Today the “Orff Through the Ages” class took a field trip to the Hazelton Retirement Residence in Toronto. People asked me before the trip what my technique was working with older folks and I replied, “I just play great songs and see if they enjoy it.”
And enjoy it they did! One- hour non-stop music and faces alight with joy, hands dancing, toes tapping. I do have some strategies—like playing without written music, moving immediately from one song to the next and thinking in groups (20’s jazz songs, happy songs, travel songs, waltzes, etc.), being alert to variety (major/minor/ slow/ fast/ 4/4/ 3/4 etc.) and just generally keeping the flow going. It helped to have 27 music teachers with me, who jumped up to dance the Charleston or played great alto sax on the jazz tunes or accompanied the ukulele songs with spoons or played a flute duet. It was a rich and joyful hour and from the first minute, I kept watching a woman who knew all the words and sang with such joy—and stood up and danced on one number!Afterwards I thanked her and she thanked me and we kept thanking each other and when I complemented her on singing with such happiness, she said, “Well, this was my music. How could I not be happy to sing it again?”
When the residents left, I huddled with the teachers to de-brief. They were moved as folks always are when I take them to such an event and I took the opportunity to remind them that they had chosen a field that offers perpetual refreshment. If you know how to get straight to the music without worrying about winning the competition and remember to watch the people or children receiving it with such joy, then you open up a two-way exchange. What you put out comes flowing back to you, often amplified as 20 people echo your solo voice. If you teach with passion and energy, the energy comes back to you.
It’s like a pond fed by an underground spring that keeps the waters fresh and moving. A pond that stands alone with no input and output is stagnant, but music sets up a cycle where the freshwater comes in, fills you to the brim, then flows out to the greater ocean, eventually coming back through the water cycle to that spring. That’s how I can teach for 41 years and still be excited about tomorrow’s class. That’s how I can get into Toronto at 4 am, sleep 4 hours and teach a full day without sagging.
As I was leaving, two of the residents asked, “So when are you moving to Toronto?” I’ve applied a few times to be considered for the Music Education Grammy and not surprisingly, am always passed over. But a response like that was Grammy enough. Let’s just say I won the Granny Grammy.