Friday, July 1, 2011

Tinker Tailor

“Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor, Rich man, Poor man, Beggarman, Thief!”

This rhyme is on the first page of Carl Orff and Gunild Keetman’s groundbreaking book Music for Children (the first of five Volumes) and suddenly seems more prophetic than a mere collection of words that promote beat awareness. Since I already wrote about one of the rhyme’s extensions—“Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief”—I wondered if the beginning of the rhyme would hold up and sure enough, it kind of does.

Take Tinker. The Orff teacher is often not only tinkering around on the xylophones, but also putting in new nails and laying rubber tubing. As Tailor, we stitch together the different parts of a lesson without letting the seams show. We also mend the torn cloth of art’s full costume, joining playing, singing and dancing, integrating with other arts and subjects, tailoring the full Technicolor dream-coat. We Soldier our mallets high to defend the boundaries of music education and are prepared to play high F’s on the sopranino recorder to tumble down the walls of Jericho’s Dept. of Testing. We sail off to the horizon, always looking beyond the safe and comfortable into the uncharted waters of possibility. We are Rich in our soul-life, doubly blessed with the legacy of music and the constant surprise and delight of children’s curious and quirky minds. We are Poor by the outer standards of career prestige in this culture and yes, sometimes need to Beg to save our jobs—or at least raise enough money at the bake sale. As for Thieves, we freely admit it, we shamelessly steal any new idea or practice that enlarges the imagination. The coda of Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief, discussed in the earlier blog, completes the 12 faces of our profession— and I’m sure I could think of 12 more.

I’m back at work, in Verona, Italy, teaching a morning class on “Structures for Improvisation” and an afternoon one on “Brain Rules: Teaching to the Way We Actually Learn.” I’m teaching part in English, part in Spanish, much through the body and gesture and some with a translator. So we might add Neuroscientist, Psychologist, Linguist, Dancer, Actor and more to that list and not be far off the mark. Oh, and Musician.

It is as much a pleasure as it has always been and if I let myself ease down into that swamp of doubt we all have below the surface, my two biggest fears are arriving at the moment when I don’t feel the same pleasure anymore in this work. Or worse yet, my students don’t feel any pleasure in attending my workshops or classes and my name slowly slips off the invitation lists. That day may come and the law of natural selection suggests that it will certainly ease off in the next ten or fifteen years, both to make way for the young folks coming up and to listen to the inevitable changes in body and mind that await me. But when I see jazz pianists Dave Brubeck and Marion McPartland still getting gigs in their 90’s and marvel at my Zen teacher still teaching at 104 years old, I feel heartened that it’s not necessarily inevitable. So if anyone wants to make be feel confident here, book me for a workshop in 2041 and I’ll make sure I save the date.

Meanwhile, I’m back in the double pleasure of putting in a good day’s work and having a taste of tourism. Instead of going back to my hotel overlooking a parking lot and flicking through the cooking channels on Cable TV, I go into Verona, eat rucola pizza on the piazza, go see The Barber of Seville outdoors at La Arena and pay my visit to Juliet, alas! too late for the traditional breast-rub out of reach behind the closed gates. But the night is a perfect temperature, the streets alive with people, the gelaterias remarkable. The heart and soul of Italy is alive and well. Jimmy Stewart had it right—it’s a wonderful life.

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