Integrative Skills for “Joyous Science”
by Charles Keil
a sympathy of blessing the cheerful festal principle puts a new face on the world professors of the Joyous Science affirmers of the One Law affirm it in music and dancing to affirm noble sentiments to hear them wherever spoken out of the deeps of ages out of the obscurities of barbarous life and to republish them: to untune nobody but to draw all men after the truth and to keep men spiritual and sweet
—Charles Keil; a poem from phrases in one paragraph of R. W. Emerson’s The Scholar (ca. 1845)
Untune nobody” is a pair of words from Ralph Waldo Emerson that guide me when I help 4-, 5-, and 6-year-olds to drum. I try not to praise or correct. Every word of praise to one child can send an untuning message to the others in the circle. Every correction implies some sort of “perfection” that X or Y or B may not have achieved. If I’m 100 percent show and tell, showing how, telling them about a mistake I just made (“my fingers need to be together to get this drum sound from the center of the drum), then everyone is an equal opportunity learner. Eventually, most people “getting it” is contagious; it’s usually just a pattern of three or four sounds or eight sounds in a sequence that will be repeated hundreds of times to get a groove going, so what’s the rush for any one person? Or the need to make comparisons?
“Identify, don’t compare!” helps me think about drumming from the beginner’s point of view. I think of “untune nobody” as a musical variation on “do no harm,” the Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain concept of ahimsa passed on through Gandhi to Martin Luther King. Thoreau’s idea of each person dancing to a “different drummer,” or becoming a “different drummer” with a different “feel” for the groove, the pocket, the interlock, the flow of joyful participation, is a corresponding concept, connecting and complementary. Probably “untune nobody” simply requires not-teaching, deschooling, creating scenes where most people are having a good time participating and kids can just bump into dancing, drumming, singing–joining in as the spirit moves.
Think of Emerson and Henry Thoreau as immanentalists, not transcendentalists. They were preaching mind-in-Nature, not mind over matter. (It’s Mary Baker Eddy, or even a more contemporary spell-casting Starhawk, who proclaims or “reclaims” positive thinking as effective.) The big immanentalist truths that make Emerson and Thoreau type thinking a good way to enhance a music-dance revitalization movement in every local community are:
- Bio-evolution is inside each of us (Darwin, MacLean, Shubin).
- The “common glad impulse” (Hudson) unites us with all life forms.
- We are inside “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” (pagan-inspired phrase in first sentence of the U.S. Declaration of Independence) and these laws are inside us.
- We are Born to Groove (Keil and Campbell) on, with, in, for Nature.
- The “muse within” (Bjorkvold) is Natural, is organic, and seeks full expression.
- Participatory consciousness in Nature is both mystical and rational (Keil and Feld).
- We can dance the “steps to an ecology of mind” (Bateson).
- We must live simply inside Nature to survive happily (Socrates, Antisthenes, Diogenes, Crates and Hipparchia) — see M.C.K9’s review of Antisthenes of Athens by L. E. Navia.
Immanentalist truths were well expressed in many ways by some ancient Greeks, by Emerson, Thoreau, and Friedrich Nietzsche, and by Jane Ellen Harrison’s distinguished lineage of feminist anthropologists: Ruth Benedict, Maggie Mead, Edith Cobb, Dorothy Lee, “Happy” Leacock, Dorothy Dinnerstein, Marilyn French, Elisabet Sahtouris, Barbara Ehrenreich, Starhawk, Patricia Campbell, Ellen Dissanayake.
Emerson’s “Joyous Science” keeps my vision for 2020 sharp and clear. By 2020, I hope the dismal sciences proliferating throughout the universities and splitting the world and the atom into ever smaller bits and pieces, using ever narrower analytic disciplines to do it, will have disappeared into the Museum of Experimental Science and Polluting Technologies (to be built soon near MIT?).
Emerson and Nietzsche (inspired by Emerson and perhaps by Johann von Goethe), used the phrase (in Italian Gaya Scienza, in Provencal Gai Saber, in German Froliche Wissenschaft) to refer to a 13th-century era in Provence, France, during which poets, musicians, jesters, acrobats, jugglers, entertainers of all kinds, synthesized notions of courtly (romantic) love with love of Nature and much laughter to insist upon enjoyment of life as humanity’s noblest purpose.
Were the bards and troubadors of Provence the opening wave of the “make love not war” movement? The first hipsters, beats, hippies, flower children? Nietzsche put his fore and after his essays on behalf of a “new man” who would be a “dancing Socrates,” a philosopher and observing-listening scientist who would want to know the self first and last as poet, drummer, artist, creator, mistress of moving and grooving, a “participant-observer-listener-dancer” reporting from inside an ongoing process of participation many of us choose to call a “groove”–this is just how our species-being, Homo ludens collaboratus, many-fests!
More can and will be said about “untune nobody” and “Joyous Science” as mottoes to live by, but “integrative skills” link Emerson’s pairs. It is my goal to facilitate integration of skills/crafts/arts so as to enhance the fullness of expression in each person I meet, but especially persons under the age of 8.
One great way to bring out the best in each person is to form ensembles wherein they feel supported, excited, happy, making music dance. And the best way, for now, of reaching the 8-month-olds to 8-year-olds is finding interested parents who want their children to blossom and dance joyfully into the future, doing their own musicking as they go. See and hear BornToGroove.com for help. Do try this at home.
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