Friday, March 23, 2012

How Could You Do That to Beethoven?

She'd had just about enough.

She was one of about 200 people attending a workshop for early childhood teachers that I was leading and she had decided to sit right up front.  That gave me a clear view of her face.  She had a pleasant expression to begin with, but as the morning progressed I was finding myself distracted by her increasingly wrinkled brow. 

I have a feeling that, deep down, my high spirits and general good nature bothered her the most.  But I could watch her eyes roll and her brow really furrow when I sang songs that are some of my favorites to share at workshops - songs in which I set new lyrics to familiar melodies.  If you are acquainted with my music, you know some of the titles. 

"The Tempo Marches On"
"Stick to the Glue"
"Toe Leg Knee"
"The Irrational Anthem"

And, most recently, "Two for Tea" and "Beethoven's Five Finger Play"

At this point we were half way through the day and ready for a lunch break.  Instead of making her way to the sandwich line, she decided to confront me:

"How can you stand up here and do this?"

Even though I had a feeling that I knew what was bothering her, I asked, "Do what?"

"To take a song like the national anthem and put your Toe Leg Knee to it is just wrong!"

I'll admit that I'm a bit of a prankster, so I smiled and corrected her. 

"Oh no.....that's a different song.  Toe Leg Knee is sung to "Do Re Mi." My Irrational Anthem begins with ‘Oh say can you see me slap on my knee’......"

She was perturbed.  "You aren't understanding!  I assumed that this would be a workshop that would help me teach children about music.  Instead this is a workshop filled with games!"

 “……and how could you do that to Beethoven?  How could you take that beautiful music and make a ......a little game out of it?"

She was referring to "Beethoven's Five Finger Play." I explained to her that a composer with a graduate degree from the New England Conservatory of Music had collaborated with me on the piece and that I had performed my game with a number of symphony orchestras around the country.  She would not be persuaded.

"You don't get it!  My point is that YOU DON'T DO ANYTHING! You don’t write the music! You just make up little games!” 

I explained to her that I like to share songs set to familiar melodies so that early childhood educators can return to classrooms and sing the songs right away without the need to purchase any recordings.  I also explained that children can be heard singing these songs on playgrounds and schoolbuses and that we want young children producing music in this way.  

Finally I explained that I thought that she and I did not share the same idea of what defines beauty....or art......and that we would, most likely, never agree. 

She moved on and got a sandwich and I started thinking 2 thoughts:

My first thought:

This person obviously assumed, when she registered for the session, that it would be filled with lessons about how to teach young children about the beauty of music. And something –perhaps her disappointment- is keeping her from hearing the message I am sharing about the beauty of play that can be experienced through music. 

My second thought:

I hope she sits in the back row for the second half of the workshop!

She did.

Young children are not tiny adults.  They learn about music by being actively engaged with it. When young children are actively playing to music they are experiencing the art form in the most meaningful way.

The message that I share at each and every training workshop is that play, itself, is a child’s art.  If we keep our eyes open, we can be as inspired by the creative beauty of children’s play as much as any recognized great work of art.

I’m thankful that there were 199 other people in the room smiling as I shared that message.

If you are not familiar with “Beethoven’s Five Finger Play,” you can hear the music and watch families play my game on this video clip: