I got severely beat up by a gang of fifteen juvenile delinquents today. 100 people watched the massacre and not a single one stepped in to help me. In fact, they seemed to be thoroughly enjoying it. And in my own way, so was I.
The setting was a demonstration Orff class with fifteen 4-year olds and a 100 teachers and parents watching. For an hour. I didn’t know the kids and they didn’t know me and that’s usually not a problem. But these kids also were brand-new to the formal music class, so the basics of walking in line, freezing when the drum stops, staying in the circle without running away, raising your hand before yelling that you want the pink egg-shaker, following the rules of the game instead of shaking your head in staunch refusal and other such basic social skills that a music class counts on weren’t all in place. The idea that if one kid gets up and starts running, everyone else should too, well, that was in their behavior repertoire and spinning in front of me while I was singing so that I was getting seasick was likewise part of the norm for some. Did I mention that the class was an hour long?
And so it was the best class ever for the teachers to watch! So much more useful then the smoothly run one where all the kids march to my drum and then know how to beat their own when invited. Folks got to see how you start from zero and witness every strategy to control the damage that you’ve been collecting for four decades. And believe me, I used them all. Here’s a sample:
• To the girl screaming out after leaving the circle, I said to the kids, “Oh, sounds like someone’s singing an angry song. Isn’t that interesting?”
• To the same one demanding the pink egg shaker, I said, “Well, if you come in the circle and sing the song with us, you might get to play it.”
• The same again yelling, “I did not feed the chickens!” when kids pointed to her in the song. “Neither did we,” I said. “We’re just pretending. Try it!”
• To the girl spinning in front of me, I said, “Over by the door there is a special spot just for kids who want to spin. Do you want to spin there? You can’t spin here in front of me because I’m getting sick and I don’t want to throw up on you.”
• To the boy, who refused to get up when tapped in the King Glory game, I just saved him until last. When he still didn’t get up, I just went on with class and he eventually did.
• To the 3-year olds on the sideline who started running around while we all sang, “My Aunt Came Back,” I said, “Any adults want to come get the kids running?” And then suddenly all the 4-year olds started running with them. I should have just gotten all the adults to start running with them, but I stubbornly tried to get them back into the song, with mild success.
Like I said, I was thoroughly defeated. But hey, it keeps it real, it keeps me humble (the “expert” in front of 100 observers) and the discussion afterwards was rich with insight and observation and appreciation of how much we all learned from the untamed wild nature of 4-year old kids in a music class before they are civilized by the structures of the Orff approach.