Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The New CIA

I’ve posted these photos on Facebook and “likes” far exceed the reaction to posts about my political outrage. No surprise there. It feels better to stand up for something than to stand against something. Both may be necessary, but the uplift from an international group of beautiful souls held together and singing in concentric circles is happier than the latest disaster news. One is a hot, hearty, healthy soup on a cold night and the other is liver and onions (with beets!) on a summer’s night when you wanted ice cream. One is a flowering mountain meadow with children running happily through the fields, the other is grim-faced soldiers standing in formation. The latter may be necessary to protect the former, but what is the proper balance between the beauty and the readiness? (If you compare our country’s defense budget next to our military one, is it too much to suggest that the ratio is way out of balance? In the U.S., 54% of the national budget is for defense nine times greater than the 6% for education. In Switzerland, it’s 5% for military, 7% for education—and 22% for social welfare—quite a different ratio. Food for thought.)

So back to these photos from The SF International Orff Course. For two weeks each summer, teachers come from some 25 countries to get further trained in how to bring joyful music and dance to children. That’s what the brochure promises and it’s real. We do this work well and people leave with new practical ideas, materials and pedagogical tips as to how to teach better. And then back for two more summers to take the next steps.

But as these photos suggest and these teachers will testify, it is so much more than professional development. The love, laughter and lifelong friendships is the larger part of the whole deal. And in a world gone mad, it’s no small achievement to get people from every continent together, not to just “tolerate” each other, but to delight in each other. Of course, it’s easy to live in peace and harmony when it’s only two weeks and we’re not competing for resources or mandated by law or custom to distrust each other. But still, it’s a triumphant story of the change that might because for two glorious weeks in the California countryside, it is. Are there any lessons here for the rest of the world? Consider three:

C is for Children, the small mostly innocent people these teachers hang out with for most of their days. Because the profession offers no fame, fortune nor promise of easy work that you can just coast through, most people who sign up come to it with a love for the little guys and gals. Of course, not all—I see you remembering some of your cruel teachers who perhaps signed up for sadistic purposes or for lack of any other career opportunities—but the folks that I meet mostly are committed to improving the planet one child at a time.

I is for Imagination, Intelligence and Intuition, the three I’s (and eyes) through which the artist sees the world. As music teachers and particularly as Orff Schulwerk practitioners, we cultivate all three. Imagination helps give us the capacity to imagine the other as part of us, intellect helps us cut through the propaganda and brainwashing that keeps us apart, intuition helps us to trust that if it sounds good when this note goes with this chord, it is good, that when it feels good to be around so many diverse people with new songs, stories, tastes, languages and ways of thinking, it is good.

A is for Art, that powerful faculty that helps “thaw the frozen sea within us” (Kafka), that helps us to live in the flow of life, welcoming and responsive to changing circumstances. In art, as Duke Ellington quipped, our favorite composition is always “the next one,” because to be fully alive is to perpetually create. And then when we share our creations, particularly music and dance, we connect with others below the belt of difference and dogma, align our steps, blend out voices and play together in the marvelous dance of co-creation. There’s simply nothing like it to bring a group of people profoundly together.

I would like to rename our course The International Institute of Peace, Harmony and Social Justice Through the Orff Approach to Music and Movement. It’s a bit clumsily and the acronym IIPHSJTOAMM doesn’t exactly swing. But that’s what we’re about. And we have our own CIA Agency to build trust, empathy, hope and action. And if the old CIA comes to investigate because we're a threat to the powers that be, why, first they have to play, sing and dance with us. Wouldn't that be interesting? 

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