Tuesday, January 10, 2023


Let me be honest here. My 45 years of work at a school internationally known for its music program, my 35 years of giving courses in some 50 countries, my ten books and innumerable articles I’ve written, all of it and more helps my reputation to precede me when I present at a Conference. It creates an atmosphere in which there is a certain degree of idolization, adoration, profound respect from the people attending. Some mild cases of star-struck folks and some degree of being in the presence of someone notable in their field.

But unlike an erudite scientist or remarkable author or powerful politician or virtuosic musician attending some conference or event or university as a guest, there is a difference. Like this morning, when I joined the others in the hotel swimming pool for a morning musical wake-up session hilariously led by the Conference chair. It’s hard to be star-struck when you’re splashing next to that guy in his bathing suit. Or like this afternoon, when I went to a movement session led by someone I had taught in the Special Course in Salzburg and I had to get up and reveal my always dubious dance skills to teachers I had just taught and work side-by-side with them to create a choreography. 

Orff Schulwerk has always had a way of leveling people down to their more human size by insisting on the impossible— that everyone be equally accomplished in rhythm, melody, harmony, movement, dance, body percussion, singing, expressive speaking, recorder proficiency, xylophone technique, drama skills, pedagogical insight and yet more. Many can be an expert in one area, but few an expert in all. And with the expectation that if you’re in the room where any Orff Schulwerk activity is happening, the clear expectation is that you participate. No sitting off to the side with your arms folded. It levels the playing field in a healthy and humbling way. And if the activity is the Australian (thanks to Dot Thompson!) Orff-Poolwerk, you’re simply one of the gang in the way that Australians love and that ends up ratcheting up the respect, minus the inflated adoration.

In Finland, this goes yet one level deeper as you might end the day naked in a mixed gender sauna. Imagine that Congress met in the sauna. I believe the conversations that followed would be more honest and humble and vulnerable (despite the distaste of imagining some of those actual people in the sauna!).

So hooray for all of it. We all put our pants on one leg at a time and while we certainly will always admire hard-earned accomplishment, in the end, we’re just swimming in the pool together. Or at least soaking in the hot tub with our bathing suits still on. 

(PS Just spent 30 maddening minutes trying to figure out why the spacing has changed in these last posts, to no avail. Sorry about that. Any advice?)



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