Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Words divide. Sounds unite.

Back in the home I know best— a circle of willing teachers (or kids) anywhere in the world ready and able to have a helluva lot of fun doing the serious, serious work of crafting a new generation of musical humanitarians, humanitarian musicians. Feels right to return to the flow of a visionary life, a place where each little game or song or piece of music carries significance and meaning. 

This course’s theme is World Music, a dubious term that came from our need to categorize and label and mostly meant folk music from diverse cultures that is not classical, jazz or pop. But of course, all music that takes place in this world is World Music. Just like Louis Armstrong said that “all music is folk music. I ain’t never heard a horse sing no song!” (This was before the popular TV show “Mister Ed.”)

The surface purpose is to learn some cool games, songs, dances and instrumental pieces that will help fulfill some multi-cultural mandate. The next level deeper is the way the Orff approach can touch on the universals of music-making while also preparing understanding of the diverse particulars. All cultures have clapping games, counting-out games, beat-passing games, rock-paper-scissors games and more and it’s delightful to learn the intriguingly different styles and languages amidst the universal connections. Likewise circle dances, work songs, lullabies, love songs and such. 

Then there’s the unifying theoretical layer of all the ways the same tones of the pentatonic scale can be organized differently, the different flavors of the modes and the stylistic variations possible within the same three chords. Carl Orff famously said “Let the children be their own composers” and exposure to diverse ways of organizing sound expands the definition of what “music” can be and enlarges the possibilities for future composition. 

But don’t stop there. After a rollicking morning of games and songs, we sat in a circle and each spoke of their own ethnic heritage and their own reason for coming to a course titled “World Music.” Two themes that arose:

• Teachers working in schools with populations representing over 60 languages (this is Halifax, Nova Scotia!) and wanting to serve their students better by learning something from their kids’ home cultures.

• Teachers working in homogenous schools where the prevailing Scots-Irish population of kids had no exposure to a larger world and were in danger of growing up ignorant of the wider possibilities of culture and understanding of difference. 

One teacher began: “Words divide. Sounds unite. Music is a path toward harmonious co-existence.” Another eloquently said, “We can meet difference with fear or curiosity. I choose the latter and that’s what I want to teach my kids.” A third said, “Negotiating the challenges of accepting, tolerating and eventually celebrating difference is the most important thing our times demand.” 

I couldn’t agree more. And so I’m back to the work that helps move these ideas along and happily so. 

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