Thursday, June 26, 2014

Culture of Participation

I’ve always been a big picture guy and one can read my large sweeping abstractions about human health and happiness and never get a feeling for the actual time and place I’m in. Truth be told, the writing and traveling I love best is just sitting and observing, take my obsessive thoughts out of the picture and just report what I see and hear, with a sprinkling of commentary rather than a big heaping portion. So sitting on the steps of the Freedom Hotel in Ho serenaded by the roosters that woke me each morning at 4:30, the sky brightening ever so slowly in the East, the hustle and bustle of our 40 plus troupe wheeling suitcases down to the bus with bleary-eyed greetings. The morning birds are joining the roosters and the day is awakening to its promise.

Yesterday, most of the group went to see the process of weaving and printing fabric, something I did often with my weaver (back then) wife in the back alleys of places around the world. I stayed back with a group of 8 for a composition project on the Ghanaian xylophones that bore ripe musical fruit and was served up in a story I did with my kids a while back (1987, to be precise, the year the youngest member of our group here was born!). We presented the story—The King of Togo Togo— in the afternoon and involved the others, much to everyone’s delight. Then a review from Kofi and Prosper and Benzola, our esteemed Ghanaian teachers, of every drum pattern and dance step and the relationships between them, videoed for future reference. And then, some went to pack drums they bought while the rest of us had … free time!!! It may be summer and this may be Ghana time, but these two weeks have been intense and heavily scheduled.

So it was a welcome moment to pretend I was on vacation and sit by the side of the swimming pool with a book. At least until the Ghana World Cup game was on and then off to the outdoor TV to cheer them on. Alas, to no avail!!! Dinner and then a concert from the parish of the local Catholic church, a curious blend of Western style singing in the head voice with the ubiquitous drums and dancing. One of the highlights was a fabulous man dancer, getting' down with such joy, abandon and impressive moves. Kofi told us that he in training to be a Catholic priest. Yet another moment of possibilities that we simply can't imagine— a get-down dancing priest?—until we witness it and then, if we have any sense, think, "Well, why not?" At the end, we sang a song to them and within a minute, the men rushed to the bass section and women to the soprano to pick up on the parts, which they did quickly and expertly. Another example of the culture of participation and welcome.

Speaking of which, one of my favorite moments of the concert was a little toddler wandering out onto the “dance floor” to join in on the drums and dances and everyone welcoming him to join in. In my weird world, someone would probably say with annoyance, “Could the parent of this child please get him?!! We have a concert going on!” A good time to tell my story of the TMEA Music Educators Conference in Texas with some 15,000 music teachers gathered and sign outside the auditorium that said, “No children under 2 allowed.” Ladies and gentlemen, that is the difference between a culture of exclusion and a culture of participation, between a culture that understands music education (and ALL of education) begins in the womb and continues unbroken with each moment an opportunity and a culture that waits to line kids up in desks and reduce them to data and results on papers or screens.

Ah, but there I go again. What about the local trees, the palm wine, the practice of polygamy, the name of this bird singing so beautifully? What does the armchair traveler know or feel about the details of this place and time reading these blogs? Not much, but in my defense, I’ve been busy teaching and help organize this group of lovely, fun and dedicated music teachers. And now onto Accra for our final day of formal class!

It’s a culture of participation— want to join us?

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