Bea is obsessed with the Fantasia soundtrack these days. We listen to a few select pieces on repeat as we drive: “Girl with the Ball” (aka, Rhapsody in Blue), “Donald” (aka, Pomp and Circumstance), and “The Volcano” (aka, Firebird Suite). As we listen to the music, Bea asks for the stories, over and over again.
Her favorite at the moment is the Firebird Suite:
Our conversation usually goes something like this:
B: Mama, what’s happening now?
Me: Well, the volcano is erupting and lava is covering the earth.”
B: They are scared!
B: Mom, is the earth restored? Are they happy?
Note: This is a condensed version of what can be quite a long, circular conversation…
I love talking through the songs, helping her find meaning to those classic pieces. And, Bea loves anticipating the next scene – she gets excited or nervous or relieved, depending on the song. Last week, she was banging away on our piano keyboard and she ran in, exclaiming, “It’s the part when people are rushing away!” As she raced away to continue her composition, I noticed she was using all the low notes to create that feeling.
I was talking with a friend the other day about finding stories in music and art. I wondered how much I should feed into Bea’s need for an actual storyline and when I should start encouraging her to create her own ideas. I’ve tried asking, What do you think? but she’s insistent that I retell the story the way Disney imagined it. My friend and I talked about the importance of finding stories and meanings to help us interact – it’s so hard to just sit and listen or sit and look.
At the Clyfford Still Museum, I run into these same quandaries. Students ask, What does this mean? and I don’t get it! and I respond with, I don’t know. What do you think? Still’s intention was that the viewer brings her own experience to the art – he left very few notes on his process or the meaning behind his paintings. At first, this is a tough concept for students to grasp – they want to know the answers and they want me to tell them the correct answer. By the end of our visit, most are much more comfortable finding their own meaning within the painting and discussing different ideas for how Still created his pieces.
In art education, finding meaning is developmental. On one end of the spectrum, the viewer looks for a narrative. Even in nonrepresentational pieces, one can find birds or campfires or some sort of physical shape that helps tell the story. On the other end of the spectrum, a viewer can look at a painting and respond through feeling and emotion. There is no meaning beyond the present experience.
I was thinking about this process as I interact with people in my own life. I want to find meaning within their stories. As someone shares, I look for places I can connect; Where I can find a shape and create my own narrative within their story. I find it so difficult to simply sit and listen, to share an experience without looking beyond the moment. As much as I thrive on digging deeper and finding greater meaning, I also find it honoring when I can just sit in the present with a friend – when we are content to share life together without finding answers or creating a narrative.
Sometimes I wonder if that is part of redemption: When we are able to sit quietly in the moment, to listen to the music others create, and just listen without interjecting our own experience into their story. Or, more that we don’t need to interject our own experience into their story – that we have a realization of deep connectedness without having to express it in words.
How have you found ways to stop and listen?