At a boarding school one hour outside of Seoul and a brief moment awakening in the still jet-lagged morning when the misted hills outside the window let me know I’m not in Kansas anymore. When I go to breakfast and dine on kim chee, seaweed and corn flakes, I also sense that I’m somewhere else. The names going around the circle are different and difficult for my ear (though getting better) and like Finland, the homogeneous ethnicity and 99% women teachers attending are distinct from other places.
But beyond that, I’m back in the self-enclosed world of the Orff workshop. The feeling in the room, awash with simple poems, rhythms, melodies from cultures worldwide, is delightfully familiar. Laughter is the same in any language. We all of us were once six years old and now are so happy to take that youthful spirit out of the closet we adults consign it to and let it romp and play freely. I feel like the Peter Pan of the teacher’s world, hanging out with The Lost Boys (well, Girls) who, in these moments of amazing grace, now are found.
Often I play a little game looking at the three-year olds I teach and imagining them as 8th graders. (Not hard to do as every year I look at the scrapbooks of the 8th graders and see the photos reminding me of the kid I first knew them as.) And sometimes I look at the 8th graders and imagine the adults they will soon be. Lately, I’ve been playing the reverse game with adults— finding the little kid they once were, so obvious in their body as they play and dance like they used to (or never did), but also apparent in their faces shining out with that wide-eyed innocence and can-do confidence before the adult world shook them up and made them get serious.
So yet another way to view this work advertised as “professional development in music education”— as an invitation to release their caged spirit and play like there’s no tomorrow awaiting with lesson plans, bills and the long list of adult responsibilities. Of course, they’re all awaiting us (especially my lesson plan for the next class!), but for some 8 hours a day over four days, it’s playtime with Peter Pan and the Lost Girls. And most amazing of all, a playtime that actually helps me pay those future bills!
I found out that there are four major life passages in Korean culture. The first is the child’s second birthday, which is really the first birthday by other standards (the child is one when born). The next is marriage, the last is death and the third is the 60th birthday. This comes from the time when 60 was considered a long, long life. (I’m curious as to whether this will eventually be updated. Almost feels like 90 is the new 60.) At any rate, by Korean standards, I had that big event two years ago. And in fact, in many ways I did, with 60 people there to share my poetry with and listen to a performance with a group that was soon to become The Pentatonics, the shining star of my new decade. But thinking back to Peter Pan and how I already related to the notion of perpetual youth as a kid reluctant to grow up, I think I found my Never-Never Land in the world of Orff Schulwerk. It's a marvelous world indeed.