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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Special Dogs 2...They Taught Me

Lessons Learned

Collaborative Songwriting About Therapy Dogs

This song was written for and with elementary students about the very special therapy dogs that visit their classroom. These special dogs bring a great deal of joy and comfort to these precious children. The children generated lists of adjectives about each dog. Utilizing these words, we talked together about rhyme and rhythm, verse, chorus, and bridge as parts of a song, and the usefulness of creating motions to help us remember words. We set their ideas to music and this YouTube clip is the result of our collaborative efforts. We decided that being composers is quite a lot of fun especially when you are composing a song about something as wonderful as these very special therapy dogs. 

Monday, April 28, 2014

Where Does an Idea Start? by Darcy Hill

I wrote this song to coincide with our study of American architect and creative genius, Frank Lloyd Wright. As a Creative Drama Teacher, however, I find that the message of this song is very applicable to all things creative among all ages and all content areas. The posed question, "Where does an idea start?" is indeed one that triggers extremely interesting responses and subsequently, discussions. We need to create for our children/students an environment that's safe and welcoming to the generation of new ideas. Within these new ideas exist wonderful hope for tomorrow. Today's dreamers will be tomorrow's problem solvers.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Creativity...Choose It.

Lessons Learned

Where Does An Idea Start?

Where does an idea start? In a daydream? In a puddle of fun? In a pressure-cooker of deadlines? In silence? In a hubbub? Alone? In a crowd? In short, yes. Anywhere. Everywhere. Anyone. Everyone. Anytime. All of the time.  Like a busy river flowing, so too are ideas from the mind of each one willing to leave creativity’s spigot on thus allowing and encouraging the flow.  But I am not creative, you say. Hogwash, I say. Right-brained, left-brained, linearly inclined, spatially inclined, whichever of Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences one exhibits the greatest proclivity towards, no one particular sort of thinker possesses the unilateral ownership of creativity. Creativity is not some exclusive club to which membership is acquired through being an artist only. True, artists are usually exceptionally creative, but so are scientists, parents, teachers, athletes, volunteers, emergency workers, farmers, builders, sales people, baby sitters, chefs, writers, etc, etc, etc. Anyone who must improvise or “make due” with what they have to generate what they need is one who demonstrates creativity. Creativity belongs to us all. Creativity exists within us all. Creativity is a way of seeing that pushes back just a little against the beige lockstep of conformity. The “should be’s” that drive our thinking in the comfortable direction of the status quo frequently tramp down our bubbling creativity in deference to the security that comes from thinking like everyone else. It’s there, though; never doubt it. Creativity is a choice, everyone’s choice, and it is absolutely the birthplace of ideas. To release your creativity, you must be willing to be a bit vulnerable, willing to be a bit playful, willing to take a little risk and jump into the sandbox of imagination, willing to take a little bit bigger risk and leap out of the box of convention, willing to laugh at yourself and dance gently around the burdens of life for a few minutes, willing to imagine solutions to unsolvable problems, willing to use ten times more adjectives in telling a story, willing to unashamedly  try on the rambunctious outfit of an optimist, willing to whisper yes when every fiber of your body is shouting at you to say no, and willing to leave the heavy cloak of self-consciousness outside the door. This is for starters. If you are willing to creatively and open-endedly, non-judgmentally and joyfully play, then you might just find yourself inundated with ideas for all sorts of exciting new things.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

A Moment Of Panic

Lessons Learned

Lights To Black

We were fifteen minutes from show time. The cast of youngsters was well prepared and perfectly ready to shine. The adoring audience of family members and friends had trickled in and, with fresh bouquets on their laps for their after-the-show stars, these enthusiastically supportive folks were a-buzz with gleeful anticipation to finally see in context the lines they had been hearing in isolation for months. Costumes, check. Props, check. All cast present, check.  We convened the full cast backstage for our final detail check and for the “fire-up, yes-you-can, you are awesome” talk. They were set, and, now, on their own, as I left them to go to the piano to accompany their show. Just prior to the curtain opening, the mood for the performance would be established with a quick five minute overture of music from the show, while the youngsters waited excitedly in the wings with their happy toes on the starting line ready to dash into the opening scene. As I sat upon the piano bench, our light technician took the lights to black; time for the overture. In the blackness which was fully charged with expectancy, I realized there was no light on the piano. Each second of blackness weighed as an eternity on this accompanist who could not see her fingers to play the overture. Everyone waited, but only one waited in sheer panic. Overture. Now. Before anyone noticed the problem. Reaching for the keys, those familiar friends I can see in my sleep, I set my hands in relation to middle C, closed my eyes and began to play the overture. It wasn’t perfect. But it was okay. It fit the bill.  It provided the adequate and expected mood-setting opening crescendo that ushered in scene one and then the rest of the youngsters’ brilliant performance.  In the flurry of accolades, applause, photos and flowers that followed the show, no one noticed the deep sigh of relief exhaled by the accompanist who would never forget a light again.

Bringing The Kentucky Derby Home

Lessons Learned

Running For The Roses

The sort of teacher one becomes is, to a significant extent, the sum of who you are, what you’ve learned, what you believe, where you’ve been, the why’s of decisions you’ve made, the hopes you have, the hurts you’ve encountered, and infinite other influential variables that roll like waves through your life. All of these things impact you, inform you, instruct you, influence you, and become the screen through which your perspective is viewed. Life is indeed a classroom that teaches us to teach. On this particular day, my classroom was a horse show.
Buttons. I was to ride Buttons during the annual horse show held at the neighbor’s farm and riding corral. Buttons was a biter and a bit prone to unpredictable behavior, but only when she turned her ears back. As long as she kept her ears in place, I would only be a little nervous about her, us and the entire extravaganza.  We were novice riders and had just finished our first season of riding lessons. We were also city-slicker kids trying our best to learn how to be country kids, and this horse show was quite the event of the season drawing participants and spectators from a wide range of neighboring farms.  Hair in braids, flannel shirts, jeans, and sturdy boots, were the prescribed costume, and from that aspect, we were fully ready for the show to begin. Any participants without cowboy hats were supplied with one to wear in the show thus completing the appropriate look.  We put on our hats wishing we had a mirror, but we knew that the look was right, and we were just thrilled to be a part of the excitement.  The spectators lined the corral fence and amongst them were our parents.  The judges took their places. The announcer bullhorned a crackly welcome, stirred up the crowd, then commenced the show with the Pledge of Allegiance. Event after event. Rider after rider. Individuals and groups entered the ring demonstrating fine skills and command over these very powerful animals. When our names were called, Buttons and I entered the ring with the rest of our group of beginner contestants.  Please walk your horses.  Perfect. Please trot your horses. Perfect. Please cantor your horses.  Buttons ears went back and my blood ran cold. She took off running like there was no tomorrow, passing every horse on the inside, and gaining steam.  My thoughts were a flurry during those tenuous moments where speed and fear and recalling the need for showmanship collided.  Smile. Our instructor impressed upon us that to smile when passing by the judges demonstrated poise and confidence and control of the situation.  Although I clearly had none of those, I managed to paste on a smile which surely was nothing more than a blur as Buttons and I ran for the roses.  My hat flew off and may well have been trampled, but I stayed on, thankfully. Several neighbors came running into the ring with the instructor at that point and managed to catch Buttons just as she was eyeing the fence and the vast field beyond.  Calm was restored. Hat was recovered. Important lesson learned: when trouble strikes good neighbors come running.  Additional lesson learned: keep smiling even when titer tottering on the brink of a non-optimal outcome.  Whew! What a show!

Through the decades since that exhilarating horse show, which was my closest brush with anything resembling the Kentucky Derby, there have been numerous classroom moments when we have danced on the brink of “oh no” only to have the moment be saved by a kind, thoughtful, intuitive, generous "neighbor," student, parent, or colleague stepping in. And often times the blessing is to be neighbor who is able to step in and help grab the reigns. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Favorites: A Pitiful Model

Lessons Learned

Don't Do It

I never was one. That honor was reserved for compliant, quiet pleasers who, if given the choice, always chose the first desk in the first row on the first day of school. If given the choice, I always perused the classroom crowd for a familiar face and bee-lined toward that row; optimal positioning for talking.  Unfortunately, it was the mid-sixties and seating choice gave way to alphabetical order which year after year landed me in desk one, row one with the name Anderson. This was absolutely not premium classroom real estate for a talker. And a talker cannot really be a pleaser; not in the sixties and not especially now either for that matter.  I remember lobbying as I got older for alphabetical seating by first name rather than last name, but to no avail; I think they were on to me. I didn’t mean to be bad with talking; there simply was much to talk about, all of the time. As an aside, students who are talkers often grow up to be teachers, which is a tremendous profession for professional level talkers. In any event, I was not a favorite, but I surely knew who the favorites were; everyone did. The favorites always ran the teacher’s secret messages to the office, always got picked for the special tasks and privileges, always got called on first, always laughed the loudest at the teacher’s not-always-that-funny jokes, always brought the first and biggest armful of spring flowers to the teacher, and always really enjoyed knowing that we all knew who the favorite was.  It didn’t matter that much because we figured that we “un-favorites” were in excellent company. Fast forward many years through college and student teaching to my own classroom, and I remember specifically asking myself, “Would I have a favorite?”  Oh I hoped not. The entire “favorite” model seemed to smack of insecurity and division, set in place to create a power differential, which is the not-too-distant cousin of bullying. Why would someone have a favorite unless the motive was to diminish, reduce, or keep in check someone else? Why would someone choose a favorite except to make clear that someone else was not? Why would someone want to be a favorite knowing subtle, covert ostracism would most likely be the ultimate outcome? Favoritism has no place in a classroom, a home, or in any significant relationship because favoritism hurts. It alienates. It offers shallow, insincere affirmation which breaks apart easily upon its fragile, fickle foundation. It’s about control, which is about power, which creates a protective wall of resentment, which absolutely impedes learning.  All sour grapes aside, I am grateful that I was never a favorite.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Creativity Fizzles Out When There's No Time For Play

Lessons Learned

The Playfulness of Creativity

Creativity dwells within a playful spirit; of this there is no doubt.  If eyes contain a playful sparkle, you can be certain that a deliciously creative scheme is lurking ready to spring from just around the corner. This creative sparkle is highly contagious and extraordinarily irresistible to children who have not yet swallowed themselves up in a plethora of doubts and self-consciousness. We learn to push the sparkle away, however, as we grow older because it feels silly and childish and an extremely inefficient use of our highly structured, scheduled, and accounted for time. Our time is far too important, far too valuable to be frittered away in pointless child’s play. Really? We readily relinquish that playful creative sparkle in exchange for the joyless lockstep of nebulous beige uninspiring “keeping up with the Joneses” expectations.  We draw ourselves closer to the comfort, security and measurability of conformity. But why? If the trade that we so eagerly choose does not set us in a happier place, then why do we not offer greater resistance, ask deeper more probing questions, or at least attempt to retain remnants of playfulness for weekends and holidays? Why do we walk away so very easily from that which makes our heart light and our smile lasting? As we move away from the creative sparkle, we clearly seem to lose a little joy, a little lilt in our step, and a little piece of our ability to see possibility, because these things are all swirling around within the wonder and delight of playfulness. Why do we allow ourselves to be herded down this sad and tired path which so easily can become a sad and tired rut? Why do we opt for sparkle-less when we surely could choose sparkle-full? Why are we surprised and then disappointed when we cannot come up with a new idea, a new plan, a new solution, a new possibility, when we have deliberately discarded the playful sparkle which is exactly where all of this originates. Perhaps it is time to discard the clock, loosen our too-tight bowties, and regain our sparkle.  So, as an elementary creative drama teacher, I am allowed the excellent privilege of playing every day. Bliss. Sparkle. Joy. No one plays better creatively than children, whose eyes and hearts are filled to the brim with sparkles and whose imaginations are perpetually ready to fully engage. For example, to the kindergartners I mention that a blue heron is sort of a shy seeming bird with very long legs; let’s walk like blue herons. Instantly, twenty perfect blue herons fill the room. Let’s walk like a scissors. Twenty snappy  scissors. Let’s swish like a sprinkler. Twenty spectacular sprinklers. And on and on we play and could easily continue  forever this way, because children never ever run out of imagination. They never run out of playful sparkle. They never run out of new ideas, new stories, or new reasons to play. Growing older does not have to mean turning our backs on that glorious, happy, wonder-filled sparkle that thrives on a playful spirit which drives imagination, creativity, and ultimately innovation.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Toys Schmoys...

Lessons Learned

What A Beautiful Mess

Untidy. Creativity is frequently on the untidy side because if one’s imagination is to fully cut loose, it cannot be troubled, encumbered, or held guiltily captive to neat and orderly cleanliness. We were city slickers, albeit  creative city slickers, who moved heart and home to the country, place of boundless imaginative exploration and wonder amidst rolling acres and nature’s treasures.  Toys schmoys. All we needed was to be outside, for high adventure existed everywhere in nature’s magnificent playground. In every season, the creative tools of play included: rocks, mud, creeks, sticks, flowers, trees, ravines, leaves, and winding mysterious paths. The cast of our creative play included: brothers, sisters, cousins, neighbors, several Labrador retrievers, a few barn cats, and occasionally invited guests such as parents, aunts, uncles, or grandparents, but only if they brought their imaginations and didn’t mind getting muddy. Imaginations  grow and flourish in this wonderfully  rich potting soil known as the countryside. It was late October, and the colored leaves had all come down. Rain had soaked this leafy carpet leaving a rather spongy, springy floor. The paths of the ravine as well as its steep sides were covered in this soft, springy, muddy carpet.  It looked delightfully slippery to the very knowing eyes of the cousins who were well acquainted with every nook and cranny in every season of this beloved playground. Guests, friends were coming over to play while the moms shared coffee and conversation. The guests were very neat and clean and looked unmistakably like inside playing kids. We were crushed but readied our inside play accouterments to accommodate our guests. Could we play outside, they queried? Really; it’s a bit dirty out there? We never get dirty; it would be fun. Yes, it definitely would, but are you sure? It’s really, really dirty out there. Good. Okay then. So off we cousins went with our guests to the slippery slopes of the ravine, while the moms enjoyed their lovely, quiet fellowship. Time and mud and hilarity and unmatchable fun swirled around these cousins and guests as run after run after run after run we rode down the side of the ravine on the back of our pants. Caked head to toe in thick, thick mud, we all looked as if we had been dipped in creamy milk chocolate, and the sight of us to one another evoked constant, raucous peels of wild laughter from each of us as we trekked back to the house. Our mothers saw us coming from a long way off and surely heard us as well for they met us at the door with cameras first and then towels. They knew the deep value of creative play, they knew the blessing of play’s joy, and they knew that under all of that mud, which would eventually wash away, there were gargantuan heart smiles and spectacular memories of some slightly untidy, delightful childhood play that would last a lifetime.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Why Am I Afraid Of You?

Lessons Learned

Sealed With A Kiss

She was a concert pianist. Renowned. Revered. Her praises were highly heralded among all who boasted of membership in the local musical intelligentsia.  I was six and had been playing songs from the radio on the piano by ear since I was three. The look, the sound, the feel of our piano sent ripples of unexplainable joy through my soul from the moment it arrived at our home. I couldn’t get enough of it.  Music was beyond magical to me. She was the best. Seemed a match. Lessons began. Her persona and flaming red hair filled the piano lesson room and would have certainly intimidated this young student had my eyes fixed on her, but they didn’t. Her piano was spectacular, and its black lacquer elegance was something I had never seen; it completely captivated me. Saturday morning lessons continued with a growing sick-feeling in my six year old tummy because she was mean. If I played an incorrect note, she slapped my hands off the keys and shouted to begin again. If she heard one of my fingernails click on the keys, she would take me roughly by the hand to her bathroom, where she’d clip all of my nails. She impatiently and icily barked and snapped and slapped and clipped week after week, but how was I to know that wasn’t the appropriate manner in which to teach and learn piano playing? I didn’t know much at six, but I knew I longed to play the piano. Her too red, too much lipstick, which blaringly accentuated the non-encouraging words which shot out of her mouth like spit, wound up on my cheek at the culmination of each lesson as she seemed to like to seal each lesson with a big fat kiss. There, take that home as a token of my love and devotion. Yuck. Eventually I learned that if I brought my sweet grandma to my lessons, Meanie turned kind; what a performer! Grandma was thrilled to come along and I was thrilled to have her. Grandma, with her bag of tatting and gentle, happy spirit, attended granddaughter’s piano lessons with pride and enthusiasm never minding that she was hearing the same eight note songs over and over and over again; her smile never faded.  Grandma was the best, most encouraging audience, and her unassuming presence reigned in the meanie who thought she was a teacher.  Lessons with her didn’t last too long as her true colors manifested themselves at the first recital when her not-so-subtle tactics of humiliation, fear, and harshness appeared for those with eyes to see.  Not all with great skill deserve the privilege of teaching. Young minds, full of curiosity and hope, are ever so willing to trust the hand of the one who offers to help them learn. In offering that hand, one must be absolutely certain that one has fully recognized the gravity of receiving that precious trust from a child. Teaching bears responsibility as no other.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Some Things Are The Same Everywhere

Lessons Learned

Kids Are Kids, Families Are Families, And Kindness Is Kindness The Whole World Over

A graduate course in Cross-Cultural Educational Trends was going to lead me on a grand adventure across the ocean, to a cozy, beautiful town in southwest England. I was to live with someone I had never met or even spoken with, observe and serve at a Church of England primary school for about two months, and find my way to various places across England for meetings with professors and other grad students in this course. There were neither cell phones nor computers. It felt very far away. I felt very alone. I felt small and not particularly brave.  Students must feel these very feelings whenever they need to start in a new school, in a new town. I would never down-play or disregard or discount or minimize the weight of that emotional strain ever again.  Lesson already learned before even setting foot in the classroom or the host’s home. My host was extremely generous, compassionate and very kind. She was an outstanding teacher and an excellent friend. Our two mile walk to school each day was filled with endless conversation along narrow English country roads lined with flowers and dotted with cottages. Our daily walk took us right past a quaint, busy bakery where each morning the fresh, delicious smells beckoned us to stop for our breakfast of a warm hot cross bun. Many lessons were learned on our walks and many more lessons were learned in the classrooms and among the precious and very welcoming families.  Children are the same everywhere. They love to play and sing, run and laugh, ask questions and tell stories. Families are the same everywhere. They love their kids, attend the kids’ games and concerts,  and do the best they can. Neighbors help neighbors. Kind, gentle words lead to kind, gentle responses. Food brings people together. Sports bring fun. Music brings life. Laughter brings health. Communities are proud and are full of stories. As is always the case, there was significant book learning that was covered and tested in the course, but the life-changing piece of the course was unequivocally relational and emerged in the sweet connections made with these lovely, gracious new friends.

A Closing Thought To Taunton
Farewell my friends of recent days
To heart and home you’ve op’ed your door
And gently guided in your ways
A foreigner of distant shore.
Though words fall short when meaning’s deep
The best I have to share
Is in my heart for you to keep
A candle burning there.

darcy hill

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Grandparents Are A Priceless Treasure

As we very excitedly prepare for our celebration of Grandparent's Day at school,  I am clearly and deeply reminded of the powerful, beautiful and unconditional love that connects the hearts of grandchildren and their grandparents. In a world of endless busy-ness driven by a frenetic and ever-accelerating pace, there remains a gentle, peaceful, affirming place where hearts can be quiet, where smiles and hugs abound, and where there is always time for a story; a grandparent's lap. May the highest priority of this relationship never be underestimated. We love our grandparents so much. 
If you visit my TeachersPayTeachers Store, you will find the simple sheet music for a precious Grandparent's Day Song most suitable for Pre-K through 2nd grade students. You will also find an mp4 file containing a sing along video of the song. Here are the links:
All the best as you celebrate our very loved and priceless grandparents. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Drama Teacher's New Spin On An Old Experiment

Lessons Learned

A Little Drama In The Science Lab

I had seen it done countless times. All successfully. I had tried it and done it successfully numerous times myself growing up in the country with all of the neighboring kids and all of the projects and games involving buckets and water. It always worked. And it was something close to magical to see because despite the spinning around and again, not a drop of water ever spilled. It was the perfect five minute science filler that would stir awe and excitement and leave the kids saying, “Wow! That was cool!” From there, it was straight to lunch and recess with big science inspired smiles. It wasn’t a particularly big bucket and it wasn’t overly filled with water, but the entire exhibition was just right for the first grade scientists for whom it was designed. We went outside with the necessary accoutrements, sat in the grass, and prepared to be amazed. After a very brief and simple explanation, I spun the bucket three or four times not spilling a bit to an accompaniment of gleeful ooohs and ahhhs. “Please show us again!” “And again!” Perfect! As we were lining up for lunch, Nathan asked, “May I try it?” Why not? “Sure, Nathan!”  After two successful spins, Nathan’s spinning arm picked up some momentum, rapidly. “Nathan, it would be really good to stop now; you did a great job!” “I can’t!” Faster. Faster. Then, in a move such as one would make to jump in on a double-dutch rope jumping  game, I moved in on Nathan’s spinning arm. It stopped in midair, upside-down, drenching us both, but saving his arm. Silence followed charged with a certain amount of awe, fear, disbelief, and hilarity. One quiet giggle pierced the silence; it was Nathan. “Wow! That was cool!” he erupted.  Uncontainable giggles. Then off to lunch and recess with big science inspired smiles. Perfect.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

No Time For The Unanswerable Questions.

Lessons Learned


Why did my mom have to die? Why do I have cystic fibrosis? Why is my brother in a wheel chair? Why does my family always yell? Why do we have to move again? Why do they always pick on me? Why is my dad never home? Why is school so hard? So easy? So boring? Why should I care? Why? Tell me why. These and infinite others like them are the unanswerable questions that fill the hearts and minds of students on a daily basis. Sometimes students are able to gather their swirling, troubling thoughts and articulate the unanswerable questions, but usually they cannot or perhaps will not which leaves the young burdened heart and mind simply full of hurt. A mind and heart so full has little room for new learning material, because preoccupation with managing those things that hurt is indeed consuming.  Life is hard. Lives are very complicated. At the same time teachers are consumed with the ever-looming, pressure-driven questions such as: How will these students pass these tests? How can we possibly improve our scores? What happens if we don’t? How can I individualize instruction, cover all standards, show continuous improvement in scores, encourage each student to strive towards higher order thinking and questioning,  follow each IEP plan, aspire towards teaching and learning through multiple intelligences, and still allow time for discovery, curiosity, creativity, and collaboration? How is what is being asked of me even humanly possible? Inwardly all of us, teachers and students alike, are slowly, desperately drowning in this sea of unanswerable questions, because we are silently and overwhelmingly weighed down and stressed. Despite this, we all learn to maintain our “press onward” veneer and go through the motions of daily accomplishment. It’s a pressure-cooker. A time-bomb.  An extremely tragic elephant in the living room.  Metrics are being generated and collected and assessed and pronounced upon, yet no meaning has been made with respect to student learning. We have accepted this  unfortunate but very measureable learning fa├žade while completely neglecting truth, connection, depth, substance, authenticity, relational support, honesty, and a realness through which genuine, life-changing, meaningful and exciting  learning can occur, hearts can be tended to, and compassion can reach in  to share the hurt, even if answers cannot be found.  What we have created in an effort to best serve our students is a number monster that feasts on the time needed to reach, teach, and inspire our students.  How can we not recognize this? What will it take to correct our error which continues to ripple out in ever widening circles of despair?

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Unfortunate Power Of "Popular"

Lessons Learned

Can Creativity And "Popular" Coexist?

What is “popular?” Is it a status? Is it an aspiration or an achievement or a goal or a scheme? Is it even real? I believe it is illusive and fleeting regardless of whatever else it is. I believe it is synonymous with power, that is, until it suddenly dissolves. Anything wrapped in power such as “popular” has high bully potential, and this certainly is the case. Popular is most often maintained through fear; fear of being in, fear of being out, fear of being nothing but invisible as deemed by the “populars.” I have even observed teachers who have so feared the wrath of the populars, that they allowed accountability inconsistencies to exist in their classrooms; accountability inconsistencies clear to all but addressed by none. The power of popular is very tricky to handle and almost always causes some degree of pain to someone.  I believe it has some very treacherous and destructive propensities, as well. I believe popular emotionally resembles a house of cards, which, upon its collapse, leaves a horrific wake of devastated, shattered self-esteems and desperately exposed and tramped upon feelings, which in some instances never in a lifetime recover. Why? For what purpose?  To be the king or the queen of the pile of what? And yet dreams of “popular” dominate an adolescent mentality until alas this hope of all hopes is ruthlessly dashed by another heartless aspirer, whereby one is overtly and publically deemed uncool and thereby thrown out of the running for popular. Who picks and chooses? Who sits in this omnipotent judgment seat of exalting one aspirer and crushing another with frivolous flippancy?  Is popular a supreme to the absolute extreme rendition of the classic tale, “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” where everyone but the emperor sees the lunacy and the tragic hilarity of the situation?  To pour one’s heart and energies into the pursuit of this particular illusion of popular, which seems to be very real and important when caught in the swirling sea of it, with thrashing and drowning part of its diabolical protocol, is to leave little heart and energy available for the pursuit of more meaningful, more lasting, more healthy, and more honest aspirations. Fear and creativity cannot coexist well. Creativity’s very nature denotes uniqueness, originality, imaginative freedom, and wonder-filled curiosity, none of which bend to the conformity expectation of aligning with popular. Popular remains the best possible copy of what the world tells it to be, and creativity simply will not be contained as such. To not align is to be discarded. To be discarded is to be relegated to nothing status, to invisible, and if a heart is strong enough to bear this, it will emerge liberated and peaceful; a wonderful place for creativity to dwell and flourish. Can we help our children with this, or are we just as tangled up in it as they?

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Don't Cut The Arts; The Arts Benefit Children As Nothing Else Can.

Lessons Learned

Infinite Benefit of Arts In Education

“How many are out there waiting for the curtain to open?” hesitantly queried a slightly nerve-stricken first grader.
“Looks like a million, cuz I just peeked,” her not-so-reassuring best friend co-cast member cringed.
“A million or one, it makes no difference as long as you look over their heads and project to the exit sign on the back wall. Just whatever you do, don’t look into their eyes cuz that’s when you forget everything,” sprightly piped in the resident class aspiring Broadway star.
“I feel sick. Really, really sick. Oooooo, my stomach!”  whimpered the friends.
***Pause the story***
This is not an unusual conversation to have or to hear backstage just prior to a performance. The rumbling tightness in a tummy before a show, sometimes called butterflies, sometimes called stage fright, sometimes called the jitters, is just the adrenalin running through the body getting a performer ready to do his or her very best by focusing attention on all that must be remembered. Understanding this and performing through the tummy tightness is very empowering and confidence boosting regardless of the age of the performer. The subsequent uproarious applause is glorious and affirming and is truly a sound everyone needs to hear as a recipient at some point in their lives, for the echoes of applause ripple through one’s memory forever. Thirty years of writing, directing, and accompanying children’s musical plays have given me an excellent glimpse into the power of the performing arts to reach, touch, and transform a child, a cast, an audience, a director. Perfection? That’s never the goal; never even mentioned.  Collaboration, cooperation, full participation, and best efforts all around comprise  the perfectly worthy and always attained expectations.
***Resume the story***
“Deep breath. Think about all of our practices and remember how good you all are together. We’re a team. And we’re fabulous. Your families and friends can’t wait to see all that you all know!”  cheered this teacher.
Just as our rumbling tummy tightness group was focusing on preparing to cast their eyes above the audience heads and in the process forgetting the rumbling, which by the way focusing does, the backstage door burst open and in sprinted a very panicky first grade cast member mother.
“Jane has the chicken pox; the doctor just confirmed it. She’s devastated. And I am so so very sorry. I have to run, she’s in the car,” gasped the mom as she turned and dashed out stage left.
“Send her a hug from us,” we offered to the whoosh that was her mother exiting.
Backstage silence. Ashen-faced cast. Wide-eyed shock. Breathless pause on the brink of tears.  Jane was the lead forest animal and had a solo to sing.
This teacher dared the question, “Who can do Jane’s part?”
Momentary backstage silence filled with dubious anticipation weighed rather heavily on the question, until a soft, unexpected voice in the very back simply said, “I can. I will do my part, and I can do Jane’s, too. I learned everyone’s lines.”  Focus returned. The show went on. Confidence soared. And the chicken pox ran its course.