This is life, not logic. Yet, if trying to make any meaning out of my past two weeks, there seems to be one common denominator: rivers.
The point of departure being of course the river Porvoo running through the small town where I work. From there I suddenly found myself crossing the river Neva on my way to the philological faculty of Saint Petersburg State University. And one week later I woke up in a hotel room to catch a glimpse of the river Drava through my window. I had arrived late at night into a dark and rainy town, Maribor in Slovenia, without any sense of orientation and doubtfully asking myself “What am I doing here?” However, the mild spring morning was a promise of a fresh beginning and wonderful surprises. Finally, of course there is yet another unifying factor: my love for dance, music and languages. It was in Porvoo where I first developed my method of combining language learning with dance and movement improvisation. These experiments eventually took me and my students to Saint Petersburg where we danced through the immense city in the footsteps of the great ballet legends. And Maribor, even the name of the place sounds like music to my ears. So it is only natural that its university organizes a conference called Words and Music II.
Upon stepping into the Faculty of Arts building I immediately sense that this conference is going to be something out of the ordinary. The creative energy is tangible from the very first moments. The conference assembles creative people who don’t drop the words “creativity” and “innovation” sloppily around like old dish clothes. I am superstitious, these are words that should not be mentioned aloud in corporate talk or appear on lifeless PowerPoint slides, since that might cut off the sensitive sprouts of creativity in its bud. First and foremost creativity is a way of being. It is also very much a practice: singing, dancing, playing together and being embedded in space. It is corporeality, not dead words on paper. At the Music and Words conference I run into a linguist who has her own band, a composer who is also a novelist with a mesmerizing reading of his novel accompanied by the tunes of his own symphony.
And then there is another linguist who is also a classical ballet dancer. We share the background of having had to drop our dream of becoming a ballet dancer in favor of academic studies, thus immediately connecting when we discuss whether we should pose “in croisé or efface” for a photo. Finally, there is the chair of the organizing committee, Professor Victor Kennedy, who surprises everybody by performing with his band before the last panel session! What a wonderfully energizing intervention in the midst of academic paper presentations!
I always remind my students that the natural movement for human beings is the curve and lately I have been particularly preoccupied by spirals: going into a spiral and coming out of a spiral. So maybe it is no coincidence that the first keynote speaker, Hugo Keiper, has based his presentation on the perfect pop song The Windmills of your Mind: “Round/ Like a circle in a spiral/ Like a wheel within a wheel”, thus transporting my thoughts to Medieval dance. The second keynote, Associate Professor and song writer Katarina Habe, starts her presentation by stating “I don’t like to operate just with words”, perfectly echoing how I myself respond to the world. She goes on discussing the close connection between music and movement and quotes Plato: “Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” Thinking of it, I am slowly learning to operate with words, this is after all necessary for sharing ideas outside my own classroom.
Transitions between panel sessions happen through music. Maybe this is what makes the ambiance special. Instead of having a mundane coffee break, what in Finnish would be referred to as “kahvi ja pulla”, there is also food for the soul. After having grabbed the cup of coffee we move to a room where a musical performance will take place. These are sublime moments where music students of Maribor University are invited to demonstrate their talents. So when we are returning to our academic quarters the music is still resonating in our bodies, making it easy to follow presentations.
In the evening there will yet be another concert in Maribor Castle, a beautiful Baroque space in Austro-Hungarian style. Here we get to enjoy the music performed by a guitar duo for one hour. Naturally, the evening ends with conference dinner, a splendid finale to a day full of impressions. I should not forget that the next day I am to give my presentation, Embodying Music, Movement and the Arts, so I need to return to the hotel to powerpose a bit (see my previous blog on powerposing).
I have constructed my presentation as a thriller: how the arts became an integral part of business studies on Porvoo Campus, my talented TOBBA13 students once again being in focus (see my previous blogs La Serenissima and Poets, Bridges and Ballerinas). I start from the end, where we are dancing in the streets of Saint Petersburg, visible to all world. And this is what the paper is basically about, making the arts visible in a business university. It is my firm belief that the arts give a strong foundation for any professional field, not to forget future business professionals. Yet, I have been working for so many years with movement improvisation in great obscurity, so it always feels strange to present ideas in public. I am grateful that my first public appearance abroad takes place at Words and Music in Slovenia, the perfect forum for discussing integration of arts into learning. Here everybody is doing that as naturally as breathing, I don’t have to explain nor justify myself. And thus I find the words coming out with great ease and coherence, dancing out into the space.
It is only when the conference is over that I find time to go down to the bank of River Drava to reflect upon everything I have heard and experienced.
The spring evening is mild and people are sitting in outdoor cafés. I am greeted by a défilé of graceful swans, this is not Swan Lake, yet the soundtrack might well be Tchaikovsky or just the leisurely flow of the river – the third river in just two weeks. The river Porvoo, Neva and Drava, all connected by words and music in a universal symphony.