken the senses. That’s what every teacher should aim for.
Now we have a criteria to judge how we’re doing. Without clarity of vision, without knowing where the mark is, we will miss it and not even know what’s missing.
I’m at the annual Orff Conference and it strikes me, as it often has, that we have no agreed-upon criteria for what makes an inspired workshop, a good one, a mediocre one, a maddeningly disappointing one.
I suggest the 4H Club. A great workshop hits all four. Or can go into depth in one or more of the four. A workshop that does nothing to consider a dynamic idea, or evoke a deep feeling, or introduce a new technique or open our ears to sharper hearing, is simply a waste of time. And should make us wonder how a teacher got to present at a national conference.
Can we recognize a difference between the extraordinary and the second-rate? Teachers new to the Orff Schulwerk often can’t and I don’t blame them. They simply don’t know enough to judge. Just like I couldn’t tell the difference between a great dish in a cuisine I’m not familiar with and a bland one. Or a good performance of a Sumatran gamelan piece from a beginner’s version.
And yet I notice that even trained Orff teachers can’t always make distinctions between what constitutes depth and integrity and what is merely sharing stuff. Again, no agreed-upon criteria.
And it’s a cultural problem as well. The number of people willing to listen to the current crop of Republicans rant with no intellectual rigor, fact-checked responsibility or sense of social justice and compassion is frightening. Fast-food and shoddily made products abound, mindless entertainment and formula pop has elbowed out sophisticated jazz or classical music, easy faith that Jesus will save us overpowers the need to actually think about his difficult message. We have little criteria for what an evolved human being looks and feels and sounds like and are content to just take up space on the planet as a narrow slice of human possibility. And thus, when it comes to schools, we argue about the wrong things and treat children like vessels of obedience, compliance and good test scores.
I don’t care a hoot about a clever Orff lesson. I want this dynamic radical approach to, paraphrasing Kafka, be an axe to thaw the frozen heart, mind and body. I want a National Conference to remind us how to live music in the body, not put proscribed steps up on a Powerpoint. I want a workshop to get people up and moving and connecting with each other and connecting with themselves and connecting with the music inside of themselves. I want some reflection and discussion about the hours of thoughts that go into crafting five minutes of a flowing lesson. I want quality music and poetry and dance that soars far beyond the merely cute and contrived and touches our heart. I want tips on making the movement and the singing and the recorder playing and the percussion playing and the speaking more expressive, more alive, more vital. I don’t want the perfectly prepared lesson, but I want to see the results of aiming for one and the thinking that will adjust in the second lesson and the vulnerability that makes it all real and authentic. I want to be drawn into the teacher’s orbit and feel like the solar system of their way of thinking and doing is a happy place to be. Am I asking too much?
The 4H club. It’s a good place to start to meet the challenge Orff and Keetman set for us all these years back. Off to teach two workshops myself this morning, with all of this in mind.

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