It’s an unusual career, to be sure, that tapped me on the shoulder all those years back. It promised nothing in terms of riches, status, ease, comfort, but offered fun, pleasure, challenge and perpetual surprise, a kind of 24/7 Carnival of joyful celebration. But like anything worthy, the route to the Funhouse passed through relentless work, study, reflection and disciplined practice as rigorous as micro-surgery.
At the end of the matter lay the capacity to make children happy. And so I passed three days doing exactly that. A roomful of happy children is an antidote to all our disappointments in this life. There is a different energy in the air than the bus full of silent people trudging to work, the office full of seated adults glued to computers, the juvenile hall filled with sadness and fear. You can reach out and touch the excitement, taste the squeals of delight. The work and play I shared with some 400 children at the Munich International School was a stone tossed into the pond of possibility that sent ripples out to the future and created memories that sustain and inspire.
How do I know? Reports from teachers, parents and the children themselves that after the first day, the children came home visibly excited and eagerly looked forward to the next day. They greeted me with a smile when we passed in the hall and were sincerely sad that I had to leave, making me promise that I would return. Boys and girls alike, little ones and 10-year-olds, thanked me for such fun and wished I could stay longer. The last class of each was a summary of the steps we had taken that culminated in a performance of sorts, kids playing for kids dancing and all singing. They felt the satisfaction of our three-day journey that took them from Point A to Point D and without the annoyance of proving to me what they learned with right answers on paper. Instead, the proof was in the pudding of performance and each, while still needing work for a stage presentation down the line, had the sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.
And for folks intrigued about the pleasures of the power to make children happy, here’s the good news. None of it is dependent upon charisma, excessive talent or a rock-star ambition. All of it is within reach with a few simple ingredients:
1. An unshakeable faith in the potential, musical and otherwise, of each and every child.
2. An interest in the minds and hearts of children, a willingness to enter their world and wrap your teaching around their way of thinking and feeling.
3. An ability to keep the motor running once the musical impulse is released and drive it forward with some sense of direction.
4. A relaxed attitude about the time kids need to figure things out and enough kindness to encourage rather than scold them. While still being clear and strict about the things that matter.
5. Choosing material and activities that fit children at different stages of development and are worthy of their time and effort.
There’s more, of course, but that’s a good start.
In the MIS school hallway, there is a quote from Jimi Hendrix:
“When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.”
Yes, but. We all have the need and desire to feel powerful, but the deeper question is what kind of power and for what use? I suggest that the power to make children happy is a power worth loving. And I do.