Wednesday, August 4, 2021

A Story for Every Occasion

I’m noticing something a little different about my teaching these days, live or online. If I sing a particular song or play a piece or dance a dance or get a question from a student, chances are that there is a companion story that goes with it. “This is what happened in my 4thgrade class when we played this piece” or “This is how I learned this piece” or “This play speaks in images the deep condition of humanity and what the world is asking us to consider.” This has been true a long time, the way I feel music as its own self-contained beauty, but also as a doorway into so many other intriguing and necessary passages of the human experience. 

 

So finishing my 8thday of teaching Level III, there has hardly been a piece I’ve taught that didn’t also carry with it a story from my life, one that I hope touches some universal experience that drives the point home deeper and will help make the experience memorable for the people playing and singing the music. Who may become part of my next round of stories about this piece or carry it forth into their own storied world and share it with the children. 

 

Today, I talked about the setting for one of the pieces Orff and/or Keetman composed and how I used it as the climatic piece in a 5thgrade version of the Greek myth Demeter and Persephone.This happened some 35 years ago, but as I began to describe the play we put on and the background to this particular piece, my voice cracked. For it was the piece that heralded the return of Persephone to the upper world and her reunion with her mother after a long exile. 


Between little sobs, I could hardly complete my sentences, but there you go— the power of art properly rendered in which an amateur 5thgrade play can move one at the same level as Yo Yo Ma playing Bach on his cello or Keith Jarrett playing a solo jazz ballad. 

 

And that was the real lesson of the day. Not how the piece was a good example of a I-V-IV chord progression, how it used thirds harmonies, how it could work equally on recorder or xylophone or how skillfully the bass accompaniment was handled. All of which is true. But I hope that the Level III students noted how seeing their teacher publicly cry remembering a sublime moment in a 5thgrade play 35 years ago is the deeper reason why we’re doing this work. 

 

A story for every occasion and the occasion is to dig deeper into the full glory of a life lived to the edges of joy and sorrow. 

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