Life is precious and mysterious.  Everything passes.  Only light, love and beauty endure.  In this holiday season I had the thought to share this video by Louie Schwartzberg.  I’ve watched it numerous times, and it always brings me back to a place of gratitude.  Happy Holidays to one and all.



When I introduce the xylophones to my young students we do a wide variety of activities:  we play follow-the-leader games, we listen to the differences between the metallophones, xylophones and glockenspiels, and we do echo patterns with two hands together and with glissandos.  On other days we play sound effects for stories about wind and rain, or we play notes on the special words in a song.

We also play a game called Noodle Doodle.  This is a free-choice time where they can play anything they want.  Even on the first day the students sit at the instruments they get this improvisation time.  It’s a welcome relief from the strict control found in many of the other activities.  But in the past there’s been a problem.  Some of the children would simply bang on the bars as hard and fast as they could, completely forgetting the earlier experiences of light bounces and slides.  I tried several different ways of re-directing them, but wasn’t successful until I used the word “interesting.”  The new rules of Noodle Doodle for this year are 1. to play quietly and 2. to make it interesting.  This works even better if I model beforehand what I want.  Ms. Keefe gets to play the game and they watch.  I play my xylophone with great curiosity, wanting to know what this note sounds like, or what it feels like to sweep my mallets together and apart.

With the addition of this one word, the improvisations in Noodle Doodle time have completely changed.  There is a quality of attention and focus that is quite lovely to see.  The inner expressiveness of the students is connected to their hands and to their instrument.

Interesting – it’s a powerful word.

~ Liz

A Summer Dance

The birds put on a dance this morning.

Looking out my kitchen window, I noticed a flock of several hundred small white birds floating on the nearby lagoon.  I was enjoying a lazy summer morning in a small beach town and was working on my second cup of tea.  When I went outside to get a closer view I saw that it was low tide, with long stretches of sand bars exposed.  The birds were clustered together on the open water in three tight groups, each shaped into an elongated oval.

Suddenly they were all in the air, flying as one being (with only one or two struggling to keep up).  They moved in large arcs high in the air, to the left and then to the right.  As they shifted direction, their color changed from bright white to dark as their wings caught sun or shadow.  Then they flew straight toward me, directly overhead, and the clear blue sky was filled with white wings.  They curved left and away, and drifted off to a distant point above the lagoon.  I watched as they gently descended and fluttered onto the water, a mad frenzy of wings and water.  With a slow diminuendo, they settled onto the glassy smooth surface of the lagoon and the dance was done.

The individual was part of the whole.  There was a balance of repetition and surprise.  There were moments of both lilting grace and power, and there was a deeply satisfying conclusion.  Perhaps all the work that we do – the dances, the words, the music or the visual art, is simply a struggle to connect with that effortless beauty.

~ Liz

A Moment of Beauty

wheatIt is the privilege of teachers, and especially of teachers who deal with the arts, to have experiences of beauty in the classroom. Probably many of us have experienced these moments of grace… of flow… of spirit.

At the end of the year in my elementary music classes, I invite those students who take music lessons to play informally for the class. The point for me is to bring the students’ out-of-classroom music-making into the classroom. Oftentimes the offerings are modest, beginning pieces, but I honor them all. The theme from the James Bond movie is a perennial favorite, and I usually hear Für Elise at least a dozen times. The students play their simple pieces, and the class gets to practice being an attentive audience.

violin200I offer this opportunity every year, but I don’t remember a moment of beauty entering my classroom through this activity until this past June. “Alex” brought in his violin. He also brought in his composer/violinist father. The two of them together played a “Bourrée” by Handel. There was a note here and there that was out of tune, and “Alex” rushed one section, but there were moments that just grabbed my heart. I closed my eyes, and there, in that simple music classroom of 3rd graders, there was a moment of transcendent beauty.

How does this happen? Why does this happen? Why do these moments fill us with such joy? These moments can occur in the most surprising places. In fact, the surprise is part of the deep pleasure of the experience. This is not something that you can create with your will. It is something that just happens. From last spring I have a mental snapshot of 9-year-old “Roberto” dancing across the classroom with such grace and abandon that my heart was seized. Something happened – something that was connected with joy and spirit, something connected with guilelessness and pure intent.

marinhillsOf course these moments are not limited to the classroom. Several months ago, as I was walking in the hills north of my home, I watched the wind move the grass so that it rippled like ocean waves. It brought me nearly to tears. These moments of beauty can happen listening to music, or looking at art, or in the midst of the mundane events of life. But there is something about a music classroom, where attentive listening and creativity are nurtured, that creates a fertile ground for these connections.

I get annoyed when I meet someone new and they say naively, “Oh – you are a music teacher, how fun! You get to sing and dance all day.” Arggg! If anyone has spent any time in a music classroom, they would know that it is not all sweetness and light. A classroom full of 20 – 30 active children, each with their individual issues of not enough sleep, too much sugar, different learning styles, different levels of music and movement experiences, feelings of rejection or anger, lack of impulse control, (not to mention the ability to sing on pitch or not, and the ability to control their bodies in space) – all of these factors make the day of a music teacher lively, to say the least! But… there is also, in the midst of schedules and canceled classes and lice checks and report card assessments – in the midst of all the hubbub of the day – there is the possibility for one of those elusive moments – a moment of beauty.

~ Liz