Saturday, August 6, 2016

The Music of Strangers: The Carmel Valley Road Ensemble


Just saw the movie, The Music of Strangers about Yo Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble. Besides almost jumping out of my chair when I saw brief appearances by two San Francisco School alum parents (Niels Swinkels and Bobby McFerrin, and then appearances by the Korean drummer Don Won who our kids played with in the World Music Festival), the movie itself was so moving. The message was exactly in line with everything we are doing here at the International Orff Course on Carmel Valley Road—bringing strangers of various nations to come together in music and bringing it back out into world, Yo Yo with performances and occasional workshops, us with teaching kids, workshops and occasional performances. The Silk Road group reaches some two million people, the Carmel Valley Road group some 50,000 kids, but the numbers don’t matter as much as the shared vision—music bringing healing, meaning, comfort and happiness to anyone and everyone who has the good fortune to cross its path.

I’m so sorry I don’t have Yo Yo Ma’s talent, connections and leadership skills to take this vision out further into the world, but hey, I’m doing the best with what I’ve got. 280 kids at The San Francisco School, 100 teachers each year at this Orff Course, another 100 at the Jazz, Intro and Master Course, more in the Orff-Afrique Course and then hundreds more in workshops and courses around the globe. And then some of these folks going on to train teachers themselves and isn’t that a pleasure, that sense of continuity, of moving it forward.

Indeed, that was the major theme of the film, both the joy of passing it on and the grief of witnessing the line broken and shattered by the horror of war and dictatorship. So many of the musicians in exile, suffering even beyond what music can heal seeing their country torn apart by hatred, ignorance, fanaticism. Or tradition endangered by economics, as the Chinese shadow-puppeteer lamented the lack of interest from the young in his art form because of the intensive labor needed to make the puppets and the low economic return of keeping the culture’s big stories alive through theater. A similar feeling to music teachers coming here from all corners of the globe to refresh themselves at the fountain of deep Orff pedagogy, only to return home to find their programs cut or their music school closed. The perpetual war between those who would limit, narrow and shut us down and those who work to open, expand and bring us more fully alive.

Well, Mr. Yo Yo Ma, thank you for using your gifts on behalf of humanity and please know that many more are doing the same in tiny corners of the world where the TV cameras never come. Maybe we could collaborate someday?

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