It’s the winter faire at a Waldorf School in Sacramento, California. The place is packed and busy. I’m shown the room where I’m to tell the story, a kindergarten with large windows flanking the school courtyard. Noisy but do-able. Nichole, a sweet lass I taught at Rudolf Steiner College where I just finished my morning show, is telling me I have a mere 10 minutes to set up after she’s done telling her story. No sweat – I know she’ll help. And she does, ending on time, even a little early. She rearranges the chairs while I rush to get my cloth onto the floor, throw Running River into place, plant the Great Oak Tree, hide Jeremy Mouse and position all the felt puppets properly. The door opens and the door ‘guardian’ asks how long? One minute I say and catch my breath. Then the children enter, about 30 of them with assorted parents hanging out at the back by the sink. The kids sit on the floor in front of my cloth ‘stage’. Packed in like sardines they don’t seem to mind.
The guardian nods. It’s time. A hush falls over the room. As I settle down onto the floor the grade 8 rock band begins their first item. Twannnnnnnngggggg! Thump-thump and off they go! They’re about 50 feet away in the parking lot. I ask the guardian to see if he can get it turned down about 100 decibels. He rushes off … but I have to start. I’m sunk, I think, groaning inwardly. Toast. No competition. Dead meat. I will be speaking with a normal voice – Grumpy Mr. Cactus is the loudest it gets – and I begin and end with a pentatonic cantele, an instrument like a lyre, but, in this instance, with a reduced sound box for an extra soft sound. Great! I hope the door guy will soon make a difference to the decibels (he never does) ... perhaps I’ll salvage the latter half of the story. I really am no contest for the amplified blast dominating the airwaves.
I cannot wait – the children are sitting so expectantly. I start. The cantele sends out its sweet voice and I hope the second row can hear, let alone discern, music. As I begin to tell the tale I notice that all the children are incredibly focused on me. They ‘eat’ every word. The rock and roll, I realize, is toast, no competition, dead meat. What matters is the story. I’m shocked. How can this be? Then, with a slight jolt, I remember. This is a Waldorf school and these are Waldorf kids. I’d forgotten, after five years away, how focused they can be. For the full twenty minutes of the tale there is not a peep. When I end, the rock and roll ends, and all is quiet for a moment. It’s clear these children could easily take more, that they are capable of extended focus. I am impressed, thankful, and somehow curiously humbled.