I’m writing this from the new Learning Commons in The San Francisco School which used to be the 1st (or 2nd) grade classroom which used to be the Activity Room where the community gathered before the Community Center was built. We had our opening and closing ceremonies here and some memorable moments during the MLK Ceremonies with Melba Beals, Linda Tillery and others. We had esteemed guests ranging from the Gee’s Bend Quilters to Baka Pygmies to Tibetan sand-painting monks. Our summer Orff Course held our dance classes and opening/ closing ceremonies and Untalent Show with extraordinary musical moments. In short, a lot of magic and beauty still vibrating in this space now filled with 5-year-olds looking at books.
I just taught four Middle School classes to kids I did and didn’t know and I’m not sure who was happier. Me feeling their considerable skills, energy, enthusiasm, fearlessness in self-expression and good humor or them being with a teacher who could get them playing some stirring music in 15-minutes, praising every nuance of their efforts. (Of course, they’re used to that with many, if not all, of their teachers at the school, but it doesn’t hurt to get some more!) I had a few moments walking to the kitchen and feeling both the resonance of the familiar (45 years of walking those halls!) and the slightly strange surprise of the changes. I still believe in the power of preserving spaces while being open to the next needed alteration, but it’s the Spirit that counts the most and I could still feel the overall sense of happy children wherever I went. And the pleasure of still being known and recognized and enthusiastically welcomed by both the kids and the teachers. It’s sweet.
Now it’s time to get ready for Singing Time, that most tasty of icings on an already delicious cake. And double the pleasure—one with preschool and one with elementary!
Sing we did and though a little weird that I didn’t know a single one of the 3-5 year olds, of course, I knew them all. They knew I knew them, I knew I knew them and as always, so tickled by the ones who pop out with their brilliant rhymes, expressive singing, inspired motions. Then came the elementary and here I was in familiar company with most of them and we just picked up from the last Singing Time we had together two and a half years ago without missing a beat. They requested some of their favorites (which included Frosty the Snowman), we sang This Little Light of Mine and had it shine all over tomorrow’s voting booths, I sang my scary Halloween song and of course, ended with Side By Side. Every second of the 20 minutes was glorious, but it was some six hours too short.
I’ve worked hard my whole life to craft the details of the musical music lesson (summarized in my Teach Like It’s Music book) and those details certainly help make the class effective, pleasurable and musically vibrant for all. But not a single teaching tip will carry any weight without that feeling I have in front of a room of 20 to 200 kids of any age, that effortless sense of being wholly at home and in my element and embraced in the love for it all. The kids feel how relaxed I am, how happy I am to be with them, how safe they can feel to fully express themselves (short of anything that causes damage, of course) and the love feeds on the love and we can do anything, sing anything, feel anything, be anything. It really is a gift that simply is, though of course, it takes a lifetime of work to fully receive it and to be worthy of it. It can happen anywhere with any group of children or consenting adults, but it meant the world to me to taste it again in my old school and music room with the kids and teachers who still remember me.
So it turns out I still have that connection with the school I left. And if I need further proof, here it— the school Wi-fi remembered me!!