Sunday, June 8, 2014

Orff Detox Camp

For those who live in the SF Bay Area, run, don’t walk, to Dan Hoyle’s solo show at The
Marsh— Each and Every Thing. One doesn’t expect wisdom from a 33-year old, but because of the life Dan has lived, it radiates out from his center. He’s traveled around the world with the idea that everyone has a story worth hearing and he wants to hear it. Everyone. And so he hangs out with young Nigerian sniper assassins, Aryan Brotherhood survivalists in Nebraska, ghetto drug dealers in Chicago, amongst other characters and listens to the nightmares of their childhood and the dreams deferred or squashed down by a culture that doesn’t care. And then puts it together with his extraordinary skills in capturing their character with distinct physical postures and gestures, accent, phrasing, tempo of speech.

Without giving away too much, the show begins with the Nebraska and Chicago characters above and somewhere in the middle, takes a sharp left turn into the effects of electronic technologies on our lives. The whole culture of sensation addiction, falsely promised connection, robbing attention from the presence of God in “each and every thing.” And the weird need we’ve created that sent him to a “Digital Detox Camp” in Northern California. Apparently, it really exists and it’s a cross between the summer camps of my childhood and the way people have lived for some few hundred thousand years. You check in your appliances at the door, write in journals with a pen or pencil, read books made of paper, do art projects with three-dimensional objects, talk to your neighbors, sit and listen to birds and watch trees wave in the breeze, sing songs, cook meals— and you don’t get to take photos of any of it to send out on Instagram or share your art project on Facebook or discuss your Epiphanies on a blog.

So it made me think about retitling our summer Orff training and charging more money. Tucked away in the Hidden Valley Retreat Center in Carmel Valley, some 100 music teachers from around the world wake up to bird song, meander down to breakfast and sit and talk with each other. There is cell phone service, but without us banning them, people don’t tend to check their messages at meals. They sit and talk to the folks at the table and also sit at different tables each day. Then they go through a glorious day of singing, dancing and playing uninterrupted by beeping machines and because they share it with each other, no one seems to feel the need to Tweet it out there. And yes, in the evening folks will check e-mail or do their assignment on Sibelius instead of music manuscript paper and I’ll be writing my blog, but without being overly self-conscious about it, it does become a digital detox center of sorts.

Back in the turbulent late 60’s, with all the polarization between hippies, yippies, leftists, straight-arrowed American, I remember someone—perhaps Ken Kesey?—saying that the way to convert people to the cultural and political revolution was not through reasoned argument, but to show them that it was simply more fun to be “on the bus” then “off the bus.” (For those missing the cultural reference, see the book: The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test” by Tom Wolfe). And so it's not enough to ban the machines (impossible anyway). We need to re-learn that it can be more interesting to talk to the person you just met at the café than to text your friends that you're at the café. And some cafés have become mini-Digi-Detox centers where cell phones and computers are prohibited. You walk in to a buzz of conversation and think, "Hey, this is more fun than the silent whir of machines!"

Much of our electronic addictions come from universal qualities of our psyche— that longing to belong, to be known, to share our pain and joy, to be “liked,” our old hunter’s brain kept alert by movement in the underbrush (read “flashing electronic images”). No one is immune from that, it’s too deeply wired (to borrow an electronic metaphor) in our system. But add to that a culture of isolation, a culture of fear, a culture of alienation from nature, an educational system turning out factory products instead of noting the particular genius of each student, and you got yourself an epidemic where folks walk the streets like zombies, heads-down buried in their machines. I note that Europeans have these devices as well, but in Spain, folks still talk around the table at three-hour dinners and more people walk the streets with their heads up. Off to Ghana in five days and I’ll be curious how this has affected folks there.

Dan suggests that a big part of “finding yourself” is “finding yourself in others” and that takes an effort to go beyond your like-minded folks stored on your phone or friended on Facebook. To this day, my most treasured experience was the three-months spent in Kerala, India hanging out with a Muslim woman, Catholic man and my Hindu drum teacher in a village unlike anyplace I had ever been before. That’s the real sorrow of our increasingly homogenized world. Walking into a Starbucks in Seoul, Sao Paolo, Salzburg or San Francisco, with everyone working on laptops or texting on cell phones, is a sure sign of the decline and fall of civility, connection and awakening to our promise.

I suspect a rise in Digital Detox Camps in the future— and someone making a lot of money off it! I just hope they hire me to be the Orff teacher there. 


  1. I am often easily swept along with the excitement of how social media helps us connect and network; to be able to share ideas and collaborate. I find it easy because I feel so isolated in my job, and no one ever seems to have the time or desire to get together face to face and just talk things out, so I go searching for it online. However I also mourn the fact that since we are increasingly becoming dependent on these digital forms of connecting and communicating that we will (and have already begun to) lose some of what makes us human.

    In addition to the need to connect with others face to face, I feel we also need to take time to be quiet and still so we can gain deeper understanding of ourselves and our needs. I have tried to incorporate mindfulness practice in my life and teaching as a way to focus on the present moment and build awareness of self and one's environment. But its a challenge, especially with students who struggle to simply be quiet and still for a mere minute. Yet many ask for it, and relish the time taken to gain a moment of peace and stillness.

    1. Hi Whitney,

      I hear you about being in a somewhat isolating, stressful job and finding relief in being able to connect with people online. I think that is an authentic sort of connection... different and maybe less complete than face-to-face, but still valuable and rewarding in some ways. Perhaps one very beneficial way of using social technology is to facilitate more face-to-face meetings!

      I, too, share the concern that people are losing their social skills when they can get so many things without dealing with people in "real time". I also share your interest in mindfulness and in weaving it into your teaching. I practice mindfulness by meditating in the morning and the evening, and then attempting to remember it during the day. I've also had some success with teaching it to children. They love silence as long as we're inviting them into something that's being created. But so often children are lead to silence by telling them not to do what they would like to be doing rather than inviting them to discover something really delightful.

      What my mindful awareness often reveals to me is how very attached I am to being connected to my devices. I wish I could say that mindfulness has allowed me to completely let go of those attachments. But I will say that I'm able to notice more. I watch my multitasking, my checking of email, my looking on Facebook, my urgent need to take a picture... But I also watch my self-criticism on the subject and sometimes choose rather to simply understand the forces that face us all. And then I attempt to retain both a sense of humor and a sense of compassion more than a sense of how things aught to be but aren't.

      Wouldn't it be funny to say, "It was nice talking with you." But it was. And I hope we can do it again sometime. Doug, do you mind if your blog becomes a world-wide cafe? : )

      Best wishes,



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