Yesterday afternoon we took a photo of the 100 folks in our Orff Course gathered around their flags. 32 countries represented this year, 48 total from past years that have taken the trip to California to further their service to children and have a rollicking good time in the process. Besides that troublesome Antartica, every continent represented.
Yesterday evening we watched the Parade of the Nations in the Olympic openings. Just over 200 countries represented, gathered to compete and hoping to bring glory back to their country with a shiny gold or silver medal. They looked like they were also having a good time gathered with fellow athletes worldwide.
The similarities are worth noting. Through accident of birth or tragedy of exile or the good luck to choose one’s home, everyone feels a certain allegiance to their country. Part of who they are is shaped by the culture, the economy, the weather and biome, the language, the food, their neighbors and so on. But part is the mystery of their particular character, the way they are attracted to one slice of human potential and have chosen to cultivate that through rigorous discipline and commitment. The athletes drawn to develop the strength, coordination, grace, expression of the human body, the musicians and dancers likewise committing to different muscle groups connected to producing coherent, powerful and beautiful sounds. Crossing national borders, they may have more in common with the athletes/ musicians they meet than with their next-door neighbor back home. Those involved in similar pursuits understand each other even when the language, dress and customs are different.
The differences are also worth noting. Athletes compete, musicians connect. Com-petition seen rightly is a kind of sacred covenant, two or more people who worship the same god and petition that god together (“com” the prefix that means “with”—com-panions break bread together—“con pan” in Spanish, com-rades are roommates sharing the same chamber –camera in Latin, etc.). They play against each other to spur themselves to higher levels of achievement and glory. After a good sports match, you sometimes see the players on opposite teams thank each other with genuine admiration. So at its best, athletes also connect and jazz jam sessions and battle of the bands are filled with examples of how musicians can compete.
However, in our win and lose culture, the fans are mostly much more interested in the product (final score) of the game than the process of the competition. So the drama of the Olympics is who will bring home the gold. The commentators yesterday mentioned one country (I forget which) in which the athlete could be in danger of being murdered when he returned home if he didn’t win the medal, having brought disgrace on the nation. And Michael Phelps said in his interview that he was proud to be carrying the flag in the parade for “the greatest country on the earth.” (Really, Michael? Have you been following the news lately?) So lovely to have people gather from around the planet and I hope some of the athletes make some lifelong connections with fellow athletes from different places. (Do they?) But the general vibe is the same old sad story of who’s the best, who wins, who loses.
Meanwhile, at the Orff Olympics in the Carmel Valley, we gather together with the opposite intention. I teach a tongue-twister in English and then invite my students to share one from Finland, Italy, Germany, Spain, Colombia, Cuba, Brazil, Taiwan, Zimbabwe and none of them “win,” but we are all refreshed by the exchange. We create dances and music from the confluences of our backgrounds and something new in this world arises from the convergence of diverse energies. Because music and dance is the slice of humanity that chose us, we care about beauty more than points, aim for connection—with ourselves, with our musical ancestors, with our fellow musicians and dancers, with the act of creation itself. And because we are teachers, we make it all yet larger with the noble act of passing it on to children. Help them make the connections they need to grow into a whole human being and refresh the world with the convivial connected conversations we so desperately need.
So while the helicopters hover over the Rio stadium and the TV cameras all point there, one hundred beautiful souls in a small retreat center in the Carmel Valley are holding their own Orff Olympics that few will ever hear of, but the world will benefit from. 100 teachers teaching a few hundred kids means some 25 to 50,000 kids will have their days made just a bit brighter by the efforts these teachers have made to bring them great music and dance artfully and joyfully taught. That’s newsworthy, yes?