Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Class As Music: Step 3

One of the world’s most baffling contradictions is the fact that something as joyful as music can be so tortuous to learn. Many an enthusiastic young musician has had their initial excitement brutally murdered by unkind, weird or angry music teachers who are never convicted of their heinous crimes. Their victims come home whining to their parents, “ I hate music!” and then go in their room and listen to music. What they’re saying in kid talk is, “I love music so much that I hate the unmusical teaching of music.”

And that’s what I was put on the planet for. To stop this stomping down of joy, the squelching of enthusiasm, this brutal murder of music’s gifts by the unthinking teaching of music so unmusically. And no question that my quest was aided enormously by my encounter with the dynamic pedagogy known as Orff-Schulwerk, a way of teaching music, of thinking about music, of making music, that stands in direct opposition to the mindless tedium of scales, teachers yelling at students to “Sing with joy! Or else!”, students cowed and afraid and beaten down by Whiplash psychopaths who think that the words “Good job” kill a student’s motivation.

Most people who encounter Orff Schulwerk are struck by the fun of it all, the relaxed atmosphere, the permission to try things out and feel comfortable taking risks. When in the presence of particularly inspired teachers, some notice that the very process of drawing music out of participants is an artistic one and has the quality of music itself. That is to say that the teacher has created an enticing beginning full of mystery and wonder that beckons the student to step into the dancing ring, that there is a connected middle where one thing leads inexorably into another with a musical flow and develops towards a climax, that there is a satisfying end and return to silence that announces that the journey is over and we have now returned to clock time. In short, that the very class is treated as a piece of music that has an enticing beginning, connected middle, satisfying end and the flow is not interrupted by too much talk and explanation.

Such classes may seem the property of master teachers touched with genius, but in fact are available to all. If you think of your class as a piece of music and plan it with as much attention to detail as composing a piece of music, you'll find that your teaching will change radically. In the summer Orff training, after modeling many such classes like this with my Level III students before they teach their 15 minute Practicum lessons, I remind them when planning to pay attention to that beginning and prepare everything in the body and the voice in a circle. And then to move things along with that musical flow, never stopping to say, “Now we’re going to…” but keep the engine running. That’s one of music’s gifts, the way it moves through time without stopping until the end, always flowing, always developing, always revealing the next nuance of sound and motion. Since we wouldn’t shut our car off everytime we reach a stop sign, why do we so often stop the music and the teacher goes blah, blah, blah, play for another few minutes and then blah, blah, blah? It’s anti-musical! And yes, of course, there are times where it’s necessary and needed, but far fewer times than we think. Finally, I remind them to aim for the sensation of a climax, the satisfaction of a realized cadence.  (And yes, there is a sexual parallel for all of you who I know where thinking that. Or perhaps sex is just copying music.)

At any rate, the fact is that both the model and the ideas spoken out loud make a big difference in the lessons that follow. Each year I witness some 20 musical lessons that actually feel like music and everyone is refreshed. But it takes a lot of thought and reflection and determination to stop teaching as we have been taught and consider this radical new idea (but duh! why didn’t we realize it before?):

The teaching of music should be musical.

Convicted music teachers, show me you learned this lesson and I’ll pay your bail. 

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