Thursday, July 7, 2016

Opening the Door

Every opportunity I get to teach is pure gold—any age, any place, any situation, any culture. I find it particularly satisfying to work with those who have moved far down the path of Orff-Schulwerk and help them notice details that will help them move yet further. Teaching Level III in Carmel Valley, the Intern Program at The San Francisco School, the Special Course in Salzburg all provide the pleasure of teaching at a high level everything I’ve had the good fortune to figure out and master to people ripe to receive it.

But I also love that sense of being the first to open the door to a world beyond most people’s imagination. I often warn people that this may change their life—and if they like things the way they are, they should run away now. Because once they catch sight of the Emerald City, they’re committing themselves to a long journey on the Yellow Brick Road, with plenty of lions and tigers and bears (not to mention witches and flying monkeys) to tame. But I probably shouldn’t tell them so much so soon—they’ll find out soon enough. I should just let them feel the energy and spirit and happiness in the room and leave them to decide which next step to follow.

I was surprised to find out that in this Orff España Course, some 75% of the people are coming for the first time. Naturally, that’s great news for Spain— every Orff Association needs fresh recruits coming to keep the lineage alive and vibrant. And fun for me to throw the door open wide and reveal as much as I can about the wonders to behold. Yesterday, I unlocked the door to the room of Orff Instrument Ensemble and before we started, a woman came up to me and anxiously said, “I don’t know anything about music!”, asking to be excused from sitting at a xylophone. “Great!” I quipped. “You’re going to do great. Here, come sit at this instrument, this will be perfect for you.”

She nervously agreed and off I went with my “Rain Rain Go Away” shtick (which didn’t work—it’s raining as I write!), a silly little story that allows the music to grow and flow uninterrupted, move seamlessly from one section to another and then end in a delicate climax that always has people exhaling in amazement. After explaining the scientific details behind the apparent magic (the Great Oz simply was moving the levers of simple ostinato patterns and drones and three-note melodies so they fit so beautifully), I ended by saying , “I loved what everyone played. But there was one person who really knocked my socks off and I want to publicly thank here.” And I went to the woman who said she didn’t know music and shook her hand.  “Thank you for your beautiful work. You played everything, including a little improvisation, so well. You helped show everyone what I’m trying so hard to communicate. That if you know who to access the most elemental seed of music so it’s simple, but not simplified, so it can join with other small parts and create something quite beautiful, you can change people’s weird notions that music means playing a lot of hard notes at the right time on instruments hard to master. And I hope you discovered that you’re much more musical than you think you are.”

And this lovely woman began to cry. She was a P.E. teacher curious about the Orff approach and was somewhat at home with the dance classes, but got so scared the moment it was time to play instruments. And now she knew that she in fact does know something about music. It was a sweet, sweet moment.

And the affirmations continued. One of the newer teachers to the summer course led a session for everyone in the course. His was an amazing story. At the end of the first day of his first Orff Course, one that Sofia and I were teaching in Barcelona, he asked where he could get more. “Well, there’s two more days of the course.” “No,” he said, “I want more than just two more days.” “Well, we have a course in San Francisco. You should think about that.” As it was only a month away, we were advising him (we thought) to think about next year. He came back the next morning and looked us in the eyes and said, “I bought my ticket to San Francisco. For both the Jazz Course and the Levels.” I think that was the fastest conversion either of us ever made!

And now here he was leading 90 people in an imaginative, fun, musical and community-building session, with wild applause at the end and people shouting for more. How satisfying was that to witness?! And then someone came toward me with an ear-to-ear smile and a look like I was supposed to know him. He did look familiar, but I couldn’t quite place him and he told me that he took his first Orff Course with me 10 years ago and it changed his life. For the better. The sweetness kept flowing.

Avon opened that door for me so many years ago and now I’ve opened it—and continue to open it—for others and they in turn will open it for others and isn’t it just the way it is? A river of singing, dancing, joyful people parading down the yellow brick road with Oz shining in their eyes and monkeys and witches be damned. 

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