The Covid pandemic, a powerful expression of our global ecological crises, provides distinctive challenges for teachers and students seeking uplifting, nature-infused, ecological experience. The move from not-nearly-living-enough classrooms to oft-worse digital screens has led many, myself included, to gloom and despair. So much disconnection. Detachment. Isolation. And yet, the pandemic has also provided opportunities for thinking differently. Opportunities for us to step outside, and learn in parks and front lawns; to cultivate gardens and our-selves as we learn music.
Stephen Nachmanovitch (1990) concluded his groundbreaking book Free Play discussing the power of limits and specific events, of “conflicting states of mind” (196) that happen when we surrender, in order to transcend hopelessness. He draws our attention to Oliver Messiaen, who composed one of the 20th Centuries most acclaimed works, Quartet for the End of Time, during the harsh winter of 1941, in the Nazi prisoner-of-war camp, Stalag VII. (Listen here, link: https://youtu.be/e2hbwINj7dE)
Like Messiaen, we and our students have been obliged to become distant (social distancing) and even to fear each others touch. This separateness has been harder one some teachers than others; on some students than others, but we have all experienced it, just as Messiaen and others in Stalag VII experienced separateness and despair. And like Messiaen, perhaps we can transform our despair into feelingful art.
It is important we feel. We don’t aim to transcend gloom by ignoring it, pushing it into the deep recesses of our psyche, and pretending all is well. All is not well. Not societally or ecologically. “If life is full of joy, joy feeds the creative process. If life is full of grief, grief feeds the creative process” (Nachmanovitch 1990, 196). When we create music, we are able to create because we feel. And so, I recommend we help our students express their feelings through poetry and music, beat-making, lyric-writing, experimenting, playing, songwriting, and composing. In short, I call music educators to music educate.
Nachmanovitch, Stephen. 1990. Free play: Improvisation in life and art. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam.
Link to image: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/7/76/Novel_Coronavirus_SARS-CoV-2.jpg/640px-Novel_Coronavirus_SARS-CoV-2.jpg