The Starry Night

What is it about Vincent Van Gogh’s painting “The Starry Night” that touches so many of our human hearts?

At the end of December I was wandering through the Museum of Modern Art in New York City when I happened upon his masterpiece.

First I noticed the scrum of people who were jockeying for position in front of it.

Then I noticed the guard who had the extraordinary responsibility of making sure that none of the members of the scrum got close enough to damage the painting.

And then I saw it…The Starry Night.

StarryStarryNight

And tears immediately appeared in my eyes.

Even with a crowd of people taking photos of it, taking photos of themselves in front of it, and tweeting and texting their friends about it, “The Starry Night” was serenely, astoundingly beautiful.

I don’t know if I cried partly because I, too, love to gaze at the night sky — amazed at the beauty of the stars and the vastness of the universe — and Van Gogh captures it so well in this painting?

Or if I was reminded of Don McLean’s song “Vincent (Starry, Starry Night),” which speaks so poignantly about how little respect or success Van Gogh earned in his lifetime — as well as his eventual suicide?

The juxtaposition of the clamoring crowd of art-lovers in the 21st century and Van Gogh’s downwardly mobile existence in the 19th century was odd.

Van-Gogh-Self-Portrait

And yet we all still share the same huge questions — about how our finite lives relate to the unimaginably vast realms of space, about what happens to us when our bodies die, about how our wonderful blue-green planet fits into the swirling patterns of the universe, about time…and space…and love…and loss.

Ahh, art.

Ahh, music.

Deep breath in.

Deep breath out.

If you are curious to learn more, here is a link to MOMA’s web page for “The Starry Night.”

Special thanks to pianist Doug Hammer, at whose Dream World studio we recorded the version of “Vincent (Starry, Starry Night)” you can hear by clicking at the top of this blog entry.

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I’m A Baby Monkey

One of the things I love most about teaching Music Together is the concept that each person absorbs and processes music in their own way.

Some children (and some adults, too) like to sit still while they soak up the sights and sounds swirling around them.

Others like to move their bodies — swaying, clapping, tapping their toes, nodding their heads, or even jumping up to dance in the center of the circle.

Still others prefer to wander around the room, seemingly oblivious to the musical activity unfolding all around them. And yet these same children will often start singing their own versions of the songs as soon as they leave class…

I love the respect for different learning styles that is baked into the Music Together pedagogy.

As long as no one is hurting themselves or distracting the rest of the class, whatever she or he wants to do in class is OK.

At times this can make for a somewhat chaotic classroom experience.

But as long as the teacher and a majority of the adults are able to keep participating — singing, moving, chanting, drumming, dancing, marching, and so forth — the class flows on.

The grown ups copy the teacher.

The children copy their accompanying grown up, the teacher, the other grown ups, and the other children.

And the teacher is always looking for movements and ideas from the children and grownups in the class which s/he can mirror, highlight, and otherwise incorporate into the flow of the lesson plan.

It can become a very rich — and fun — environment of “monkey see, monkey do” feedback loops.

I wrote the song at the top of this page, “I’m A Baby Monkey,” before I became a Music Together teacher.

Serendipitous foreshadowing?