Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Playground of Possibility

One of the great pleasures of this work is watching people—adults or children—release their fears and doubts and go to a place of possibility they have never visited. Yesterday, one of the teachers in the Jazz Course decided to try the stand-up bass and was so moved by his accomplishment that he asked us to take a photo so he could remember the moment.

For me, this is par for the course. The music room is—or should be— a place of safety, a place free of unnecessary fears, a place to try stuff out and see how it goes, a playground of possibility. It’s a place for kids (or adults) to discover things about themselves that they didn’t know before or had dreamed about, but never touched. It’s a place to draw forth, to lead out (the root meanings of “education”) those potentials hiding in the basement or tucked away in the attic and bring them out into the light to see what they look like and feel like and what they might have to offer. They may discover that these hidden potentials deserve a seat at the table with the already known parts of themselves or may rise to the status of head chef or may prove to be just a temporary guest. Whichever doesn’t matter, what matters is that they were given a chance to have their say and not neglected or pushed away or demeaned.

The Orff approach is particularly well-suited to this kind of invitation, touching so many parts of what a human being can experience and express and savor. Dozens of different instruments to try out, music entered through multiple doors—singing, dancing, conducting, playing, body percussion, vocal percussion, speech-chant-poetry, drama and beyond, the constant invitation to invent, improvise, compose, choreograph something new. In the Orff playground of possibility, folks are swinging, sliding, climbing, tunneling, building, see-sawing, splashing and more and no one is standing over them with a clipboard marking down numbers or directing them with the order of events and amount of time spent at each station.

Like real playgrounds, Orff courses for teachers should have a sign: “Adults must be accompanied by children.” That is, their happy, wounded, dreaming, neglected, funny child within come to reclaim its wonder and curiosity and sensual joy and fully partake as they once did or didn’t, but now can. To live anew the old Tom Robbins’ quote:

“It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.”

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