Thursday, April 25, 2019

Problem. Incubation. A-ha!

I’m always looking for pithy ways to capture the ways in which we really learn and grow. Don’t know where I first saw this one, but I lived it this morning. Yesterday had a class with the 5thgrade who I hadn’t seen in a couple of months because of all my travels. Now was the time to check back in on two pieces we had done to see if we could get them ready for the Spring Concert. So we reviewed all the parts in a kind of helter-skelter way and the tone of the class felt exactly like that—helter-skelter. It’s okay as part of the creative process, like writing horrible first-drafts, but two helter-skelter classes in a row is not a happy situation. So the problem was laid out before me. 

In short, how to take all the separate parts of two pieces I had created from a text and arranged with Orff instruments, recorders, body percussion, singing, percussion instruments, improvisation and more and put them together into one coherent whole. To move from the Romance of messy exploration to the Precision of performance. 

Step number one is to coherently name the problem and I did. Things needed to be set in a clear sequential form and the kids needed to pick one instrument and one part that they would practice and perfect. 

Now came the Incubation. Out of the dizzying array of sonic and kinesthetic possibilities, which would I keep and which throw out? And what would be the best form to feature each media? So the wheels in the brain started turning, both when I pedaled them with focused thought and then on their own in my sleep and in my daydreams. And then literally when I pedaled to school on my bike (in honor of Earth Week), arriving with 10 minutes before my class started. 

I wrote out a possible form of both pieces on the Board, settled the kids to show what their choices were and released them to their chosen instruments and a short period of practice. Then off we went trying it all and with a few changes that were obvious once we tried them, we were going strong! Exciting, forceful music and the kids were 150% behind it, on top of it, around it, into it. This was our “A-ha!” reward, along with some others and kids improvised phrases and started to mold their best ideas into a remembered, composed part. 

And here, surprisingly, I will highly praise the i-Phone as a tool of remembrance. I took pictures of the ensemble so I could remember who was playing what and even recorded snippets of solos that they might want to remember in case they forget in the weeks to come. I also used it to take a photo of the form as I put it on the board. Of course, it worked okay before, kids mostly remembering what they played or me taking the time to write it down. Also to write down in my planning book the form we finally settled on. But nice to have one more back-up in my photos. 

As with school, so with life. Problem—of the thousand things that can go awry with human beings, which one is calling for our attention now? Name it and state your intent to “solve” it (some are unsolvable, but still deserve attention). Then incubate it and prepare for the “A-ha!” And with politics as well. The horror of the last three years is to publicly expose and name problems people like me didn’t realize were still so prevalent. Who could have guessed that there was so much racism still running rampant, so many people willing to excuse outright lying and sheer stupidity, so many people thinking it’s not important for them to vote? But a lot of incubation has been happening in these three years and many “A-ha’s!” May it continue!

For now, the next problem is clear. Will the Warriors beat the Clippers next game? I’m going to sleep on it.

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