The night i first heard laura nyro

…I met a fellow traveler. I was seated at Joe’s Pub on the Lower East Side. A stranger was put at the same table, and soon we were introduced by a mutual friend. “I’ll let you all figure out what you have in common,” Louis said as he left to meet others. Ha, before the lights went down and we were all held spellbound, electrified for seventy-five minutes by theater magic, all I had learned was that David teaches.


2007 reading, Kate and Louis, One Child Born website.

As we listened to the gospel as sung by Laura Nyro, a miracle was in progress. Somehow David and I had been immersed in a process or authorship, experiential learning that honors creativity.

At the end of the performance, when we really had time to visit, it turned out that David in his teaching had been pioneering ideas about teaching and learning that will move students from ownership of their learning experience to authorship of their own learning. Music has this capacity to bring people together; theater has this charm, to gather strangers, unite them through story; both are engines of empathy, generating an experience that leads to greater understanding of others and of oneself.

The performance, featuring Laura Nyro’s songs performed adoringly, beltingly, and bluesily on the piano by Kate Ferber, is a scripted tapestry woven of original monologues by distinct characters all brought under the charm of Nyro’s music, life, and persona. It is also molded and shaped by the metanarrative of Kate’s appreciation for the music.

Louis Greenstein and Kate Ferber can’t know directly how each audience member is affected by the monologues and music that we hear and see, or through our communal theater experience. But they and the director must know that for each person brought to life on stage last night, we each supplied our own concert and place memories, recalling ourselves. Director Adrienne Campbell-Holt tutors us in a beautiful reversal that honors her former teacher, David. There is something poetic about educators being taught by past students, as exemplified in this public performance before a rapt audience.

Kate Ferber in performance

Kate Ferber in performance

The reversal is the same one he and I look for every day in our classes, a moment where the student moves from asking the authority figure for permission to “wonder and wander”, as David Dunbar puts it in his blog entry, toward assuming authority for learning. At that point, she or he might decide to share her wondering with the whole group, and ask for help with a new idea; bring a text to the table for discussion; or propose that the best way to explore an issue is to write and perform a play about it. When it is equally possible that in the classroom the learner will be the leader, and the tutor the listener, what you have is authentic dialogue, a productive and yearned-for ambiguity. Such a dialogue seems to be carried on between the audience and the show: during the actual performance I saw it in the give and take; over the years this show has been developed it is apparent in the sequencing and the truthfulness of each section.

I think the secret to effective learning is listening: teachers who listen to students, students who listen to their own minds and worlds, and writers, directors, and performers who listen to the voices around them. Louis said he keeps tinkering with the script, and I am certain that means he wants to learn by listening to what his characters are teaching him about themselves, as well as about structure, writing. You don’t play and sing as authentically and passionately as Kate Ferber does without internalizing the songs, empathizing with the person whose story is told in each song. She has listened to those voices; she has become a conduit for them.

He and I were privileged to listen last night. We were taught; we were changed.
One Child Born: The Music of Laura Nyro

David Dunbar’s blog


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