Friday, October 21, 2011

Intery Mintery

“You’ve done one good thing in your life.” You can imagine how I leant forward to hear the next sentence from my colleague Sofia. And she gave the punch line in two words. “Intery Mintery.”

This is an obscure Mother Goose rhyme that I turned into a full-blown Halloween ritual event sometime in the 1980’s. With the rhyme at the center, 100 kids each year create a ritual performance involving spooky sounds effects, Indonesian angklung, black lights, all sizes of recorders, dancers laying head to the center where a glowing pumpkin sits, Bulgarian bagpipe and Orff instruments playing a driving arrangement of the rhyme that is chanted, sung and danced to. When I wrote a book subtitled “Nursery Rhymes for Body, Voice and Orff Instruments,” I knew that the title must be INTERY MINTERY, the epic creation that summarized just about everything I care about in teaching music to kids.

Sofia and James (who have added their own personal touches to it over the years) are in the midst of preparing Intery Mintery and they went on to describe for me how kids cannot take their hands off the recorders trying to master the tune, how they run to the instruments every chance they get to practice, how they discuss amongst themselves the power of the D and A drone to create the proper Halloween effect (I’m talking about second graders here). What is it about this piece and this event that so thoroughly captures the kids’ imagination and motivates them to the point of obsession?

Well, Halloween, for one. Picture a kid growing up, doing his or her best to be a functioning human being in the family or school and failing miserably—spilling milk, yelling too loud, running too fast, playing airplane with the spoon, drawing on the walls, crying for dessert before spinach, And then this holiday comes up and the kid can’t believe it. “You mean I get to dress up? For a whole day? I get to stick knives in big vegetables and make scary faces? You’re going to take me through this spooky haunted house? I get to scream? I get to shout ‘trick or treat!!!’ to the neighbors and then they give me candy? You’ve got to be kidding!!!!”’ 

So make up a simple scale-wise melody in D minor and connect it to Halloween and you’ve got some pretty motivated kids! I came in yesterday to sing with 175 of them at my school, one of the first pres-school/elementary singing times we’ve had and a happier group of kids you’ve rarely seen as we took them through our considerable repertoire. For 45 minutes! Then after it was over, kids all over the yard were practicing their recorders trying to master the melody.

Friends, it doesn’t get any better than this. Intery Mintery, people!

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