Saturday, March 12, 2022

Breaking the Cycle: I- The Musical Congress


“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

-      Albert Einstein


Imagine two people playing a little clapping game together a la Miss Mary Mack  or Pat-a Cake. They face each other, look into each other’s eyes, co-ordinate their hands in a common rhythm and their voices in a shared song. The game helps organize the rhythms of the body, the pattern coordinates the connections in the brain, the teamwork connects them to each other in a common purpose. They’re standing in a circle with other people playing the same game at the same time so their joint venture is united with yet a larger harmony. At the end of the game, each turns around and repeats the game with a new partner, whoever is behind them. They don’t get to choose the partner and thus, prepare themselves to be stranded on a bus with a random group of strangers and figure out how to solve their predicament and learn to enjoy their teamwork in the process. 


After playing the game with two or more different partners, they then have to make up a new version. New words or new motions or a new choreography of the given motions. The partners share their creative solution with another set of partners and then all four create a new version combining ideas. Each group of four then shares with the group as a whole, with comments from their peers about how to improve it and further ideas about how to integrate their creations into a yet larger group choreography to be shared in performance with a yet larger audience. All are united in a common venture and amidst the small disappointments or disagreements are the compromises that allow them to achieve the goal of creating something intelligible, expressive, dynamic and beautiful. All of which will be practiced and rehearsed and refined for a performance that brings all those qualities— intelligence, energy, beauty and happiness— to the greater community. 


Sound good? This is no airy dream or vision, but a description of the kind of work I and my Orff music teacher colleagues do every day.  The children playing are happy and the younger or older students, teachers, parents and general school community are all uplifted and refreshed by the performance. The world suddenly seems a slightly rosier place. 


Now imagine that the circle of partners playing the game were not children in a school music class, but Republican and Democrat congress-people. They play as described above, but being inferior beings to the open-hearted children, we’d have to make some strict  rules.


1) Everybody must play. No one can opt out or filibuster the game. 

2) Each must try their best. No one can purposefully derail the game simply because they feel uncomfortable playing it. 

3) No bullying or insulting other players. 

4.) Each player’s partner must be from the opposing political party. 


Imagine that after going through the entire process as described above, the Senators/ Congress-people then discussed with their partners one of the bills on the floor. Each pair would then report back to the greater body, but speaking their partner’s point of view. (Extra-credit if they turn it into a song or a rap!) After a brief recess when all partners had lunch together, they then came back to business as usual to discuss and vote on the bill.


But could it be business as usual having gone through the process described above? Can you feel how the whole toxic atmosphere of us and them, of demonizing the opponents, of thinking as a block following the party line rather than considering the points as individuals, would change? If not, back to music class.


And on to group circle dances, mixers dancing with different partners, choral singing in parts, drum circles and instrument ensembles (xylophones for those without other instrumental skills) where opposing lines join to create beautiful harmonies and counterpoints. The whole nine yards of people united vibration by vibration for a common goal and purpose, not only for the deep pleasure of this most essential of human experiences, but for the metaphor that reminds them all that they were elected not to serve their party, but the people. Their job is not to win while the opposing party loses, but to work together in service of the common good. 


If they still need help understanding this, there’s more. The Oxdansen dance in which partners playfully (and artfully) pretend to slap each other around. The beanbag game where all walk around the room balancing beanbags and have to freeze if one falls off, to be unfrozen only if others notice and put the beanbag back (at the risk of dropping their own). The songs that stir us to the beauty alongside the duty of social justice. Active, physical, tangible practice of what it feels like to share this precious planet with others, to work together, to play together, to create together. All the things that help a society function, keep a culture vibrant and healthy and make its citizens happier and well cared-for.


If you agree that our governing system is deeply broken to the point of insanity as we do the same things over and over again with the same result of rancor, division, ineffective government, why not try something different?  How else can we break the cycle of insanity? If we try it and it doesn’t help, so be it. But if we don’t try it, we’ll never know. What’s to lose?


I’ll await the call from President Biden and see if I can fit this into my workshop schedule.



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