It’s no secret that I care deeply about enticing beginnings, connected middles and satisfying endings, whether it be in a piece of music, a novel, a film, a music class or a human life. My life teaching music and my life lived as music have joined together and are now one and the same. A mere 12 days ago, I gave an opening class to this group of 16 teachers gathered in Salzburg that enticed us all to jump into the deep end of the water, the place where the waters are most refreshing, the colors of the fish swimming below most vibrant, the effort to stay afloat enough to keep us alive and alert and in shape without exhausting us. Sharks are a possibility, but we protect each other and they sense that they are not wanted here.
And so class after joyful class, we dove in, doing the hard work of revelation. Diving deep and coming up for air to show and share the treasure we found at the bottom, those hidden or timid parts of ourselves we put out of the world’s clutches that we now could claim and own and publicly celebrate. Yes, the waters got frothy and turbulent at times, it’s part of the deal and we each of us finally accepted it even as our habitually frightened selves were cautious or distrusting of our immense power and beauty. And all of this happened side-by-side with the details of how to create and sustain music classes with children, right next to the safe territory of important skills and concepts like scales and rhythms and the architectural forms of music. Our minds were active, confused, clear and engaged. Our bodies were active, struggling, mastering and fully alive. Our ears were listening, listening and again, listening. Our hearts were open, vulnerable, hurting, healing. And for all but two people, all of this in a second language!!
In our last 90-minute session that stretched to 150, we began with the exact same opening as 12 days ago, now experienced differently because we had become different people. Same point in the circle, but higher up the spiral. After a song and dance, a little talk about how we might be different. How this work allowed me to feel closer to these folks in 12 days than with someone I’ve worked with at school for 42 years. How the road to this piece of paradise goes through the hard territory of all our childhood—and adulthood—wounds, hurts and disappointments rearing their ugly heads to haunt us and make us doubt. How our vision of the world as it could be is both glorious and terrifying because now we expect ourselves to fulfill and create it. And up come the doubts—can we do it? Will our local cultures—voices inside of us/ family/ friends/ school/ political climate/ etc.—encourage us, ignore us or beat us down? Because once they get wind of the fact that we might not accept the commonplace, the dull, the narrow, the mundane, the hurtful practices that pass for a life, they’re on the lookout to bring us down. It takes a special kind of strength and support to hold steady and keep our heads high.
And that’s who these folks have become for each other and hopefully, one inch deeper and stronger because I both showed this practice in my classes and spoke clearly and openly about it. In the quality of their participation, the quality of their listening, the quality of their comments, I felt that they were with me each step of the way. And then as they spoke in their closing circle, I was affirmed in my perception. They got it. All of it. The terror and the beauty, the hope and the doubt, the clear knowledge that they had some 10,000 hours of work ahead of them.
But such a fun and satisfying 10,000 hours!! None of it casual or easy, but all of it worthy and joyful at its root—no mere getting through drudgery to earn a piece of paper. Time spent playing with those glorious little beings we call children, time spent playing with those equally glorious adults with their childlike selves still alive and glowing.
In the closing circle, I had the good sense to shut up and just deeply listen, despite the thousand affirming comments I could have made. But when one asked me directly, “What do you think of all this crying we’re doing?” I answered simply: “I love it. Camus said 'Live close to tears' which means no hiding from life’s terror and glory. Look it full in the face, sing to it, dance with it, play with it, converse with it and yes, the tears will come and also the laughter, a deep authentic laughter. The kind we had every day of our classes."
From the closing talking circle to my new favorite song, “Gonna Build Me a Mountain” followed by the tender Estonian song with heads on backs, breathing together and feeling our mutual vibrations and then a final Kiss of Peace (new for me but perfect for this group) to each person in turn around the circle. An exuberant body percussion phrase we learned with the exclamation point at the end, “LI!!” (well, this a private joke)—and we’re done.
But then the coda. Lunch outside on this clear, hot summer’s day in March. Sitting in the nearby park. Nobody seemed to want to leave. Final photos and hugs—again—and off to the train station I went. And now writing this on the train on the way to Munich and the next chapter.
Yes, every group is special and worthy of remembrance and many times I have said, “But this one…!!!" Comparisons are odious, but I say again that it was an extraordinary honor and privilege to be with each and every one of these luminous beings and I will frame our final group photo and keep it on my desk to greet them each morning and remember what beauty and love we have wrought. 9 bows and Ashay, ashay to Mohsen, Mona, Mehrnaz, Dena, Anna, Sencer, Ezgi, Duygu, Gustavo, Diego, Pilar, Hana, Jessika, Li, James, Julia— Special Course 2017.