Well, hello 2 am. Here we are again in the middle of a jet-lagged Singapore night. We have to stop meeting like this. Really. But it is an interesting time to hang out and there’s plenty to do. Catch up on e-mails, read, brush up on Solitaire skills. And yes, a full day of teaching ahead, but the first two days have been fine, wholly energized by the privilege of sharing my life’s work with eager, fun, attentive and appreciative children who leave class humming the song they’ve just learned to play, sing and dance.
Singapore joins Spain, Salzburg, Sao Paolo, Sydney and Scotland as S-places where I seem to have taught a lot. 2008, 2011, 2015, 2016, 2017, to be exact, at three different International Schools, a University, a Conference, an Orff Chapter workshop. In my spare time, I’ve been on the Singapore Flyer Ferris Wheel, strolled the Botanic Gardens, seen the aquarium, went to a Balinese gamelan rehearsal in Little India, sipped a Singapore Sling at Raffles Bar, enjoyed the mix of Indian, Malay and Chinese cuisine and culture, walked pass the uninviting posh stores in the mage-Malls.
It’s an interesting place, to be sure, but a bit too much on the consumer than the cultural side for my taste (though as is always the case with places with lots of money, plenty of opportunities to hear all kinds of music or see theater and dance). But except for the buzzing energy in one-storied buildinged Little India, I’m not feeling much of the spirit of the street or the village —it gets buried under the pop-music blaring in the Malls and people mostly out shopping for goods. Then there’s the whole government response to marijuana and chewing gum.
But I don’t come here to either judge or wholly partake of the place. It’s the great gift of working with all sorts of kids doing what I do best that brings satisfaction to the blog-titled “traveling music teacher.” And now alongside the always-fun and musically-satisfying activities and chances to help kids feel more musical than they’ve ever been and help their teachers consider the pedagogical details to apply to their own inspired teaching, I’m talking to the kids more than ever about kindness and social justice. Mostly in the context of the African and African-American material, but not exclusively.
If I’m to be remembered for any particular talent, I would be happy that someone noticed my honed-over-years ability to talk to 3-year olds and 8th graders about the same subject in a way that makes sense to them. I put the story of politically-approved, religiously-sanctioned, economically-motivated and pseudo-scientifically-justified human cruelty in the context of the child’s world of being nice to friends and knowing what it’s like to be teased or bullied or ignored and how brave one must be to break the cycle of harm. And I’m noticing a profound hush falling over the room these days as kids ponder what I’m saying. They’re really listening.
And I often end with, “My generation did our best to stop these things, but we didn’t do well enough. I hope you can do better.” And then, of course, a song to complete it all.
I am completely convinced that, in the words of the Albert King song, “had we told it like it was, it wouldn’t be like it is.” The fact that we don’t tell kids the truth about what happened before and why or tell it in a bland and matter-of-fact way (“Slavery in the United States lasted from 1619 to 1863…”) has everything to do with why we haven’t been able to heal the gaping wound of institutional racism and sexism and classism and all the other isms that have grown fat on our silence and reared their ugly heads with renewed vigor and power. Schoolteachers and parents, take note. And I’m not talking about leftist political indoctrination here. That’s boring and unfair to the child. I’m talking about counting on the inherent compassion and sense of justice children feel even as they grab their sister’s toys and finding a way to connect the personal with the historical forces at the child’s level. It’s not easy, but it’s necessary.
So, 2am, I hoped to use this time to steer slightly left of the political catastrophe and just return to the blog’s original “confessions of a traveling music teacher” begun six years ago with my trip to Korea. Give the armchair traveler the feeling of being in another place enjoying the perspective of wandering through and witnessing the passing parade of humanity. But these days the true north of every confession is the re-doubled commitment to keep revealing all the Emperors with no clothes while doing the day-to-day healing work of laughing with and loving children and the adults who teach them. And now it’s 3 am and time to restore myself with needed sleep so I can work and play with full-energy today.