When I woke this morning, had I know that I would hear hundreds of teenage voices telling me that they love me and drowning me with hugs, I would have gotten up earlier and arrived at the school I was set to perform at before they opened.
Today I visited, here in São Paulo, Lorenço Castanho. I performed for students between 12 to 15 years of age, two assemblies. It was fortuitous that the school’s focus was on the continent of Africa prior to my arrival. They were specifically focusing on West Africa (my specialty!).
It’s so true that the general tone of a school is set by the administration and staff, moreso the leadership of the school. Our liaison at the school was Clara. It would be insufficient to say that Clara loves, not only her work, but the children she oversees for the entire school. It was Clara who found value in my work and enthusiastically opened to doors of her school for me to perform there.
Clara set the tone for my day as well. When we entered the school and she met us, there was no hiding her joy and enthusiasm. As an artist you live for contact with these types of people. They are not only affirming, but also help you to realize that there are others in the world whose values align with yours.
Clara hugged us, introduced us to every staff member on campus, and escorted us to the performance area. Just the walk from the front entrance and through the campus to the performance area left me with the feeling that Lorenço Castanho was more than simply “a school.” There was not one person working there who did not smile at me when I met them. I’ve also become accustomed to the hug and nice little kiss to the cheek thing that women do in Brazil. I’m thinking about importing that to the U.S. Can you imagine all of the women you meet kissing you as you are introduced? There’s something magical in that.
Before performing I must have taken pictures with more than 12 people. As I was setting up, Clara continued to escort a stream of people into the room to introduce them to me. I’m smiling as I write this. People who understand that there is depth to my work and are capable of critiquing its nuances capture my loyalty and friendship instantly. I don’t talk about it often but the work I do is not easy at all. Maintaining language fluency in 4 languages and working on a 5th, keeping musicianship sharp, researching, creating… etc. Although I love what I do, I will tell you that there is nothing simple about it. I just make it look easy because I’m so darn good. (Big Smile)
A huge part of my performing is ad-libbing. Improvisation is a tool I employ in every performance. In fact, my improvising tends to give me inspiration for future performances. The students at Lorenço Castanho gave me so many opportunities to turn left instead of right. There was a young man who kept touching, rather affectionately, the young woman sitting next to him. I couldn’t resist. I am a dad after all and I would want another dad to intervene on my behalf if the same situation arose with one of my daughters. It was innocent enough, nothing over the top, but I enjoyed singling “Rafael” out. He was definitely a good sport about it and didn’t touch that young woman again during my entire performance. Thanks Rafael! The dad in me appreciates you.
There was one young girl in the second performance at the school that just captured my heart. Every time I would walk near where she was sitting she would burst into uncontrollable giggles. I loved it! During one of the stories I told her that I loved her and that I thought she was beautiful (it’s all a part of the story, you’d have to hear the entire tale to fully understand). She burst into those little, cute giggles again. I couldn’t resist it, I kept walking over to where she was sitting just to make her giggle and cover her face some more.
When the second performance finished, the teachers allowed the students to take pictures with me. We took hundreds of pictures together. It seemed like every student there had a cell phone. While we were taking pictures, we were exchanging pleasantries and they were trying to teach me some Brazilian Portuguese, the cool stuff. For some reason they kept wanting me to say, “I am cute!” I verified with the adults around me that people actually say this about themselves in Portuguese and, yes, it is true, especially the youth. I felt a little strange, being a man in the upper register of his 40’s, walking around saying, “Yes, I’m cute… Hello, I’m cute… Pleased to meet you I am cute.” I cut that part of the my language learning short.
Another very memorable moment was when one of the teen boys approached me and invited me to lunch at his home when school was over. I laughed and asked him who would be preparing the lunch, him or me? “My mother of course,” he responded. I had to laugh again and ask him if he thought that his mother would appreciate him walking through the door with a stranger and asking her to prepare us lunch? “My mother would love you, I want you to meet her, she would love you!” He assured me that he lived really close to the school and we could walk there at lunch time. I’m still smiling as I write this. Needless to say, I wasn’t about to make a surprise visit on his mom in search of a meal. I thanked him and let him know that the gesture was most appreciated.
Earlier in the day, Clara had approached me with an idea that the art teacher had. They had a wonderful, very creative idea to bring in 3 blank canvases to the room I was performing in. The students were going to community pain these canvases and the art instructor thought it would be a great idea to have me administer the very first brush strokes on each canvas. What an honor! I love painting and put my own little spin on it for the students. Before choosing the colors and brushes, I asked the students to choose one of three words that I was going to give them (Love, Honor, Friendship). The majority chose the word “Friendship.” I proceeded to choose the brushes and colors combinations and then, with a flourish, offered my own abstract canvas interpretation of the word friendship. Talk about fun!
Clara and the rest of the staff would not allow me to depart the school without lunch. They fed me too! Can you believe it? All of that love heaped on me and they fed me as well.
As I was leaving the school, there were more students stopping me to take pictures with them, staff offering final hugs and students shouting that they loved me.
It was another complete day filled with enchantment and meaning.