Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Lone Ranger Meets Johnny Appleseed

Today a six-year old looked at me and exclaimed, “I remember you! You taught us this song called Funga Alafia!” I was stunned. That would have been two years ago when she was four and met me for exactly one 30 minute class. It struck me that one way to look at what I’m doing in these guest residencies is to pass on a sturdy repertoire worthy of children and memorable to them. I may think I’m demonstrating intriguing process for the teachers to observe, but what the children remember is the specific song, the dance, the game.

That said and done, the process turns out to be essential to the memorable feeling. When it’s invisibly stitched into the lesson so that things are flowing, inviting, exciting, the way a song is taught attaches itself to the song itself and becomes part of it. That will not only link our heart with our head, but also entice us to remember. It is now accepted fact that our emotional state at the moment of learning is called forth each time we revisit the thing learned. If we were in an open, joyful state of flow, we will be more likely to revisit the thing learned time and time again to call those feelings back up again and add new ones as well.

This is powerful news for teachers. I recently heard that children who take a test in the same place in the room where they learned the information do better. Interesting. We think we’re just relaying abstract information, but as is increasingly evident in brain research, mind and heart and body are much more interconnected then we think. The totality of our experience while learning something becomes inextricably linked with the knowledge itself.

I’ve worked hard my whole adult life to teach music in a way that captures children’s attention, fires their imagination and helps them feel successful. I’ve given the same attention to choosing worthy material, much of it from the child’s world. A joyful process with contrived, forgettable material is incomplete. Great material poorly taught will not resonate or be remembered with pleasure. Turns out that the two need to be side-by-side.

Teaching as a visiting guest artist or workshop leader, I often feel like the Lone Ranger, swooping in on my horse and then riding off into the sunset. But now I think it’s more like Johnny Appleseed or the Lupine Lady, dropping seeds that I won’t see come to blossom and fruit, but hopefully will beautify the landscape of children’s lives. The seeds are the memorable songs and games and dances that may (or may not) take root in the children's hearts or the greater school culture. Ironically, many of them are from a kid’s culture swept away by the tide of electronica and here I come, the 60-year old kid bringing them back into the playground. 

And today, one six-year old girl remembered. Hi Ho, Silver!

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