To Opher Brayer
In our seminar called Teaching is an Art at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, we watched some parts from the movie Dead Poet Society with Robin Williams. Robin Williams plays the role of Mr. Keating, the extraordinary teacher who has special methods. In one of the episodes, he asks the students to stand on their desks and tells them that whenever they think they understand something, they should look at it from a different angle. When people ask me if one can teach or one can learn to be creative, I use the contemporary term to UNDO. Everyone is born creative: what we need to do is UNTEACH and UNLEARN.
I used to teach a course at the Jerusalem Academy called The Artist as Agent of Change. This course accompanied our Community Outreach Programs and was designed to help the students to best fulfill their missions. One time they asked if someone could become a creative teacher. “Yes”, I said, “but only if one asks the important questions”. In the next lesson I came in and played a recording that involved sounds made by dolphins. I asked the students to come up with as many ideas as possible. As skeptical as they were at the beginning, by the end of the lesson the board was full of ideas. Each one had to prepare for the next time a short lesson, using one of the ideas he came up with.
If “what can I do with it” is the first question, then the question that goes hand in hand with it is “what is this like”.
Have you ever as a child raised your hand in class and very proud of your discovery told the teacher with a smile: “This is like…” and the teacher either said “let us talk about it later” and usually forgot or in the worse case asked in surprise: “What does it have to do with our subject?” So much for creativity. The natural need to be creative is now replaced by the need to be right, or even worse, by the fear of being wrong. Still, being creative has nothing to do with being right.
When we play a piece of music or a role in the theater, we can learn to recite the text perfectly and do it right yet it means nothing to us. If it means nothing to us, how can we convince someone in the audience?
The meaning is not in saying or playing the text perfectly neither is it hidden somewhere in the text or in the music. The only meaning is the meaning we assign to the piece. The meaning is within US and it is like the difference between a house and a home: a house only becomes a home when you hang the pictures you like on the walls, when you play your music in it, when you put your clothes in the closet and also when you make your own mess. Even a hotel room will feel a little bit like home when you unpack your suitcase.
Things are just what they are: it is up to us to create the meaning. A house will always be a house but it is what we bring in, that will turn it into a home.
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Opher Brayer is a business mentor, a pianist, a wonderful teacher and most important, a good friend. I can still remember watching him teach a group of kids the meaning of “this is like”.