The first day of that first year of summer school was in itself a turning point. When the door to the music studio opened and the 5 to 7 year olds entered, I realized that they were not happy about being in this place. They had been instructed to behave in a proper and respectful manner, but they obviously didn’t think that going to music class with some old white lady was going to be fun. They marched in and took their seats all right, but each child had determined to show their disdain by exhibiting distinctive facial contortions. One face stood out in particular because the beautiful eyes, skin, and lips had been transformed into the most frightening and bizarre expression. Their message to me was clear - no old white haired honkey lady was gonna teach them anything!
Please please please Br’er Fox don’t fling me into that briar patch! Unwittingly, the children had thrown me into the briar patch of improvisation which was my favorite place in the whole world. I love to make music in the moment and my idea of cooking is how to make something wonderful out of leftovers. Of course, the carefully designed lesson plan was discarded as I joined the students in their game - just like Br’er Rabbit does with Br’er Fox. Summoning the students to guess who my pretend character was - with my own facial expressions of fear and sadness- while I played mysterious rumbling sounds on the piano became their challenge. A little lost bear with a furry body, soft growls, and an empty tummy was irresistible. We took turns making lost bear sounds and then big scary bear sounds as well as mommy and daddy bear sounds until we broke into hysterical bear laughter. Before long, I was sitting at the rickety piano and playing the tune to “When Cats (or bears) Get Up in the Morning” with the lilting 6/8 dance rhythm and everyone was happily responding to making the four “bear” growls at the explicit place called for in the music. We had taken the leap of trust necessary to become a new community with shared fears and common goals.
Click to Read Part 3 of Chapter One
Click to Read Part 5 of Chapter One