Monday, May 2, 2011

Love Letter to the Orffans

The poet Gary Snyder was once asked how it felt to be constantly swimming against the stream. With a twinkle in his eyes, he answered: “I’m in line with the larger flow.” In times when I feel I don’t belong, that has given me some consolation. My community of friends includes an Afghan refugee living in Turkey, a homeless man wandering across Japan, a recluse who hardly left her room, a sociologist’s nightmare growing up in a neighborhood called “The Battlefield” whose career began in jail for young boys, another whose parents were imprisoned while he worked in a toxic factory and so on. (Rumi, Basho, Emily Dickinson, Louis Armstrong, Charles Dickens, for those who are curious.) The folks I feel I belong with are people I’ve never met, but know intimately, people who don’t know me (or do they?), people who I can’t call up to go to the movies.

That’s well and good as far as it goes, but let’s be honest, it’s not far enough. We need a living breathing community to sustain us, to inspire us, to keep us moving, to keep us connected, to keep us honest. “To find where we belong and to whom” I wrote in the last entry and that seems to be my central issue. As a Jew brought up Christian, a Buddhist who meditates alone instead of at the Zen Center, a jazz pianist who doesn’t play in clubs, a writer who doesn’t lunch with other writers at the café, I’ve chosen a weird path of voluntary exile, with a foot in many doors, but still wondering which one to walk through and call home.

So it was good timing to pack up the car on Friday after an intense week of Spring concert preparation and have three hours in the car with my friend and colleague James Harding driving down to the weekend Orff Miniconference in the Carmel Valley. Lately, the colleague part of the relationship has far overshadowed the friend, every spare minute spent with an agenda of things to handle—"photographer for concert? have you seen the missing E bar on the glockenspiel? when can we go over the registrations from the summer course? how many CD’s do we have to sell for the Salzburg performance?"—a breathless river of things to take care of. So it was a great pleasure to have time to unwind and let conversation flow and settle into a calmer and deeper vein.

And so we arrived at the Hidden Valley Music Seminars, a retreat center used mostly for opera companies, but also the site of our Mini-conference that has rotated every two years since 1987. 
90 people not only playing, singing and dancing together in the formal workshops and but eating and drinking and sleeping together (well, not in the Biblical sense— but maybe some?), with jam sessions around the piano in the barn going into the wee hours of the morning, walks around the beautiful grounds, massages in the sun on the green lawn. With the perfect weather, it was two and a half days of earthly paradise. And after my Heaven and Hell moments mentioned in my last entry, it was just what the doctor ordered. In the midst of one of the workshops, I paused for a moment and thought: 
“These are my people. This is where I belong.”

Many of the folks I’ve known for over thirty years, doing this outlaw work side-by-side and coming together at National Conferences, re-connecting in each of the three workshops the Orff Chapter sponsors, showing up at each other's Winter Holiday Programs or Spring Concerts. There is also a constant flow of fresh vibrant young folks to welcome into the clan, some of whom will take the torch and carry it forward for the next generation. Like any group of people on the planet, we have our squabbles, arguments, jealousies, betrayals—no exemption from the human drama here—but when you’re in for the long haul, you find your way through them. Especially when you have to dance together in the workshop or sing side-by-side in a moving South African song that reminds us—“you are in me and I am in you.” So if any of you Orff colleagues— old or new, young or old, man or woman, timid or bold—are out there reading this, this is my love letter to you and thanks for including me in this vibrant, necessary and inspiring community. I admire your talent, value your dedication, appreciate your work and count you as friends in the old pre-Facebook definition of the word. As I shouted out many years back to my Xephyr performer colleagues while crossing a street in Salzburg, overcome with the sheer wonder of us having the chance to share our work and play with the international Orff Community: “I love you guys!!”

P.S. Some may justifiably remove my from their friend list after having stooped to the low-class pun of “Orffans.” But with our founders Orff and Keetman some 30 and 20 years gone, it’s a good reminder that we’re in charge now, no parents to tell us what to do And yet their words and music keep ringing in our ears and stand shadow-like behind us. If they had witnessed what happened this weekend (and I sincerely believe they did), I am convinced they would be pleased beyond measure. 

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