Carl Orff liked to describe his approach of elemental music education as a wildflower that blooms naturally where conditions are ripe. Too much cultivation would spoil it and if the soil is not ready, nothing will blossom. It’s a beautiful image and a good reminder to us all to try to keep that wild quality in an indoor school system that runs on strict watering schedules and expects uniform flowers with predictable outcomes.
Yesterday, our fabulous 6th grade of 32 students got an introduction to Brazilian samba dance from our dear friend Thais. She came here from Rio to lead adult groups in the San Francisco and Oakland Carnaval celebrations and was happy to come work with our kids. She began in a circle with a body percussion version of the bell pattern and then began demonstrating steps as myself and some colleagues started playing some of the music. The kids followed her steps and as she moved around the room, they did as well. A moment’s pause and we invited kids who wanted to play to join us and because some of them heard these rhythms from all the previous years of school samba contests, they jumped right into the patterns effortlessly. The other kids spread out around the room, reviewed some steps with Thais and spontaneously starting doing small choreographies with the kids next to them. Noticing this, I pointed to the groups and had them come to the front one at a time to demonstrate. When the last group had come forth, we changed into a circle and invited with a gesture individuals to come into the center and dance. All of this without a pause in the music or a single verbal instruction. The music also was changing tempo, stopping and starting with whistle signals. When the clock announced time was up, the band led the circle out the door and into the yard for a bit before officially disbanding so the kids could go to the next class. Heaven!
That was the wildflower at work. The conditions were ripe—kids primed for dance, eager to share, able to pick up steps and rhythmic patterns instantly, attuned to the flow of the group energy—and the wildflower bloomed colorfully in front of our eyes. It was not a music class, it was a musical happening, a community event, a spontaneous celebratory moment entirely in the spirit of the Brazilian culture that inspired it. Precisely the kind of musical culture myself and my colleagues hope to create in our school community. And it echoed onward today as the 1st through 5th graders practiced their small group choreographies for next week’s event, not only with good rhythmic style, but also with a clear sense of form and structure and choreography, working it all out without a single adult guiding them. It is a joy to behold.
Hey, if you’re not busy, come by next Wednesday and see and hear for yourself. 1:45 at The San Francisco School. O le le!