Sunday, April 29, 2018

Meeting the Unexpected


I imagine every field of work has its own criteria for mastery and that the alert practitioner can always find something to improve. And I suspect that the true test of mastery, the one that separates a stellar expert from a competent one, comes from meeting the unexpected. You may have spent years crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s, but when confronted with the unknown, you have to reach from a deeper part of yourself and improvise your way through the situation. Whether it’s a pilot discovering one wing is on fire or a chef suddenly out of a needed ingredient with all stores closed, it’s the larger vision and deeper practice that will see her or him through.

This on my mind arriving in Mexico City in a quite different Orff workshop circumstance than I’m used to. 99 out of 100 invitations come from people who have seen my work at a conference or a course and want more of it. And they are mostly, though not always, people who I have met and remember. This invitation came from out of the blue from folks who had seen something online or looked at my Website and felt that sufficient to invite me to a Festival they were preparing. In this particular gathering, there had never been an Orff workshop (or at least to my knowledge) and while many of the invited teachers were teaching kids, I was working with teachers for three days, six hours per day. I didn’t know the organizers nor the fellow teachers, who, as it turned out, were mostly Suzuki teachers who had worked in this Festival before.

No matter, I was game, especially as it has long been a dream of mine to teach an Orff Course in Mexico, a place that seems musically and culturally ripe for this kind of work. With the added advantage that it’s close to California and I can teach in Spanish. I got picked up at the airport by three young guys who kind of reminded me of the characters in Y Tu Mamá Tambien, though in fact, they were quite polite and cordial to me. Got checked into a hotel, ate at a restaurant upstairs that I thought would be free (ie, chargeable to my room) which didn’t turn out to be the case and I hadn’t changed any money. (Luckily, my credit card worked.) The food was excellent, but one room away was a pounding disco beat at full volume followed by some dubious Karaoke. In the lobby was a Starbucks, across the street a Subway sandwich shop and down the block a Bikram Yoga place. Welcome to Mexico?

My class didn’t begin until 10 am, a luxury for me, so I enjoyed a leisurely morning the next day and sauntered down for breakfast at 8:45. There I was met from someone from the Festival who seemed anxious to get me to my class. When I mentioned I hadn’t eaten and there was plenty of time, he showed me the time on his phone. It said 9:45. I had 15 minutes! Turns out that I re-set my watch one hour ahead, but in reality, it was supposed to be two hours.

And so I rushed to class without a drop of breakfast, arrived in a room with rows of seats facing the center. Got to work moving them off to the sides. There were Orff instruments there, but many only had one mallet. I asked if someone could fetch a little fruit or something so I wouldn’t have to teach for three hours on an empty stomach.  This was not an auspicious beginning!

But the most baffling was a woman there with her adult daughter, perhaps with Downs Syndrome and in a wheelchair. She couldn’t easily grab things with her hands, her speech seemed rudimentary and how was I going to do circle dances with someone in a wheelchair? Here was an unexpected situation that I’ve rarely encountered and no one thought to advise me ahead of time so that I might think about it. I must confess that I was concerned and a bit annoyed.

But here was that test of mastery in my field. And that field is not only to figure out how to get the maximum music out of anyone whose path I cross, but also figure out how to celebrate and enjoy each person. And I’m proud to report that I figured a lot out. Went over and introduced myself, found out her name was Claudia, brought her into the circle for the first activity and adjusted my plan to not move around in the circle. I chose her as a partner in one of the clapping plays and when it finally came time to dance, I gave her a tambourine to accompany the song from the side. Later, as we began to sing, she sang right along, a half a beat behind and a whole tone off pitch. But no matter. I was thrilled with her energy, her joy, her determination to participate at her level. At the end of the first day, I thanked the class for a lovely day and gave special thanks to my favorite student—Claudia! 

This morning, she was there eager and ready to go and her mother said she had a question. Between her difficult speech and the Spanish, I didn’t quite get it, but her mother translated:
“What is the difference between Orff and Kodaly?”  

Whoah!!! That is a sophisticated question!!! It really took me by surprise, but I answered it seriously and she listened intently. Later in the class, I did a dance with her that involved swinging a partner (simply turning her around in her chair) and then moving through space to find a new partner. She was so happy! And so was I.

Later still, she joined a group improvising a dance and they created a moment in which her mother pushed her through a tunnel of arms. At the end, when all the groups shared their dances and then pointed at their favorite group, her group won hands down.

So many highlights in these two days! Getting to do my version of Bate Chocolate in the country of origin, a group coming up with a dance move I’ve never seen but now will rob and incorporate into my work, thoroughly enjoying the 24 students, some 10 of which are men(!), integrating violin, viola, melodica, cuatro and guitar into the Orff Ensemble. But hands down, meeting Claudia tops them all. I’ll bring my camera tomorrow for a photo!

And thanks to the 10th International Festival Cedros for the invite. One more day tomorrow and hopes for a morning of tourism.

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