Another time for a public confession. I hereby apologize to both of my daughters, who have told me repeatedly that I suck at free-style rap, despite my fantasies of Dougie Fresh (see some blogs from last summer). Last night we had our traditional untalent show—“un” meaning uninhibited, unforeseen, unexpected, unconventional talent emerging unlike any other. One student, Adam Schraft, asked for four ideas from the audience and got “cheese, bunnies, Orff and betrayal” and on the spot in front of 100 astounded open-mouthed teachers, my own the widest of all, wove a seamless free-style rap that was simply extraordinary. No iambic pentamenter hoping for a cheap rhyme at the end ( a la “My name is Dougie Fresh and I’m here to say, I want to welcome you to sing and dance and play”), but the real deal, with irregular phrases over the band’s funky groove, internal rhymes, connecting “cheese” and “betrayal”, complete with the body gestures that come with the art form and not a hint of “I’m thinking here.”
As usual, the whole night was extraordinary, the opportunity for these students in this training to strut their stuff. As a training, the wide talent of the students is corralled into a specific channel where certain understandings and ways of being are valued over others. There is a bar and it’s set high, placed by teachers who have put in the time and training to jump over it. But within that, we’re always looking for people finding their own style of leaping. Remember that high jump style called the Fosbury Flop? He (Dick Fosbury) found his own unorthodox way to leap 7 feet high and won a gold medal in the 1968 Olympics. In our Orff course, every lesson has its share of right and wrong answers, but we’re always looking for a way of teaching that reveals the character of the student.
But the Untalent Show is when all bars are removed and all stops are let out. Every year seems more exceptional than the last. Besides the above-mentioned free-style rap, there was a Funky Bach-Gounod piece that worked, a solo singer who held us spellbound by his subtle use of dynamics singing a song about acceptance and love, a reprise of last year’s mathematical tour de force song about the 18-wheel Big Rig that included (amongst other things) counting at lightning speed, forward and backwards, in Roman numerals. And then the virtusosic duet between the best maracas and spoons players on the planet that simply has to be seen and heard to be believed. Michael Phelps’ 22 Olympic medlas are impressive, but in my book, nothing compared to this.
And there you have it. One person spends countless hours investigating the imaginative and technical possibilities of two small gourds filled with seeds, another what two spoons back-to-back can do and everyone who witnessed their efforts left the theater with renewed hope for our frail and often disappointing species. They, and everyone who performed (and everyone who didn’t) planted the flag of their talent and interest in their tiny corner of creation and tended the garden of their promise to grow food unlike any other. And the world is refreshed. It’s a simple—and as difficult— as that.
I don’t know what I did to merit being in the company of these geniuses and I’m reasonably sure I didn’t deserve it. Or maybe I did, simply from keeping faith with my own bizarre collection of flags that I’ve tended and defended without a pause for just about each day of my life. All I can say is I’m grateful beyond measure. And inspired to work on my free-style rap while playing spoons.