Monday, July 9, 2018

Body and Vowels

“Know thyself” said Socrates, but he could have given a few more hints as to how. One thing I would recommend is to find out something about how you learn and remember. And to do that, you need to figure out which of the multiple intelligences is buzzing in your brain at any given time. Are you hearing music in your head, imagining images, feeling the wholeness of your body, scanning your emotional state, processing ideas through language? Of course, you’re probably doing a combination of them all plus more, but which one is your go-to conversation in your brain?

When I first read up on Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences, it struck me that the musical intelligence is not my dominant one. Unlike Mozart, Wagner, Miles Davis, Bobby McFerrin, tunes are not circulating in my head just waiting to be brought out onto paper, the instrument or the voice. It’s a bit weird that I’ve built my life on being a music teacher when I’m not musical in this effortless and profound way. But I think that it helps me be more compassionate and understanding of children who also are not put together this way and show them how they can still be musical and keep music in their lives.

What does circulate around my synapses are ideas and focused thoughts, the kind begging to be put on paper or spoken coherently. Like this blog for example. Wagner said composing for him was like a cow giving milk and I think the same can be said for my almost daily blog posts. It takes five seconds to select a title based on the conversation-in-my-head-du-jour and about 5 minutes to write it down here. Not that I’m comparing these posts to Tristan and Isolde, but the difference is in degree, not kind.

So here in Ghana there is so much that I love, but it also kicks my butt and reminds me how much I live in my head and how much effort it takes to awaken the body and how much attention is takes to open the heart in a warm, immediate way, not my distant universal love of humanity professed in words. In the Ghanaian drum classes and dance classes and again here with the international teachers in the Body Music Festival, I’m painfully aware of my tendency to overthink things rather than just dive in. I’m trying to understand it with my head first instead of releasing my body intelligence to the task. It trips me up and is sometimes maddening.

I’m also painfully aware that I have a lot of trouble learning phrases in other languages, especially when they involve a lot of vowels. And I’m suspecting that Ewe and Zulu and Twi and other languages I’ve come in contact with this trip are heavily voweled and I also suspect that this is no accident. The vowels carry emotion (as any singer knows) and emotion and feeling first is a staple in oral cultures that are not big fans of disembodied abstract thought. I suspect like a heavy consonant language like German has much to do (though not clear whether the chicken or egg come first) with the obtuse philosophical rational thought associated with much German historical culture. Has anyone done a study on this?

Of course, the good news is that using multiple strategies, including a visual representation of the vowels or a musical interpretation of the dance or a mathematical analysis of the music, I can eventually learn things that seem to come easier and faster to other types of learners. And that’s fine. Because hey, can they write a blogpost as fast as I wrote this? Ha ha!

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