When if first came out, I was very excited about Howard Gardner’s work in Multiple Intelligences. In my field of music, it gave a needed uplift in dignity by elevating it from a “talent” to an “intelligence.” And likewise for my wife’s field as an art teacher. And my daughter’s genius at reading social cues and patterns.
Of course, the idea wasn’t exactly new. Some 800 years earlier, the Persian poet Rumi wrote a poem entitled “The Variety of Intelligences in Human Beings.” But since we equate intelligence with schools and our schooling in the West has mostly been confined to Linguistic and Logical-Mathematical intelligence, Gardner’s theory was a breath of fresh air, a researched, somewhat scientific (ie logical-mathematical expressed linguistically!) invitation to grow larger in a language schools understood.
Ironically, the practical work that grew out of it was—and is—mostly led by logical-mathematical/ linguistic thinkers and so music and dance and art and such has pretty much stayed in the corner where it always has been. That’s a post for another day.
But today I’m thinking of this because tomorrow I will give a rare concert in an even rarer setting—a bookstore! I’ll sprinkle in some poetry and some history and politics as well, but mostly I need to make sure I play some good music. And though I’ve been playing piano for 63 years and working on jazz for 48 of those years, I’m never sure how it’s going to turn out. And Gardner’s book gave me a hint as to why.
His basic thesis is that we are all endowed with each of the seven (later amended to eight) intelligences, but whether from upbringing or genetics or some spiritual daimon announcing our reason for our incarnation, we tend to lean heavily towards one or two. Of course, we know this as we think about the archetypal high school athlete or science nerd or popular head of the Student Council or mystical introvert or math wiz or school poet or artist or musician. But what are the signs that point you to your preferred intelligence? And in going through Gardner’s dense language, I hit upon a simple formula:
Left to yourself, what goes on in your head? What do you spend your time thinking about and what form are those thoughts in? So the linguistic type will be romping through fields of words while the musician will be hearing tones and rhythms and phrases, often singing to themselves (like Bobby McFerrin’s song “I’m My Own Walkman”) or incessantly drumming on tables and so on.
And that’s when it struck me. I’ve devoted over 45 years of my life as a music teacher and actually ascended to some high level of international recognition in that small field of Orff Schulwerk. I play a little bit of many instruments—guitar, banjo, ukulele, Bulgarian bagpipe, recorder, tinwhistle, accordion, Ghana xylophone, etc.— play a fair amount of piano almost every day (ask my upstairs neighbors!) and until recently, sang every day with children at school. And yet I don’t have a lot of music playing unasked in my head. I really don’t. Much more likely words. And having written this Blog for 10 years and kept a handwritten journal for 48 years and published 9 books, it shouldn’t come as a surprise—my preferred intelligence is much more linguistic than it is musical.
But isn’t that strange? To have devoted my life to music instead of journalism or poetry. Why?
I think my power as a music teacher is to make this intelligence accessible to people not gifted it as their go-to smarts. (Like me!) To reveal how much music can enlarge us and enliven us and comfort us and how we ourselves can perform it and create it even if we don’t walk the streets with songs in our head. Not only because at the root, all intelligences are connected and require each other, but because all are within our reach to access and our power to cultivate even if it doesn’t land us on the NBA basketball court or concert stage or art museum, etc.
So off I go tomorrow into the world of jazz performance where I don’t wholly belong, but hope to bring my whole self to the venture and see if I can touch a bit of the magical fairy dust that sometimes alights when the music is grooving. Check it out for yourself if you have a minute!