Thursday, November 6, 2014

Soul Food

Los Angeles, Portland, Las Vegas, Kansas City, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Atlanta, Denver, San Diego, Minneapolis, Indianapolis, Philadelphia, Dallas, Memphis, Seattle, Tampa, Phoenix, Rochester, Cincinnati, Las Vegas, Louisville, Long Beach, Birmingham, Omaha, San Jose, Charlotte, Milwaukee, Spokane, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Denver, Nashville. So goes the list of the 33 American Orff National Conferences I’ve attended each November (written by memory, I might add, with no written aids). The first in 1976, the second in 1982 and the third (first one I presented at) in 1984 and each one an unbroken string from there.

Every conference had at least one —and many multiple— memorable moments (s) and that helps me recall them. A moving workshop, unforgettable concert, fun excursion, great dance party and more— all the things that can happen when you get one to two thousand music teachers together for three or four days. Especially Orff teachers taking off their shoes, getting in small groups to create choreographies, playing, singing and dancing together. It’s music education on the edge, but instead of under trees with burning sage, lit candles and a night moon, it’s in large Conference Centers and hotel ballrooms with bad lighting, forced air and dubious carpeting. Hard for Soul to find a foothold, but not impossible if the teacher knows how to dig in and release the music that we deserve.

But I’m worried about the future of this work. Only one day into the conference and so many sessions using big screens to show notated scores. This means people are looking at the brightly lit abstract notes and not at the teacher, whose job it is to display embodied music and infect people with the power of their musicality. They're not listening to their own silence or inner music, they're not finding what music their body holds in store for them, they're not turning to their breath or attending to the sounds around them. They're just reading and singing stuff from screens, with little attention to musical nuance or discovery.

In one session, a teacher sang so beautifully a simple story that called on us to answer with gesture and a short sung refrain and I could feel a bit of magic creep into the room. But at my feet was a little 4-year old boy with his back to the singer, ears plugged with headphones staring into the screen of a small i-Pad at a stupid cartoon he’d probably seen 25 times. Here in this conference of music education for children, a teacher brought her son and plugged him into the machine instead of turned him around to the palpable human magic in the room.

Did anyone else notice? Do you see what concerns me? If we’re not here to nourish the soul alongside inspiring clearer lesson plans, what are we doing? 

Just asking.

1 comment:

  1. This is unsettling. Several things come to mind. Are the screens being used in the name of technology? And is this truly using technology?) When we provide graphics after the initial introduction, is it for our visual learners or our own laziness? I am for change, but I do hope clinicians will find a way to incorporate pure Orff with technology. Things to ponder.


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