“Not all who wander are lost.”
Sam, the Renaissance Man (age 7)
Sam dims the lights. He takes an assortment of percussion instruments off the shelf – a tambourine, claves, maracas, finger cymbals and a triangle and meticulously lays them out. He is purposeful – something is cooking. He puts on a CD, “Selections from the Nutcracker,” stands on a little box in front of the long mirror and, as the music fills the room, he conducts each segment, swaying, cueing his invisible orchestra, rapture on his face. Occasionally he will lunge for a triangle or tambourine and hit it at just the right moment, then fly back to the “podium” where he is needed by the New York Philharmonic. For the waltzes, he grabs "Jazzbird," the marionette, or me for a dancing partner. He seems possessed.
Sam was a casualty of a brief experiment with traditional piano lessons. This child simply was not capable of sitting in one place learning notes and fingerings in sequence. Sam is fortunate to have parents who are not only invested in his well-being, but open-minded to trying something unconventional . When it became clear to them that a nervous breakdown from this “enriching” experience was imminent, Sam became my first Music House guinea pig.
In the beginning I would bring Sam from school on the subway. Much of the time something that happened on the train would give him or us an idea: an interesting looking character or a poem on the wall. One time we composed a song, start to finish, before we even got to the Music House!
Sam is a Renaissance Man. He is infinitely inventive, flitting from one thing to another, and learning to do lots of things. He is fascinated with the scientific, emotional, intellectual and aesthetic sides of music, and his experiments are endlessly joyful as he tries to absorb the world. One day he wants to learn a song by ear on the piano, next time it's an experiment with the autoharp to determine what effect it has on the strings when you push down a few chord buttons at the same time. To an observer this would all seem random: for Sam, it has a perfect logic.
I often hear people say that it is better to do one thing well than lots of things a little bit. How did this become an accepted way of thinking? I see it differently - that there are diverse learning personalities as well as inclinations, and that different approaches suit different people. The Sams of the world are the web weavers, connecting isolated bits of information together and inferring sense from them. Sam's enthusiasm and ability to find contentment through lots of things indicates that whatever is going on, it's working very well.
I never assign any homework or practicing. Sam had been coming to Music House for around two months when the phone rang one evening. The voice on the other end was his dad.
"I don't know what you're doing with Sam, but we can't get him to stop talking about music. He's constantly at the piano picking out tunes by ear, making up songs and showing me things. Yesterday while he was strumming the autoharp (They found one on Ebay!) he said the F chord sounded green and the C7 is chocolate. Tonight he showed me how to take Mary's Little Lamb to China and how to make Twinkle sound cross-eyed - What's going on?"
I explained a bit about the ambience of chords and the feelings of different intervals - the perfect fifth and the "cross-eyed" minor second and described some of what we do, but I didn't attempt to explain what I don't presume to know. Learning is sacred, and from no need of my own to measure, label or control, could I summon the arrogance to think I can understand the workings of Sam’s mind, judge the worth of what is going on, worry about where it will lead or indeed, whether it is important that it lead anywhere at all. As long as Sam remains true to himself, the world will be enlivened by his passion.
© Meryl Danziger 2004