One of my daughter Talia’s favorite books is called The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker. As a teacher and someone tuned in to her social intelligence, Talia has long been a master of gathering. She cooked a turkey in her bikini in Argentina just to share the holiday with her new Argentina friends when she lived there. She makes everyone at the dinner table share their rose (highlight), thorn (lowlight) and sky flower (surprise) of the day before the first bite is taken. She’s created the ritual of a monthly 5-mile walk to school once a month with her class. The above book both affirms her hosting talents and gives her new ideas, but if she never read it, she could have written it.
My daughter Kerala has her own sense of appreciation for gathering rituals and traditions, chronicled so beautifully in her most recent writing piece on Medium.com (see HUMANPARTS.MEDIUM.COM/ The Places Where We Make Our Memories: On the importance of gathering and tradition). As noted in that piece, she not only shares appreciation for our many and varied family traditions, but has worked to create her own new ones with her family in Portland. Like neighborhood pumpkin carving and the neighborhood block party.
Those apples don’t fall far from the tree, as perhaps my most significant legacy at The San Francisco School where I worked for 45 years was to create, develop and sustain a year-round ceremonial life. The opening ceremony with its bagpipe call to gathering, threading through the singing tunnel of teachers, the youngest and oldest gong ringing, the water pouring ceremony from oldest to youngest (the passing of knowledge) and from youngest to oldest (sustaining wonder and curiosity), the introduction of the teachers where each has to dance. The Halloween Intery Mintery ritual, the Holiday Plays, the St. George and the Dragon play with sword dance, much of the Martina Luther King Ceremony, the Samba Contest, the Cookie Jar Contest, the Spring Concert, the closing festivities involving a dessert called the Mud Pie, a hug line and much more. Not to mention the square dance, Wandering Nostril bedtimes, campfires and more on the many years we went camping.
Once in place, other teachers, kids and certainly my colleagues James and Sofia contributed much to the evolution of each, but the initial impulse for almost all of it was mine. It certainly fit with my Orff Schulwerk style and skills, itself a constant gathering with structures to bring people together and connect them through play, song, music, dance, drama, poetry, storytelling and more. James, Sofia and I have also adapted many of the school rituals to our annual Orff Training Course and I believe it’s no small part of what makes the course distinctive.
I’m happy to report that now two years retired, the rituals live on at the school without my presence. As I plan my future disappearances, it gives me great solace to feel how my two children value these things as I have and will carry them on in their own voices. And though she doesn’t relish a leadership role, my wife certainly plays a significant part in it all, appreciation peeking out behind her complaints about getting the house ready for the Neighborhood Caroling Party. (Which, of course, she does expertly.)
But before I step off the stage, I wonder if I should organize my interest, experience and skills in group gathering and travel the country, the world over, to help schools and other community groups do it all with more flair, more meaning and of course, more music and song. In all my long years training teachers, I’ve heard of a few who were inspired to apply some of the ideas to their own schools and community, but not nearly as many as I’d like.
Of course, rituals abound in schools. Certainly seasonal concerts, sports events, hopefully plays, some fairs and most commonly, graduation. Yet there is so much more that could be done to help students and teachers alike feel the pleasure of anticipating the next seasonal marker, to help create the sense of a community celebrating the privilege of being alive together in this place, this moment, with great fanfare and festivity and fun, to help everyone discover a bit of what they can contribute through the opportunities to sing, play, dance, speak, decorate, cook, organize, document. If schools continue to be mandatory gathering places, why not make them more meaningful, more mirthful, more memorable?
I’m available for hire. My daughters too.