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