Friday, February 5, 2016

On Its Own Terms: Part II

(The continuation of yesterday’s talk that included video footage)

Let’s watch some highlights from a recent trip we took with 45 Middle School kids to perform at the San Diego Orff National Conference. I hope you notice how alive in their bodies these kids are, how concentrated their focus, how connected they are with the music and with each other. Also note their comfort level with quite sophisticated music in quite diverse styles, how relaxed and natural they are in their performance, how joyfully engaged they are.  They learned everything by ear in some 10 rehearsals over two months and remembered every note.

You’ll see some snippets from a workshop they helped lead the next day, teaching adults what they knew, playing music and playing games with the adults. In one photo, you’ll see both the kids and adults singing with their arms around each other. This was a spontaneous idea on my part to help us feel and heal the grief of the terrorist attack in Paris that happened the day of the performance. We began singing We Shall Overcome and the kids were right with it, well-practiced in the art of music as a response to both the joy and terror of the world.

In that workshop, the adult participants asked questions to the kids and with no preparation, the kids were fighting for the microphone to answer. They were so wise in their response about what the music program meant for them. They talked about how music helped them connect with themselves and connect with others, how they can lose themselves in the music, how they valued the discipline of playing the right notes side-by-side with the freedom of expressing themselves in the solo. 

They know brain science: “These music teachers are teaching you as a kid and you start getting into the habit. It’s easier to learn things when you’re a kid because your brain is still developing. When you’re a grown-up, you’ll say, ‘I did this as a kid and can totally do it now!’

They know about social skills: “Music sets you up to work with other people because in a job setting, you need to work with others and you don’t want to be that awkward guy.”

They know about emotional intelligence: “Different songs bring out different feelings and it’s cool to share those feelings together with others singing the same songs.”

Wise kids indeed. Now here’s a video of my granddaughter when she was two painting while scat singing. Note how the arts are effortlessly integrated in her pre-verbal mind, combining Jackson Pollock with Ella Fitzgerald and Max Roach. And then my 92-year-old mother conducted my jazz band students who came to play at her home. Look how alive and happy she is. She had run out of words, but music she understood. We have ample proof of how music resonates the longest in the human psyche, awakening severe Alzheimer’s patients from their comatose trance to full aliveness within the first few notes of a song. That’s one of music’s gifts that nothing else can do in the same way. Certainly going over their old math tests won’t do that!

When I teach the little ones, I'm giving them precisely what they need in the moment, but also something that they can carry with them into their future, the tools to sing to their aging parents and the songs to remember when their musically-educated children sing to them. What will happen if we fail to give tomorrow's seniors what they needed and deserved when they were kids? Do you see how what we do with the two-year old now will echo 90 years into the future? That’s no theory. You’ve just seen it.

What will happen if we fail to give seniors what they needed and deserved when they were kids? What will be there for them at the end of life if we don’t give it at the beginning? And what will the middle feel like? These are not decisions to make—or refuse to make lightly. Something profound and real is at stake. This is the kind of discussion that we should be having at the school board meetings and so rarely do. Ask the people making the decisions: “What songs will bring you comfort? Who will sing then for you in your hour of need? Think about that and now, let’s vote.”

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