Saturday, August 27, 2016

Ancient Moral Gold

It’s rare that I have a workshop that I don’t look forward to with 100% enthusiasm and excitement. Today’s wasn’t exactly an exception, but after an intense five days with a group of people, it felt like I had hit the final chords and this added-on one-day workshop with 15 teachers from China felt like an unnecessary coda. I dug back while planning into material I hadn’t done in a while that was fresh for me, as well as counting on some of the tried-and-true warhorses.

Whenever I’ve had a sliver of doubt about a workshop or course—is it worth it missing the opening of school and should I have planned some down time at the beach instead of adding yet one more workshop?—invariably something happens that confirms that this simply had to be. And so it happened again today.

While lunching with the students, one told me that my reputation was large enough in China that someone had translated my name. They showed me the three characters and then the phonetic (pinyin?) translation—Gu De Jin.

“Gu” means ancient. Well, I wasn’t insulted. Yep, I’m old, but here I assumed old as in an “old soul,” in line with ancient wisdom. I certainly have a healthy respect for the Old Ways and sense of antiquity when visiting Machu Picchu or the Taj Mahal or the Roman Coliseum. I’ll take ancient.

“De” means morally upstanding, being a person of great integrity. Sounds good to me. Not in the finger-wagging scolding morality kind of way. I’m much more into situational ethics than hard and fast and unbendable rules. But I have kept in constant conversation with an integral vision and I think I’ve done a reasonably good job of holding true to it, speaking up when it was slightly dangerous and speaking out when people preferred me to be silent (for the wrong reasons). Sometimes when sending a brief bio, I quote a student (hmm. I think she was from Toronto!) who wrote “his work is a long, earnest and continuing struggle to present music of integrity in a way that affirms our collective humanity.” And there it is—integrity.

Finally, “Jin.” That’s gold and though I’m not in a King Midas search for riches, gold is the metaphor for the standard of worth and beauty. The king’s crown is gold, reflecting the light of the sun that brings heat and light wherever it shines. Gold is good.

That was the first notable moment. Since “Doug” carries no deep story or association with it (my Mom just liked the way it sounded), I like the idea of being named and like it even more when it connotes something worthy and positive. Thanks, China!

The second notable moment came when we had just finished playing my soul-stirring arrangement of “Jelly on a Plate.” Ha ha! No, it’s fun and useful and easy language for non-English speakers and musical enough. But when I asked someone to sing a pentatonic Chinese folk song, one woman stood up and stopped time with her beautiful voice singing a poignant melody. I’ve said before that I never met a folk music I didn’t like because the ancestors are present in it, I can hear the ancient (!) ones thickening the sound of the lone voice in the present.

And that was exactly the feeling in the room. We then added tasteful accompaniment on the Orff instruments and here was the moment when the past met the present to move forward into the future. When teaching Orff Schulwerk in cultures beyond the U.S. or Canada or its native Germany, one must be careful not to arrive with too much Western cultural baggage. Someone told me she grew up in Hong Kong thinking “Lightly Row” and “Hot Cross Buns” were Hong Kong folk songs. So the above was a great example of reminding folks to look beneath their feet at the same time that they fly from Shanghai to Toronto to further the music profession in China.

In short, it was a day well-spent and a good way to end a summer of extraordinary teaching and learning. I spent quality teaching time with some 200 teachers in Ghana, Spain, California and Toronto, helping change the world by attempting to present ancient and modern music with integrity. That’s gold.

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