Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Songs for the New Year

I believe that some day we shall be weary of this daily miserable struggle, that a little true love will be born in the withered hearts of men. Perhaps, after our hatred, kindled only by a few, there will come one of those cleansing revolutions that will shake the world on its foundations and sweep away the poisonous vapors. Perhaps, then, a new life will rise up and with something of youth and verdure and joy; while the old limping religions, the gods in whom no one believes, will be swept away with the ruins…A little fraternity, a little love, a little gladness will gleam on the face of the world, and catch up the hearts of men in one impulse, in one rhythm. And for these new hearts there will be need to be new songs.            -  

-      Ernst Bloch


September 1st is here and for kids and teachers alike, it’s the real New Year. (Though more and more, the beginning of school is creeping back into mid-August and even earlier!) New Year, in all times  and in all places, is the time for renewal, for resurgence of hope, for taking stock and making vows and re-making intentions. And so what better way to begin than this sweeping quote from Ernst Bloch. 


Ernst Bloch was a German-Jewish Marxist philosopher (1885-1977) who escaped Nazi Germany and wrote a book called The Principles of Hope, which aligns perfectly with these stirring and eloquent words. And yet the quote is actually from another Ernst Bloch, a contemporary who was a Swiss-Jewish composer (1880-1959) who also emigrated to the U.S. and lived in Oregon. (I’m not familiar with his music, but am now curious to search it out. Amongst other details of his bio, he studied briefly with Emile Jacques-Dalcroze, one of the first innovators of moderns music education).


But how well he captures the zeitgeist of our time (of all times?) with his image of the withered hearts awaiting a spark of love when they finally grow weary of the hard work of ongoing hatred. The insight that it is a self-serving few who kindle that hatred and the hope that we can wake up to how we are being duped and be cleansed of the poisonous vapors. Indeed, new laws and better enforcement of some old ones are necessary— who can doubt that?— but the thing that will “shake the world on its foundations” is never simply concrete and practical, but comes from the depths of the soul. It comes from the inspiration and determination to reclaim our youthful sense of wonder and dream and the green hope of Spring. Away with the limping religions incapable of walking or dancing us into the future we deserve, away with the fantasy gods who we think will solve it for us (“I’ve got this! -God” was a sign I saw outside a church in Michigan and could only think, “Do you really?”), away with the winner/loser mindset that keeps driving political discourse and action. Once swept away, there will be room for a gleaming spark of fraternity, of love, of gladness to catch fire and ignite the waiting hearts of us weary people.


And then that stunning last line:


“And for these new hearts there will be need to be new songs.”


Music to a music teacher’s ears! What else are we training the children for other than creating the songs we need? No need to throw out the songs we once needed that keep playing and re-playing in our repertoire, but yes to moving them forward with new interpretations and versions and previously unimagined creations that show we are alive and alert to this day. 


Happy New Year to kids and teachers everywhere!

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