Sunday, August 19, 2012

Music for All Ages

Cleaning out my desk, I came across the program notes from our May Spring Concert. Besides the importance for the children to share their work and bring inspired process into inspired performance, I see the concert as an opportunity to educate parents. Before the curtain rises, it feels important to separate out the event from the roaring river of non-stop entertainment and help the audience see with different eyes and hear with different ears.

Reading over these notes this morning, the thought struck: “This is blogworthy!” Though it feels like old news, the ideas are timeless. For your music teachers out there, consider something similar for your concerts so the parents can look beyond “cute” and try to place music in a slot more elevated than frill and begin to understand the depth of an imaginative music program. Or you’re welcome to copy over these notes—with appropriate credit, of course.

Picasso once said, “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.” He admired the rich imagination of children unfettered by adherence to specific techniques. Children surprise—and often amaze us—with their paintings, with their poetry, with their spontaneous observations and provocative questions. Recent studies show that five-year olds can think of 100 things to do with a paper-clip, whereas high school students, who have had the wings of imagination clipped by too much dull schooling, might only think of five. Classified knowledge, virtuosic techniques, routine and habit and disciplined mastery all have their place in every field of study, but too much too soon unbalanced by “what else can we do with this?” is a blow to our rich childlike imagination.

In the field of music, young children in our culture are not seen as musical until they begin formally studying an instrument. Even then, there is a long unmusical waiting period before they finally start making decent music after years of practice. We endure their squeaky violins and clarinets in hopes that someday Bach and Be-bop will emerge in all their glory. But what if there was a parallel track to this kind of music study that found ways to make exciting and beautiful music at each step of a child’s development without hours of solitary practice? What if there was a way to create a musical culture that soaked children in the soothing and cleansing waters of music and dance without it having to feel like a special study? What if there was a way to grow children’s understanding and technique alongside inviting their imaginations to be set sonically and kinesthetically free? And the good news? There is! The Orff approach to music education in the hands of teachers who live it, breath it, embody it and devote themselves to its demanding practice.

And so what we hope you see here tonight is the dignity and delight of the children’s musical expression at each stage of their journey to adulthood. Fifth grade is more sophisticated and consciously knowledgeable about musical principles than first grade, but it doesn’t make them better, just different. As we grow and develop, our artistic impulses may mature and reach new depth, but ultimately the young seedling and mature plant share the same nature. Again, Picasso: “I don’t develop. I am."

Enjoy the show. The children certainly will. 

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