Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Honorary Doctorate

If I were to dream of a crowning moment of glory to my 13-day Orff workshop marathon, what would it be? A gold medal from the Orff Olympic Committee? A Music Educators Grammy Award? (Yes, they exist.) A TED Talk Contract? An Honorary Doctorate from Harvard? Frankly, I wouldn’t turn down any of it and believe the work is worthy of it all. But none could hold a candle to the actual final half-hour of my long stretch of teaching.

Yesterday morning I gave the TED talk I wanted to give last year (without any TED cameras rolling) with actual time to do something with the audience. 100 parents from the International School of Manila came to my talk and did a short hands-on activity that clearly illuminated the points I wanted to make. That yes, music education is as essential as bread and as precious as diamonds, but first we need to clarify what music is, what education is, what the two together actually sound and look and feel like. Ten minutes of Criss-Cross Applesauce brought the parents a couple of steps closer to understanding and they had a rollicking good time while they were at it.

At the end of the time, one parent approached me and asked what she should do with her 12-year old special needs son who loved music, but didn’t do well with the traditional piano lessons.  “Bring him to me” was my bold reply, daring especially because I haven’t worked that much with kids with extreme special needs. But bring him she did, today at 4 pm to be exact after my full day of teaching kids.

He was on the floor tapping a pair of bongos and I brought over the tubanos (better sound) and djembe and started trying to follow his playing. A bit chaotic at first and then I gave him little patterns to echo and he did—expertly. I mixed up techniques—knocking on the drum head, rubbing it, playing one hand and then the other and he followed me. After about ten minutes of this, we went to the piano and tried similar things on the black keys, with me playing a blues groove bass. Then back to the drums and now the patterns were increasing in complexity, he moved his body to the accents, I sang some songs while we drummed and by the end, he was initiating changes in the pattern. Throughout he would look over at me with a smile when he knew we hit the groove together and at the end when we reluctantly stopped, he shook my hand over and over and thanked me and said goodbye.

Choice between picking up that Honorary Doctorate from Harvard or jamming some more with this boy? No contest. Cancel my flight to Boston.


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