“Way down yonder.” “Soup, soup!”
So opens one of my favorite call-and-response songs from the Georgia Sea Islands. Some cryptic calls and always the “Soup, soup!” response and so much in the hearty mix of broth, vegetables, spices, meat (optional) and a hambone thrown in. It’s also a dance and a game that carries a secret message of getting to do the thing the slave-master prohibited (dance), sneak pass the guards of uptight Puritanical sexual repression and actually move your hips. For those always looking for reasons to justify a song like this in a school curriculum, the soup’s rich ingredients include a history lesson, first-hand experience of geometrical progression, a deep lesson in offbeat, syncopation and swing rhythm, a test of one’s culinary repertoire (you have to improvise a list of soups in the lyric), a challenging kinesthetic task of circling your knees one way and stirring the soup in the opposite direction, a social connection, a workable Spanish translation—in short, just about the full range of our multiple intelligences and school subjects condensed into this simple, but powerful song and game. Good for you and tastes good too!
But as I began my jazz course, a bit bleary from jet lag, I opened by a small invocation to the ancestors, inviting them to be present and witness how we took seriously our duty to keep the worthy things they bequeathed to us alive and thriving while also refusing and seeking to heal the part of the inheritance that caused and continues to cause so much suffering. While madness reigns in the world outside the gates, I called upon us to engage fully in this healing work, not only sustaining the beauty passed down to us from the past (from folks like Carl Orff and Count Basie), but actively creating our own fair share from the meetings of our collective minds and bodies. If we do that work well, we will have the past in the present, the present in the present through the continued act of creation and the future in the present knowing that we came to take the bounty back to the children we teach. All of this is thickening for the soup, adding body and flavor and a pinch of soul.
The first day already had more memorable moments than many courses offer in an entire semester. I loved my vacation, but still a joy to slip back into my old pair of pants lovingly worn through by decades of teaching and keep the dance going. And joy of all joys, my three-week-missing-in-action suitcase was at school!! Hallelujah!!!
10:30 at night and I thought I had something else interesting to say, but jet lag is brutal and I think I fell asleep four sentences ago. Onward!!
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