Monday, July 24, 2017

In the Details

Wisdom tells us that we should not move through life seeking the approval of others, counting our Facebook “likes,” fishing for compliments in the hopes that something outside of ourselves will tell us that we are lovable and worthy. But what does Wisdom know? Of course we are constantly checking in on how others react to us and what they approve and what they complement! And while it’s true that we should always seek second opinions (the guy who wrote up Fred Astaire’s screen test said, “Can’t act. Can’t sing. Can dance a little.”), ultimately we probably do need to consult something beyond approval of others, some inner guide that tells us we’re on the right track.

But don’t we cherish those moments when we feel seen and known and affirmed? Like when Milt Jackson listened to my 5th graders playing my arrangement of “The Cookie Jar” and I asked him at the end, “Well, what did you think?” His reply: “Oh, man! That was marvelous!” was all the affirmation I needed to confirm that I had stumbled on something important in my mixing of Orff Schulwerk and Jazz.

A lovely African-Canadian woman in my recent Halifax Jazz Course gave me another cherished comment in a note she wrote:

“I was moved by the practical competencies of carefully crafted microsteps of progress that led us, as a group, to achieve graciously, each from our own level of understanding and experience, musical products that were satisfying and fulfilling, even at the most elementary, beginning stages of jazz expression.”

Wow. Such eloquent expression here: “Practical competencies of carefully crafted microsteps of progress.” Besides the musical alliteration of the hard c’s and the cr’s, she got a huge part of what I’m trying to pass on. There’s the soulful, vibration-to-vibration whole body, voice and spirit that a teacher transmits and perhaps that’s the most powerful and important. But for music teachers who are in it for the long haul, crafting curriculums with young children over years and hundreds of lessons, charismatic delivery often is not enough. The devil is in the details—and so is the angel!

And so I care greatly about those details, those “carefully crafted microsteps of progress” and care that teachers understand that while personal style and musical charisma is unique to each of us and not possible to precisely imitate, the actual detailed steps about how to break down information and build it up again is openly available to all. My book Now’s the Time is the opposite of a random collection of arrangement and activities. Each game, activity, piece of music is complete in itself, but also grows out of the thing before and leads to the thing that follows.

Thank you, Gail, for both your own spirited and infectiously fun participation and your wisdom to see the importance of sequence and carefully thought-out steps. When artful expression and scientific pedagogy join, we indeed (as you say) can open the “hearts, minds and soul of the children we teach.”

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