My day began at 6:30 am, the usual morning routine and then get a ride into school with my daughter. Arrive by 8:00 am to set-up for my 8:15 class. Two stellar classes with the 8th graders— all of them— improvising some kickin’ blues. By 10:00, I’m in a cab headed for the airport and by 11:30, I’m seated on the plane ready to wing to Chicago. Got my ritual Crostic puzzle, my journal and my book Americanah to keep me company. Along with my laptop, my “portable temples.”
Somewhere around Chapter 12 of my book, the pilot announces thunderstorms in Chicago and the possibility that we’ll be circling for a long time. Hmm. I thought I’d have lunch in Chicago, but now the stomach is grumbling and I’m happy I had the good sense to bring a package of rice cakes. Not quite the Wolfgang Puck gourmet pizza, but it helps. But mostly wondering about my connection, imagining a night stranded in Chicago. Will I make it in time to deliver my 4-hour Orff workshop in Kentucky tomorrow?
The weather calms down, the pilot announces “We’re going in!” and I arrive in time for my connection— and the aforementioned pizza. But lo and behold, another hour delay. And no seats left at the gate. So I’m plopped down on the floor with 20-minutes of Free Wifi time from Boingo-Hotspotted Chicago Airport. And Chapter 13 of my book.
Finally on the plane at 8:30 pm Chicago time and then sit for awhile and then circle for awhile as we approach Louisville. My reading light doesn’t work and the man in front of me offers his small flashlight. My 9:30 arrival time has now become 11:45. Luckily, both my ride is there and my baggage arrives quickly. By the time I’m settled in my hotel room, it’s 12:45, by the time I get to sleep 1:30 Kentucky time. Which at 10:30 pm San Francisco time. That seems decent, but not with a 6:30 wake-up call— read 3:30 am SF time.
Next morning. A quick breakfast and an hour ride in the car to Lexington. Traffic is good and we arrive an hour before the workshop, more time than I needed. Now I’m at the workshop site waiting for the drums to arrive with 8 minutes before the workshop starts. Nothing yet. I missed some classes with the kids yesterday, traveled 13 hours across three time zones, had five hours sleep, I’m getting grouchy about the needed drums not there and the devil of doubt whispers in my ear: “Why are you doing this?”
No time to answer, it’s time to start and off we go, the ritual circle and warm-up and opening song and dance all the doubt and sleepiness and mild grouchiness instantly dissolve into the bubbling effervescence of people playing, singing and dancing. I charge full steam ahead, no morning break, 30-minute lunch, then pick up where we left off— a journey into a quiet and gentle rain song floating on a carpet of xylophone textures, boisterous Slovenian jumping, finger-snappin’ jazz, each piece designed to “unlock another faculty of the Soul.” (Coleridge) I showed the Power Point I made earlier in the summer about “Orff for All Ages”— videos I took of Ghanaian mothers dancing with babies on their back, South African toddlers imitating adult dancers, teenage boys dancing an energetic and precise warrior’s dance with an 8-year old boy to the side casually imitating their every move. A very different kind of music education from our stiff and formal classes with their rubrics and national standards and assessment mazes—and one a thousand times more effective.
Then I show the short video of granddaughter Zadie making up scat songs while painting with a beat, every quality of art, from the precise form of meticulously moving down the row of different colored paints to the spontaneous explosion of sound and color, expressed in this two-minute clip. No one taught her— we are born ready for art in all its glory. Then my Mom at 92 conducting with eyes closed while I played piano and a photo of the three of us—Mom, Zadie and me at the piano—each connected to the other. My voice cracks talking about it, some people start wiping their eyes, we stand up and move into a spiral singing a haunting Estonian lullaby, ending with our heads on each other’s bent backs feeling the songs vibration through the shoulder blades.
All the hours spent traveling and jet-fuel consumed and plastic cups thrown out justified from four hours of unraveling the Soul’s many faculties. It is enough to release adult’s slumbering artistic impulses, but these are teachers and the “A-has!” are intended to trickle down to the children they teach, children I will never meet, but hope will enjoy a spot of color and fun and beauty because of what we all have done together this day.
And so yet another day in the life of this traveling music teacher. Not a life any career counselor could have imagined, but one that found me and one I happily accepted. And then made the commitment to build, class by class, workshop by workshop, long trip by long trip, doing whatever it takes to spread the good news. Now back in Chicago airport, more long hours ahead on the return trip, but a small price to pay for a work that blesses and gives blessings back. I wouldn’t want it any other way.