As mentioned yesterday, I finished the Madrid Jazz Course on Sunday night and began the Barcelona Orff Course on improvisation Monday morning. This is my idea of fun.
One of my big principles of music education is to teach each class, each series of classes, each year—well, heck, each lifetime!—as a flowing piece of music that has an enticing beginning, connected middle and satisfying end. So I have a repertoire of pieces that are great to start off the venture, songs-games-or dances that give a feeling of welcome, of inclusion, that get the energy flowing, the laughter bubbling, the connections between people in the group going and set the tone for the delights to come. (Likewise, another repertoire to finish a course, that captures and focuses the emotion, the joy of having been together, the sadness of leaving, the period at the end of the sentence, the explosive or trickling off note that transitions us from paradise back to clock time.)
95% of the time, I begin in silence and teach with gesture, tone, movement, sound immediately copied. But today, I wove an opening talk into teaching the came Down in the Valley. It felt good. And so here it is:
There are two directions we go in this life— up or down. Rising or falling. (Sing “Rise, Sally, rise.”)
Why are we here on summer vacation instead of at the beach? I think we all have a desire to rise higher in this life, to climb the mountain of possibility and get a better view of what’s around us and see more clearly, to not be content with who we are, marvelous as that may be, but to actively work to create a slightly better version of ourselves. So we have given up our beach time to improve in the craft of teaching for the excellent reason to teach our children better, to give them more of what they truly need, to help them feel welcomed and appreciated and known and ultimately loved. It’s glorious on top of the mountain and the view is breathtaking, but the path is steep and it takes an effort that needs some encouragement. And so we sing “Rise, Sally, rise!”
But it also turns out that just as we rise up the mountain, so do we need to go down to the valley. (Sing “We’re going down to the valley”). The view on top of the mountain is lovely, but there are details at our feet that we also need to pay attention to and notice. We need contact with the earth, need to observe the ants carrying leaves to their nests, need to get our hands dirty in the garden and work the soil so we can feel the soul of this life. We need to peel back the layers of the adults we have become and remember the child inside at the bottom of it all, the one who is perpetually fresh and curious and dreaming of what yet might be. So often at these workshops, that neglected child springs back to life and not only are you personally refreshed, but the children you teach will recognize that re-awakened child in you as you share music and dance with them.
(Sing: “We’re going down to the valley, one-by-one.”) So we start off alone on the journey, fill out the registration form sitting at our desk and then arrive here at the workshop site with others who have done the same. (Sing “Let me see you make your motion, one by one.”) And here you are, in a class like no other. Because here we want to see who you are and how you move and how you sing and how you think and how you feel and there’s no place to hide. So you show us your motion, just choose one of the many motions you are and then we sing “”We can do your motion…” and you see yourself reflected back 80 times by the circle. Whether you love the attention or are terrified by it, you will have the moment when you are the exact center of the universe. But don’t get too attached. There are 80 other centers of the universe. And so we sing “Now you go and choose another, one by one.” And what’s the next verse? “We’re going down to the valley two-by-two…”
When you find something good, share it! So now we have two and soon we’ll have four and then eight and then sixteen and so on. The momentum is powerful and suddenly all this joy and freedom is not just personal, but collective, a whole community celebrating together. And when you take it back to the children, another geometric progression begins. This is one of the most powerful ways we can begin to heal a broken world, from 1 to 2 to 4 to 8 to 16 and it doesn’t take long for that number to multiply into the hundreds, thousands, millions. So let’s go!
A nice way to begin an Orff course. And so off we go!