In a conversation yesterday, the way four Universities had done me wrong came up. I was doing my best to play the game and fit the Orff training into these institutions and in each case, ended up unappreciated, misunderstood and dismissed—figuratively and literally. The deep lesson is that what the Orff approach was offering and my own view about what education should mean simply didn’t blend with University thinking— and much to their shame, I might add. In each case, our course was successful, meeting the needs of the students beyond anyone’s expectations and making money for the school, but the fact was that the ruling powers didn’t care. If they randomly decided they needed to clean the dorms a week earlier, it was up to us to change our schedules. And so on.
Ah, me and school. We both need each other, in different ways, but the relationship is often so contentious. But not always. I went to a college where I got college credit for canoeing, bird-watching, hitchhiking and wine-tasting in France. I’ve worked most of my life in a school where I teach barefoot, the kids call me by my first name and no one makes me turn in my lesson plans.
And the music I’ve studied has often not been in university classrooms, but under trees in Ghana, on verandahs in Bali, in hotel rooms in Bulgaria, in my teacher’s home in India, in church basements and rec centers, in summer camps with gurgling streams and redwood trees, in elementary school gyms on Saturday.
I mentioned Michael Meade’s book The Genius Myth in yesterday’s post and found this intriguing passage:
The ancient Irish storytellers used to wander from village to village using old stories to bring life lessons to light for both the young and the old. After the colonization of Ireland, there were severe punishments for even using the native language. The old tellers had to pull the young people out of sight, often behind the hedges in order to share the wisdom of stories. Thus, “hedge school” named a moveable place of sudden education being offered amidst the dangers of life.
“A moveable place of sudden education offered amidst life’s dangers.” Yeah! That well describes our summer Orff training. And though disappointed, bitter and angry at the time these institutions closed their doors to us, in the end, I had to thank them. For my search for the right place landed me at Hidden Valley Music Seminars in beautiful Carmel Valley, a retreat center run by a marvelous, warm, wise man who gets what we do and loves it. It is indeed a retreat from life’s dangers and idiocies and bureaucracies and you can walk through the grounds and find people working out dances on redwood decks, playing recorder under eucalyptus trees, singing out in the field.
And another great center of Orff training, though connected politically with the staid and conservative Mozarteum Conservatory in Salzburg, is off in a field away from the city’s center with a view of the mountains and alongside the Allee where Julie Andrews skipped her way to the Von Trapp home. Another Hedge School where folks from all over the world come to study this dangerous pedagogy that dares to promote thinking and feeling and community bonding.
So in your face, Universities! I’d still like to believe that you could be large and wise enough to include a hedge school alongside your ivory towers, but I’m not holding my breath. And note: I’ve managed to achieve world-wide notoriety as an accomplished teacher in my field, get to travel the world over to teach, will soon publish my 10th book, have been the Keynote Speaker at various conferences—all without a Masters Degree or a PhD. If you wanted to give me an Honorary Doctorate, I wouldn’t refuse it. But meanwhile, I’m content and grateful to keep teaching behind the hedges wherever people are hungry to discover who else they could be alone and who else we all could be together.
And get University credit, of course.