By: Joel Karabo Elliott
She is always there, deep within us all . . . Music!
Music presents herself so fluently, so fluidly, as a universal language, a way of communication that bridges flesh and spirit, emotion and intellect, uniting and uplifting all the beings that make up our entire ecosystem.
Last month, in the Pisgah mountain forest outside Asheville, North Carolina, we held a “Music Makers Camp.” People of all ages, backgrounds and skill levels were welcome to engage with Music together and explore what we can learn, play and orchestrate in the moment.
What a beautiful fire it was! A youngster strikes the drum, guiding an adult who struggles with rhythm. Toddlers prancing around with shakers and whistles. Children and teenagers playing the instruments they’re learning, their vocal chords vulnerably exhibiting all the awkward stages of developmental resonance. A gifted yet timid teenager emerges from a long time of listening to share his favorite poem with the group. A “pro” musician takes another teenager aside and teaches her a riff on the guitar. A child lights up the heart and soul of an elder by presenting her with a song and a flower she picked from the forest.
Amidst the joy, communal singing, spontaneous composing and laughter, there were countless organic opportunities for intimate lessons, for the playing out of that great and simple educational philosophy: “each one, teach one.”
My heart is lit aflame just thinking about these moments! In the ongoing rhythms of life, these experiences of raw, intergenerational Music reign supreme.
I was gifted to be the facilitator of this one-day multi-generational arts school. In this position of “authority,” I found myself offering very little direct instruction or facilitation. Firstly, my deep intention was to embody Love. From this Source, the only action I consciously and willingly took as a leader was to create a resonant sound. The rest flowed easily from there.
I opened the gathering by introducing a song that is easily relatable and repeated:
Every little thing, every little little thing
Every little thing, every little little thing
Happens for a reason, happens for a season …
After a few choruses, everyone present had locked into the harmony and we soon reached that ecstatic eclipse of joy that comes through singing together. After the song subsided, giving way to our quietness amidst the gentle sounds of the autumn forest, I simply began playing the flute.
As I played—creating a resonant sound—I began to establish magnetic and charismatic eye contact with individuals in the circle, one by one, encouraging them subtly to join in. Sensing my loving invitation, a boy begins to play his drum in rhythm with my melody. An older woman begins to sing “Aum.” A young man repeats a bluesy riff on the guitar.
Without having to speak a word, every person gradually found their own voice-instrument in the emerging Music, and suddenly we had a harmonizing jam session! We were composing. You could have even called us a band! The whole day progressed like this, with pauses in the Music naturally filled with laughter, lessons, conversations and food. It was a feast of natural learning!
Rudolf Steiner says that to engage the feeling life of the child is the true work of the teacher. We as teachers are not to directly target a child’s will but to engage them in wholistic ways. Music and the arts reveal this pathway with ease. When we create a resonant sound, Music subtly invites and inspires the inner child’s will to be directed in a healthy and sensitive way. This incredible magic is alive and available for all beings!
With the pandemic in effect, parents, families and teachers face associated barriers to finding creative outlets for artistic and creative education. Our day of Music was like a breath of the freshest Appalachian air for a creatively-hungry community.
Personally, I witnessed a whole new pathway towards education emerging through this gathering. If the day could be enhanced with, say, a little more structure, a few drops of analysis, more intentional feedback with nature, and some interdisciplinary dialogue, this recipe for “Music Makers Camp” could easily be re-mixed into a living curriculum (chef and musician puns intended). We could call it the “School of Musical Ecology”.
If we are an effective teacher, then we are a musician in some way. Whether or not we can “hold a tune” or play a musical instrument is of no matter. The discovery and harnessing of musical inclination is very simple and intuitive, requiring intonation with your inner life.
Right here and now, some aspect of your being is already in tune with Music so your body can be in tune organically. Through surrender, you can channel that very same inner Music—which will initially feel more like a river’s current than an actual “song”—via your heart-mind to gently persuade and guide children in the course of education. It’s actually a practice of deep listening and following the true inner voice, as a balance for meticulous planning and structured curricula. In the process, we realize that Music is Life and that we are actually the ones being played. The children are teaching us profoundly on this subject! To reflect the child’s power in this capacity is to realize what Rudolf Steiner was saying.
I tend to be immersed in Music a lot, no matter where I am. Everything from a fallen oak leaf to a triumphant medical discovery to the gentle wobble dance of a toddler can translate immediately into Music, triggering me to sing or play. This is how I’ve come to realize that Music actually plays me, not the other way around.
Our world is faced with so much trauma and struggle. We need more joy in the balance! Authentic Music reprograms our minds toward joy. There is spiritual science behind this which I invite you to explore further in part 1 of this series and yet the simplest and grandest way to channel this magic is to tune into your own inner Music as your guide in facilitating education in all forms, subjects and environments.
Thankfully, Music is abundant, and she joyfully beckons us to fall in love again and again with every being we encounter, with every experience, with every symmetry, with every reading lesson, with every algebra formula, with every stone, with every breeze of the wind, with … ahhhhhhhhh!
When Jill and the JabuMind team asked me to compose music meditations to help teachers de-stress, focus and harness healing energy during their working day, my heart leapt for joy. What greater purpose can there be for Music than to intimately support the daily lives of those who are stewarding the education of our youth! And this is the true revolution for our broken education system: not merely the over-turning of an outdated infrastructure, but a harmonic regeneration of the cells and mind-hearts within the living, breathing, rhythmic people who are daily embracing and shaping the diverse lives and souls of countless human children.
Keep traveling light, you beautiful souls, and may the music of a joyful mind be your sweet medicine in these fascinating and challenging times!
Ammalee, Soleil and I after we’ve composed Solidago’s birthday song (Asheville, North Carolina)
About the Author: Joel Karabo Elliott is a music-maker, nomadic educator, community therapist and musical ecologist. Explore Joel’s writings, letters and lyrics—including part 1 of this essay series—on Medium. Listen to his music on all major streaming platforms (Spotify, Apple/iTunes, YouTube, Deezer, etc); download his discography via Bandcamp; and connect deeper into his global family of artists here. The images pictured are JKE’s photography and album artworks. He gives thanks and honor to artist-educators Brittany Marie Young, Stacey Fetterman and Michelle Solidago Carter for their feedback in crafting The Music Of A Joyful Mind series.