Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Laugh, Learn and Love

The poet Gary Snyder once wrote something to the effect of “99% of philosophy is people trying to justify the cage they’re trapped in.” To re-phrase that more positively, it seems that we often build our philosophies around our character and particularly way of seeing the world. I often say that the Orff approach to education is less a scientifically proven pedagogy than a style of teaching that fits the way some people naturally think and experience music, children or education.

I said a tearful goodbye to the kids last night after yet another fun-filled dinner and walk through the Salzburg streets and now can devote more attention to my classes here in the summer course. I’ve now taught four of the five groups and each class is filled with the usual laughter, fun and seriously satisfying music-making. Tonight I went to an evening lecture by the wonderful Orff teacher Christine Schonherr on “Orff for Advanced Ages.” We had parallel stories inasmuch as her mother entered an Old Age Home and while visiting her, she found herself attracted to making music and dancing with the folks there. While I mostly play piano and only once brought some Orff Instruments (see my Posting “My Mother Invents Orff Schulwerk”), she was bringing scarves, balloons, homemade kazoos, coconut shells and other fanciful tools from the Orff treasure chest. With photos and video, we watched the faces of the elderly radiate such joy and laughter, such playfulness and comradery, made all the more poignant by their usual sense of being abandoned, cut off from the young, unable to contribute their skills or share their wisdom. Beautiful work indeed and much needed. At the end, Christine said “Laughter and learning are good companions.” Amen to that.

Earlier, she had told me how much she had loved the SF School kid’s performance, particularly their natural enthusiam. She told me that she had recently seen the Vienna Boys Choir and though the sounds were well-executed and well-organized, there was no sense of joy. Not a bad complement to be told that your Middle School students rehearsing once a week for a few months put on a more captivating and engaging and joyful show than the Vienna Boys Choir!!

More and more, this is my complaint about so much music education and music performance. It’s so damn serious! And this has a lot to do with the abstractions of specialist culture, treating everything as something apart to be practiced with drudgery and dull discipline in isolated cubicles. Meanwhile, the Wagogo people of Tanzania are singing and playing complex music with such happiness and flawless execution, learning how to make music by making music every day of their lives. Indeed, one of the many gifts of the African diaspora is the whole-body and whole-hearted enjoyment of music-making. (Eddie Izzard has a hilarious Youtube clip showing the contrast between English churchgoers singing hymns and African-Americans singing Gospel. The folks who have been enslaved, beaten, murdered sing so joyfully and the folks who have all the power and money drone so drearily through their hymns. See: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mtw8FtW4D-o )

So yet another round of gratitude that I found a practice and philosophy that suits my character so well, that invites me to laugh each day with my students of any age and enjoy every minute of the music we make because joy is at the center. By learning through laughter, by laughing and learning, we arrive also at love. Laugh, Learn and Love. I’ve been searching for a title for my book on education I hope to complete this Fall—maybe that’s it!

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