"Let the whole thing flower: the poem and the person writing the poem."
Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones
I keep thinking about what it means to make things. Why we do it.
I carved the top of this box during the summer between fifth and sixth grade, at Norwegian language camp. Karveskurd, a form of chip carving. I was so proud of my work. Drawing out the starry, snowflakey design was deeply satisfying. Carving out the little triangular wedges was even better. And goodness, somebody trusted me with a knife!
But the most significant thing about this box, to my almost-11-year-old mind, was that I made something real. Real, like the-stuff-grown-ups-do real, which is a different kind of real than school and camp and crafts designed and packaged for kids. This box was a tangible thing, linked to tradition, beautiful. Plus, it had hinges and you could put stuff in it.
I got a lot of that kind of real in my childhood. Around the time I was learning to sing “Itsy Bitsy Spider” I was also playing Bach minuets and various and assorted gavottes on the violin. I know I could sing a lot more pieces than I knew how to play because my mom often had to remind me that I was humming along too loudly with whatever the older kids were playing while I waited for my own lesson. And the other Suzuki kids around me—they were all doing the same thing.
It was a rich way to grow up—learning how to make music and art. Real music and art. My child-world overlapping with the adult world.
* * *
I listened to this story on NPR yesterday morning, while I was making lunches for my kids to take to school.
I read these words last week, in a book I am half-way through, about a groundbreaking movement that uses music education as an instrument of social change:
"…it’s not just a bonita idea—‘Isn’t it sweet, the children playing music?’—I mean, sure, that’s beautiful. But his [José Antonio Abreu’s] vision is much bigger than that. It’s about the orchestra giving a sense of life to young people, in the deepest possible way.” (from Changing Lives: Gustavo Dudamel, El Sistema, and the Transformative Power of Music by Tricia Tunstall)
I keep thinking about the way I was raised, steeped in music, due to the influence of a man who looked around his devastated country at the end of World War II and decided he could do his part to rebuild it by teaching violin to young children, creating noble human beings in the process. (That creating noble human beings part—that’s what the Suzuki Method is really all about.)
And I’m trying to wrap my head around it all.
* * *
Here’s what I know:
There is a tremendous amount of power in an education.
There is also a tremendous amount of power in creating something. Power, because creating something gives you a voice, gives you a way to reach out. Allows you to make a difference in your world, even if in the teeniest possible way.
Because what do you do with what you encounter in this life, otherwise—the hurt, the joy, the beauty, the bare facts of it—if you do not respond somehow? I know how easy it is to think of Art as some kind of extra in life, but I don’t buy that. It comes from our very core as humans. It comes from our need to respond—to reach out, and look for, and show. It begs for interaction and community and it is meant to grow beyond itself. And if you show a child how to hone and direct that power to create, to find that voice, to reach out and look for and show, you are giving that child something huge.
Now. While we are educating our children (all of them, regardless who they are or what anybody thinks will be their usefulness in this life—) while we are giving them opportunities and opening the world to them and filling them with information, are we also giving them a voice? The ability to process and translate and communicate everything with which we are filling them? Because that’s not extra. That’s the depth and the power of their education. The stuff underlying and sustaining all the rest.
The whole thing flowering—the poem (or painting or piece of music) and the person. That's the real.
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