A 365-Day Project
"We Are All Mozart"
A project to create
There is metaphor everywhere. It is especially rich when watching children in full discovery -- and their discovery is more advanced than mine could ever be.
I've played a bit of chess, but not seriously since a high school fling with it long ago. So to watch intuition and analysis reversed -- and intuition failing -- is confounding and humbling. It's the second day of the camp and six-year-olds (normal, ordinary six-year-olds) are responding fluidly to problems with their hands and eyes. Algebraic notation has replaced the old descriptive notation, but both are abstract even if for me there is a feel for relative position in the latter. But that's just an aside. Even at the surface, the beginning youngsters were fluid enough to speak algebraic notation from board & hand to eye & mouth -- and not only speak it, but speak it as a consequence of their thoughts on how to move pieces to create a strategy or solve a problem.
Today I sat in the back of a class while students not yet at the times-tables level were proposing, testing and discarding possible solutions to a tournament game played in 1898. I could hardly follow. Some of the kids seemed dazed & glazed, but my perception of them was wrong. Suddenly their hands would shoot up and they would have the accurate next move -- and sometimes propose novel solutions, including one today that in a later decade would have been the solution.
I was watching counterpoint in action. Multiple patterns held in simultaneous motion in the mind of a small human being. No, it wasn't the real time of musical counterpoint, but rather a composition in progress, an eight-by-eight staff receding into the past and rushing past into the future. It was happening in the delayed time of the composer's quill. Every game proceeded in sequence, yes, but that sequence is merely the product of multiple possibilities, a final choice made that players everywhere will understand for its richness of imagination. The multiple possibilities are the development, except that in chess, they move foward to a possible future and back to the present -- and are intertwined with the contrapuntal thoughts of the other player, the opponent, the one whose hand is shaken at beginning and end, where death and destruction are reduced to a visual metaphor. It is a duet struggling to create a symphony in miniature.
And then there was today's "simul" -- a group of (in this case) eighteen games where pairs of youngsters acted as teams to play a rated chess champion. That the champion lost four of those games is astounding, but even moreso that he could win fourteen of them. Consider the kind of multi-dimensional counterpoint that allows the future strategies to be maintained, like the independent voices and languages of Pucelete - Je Languis - Domino, but where the options are open every time.
To back up, consider also that the children -- children who later that day would be splashing in a pool like the tiny tots they are -- had collaborated on possibilities and moved them forward with their minds and hands into a configuration that left fewer and fewer options for the champion they faced. The amateurs could work slowly, and the experienced quickly, and it is simply that temporal discontinuity that changes the advantage. But even so, imagine that those children will return to schools where teachers will be fearful of allowing them to read text in italics, or where they will not learn the algebra of variables for another decade.
The camp is also an iPod- and Gameboy-free zone, and it led me to think about this ancient game of kings and queens and knights and bishops and rooks and pawns, a game with simple rules and no special effects, and how it reflected the inexplicable side of a technology-infused society. The highest technology they were using was a clock. For the sophisticated and especially electroacoustic composers among us, what would it mean to be relegated to writing, for the rest of our lives, for recorders and hand drums? I don't suggest it as a valuable alternative or as an anti-technology argument, but simply as a thought experiment. How much falls away? How much do we find deep inside the ensemble and ourselves?
Transpose this experience with the music so often taught to children: Rote songs with little challenge and no notation at all, much less one out of which come thoughts learned from the past, projected into the future and brought back to the present. Where are possibilities toward solutions presented to solve? These are not special children, not geniuses, but diverse and stunningly similar to a baseball or swimming team or neighborhood birthday party. Were this topic musical composition, it would sound like children whose names we know.
Remember that we are all Mozart?
Tomorrow we take the ferry across Lake Champlain for chess on the beach.
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