Not the lesson plan, not the person telling you what page to turn in the book, not the person clicking the buttons on the screen, but the very flesh and blood and heart and soul and vibrational energy of the teacher—that’s what’s important. Especially the music teacher. My Bulgarian bagpipe teacher once told me to take some lessons with his teacher and when I protested that his English wasn’t good, he reminded me that that didn’t matter a bit. Just to be in the presence of his sound, taken in by the aura of his musicianship, was what mattered. In the same way that simply sitting in the presence of the Indian guru or Japanese Zen Master transmits more essential information than any words they say, the musician creates a force-field that goes from vibration to vibration.
And so my friend Tom Pierre presented his session “From Gullah to Gospel” and while it was well organized, following a historical thread and even supported by slides on a Powerpoint, what really happened there was Tom’s extraordinary movement, singing, spirit, not on display for admiration (though worthy of it) but as an open door to invite us into the mansion of our own expressive power far beyond what we had previously imagined. We pay big money to be a satellite in the orbit of the charismatic rock star at the concert, but more often than not, it becomes more about them, about admiring or worshipping their shining star and neglecting the light that we carry. But Tom used his hard-earned and deeply-lived talent to bring us into the fold, to get us singing better than we normally do, moving better than we normally do, letting our soul out because while sometimes shy and cautious, soul mostly wants to shout and exult and fully announce itself. Tom created a shining pathway between his soulful expression and our own and we stepped out onto it and danced on the path to the full glory of music’s power.
The so-called Orff process is too often a clever baby-step now-overly-Power-pointed sequence to musical understanding and skill, with the teachers seated comfortably in their day-today voice impotent to fully release our greatest musical possibilities because they don’t reveal our own. What Tom modelled can’t be captured in print nor reduced to a formula— it needs to be lived and nurtured and developed.
Of course, it’s a tall order that every teacher emanate the power of their life and spirit and lived understanding and there’s a thousand steps along the way involving improving one’s craft, listening closely to and observing the students, creating engaging lessons that have a dynamic shape, flow and design, and so on. But it’s helpful to consider what the mountain peak looks and feels like as we begin our climb. And Tom’s workshop was a good example.
Congratulations, my friend!