Boys and girls come out to play. The moon doth shine as bright as day.
Leave your supper and leave your sleep. And join your playfellows in the street.
Come with a whoop and come with a call. Come with goodwill or not at all.
Up the ladder and down the wall. A hae-penny loaf will serve us all.
ˆ- English nursery rhyme
What a glorious day. It was the first of my annual three-workshop series, the ones I’ve been doing unbroken for 40 years. The whole morning was games, games and yet more games. Who decided that adults needed to stop playing like this? Why don’t workplaces gather and whoop and call and join their colleagues as playfellows in song and dance, circling in cosmic geometric patterns, line formations, partner claps and free spontaneous skipping away from your place and back? So much goodwill released in that room and a physical enactment of every worthy humanitarian and spiritual value one could hope for. So many moments when each blended in to the swooping and swirling movements, joined voices as one large voice, coordinated the different drummers we each march to into a swingin’ groove larger and more powerful than each of its parts alone. And equally times to stand out, to step up and proclaim the unique expressive genius each of us are in full view of the community, refreshing the world with our point of view that no one else can offer in quite the same way.
And isn’t that what art is? At once a wild field to let that little girl and boy we carry inside loose, send her or him hollerin’ with unbridled joy skipping amongst the pretty white daisies, and a safe container with boundaries that protect that vulnerable fragile child, give it a safe haven to leave and return to as its tender psyche feels fit. Indeed, many of the games were structured so that each moved in unison in the comfort of safety of the mother’s arms and then ventured out into the world, taking those needed bold steps away from the mother to the edge of the unknown beckoning horizon, always with the sure knowledge that they could run back to the mother’s welcoming arms before taking the next journey out. This play of going away and coming back ritually enacted in the games, a physical, living metaphor for the life we’re actually living.
In the workshop, I told the story I heard on the radio of the prisoner at San Quentin incarcerated for murder, who attended a drama class the prison offered. He entered the room with his body tattooed from head to toe, symbolic of the full tough-guy armor he had cultivated over his lifetime to protect that frightened little boy who had been wounded by the culture—his family, his school, his life on the streets that demanded hiding for survival. He learned to cover his heart with the impenetrable steel of shutting down feeling and in that setting, who can blame him? But of course, it led to trouble and hanging out with other armored peers and ended with him murdering someone.
That’s the person he brought to drama class and slowly realized that no one in that class was interested in that guy. They wanted to see the other one, the one hiding quaking with fear and alone and miserable in some tiny corner of his heart. Bit by bit, he felt safe enough to feed that little boy a few crumbs of bread and then whole meals and gain enough trust that he would come out and stand up and step forward and speak. All through the jeweled speech of Shakespeare in the realm of the artistic imagination. To hear this man describe his transformation left me breathless with amazement— it’s never too late to make friends with that child we carry inside. And art is one of the best paths to walk on with the little fellow.
Expressive Body, Open Heart, Flexible Mind is the title of my workshop series and is designed to help teachers set the bar high in using our work to keep actual children’s spirit well-fed and nourished so there’s no need to go into hiding. While so many keep blabbering on about how good music is for kids’ math scores, I try to re-direct the conversation to the real power of art, the part that can make or break a person’s life and even when broken, can help restore and heal even a hard-hearted murderer at San Quentin. That’s the conversation we should be having. Instead we get distracted by how to use Smart boards or whether kids should learn 6/8 meter before 3/ 4
I love speaking like this at the workshops I’m privileged to give. I get inspired by the energy of the room and the quite beautiful dance, movement, singing and music I get to witness in these dedicated music teachers giving up Saturday on behalf of teaching their kids better. After the great fun of the games, they get pin-drop silent as I talk, listening from some deep part of themselves now opened from what we’ve just done. And then we jump up and go at it again—“Here we go loopty-loo, here we go loopy li…”
The Incredible String Band decades ago did a version of “Boys and girls come out to play” and added a chorus:
“Farewell sorrow. Praise God the open door. I ain’t got no home in this world anymore.”
That’s the delicious feeling of freedom that can come simply from circling around the Mulberry Bush with a bunch of colleagues fast becoming friends. That workaday world of toil, drudgery, ill-will, paying attention to all the wrong things, the one that sends our little boy or girl, into hiding, that’s the world we leave behind as we dance through the open door to the freedom we were meant for.
Next workshop is January. Come play with us!