Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Vault of the Imagination

Sometimes I feel a small sadness in the people who come to my workshops: “Why can’t I be more creative?” I feel that myself when I’m around certain people who astound me by the range of their imagination. Given the opportunity in the workshop to “make something up” alone or in a group, people invariably rise to the challenge. So it’s clear that the creative impulse is not dead, just slumbering and needs a poke to wake it up. But how to keep it perpetually awake? How to make a habit of creation?

Children are endlessly creative, playing their way each day into the far corners of the imagination. What happened to us adults? Somewhere in the natural process of aging, we start to lock away our imaginative proclivities into some vault for safekeeping. We simply have other things on our mind— the pressing concerns of rent, jobs, mates, raising our imaginative darlings. While our kids are frolicking in their fantasy world, we’re doing their laundry and driving them to soccer. It’s understandable that we stop zooming our spoons in the air like airplanes, more inclined to polish them when the boss comes over to dinner.

But beyond these natural steps towards that sobering animal, “the real world,” the imagination can suffer from the assaults of a culture unmindful of or unfriendly toward its way of being in the world. Certainly in schools today, the locks on the vault are being fortified and the keys tucked away further from our reach. I often call Orff Schulwerk “The Pedagogy of the Imagination” and while it can do a fine job transmitting the nuts and bolts of the music craft, its deeper gift is to pick the lock on the vault and spring our imaginations free.

That’s as good an image as any of what we’re trying to do here— sneak past the security guards and throw open the doors wide. Or better yet— like that actual security guard in Savannah peeking into my class, get them to put down their weapons and join the class!

What did I do right to stumble into such marvelous work? Every day I count my blessings. 


  1. Dear Doug~
    Thank you for helping unlock the door to my creativity. Today was the second day that I ever played the xylophone. I have no idea where that solo came from...well, I have a general surely is from a mystical source! It was a golden moment for me. (Looking back, it sounded a bit like the beginning of the Doors' Riders on the Storm- the tinkling keys that sounded like rain. Maybe I have rain on the brain!

    My husband and I are partners in a small bar near the school called Bund 18. I am the "booking agent" (I prefer the term music coordinator!). Anyway, a few weeks back I had some friends who have been playing there fairly regularly play a gig for us. One of my friends had never heard me sing, so she requested that I sing one.
    So, I chose Summertime, and I sang it with this amazing 70 year old guitarist from the UK named Tony Alton. He and one band actually opened for the Stones and the Beatles back in the day, but he refuses to talk about it! It's cool. He's not a nostalgic type whatsoever.
    I saw that you practice Zen meditation. I too, am a student of Zen here in Tien Mou. They call it Chan Meditation here. It has been life changing for me, and has also been a key in helping unlock my creative self.
    So, getting back to that night, I sang to Tony, as he asked me...and I just WENT somewhere...I don't know where. Time stood still the moment I started singing. I sang like I never had before, because I was completely in the moment (in the zone/flowing, I guess you could say). I closed my eyes and imagined I was a slave in the south, but, not a miserable one- I could feel a warm soft summer breeze on my cheek...I saw the fish jumping, and because I have never really seen a cotton field, I imagined corn, because corn grows HIGH! I felt the sheer joy in the line "one of these mornings, you're gonna RISE UP singin' and your FEET will take wing, and touch the sky..." I sang slowly and deliberately the first time, then Tony said, "ok, now SWING!" and I tried... but he coached me and told me not to sing too fast! I need to practice the swing singing!
    I didn't try to copy anyone. It was 100% Sue. Thanks to Buddhism, I have stopped judging- myself and others. I just AM. It was AMAZING to be completely immersed in the moment whilst singing that song.
    You could have heard a pin drop.
    There was a hush when I finished.
    My husband, who has NEVER EVER complimented by voice, EVER, was just beside himself. He got teary afterward. He used to make FUN of my folky voice- I guess I listened to too much Joni Mitchell growing up.

    It was an absolute joy to be a part of your workshop. It inspired my teaching this morning. We did some easy crossing the midline and body percussion with our rhythm sticks.
    I have the best job on the planet. I don't do it for the money, I just want to share my joy of music with children, and if I can be a good influence on them, as you are, that is all I need.

  2. Suesjoy got it!!! : ) Thank you so much for sharing.
    - Lisa


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