Part active workshop, sermon, stand-up comedy, lecture, concert, class, wedding ceremony, funeral, ritual, celebration, political rally, poetry recitation, storytelling, movie theater with themes that overlap including pedagogy, philosophy, psychology, mythology, history, political analysis, poetry, music theory, music practice, education, humanism— how to describe the Orff workshops I’m blessed to lead? I was lucky to inherit this format created by Carl Orff, Gunild Keetman and their followers, expanded by my mentor Avon to touch on other matters beyond music and movement activities and sequences and luckier yet to craft to my own peculiar way of thinking and doing in which everything I’ve taken time to investigate and learn and stamp with my own character has a public place to stretch out and exercise and share with others. Though the teachers mostly come for engaging musical activities and lesson plans and intriguing ways to develop them, they end up considering a host of other things that they didn’t know they signed up for. Occasionally a few are grouchy about that, but mostly I feel people’s hungry to publicly air what so many of us are privately experiencing, both the despair and the hope, the shame and the splendor. After so many years, I’ve gotten more adept at weaving some big technicolor dreamcoat and can go seamlessly from some deep moment about a child’s breakthrough that touches our personal soul or challenging historical story that is still echoing in today’s news and harming our collective soul and then in the next moment, jump into a fun version of “Roses are red” without missing a beat. If I was a master jazz pianist or motivational speaker, everyone would understand what I do, show up with a certain expectation and neatly assign me to my category. But there simply is no precedent for this hard-to-explain format.
I’ve given five workshops in the last nine days in all sorts of venues with folks from all levels of experience. Some 26 experienced Orff teachers last Saturday that have worked often with me, an in-service with 7 teachers mostly new to Orff, a class with 10 classroom teachers-in-training considering where music will fit into their teaching and then some 85 music teachers in L.A. and 25 in Santa Barbara that ranged from folks I’ve known for 30 plus years to college students checking out something that might change their life. On top of teaching 8 classes a day to kids between 3 and 14 years old at school every day last week and playing music for 90 year-olds at the Senior Residence. On Friday, someone on the crew from the film project documenting my last year at school asked me what drugs I took to maintain this pace and my first answer was, “Music! It’s free and there are no bad side effects!”
But the deeper answer is the good fortune to stumble into something that fits the way you’re put together and the yet greater fortune of finding a community that wants it, needs it, organizes opportunities and shows up at the event—and then pays you for it!
And finally, the freedom to shape the day in a way that uses all of me. I am a god in my little domain of the Orff workshop, but not the kind obsessed with my own power to shame and blame and show my omnipotence. I’d like to think that I use my powers to release the untapped powers of each person in the room in a community celebration filled with laughter, connection, conviviality, extraordinary music easily accessible to all, stirring dance, childlike play, a few moments of profound silence and attention, and some tears at the end. It is work and takes work to plan, lead, create, sustain, send out notes, wait three hours in the airport for the delayed plane and so on, but it is work that gives rather than depletes energy. It’s simply impossible to imagine what my life would have been without it. And as always, the proper response is…gratitude.
May it continue to grow and prosper!