How do I know I’m not finished with my work? When new ideas or new variations of things I’ve done one way for years and now discovered another way, keep appearing. One idea that came to me years back that has borne bountiful fruit is called the Secret Song. Gather the kids around and with a whispered voice, tell them about a secret song that lies within the xylophone bars like gold in the earth, waiting only for them to find it and release it into the world. All they need is a pair of mallets to dig around, a listening ear to notice when the song has announced itself and a mind that can remember it when it’s time to share. Off they go into the corners of the room as far away from each other as they can and ten minutes later, come back to share their golden sounds.
I’ve done this as a first class in xylophones with 5-year olds and not said a thing about mallet technique or phrasing or rhythm or home notes. I just come into it with a firm faith in the innate musicality of every child and a firm belief that they will reveal, to me, their classmates and themselves, their unique way of musical thinking. And I have never been disappointed. Each and every one indeed performs a piece that justly deserves the title of “music.” Without exception.
In my last year of teaching, I tried it with 6th graders as well, some of whom were new to school and had never played the xylophone, some who had been playing for six or more years. Again, the results were spectacular. This is a class that each person, each age level, each level of musical background, can equally enjoy and achieve success. If Zakir Hussein, Esperanza Spalding, Bobby McFerrin and Yo Yo Ma were in the class, I believe they would be as engaged as the rank beginner and all could share their results without worry about better or worse, higher or lower.
In my adult teaching, the groups are usually too large to do anything but describe the process and show a video of the kids, but with 15 students in my Verona class, I not only had each go off to create one, but came up with a new idea about sharing. We re-gathered in a circle and whoever wanted to play first after I finished the directions could and then whoever was inspired to follow could. If two started playing at the same time (which didn’t happen), they could play a duet. I reminded them that this would be a concert never played before in the entire history of humanity and would never be played again.
The result was stunning. Each one unique, some demonstrating intriguing mallet techniques that later the whole group could practice, some approaching it rhythmically, some more melodically, some with busy energy, some with a sense of space, no two alike. It was a supremely musical experience.
The way I think, I suggested that this class also was living proof that each of us has a unique irreplaceable voice that the world is waiting for. Just as no two human beings have the same body, mind, heart, fingerprints, etc., so do no two people think exactly alike as they create music. The world keeps trying to narrow us down to think alike, to feel alike, to march to the same drummer with someone else (or now machines) setting the beat and tempo, but the Soul has its own blueprint and yearns to be expressed, refuses to be reduced to the herd mentality. So much of school is trying to shut that down, train us to obedience and the party line, but in my music class, the whole of you is not only invited, but encouraged to reveal its glory. Here all of the authentic you is welcome. Here we want to hear your secret song.
Ah, fellow Orff teachers and all teachers, this work is so needed. Let us continue.