Breaking of the Fellowship

6-29-14

All good things end.

The conclusion of an Orff event is always bittersweet. Whether it is a day-long workshop, a weekend conference, or a two-week levels course, Orff training is an instantly bonding activity. Participants in Orff events are teachers who teach through play, finding the joy in every musical game, every song, every dance, channeling through their teaching and into their students. We learn the same way we teach, playing, singing, and dancing the same activities we will be sharing with our children. This creates a play bond: play with anyone, whether child or adult, and you create a connection. Once you have laughed with another human being, it is very hard to objectify that person.

So Orff events are playful, bonding times, and when they end, there is a sense of deep loss. Those we share these experiences with are much more than colleagues, even more than classmates: they are playmates. Being separated from a playmate, as must happen at the end of our learning time together, is as painful as moving away from one’s home town.

For two weeks, I’ve been laughing, playing, dancing, and singing with forty wonderful people from eleven different countries, and it’s been fantastic. Far beyond simply being educational, this has been life changing. We have been immersed in African musical culture more deeply than any vacation tour could have done. We have been adopted into villages, schools, families, drawn out onto the dancing ground, embraced by both children and adults. We have been patiently taught the Ewe handshake again and again as we struggle to make the snap happen at the right time. We have delighted whichever community we were dancing with by our awkward attempts at Ewe movements, and even as they have laughed at our ineptitude, they have roared their approval at our courage in joining them in dances they learn from infancy, but we have just begun to attempt as adults. We have played games with their children, have been feted and fed by them, have been taught how to bargain by them, have been welcomed into their most intimate spiritual and cultural rites.
We have shared these experiences as a group, and have shared our reactions to them with each other and with our instructors. It has been a rich, mind-blowing, profoundly moving time that, as much as we wanted to rejoin our loved ones and share with them how wonderful this has been, we still wanted never to end.
But end it must. Friday we began saying goodbye to people who were staying behind, spending more days and weeks in Ghana, deepening their experience of this country. We embraced and sent off our three San Francisco gurus, as Doug, James, and Sofia headed off to Italy for a different event. As we traveled to Accra, we left more people along the way. Saturday, as we drove to the rain forest and the Cape Coast, we left more people behind. And today, as waves of us have come to the airport, we have had goodbye upon goodbye, all with promises to reunite whenever we can, invitations to stay in each other’s homes, speculations about when we can next have an international Orff ethnomusicological experiences—perhaps in Brazil in 2016?

As I write this, I’m sitting just beyond the gate to my British Airways flight. Several of my playmates are already on the plane—they’re encouraging everyone to preboard—but since it won’t take off for another 90 minutes, I’m reluctant to go through the final gate. It’s not just that the electrical outlet is here. I also don’t want to leave Ghanaian soil just yet. Painful as the partings from my playmates have been, there is a haunting child’s voice lingering in my ears:

“When do you think you will return to Ghana?”

This is the fellowship that is far harder to say “See you later” to. I will cross paths with many of the people who have shared these experiences with me at other workshops and trainings, or at conference, perhaps even with making good on the promise of a place to stay when we travel the world. But Ghana—this place of bone-deep musical culture, of friendliness and hospitality that even runs through the conmen trying to get a few cedis from me for a tchotchke I have no use for—I have come to feel a bond to this country I’ve not experienced anywhere else I’ve been. I see why Kofi is so dedicated to his country, even as its ways frequently frustrate him. I see why so many people who’ve been here before expressed envy when I told them I would be traveling to Ghana, and why I’ve seen these same people feeling homesick when they read my blog or see the pictures I post on Facebook. In a way, the entire country has been as much my playmate as any of my fellow Orff students.


I don’t know when I will be back. And however long we’re apart, I will miss this playmate.

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