We had a joyful reunion of the Salzburg kids yesterday. 10 of the 17 who were able to make it came to perform for the 100-plus teachers in our Orff Certification Course. Before the first number was over, I noticed that several of the teachers were crying. By the end of the sharing, that number had increased exponentially, mixed with tumultuous applause, whistling and foot-stomping. This was the right audience for the kids, the ones who deeply understood the value and beauty of what they were witnessing. And the kids were the right performers for the teachers, allowing them to see what might lie at the end of the Orff adventure begun with the young ones. Though these middle school kids are hopefully in the middle stages of a lifetime of glorious music-making, the sad reality is that officially in the music education world, 8th grade is about at the end of the line of formal Orff study. High schools have yet to figure out how fantastic this could be for the kids to continue.
Why the tears from the teachers? I had a talk recently with a friend who teaches 2nd grade and the things she described to me about what the State mandated for these delicate little 7-year olds made my skin crawl. I’ll save this for another entry, but I think I could make a convincing case that the people involved in our National Educational Policy of excessive testing could be put away behind bars for institutional child abuse. It is so much worse than I thought and the stakes are the lives, hearts and minds of innocent children.
But yesterday at The San Francisco School, teachers witnessed 10 children who could not only play the hell out of Ghanaian xylophone music, Bulgarian dance music, Vivaldi and Dizzy Gillespie, but do so with such ease in performing, such infectious joy, such pleasure in each other’s company, such a relaxed relationship with their teachers, such confidence and competence and deep understanding. In short, they were the living embodiment of what all of education could be like and as teachers saw before their eyes what they could only previously dream of, is it any wonder that those eyes were wet with wonder?
And yet, other people might have walked in the room and gone out the door not noticing a thing and with nothing changed in their insides. In order to be amazed by beauty, we need to live a life in pursuit of it. Albert Camus once said “Live close to tears,” asking us to open our heart to receive the height and depth of what life can offer. The trigger for the waterworks could be as dramatic as 10 kids filling the room with music’s highest promise or as simple as a leaf drifting down in the wind.
And yet, we mostly don’t live that close, in fact, go to great lengths to build armor around our hearts so we needn’t feel things so deeply. Why wouldn’t we want to live life at this intensity? Because the place of joy has the same address as grief and loss. To live close to tears is to be vulnerable and the heart that is ready to receive love and beauty is also open to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Things hurt. Better to keep things simmering at a low intensity—or turn off the flame altogether—than risk vulnerability. But without that flame, nothing inside of us gets cooked and life continues at its bland mild pace.
So thanks yet again to the kids for penetrating the armor and to the teachers for their willingness to be astounded, affirmed and re-committed to a life “close to tears.”