The Lord Of The Dance

Once upon a time, Bill Moyers interviewed Joseph Campbell for a wonderful series, The Power Of Myth, which aired on PBS.

I remember being very stirred up by many of Mr. Campbell’s observations.

One of them was the idea that plants grow back — sometimes more vibrantly — after being pruned/cut down and how this biological event might relate to the idea of a g-d such as Jesus, who was killed yet rose from the dead.

I think this concept stuck with me because of a song, “The Lord of the Dance,” which I first learned from a friend of my older sister when we were singing in my grandmother’s kitchen.

I had always assumed that “The Lord Of The Dance” was a traditional folk song, but a fellow blogger recently told me that the words were written by an English songwriter, Sydney Carter.

According to Wikipedia, Mr. Carter was inspired partly by Jesus, but also partly by a statue of the Hindu God Shiva as Nataraja which sat on his desk.

He later stated, “I did not think the churches would like [“The Lord Of The Dance”] at all. I thought many people would find it pretty far flown, probably heretical and anyway dubiously Christian. But in fact people did sing it and, unknown to me, it touched a chord … Anyway, it’s the sort of Christianity I believe in.”

Many years ago I recorded a version of “The Lord Of The Dance + Simple Gifts” with help from Jere Faison (producer), Patty Barkas (back up vocals), Jonathan Keezing (guitar), and Robert M. (bass).

With Easter on the horizon, I thought this might be an appropriate time to share it.

Just click the player at the beginning of this post.

May we all be able to rise up again after we have been knocked down by one of life’s many challenges.

I will close with more thoughts from Sydney Carter.

I see Christ as the incarnation of the piper who is calling us. He dances that shape and pattern which is at the heart of our reality. By Christ I mean not only Jesus; in other times and places, other planets, there may be other Lords of the Dance. But Jesus is the one I know of first and best. I sing of the dancing pattern in the life and words of Jesus.

Whether Jesus ever leaped in Galilee to the rhythm of a pipe or drum I do not know. We are told that David danced (and as an act of worship too), so it is not impossible. The fact that many Christians have regarded dancing as a bit ungodly (in a church, at any rate) does not mean that Jesus did.

The Shakers didn’t. This sect flourished in the United States in the nineteenth century, but the first Shakers came from Manchester in England, where they were sometimes called the “Shaking Quakers.”

They hived off to America in 1774, under the leadership of Mother Anne and established celibate communities – men at one end, women at the other; though they met for work and worship.

Dancing, for them, was a spiritual activity. They also made furniture of a functional, lyrical simplicity. Even the cloaks and bonnets that the women wore were distinctly stylish, in a sober and forbidding way.

Their hymns were odd, but sometimes of great beauty: from one of these (Simple Gifts) I adapted this melody. Sometimes, for a change I sing the whole song in the present tense. ‘I dance in the morning when the world is begun…’. It’s worth a try.”

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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?

Subversive Lyrics

As some of you may know, I recently returned from a sweet trip to visit friends in Shanghai.

Lots of late night biking around the section of Shanghai formerly known as the French Concession, fresh fruits and vegetables on sale everywhere (as well as turtles, frogs, fish, and much, much more…) and music.

One of my friends is a wonderful composer, jazz pianist, and teacher. He and his family have been living in Shanghai for seven years, and a couple of years ago he started teaching music in the school his younger child attends.

I was able to visit some of his classes and was happy to see — and hear — how much his students love to sing.

We even taught them a song that my friend and I had written together (back when he lived with his grand piano above an ice cream shop in Allston, MA) called “Let’s Go To The River.”

They learned it immediately, and sang it with great gusto.

I was delighted.

A few days after I returned home to Boston, when it looked like my friend’s primary vocal ensemble might be participating in a VIP concert for the mayor of Shanghai, two of China’s top conductors came to hear his choir sing.

They listened to three pop/rock/show tunes, responded warmly, and asked, “what else do you have?”

My friend projected the lyrics for “Let’s Go to The River” up on a screen at the front of his classroom, and his choir performed a rousing version for them.

After class, the conductors stayed to talk about having his choir participate in the upcoming concert. One of the maestros tactfully talked about the importance of choosing songs with lyrics that would be totally apolitical. He suggested “What a Wonderful World,” my friend suggested “Singing in the Rain,” and they decided that a song in Chinese would be great, too.

The maestro again reinforced the necessity of choosing lyrics with an eye to political sensitivity.

My friend didn’t think too much about the maestro’s remarks until they left — and he went back into his classroom and saw my lyrics still up on the screen.

The two conductors had had a lot of time to study the message of “Let’s Go to the River,” and my friend realized that it may have made them nervous that he was teaching such ‘subversive’ messages to primary school students AND might try to go public with such a message.

I have typed the lyrics below.

Perhaps they are a bit subversive for our ever-more-wired-and-plugged-in-and-distracted culture in the United Stated of America, too!

Let’s Go To The River

What a day! Let’s go to the river — do something we never have the time to do.

We could say today’s a vacation — a small invitation to wander away.

Leave your phone, your fax, and your datebook…

Yeah, even that great book you never seem to read.

Spread your wings and slide out a window — wherever the wind blows, catch a ride.

Can we be without an agenda? Nothing to remember, deliver, or to do.

It’s okay!

The pavement is humming, and there’s different drumming all along the way.

Right away our energy’s rising; no analyzing what we need to do.

We’re on our way to whatever may happen — a tisket, a tasket — and it doesn’t have to rhyme.

Pick up a papaya, instead of a sixpack.

Dance among the plants.

Just decide; today’s an adventure — zip zap bodilee doh doo day.

Break a routine,

Go fly a kite,

Take a deep breath,

And jump in a lake!