The other day there was a call from a friend about John. John is one of our community elders, universally respected, the author of several books, amateur historian, gardener and steward of the natural world, retired schoolteacher, amateur pianist and lover of classical music. A gentleman in the truest and best sense of the world. He's also dying of cancer. Our mutual friend suggested that John would enjoy hearing some music in his home if any of us would be able to come and play.
So we went, with some musical unschooling friends of ours. We went and spent a lovely hour with John and his partner in their fantastic living room. The kids took turns playing and tried out some duets. Erin sight-read the accompaniment part to Noah's new concerto movement. Erin and I sight-read our way through the second movement of the Bach Double concerto. Erin pulled out Mozart's fabulous 12-variation treatment of "Twinkle," and played that, knowing that Mozart is John's favourite composer of all. And there were a number of other pieces.
The house has such good energy about it. My normally reticent kids felt very very comfortable, even though they hadn't been there in a couple of years. Even before we were done playing, Noah was hatching plans for things he'd like us to play next time. And yes, I feel sure there will be plenty of "next times." We told John's partner that he should call us any time he thinks some music would be helpful -- even several times a week. There is something powerful about the giving of this sort of musical gift. I guess we're a sort of musical palliative care team. Involving the kids in giving to members of our community in this way so valuable -- and the kids are truly aware of the value of what they're doing.
And of course it got me to thinking ... there's no way we could do this sort of thing if we weren't homeschooling. Unschooling has given my kids the time to pursue their musical passions whole-heartedly, and to achieve a high level of ability on their multiple instruments. They have lots to offer a listener. And our educational approach gives us the freedom to offer to be in John's living room for as many hours as are helpful over the next few days or weeks. My older three kids remember when they "helped grandpa die" four years ago ... by just being there with him, playing music, chatting, filling his environment with life and interest and music. If I ever again hear a parent of a schoolchild comment that "kids have to learn to deal with the real world," I will think of yesterday, when local schoolchildren sat in age-segregated classrooms doing their best to perform in accordance with curriculum expectations, whilst mine were in the living room of a community elder helping him die surrounded by life and the music he loves. Which is the realer world?