Learning Music

One of the greatest joys of my summer is singing with the community chorus of the Walden School, a camp for young composers which inhabits our school. The whole school sings together and generously invites participants from the community to join. It is a community of immense musical talent and knowledge, and singing with these accomplished musicians feels like  riding on the wing of a jet airplane. I have to be the best learner I know how to be to be worthy of the ride! Singing involves the whole body and uses a lot of energy, so each rehearsal begins with stretches and warm-ups that invigorate and relax the body, the instrument. The exercises also help everyone pay attention and center our energy. In order to sing well in a group, one must listen intently and animatedly, to the music, the others and oneself. Learning to listen well and deeply is one of the greatest skills chorus helps me develop. I have to be entirely present in the moment, but also must retain a critical attention to myself to contribute well and stay in tune. Walden uses the solfege system and a system to teaching rhythm using syllables taki-tiki-ta-tu-te. Both systems involve physical motions to extend the awareness, improve accuracy and develop vocal skill; for me, this has meant learning  new languages along with the music, which is itself full of surprises and always challenging. Ultimately the goal is to create beautiful music, and when the parts become strong enough to be fluid and expressive, I am gripped by the beauty of this experience. The conductor said that research has shown that choirs come to share a physical pulse over the hours of shared practice, and whether this is literally true or not, it feels that way. Singing is a joy in itself, but also a parable of what all learning should be: intensely involving, cultivating the physical instrument and attention, rigorous and precise in expectations, complex dynamic, and aimed at creating beauty to pour into the wider world.