Saturday, October 27, 2012

New Scotland

I was excited about coming to Nova Scotia. New territory and the promise of a colorful Autumn. All the advance reports I heard talked about the friendly people and the musical culture. I’m happy to report that I was not disappointed in either claim, though I need another trip to delve deeper into the latter.

I arrived in Halifax on Tuesday, got a quick tour of the waterfront and off to one of my host’s lovely house out in the country. The next day, eight classes at his school with local music teachers watching, kids from kindergarten to 6th grade. Big classes (around 25) and too-short periods (30 minutes), but each one such a pleasure. As always, instant connection to the kids, who were at once polite and bold, focused and spirited. Many gave me a spontaneous thank you on the way out and six came in later as part of the 3rd grade teacher’s training in appreciation, giving me a formal thanks that was also sincere.
(Hmm. Maybe we could train the kids at my school to follow this example?)

That night to nearby Truro at another teacher’s house. His wife was gone on a trip, but had left the most delicious squash soup, salad and homemade bread. Next day, seven more classes at his school with 15 more teachers watching. This combination of teacher’s observing me working with kids and then going to my workshop itself is stellar— thinking about how to organize all workshops like this. Again, kids had great fun, were appreciative and did well musically.

Direct from school to the hotel and here my first disappointment to discover that even in rural Nova Scotia, the parasite that eats away culture had arrived. I was dropped off at the Comfort Inn in the land of the Fast Food joints, back to my view of the parking lot and the Styrofoam cup breakfast. Aargh! But no time to whine, as I was soon picked up again by my two hosts and taken to a Thai restaurant for dinner. What a pleasure—and change of pace— to hang out with two male elementary school music teachers!

Then on we went to the site of the NSMEA Conference where I led an evening reading session. This is a strange concept for the Orff teacher. Usually such things are a way for choral or band teachers to quickly read through material to shop for the scores they’ll buy to use with their students. Since the kids playing Orff arrangements don’t read them, I had to present it a different way—ie, teach the material as I always do while also giving the teachers a taste of what I’ve collected in my books. If the purpose of these sessions is to sell the clinician’s material, I have to say it worked! My books were sold out quickly.

The next morning was my Keynote Address to the Conference. This was the second time I’ve had the honor of being the Keynote Speaker in a music ed conference (the other also in Canada, in Ontario— hey, U.S.A., pay attention to your native son!) and both times, it was the first time an Orff teacher was chosen in a conference mixing general music with band and choir. The feedback was positive and encouraged me to do more. From the podium to the workshop, two two-hour sessions to make the ideas come alive.

Then out that night to Roadhouse Willies Restaurant to hear a Cuban singer and band expertly perform jazz standards, bossa nova and Cuban boleros and mambos. Great music, great food (fish and chips!), great company. Life was good and Nova Scotia seemed a happy place.

The next morning, time before my flight to walk alongside the cornfields toward the Bay. I past a friendly man walking his dog who spoke to me in Scottish accent. Made sense—after all, Nova Scotia simply means “New Scotland.” A beautiful, balmy day and the last leaves blazing in the morning sun, the spent brown cornstalks starting to be plowed under. Hard to imagine in such weather that a hurricane was heading this way, due to arrive tomorrow or the next day. For the sake of my new found friends, I hope it fails to keep its appointment.

There seems to be energy for a return engagement and if it comes to pass, I hope to leave some time to explore nearby Cape Breton Island, home to a thriving Celtic music culture, Prince Edward Island, Canada’s smallest province and perhaps Newfoundland and New Brunswick as well, all within shoutin’ distance.

So thanks to Nova Scotia (and Monteral and Quebec) for its steady commitment to the arts and to arts education, its friendly people and lovely land, for giving me three new experiences— my first Orff reading session,  a brief moment driving to the airport where I was on the 45th parallel, exactly halfway between the Equator and the North Pole (at Stewiache) and my first time in a time zone east of Eastern standard time.

Oh, and one more marker— the place where I watched the Giants on TV win game 2 of the World Series. Go Giants!!!

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