Woke up refreshed from a simple dream. 1st graders in my music class went to the drums before class began and started to play. Without a single word of guidance from me, they fell into coherent patterns, listened and responded to each other, felt the end of the music and arrived at a perfect cadence that ended with that delicious silence that follows music’s last note. A visitor was witnessing the class and sat with her mouth agape, astounded at what the children could do. It was a dream, but it could have been true.
So I woke up with a line from Whitman echoing in my mind:
“Do you see O my brothers and sisters? It is not chaos or death—it is form, union, plan—it is eternal life, it is Happiness.”
That’s my experience in music. Put a kid and a drum or a xylophone together and it will begin with chaos and formless exploration. But because we are designed for form, union, plan, eventually coherence starts to emerge. It helps to have the guidance of an adult to offer models, skills, encouragement, but left to our own devices, we would soon tire of random banging and start to latch on to coherent patterns. This is no theory. I’ve witnessed it time and again and created many structures whereby that miracle might unfold. Perhaps this is what keeps me hopeful amidst every reason to despair. Behind us, ahead of us, around us, within us, is a harmonious music always playing, but hidden by our clouds of ignorance and fears and bad choices. Whitman felt it, heard it, saw it and derived an entire body of work and a life from that vision.
I took his book out of the bookshelves to confirm the above quote. Ah Walt. That cover with a photo of the bearded prophet, that book with the old book smell (in your face, Kindle!), my name in Bic pen on the inside cover and my underlines for quotes like the above from my 16-year old self. My love affair with Whitman began with an English class assignment, but went far beyond to a steady companion carried along when I roamed about in parks. He was like a loving parent with his arms spread, beckoning me to take my first baby steps toward full-blown Vision, watching me fall and get up, encouraging me, embracing me.
I looked through that old book this morning, noting what I underlined, what had jumped off the page for me almost 50 years ago (!!). In his prose preface to the 1855 edition of his poems Leaves of Grass, I found a quote that in some ways became a Manifesto for me. The kind of thing Whitman might have said to a graduating college class if he had been invited as the Commencement Speaker. A dream that could be true, that has been true for me (with some tweaking),that might be true for us all if we attuned ourselves to the things that really matter.
“Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults you own soul and you very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words, but in the silent line of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body…”