Today we took a group picture of the 100 plus students at the San Francisco International Orff Course. In his Jamesian way, James (one of the teachers) printed color photos of flags from each of the 15 countries represented. The folks grouped by country holding up the flag and the excitement in the air was palpable, all buzzing with pride to group with their fellow paisanos. While waiting for the final pose, all sang their National Anthem at the same time in a cacophony that Charles Ives would have loved. And then at the moment of the click, all said the “smiling word” from their culture— “cheese,” “patata,” what have you.
Later in the day, I went to visit one of our classes we’re holding across the road in a community center and a silver-haired woman dropped in asking if I knew where Tom Lair was. I explained that we were a guest course and I didn’t know the staff here. But I asked her if she knew who Tom Lehrer was and she smiled and said, “Of course! That was my generation!” and I shouted, “Mine, too!” and we bonded recalling some of his hit songs.
During the day in this two-day training, the folks move in their Level I, Level II and Level III groups, just like high school kids are grouped into freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors. They are connected to each other not only through their common place on the ascending path of learning, but by the profound experiences they go through together. Indeed, it is typical for Orff levels folks to stay in touch with each other for many years beyond their graduation.
So at lunchtime, sometimes the Colombians and Spaniards sit with each other, as do the Thai, the Germans, the Brazilians, both from comfort and familiarity and the chance to rest their brain from all the English they have to process. But as the days go by, the tables mix more and more.
I am the silver-haired (though not many hairs!) man here representing my generation, but nobody turns the other way when I approach just because they’re 29 or 36. And every day, there’s at least one moment when Levels I, II, III come together to play, sing and dance.
What’s my point here? The enthusiasm people felt gathering under their flag, the excitement that woman and I felt knowing we shared a generation, the bonding that happens between the people in each Level is all as natural and understandable as breathing and walking. But the crucial element is the continuous crossing of all those superficial borders, going beyond all the in-groups we each belong to (men/women, gay/ straight, left-handed/ right-handed, Red state/Blue state) and crossing into other territory that soon becomes our home as well.
It helps enormously that we’re not competing against each other in the World Cup of Music Education, that we’re not sharing limited resources, that we are engaged in music whose sole purpose is to harmonize any occasion, bring things into a life-affirming rhythm, join folks together in song. It makes the other belongings (religious/political/ economic/ etc.) a bit lighter and a bit less important. Still fun to belt out the Colombian National Anthem long after the others had stopped and wink knowingly at each other naming Tom Lehrer songs and chant “Level III! Level III!” after a fabulous performance.
But at the end, it’s all about belonging to each other. And so we do.