When we were planning our trip from Georgia to Michigan in February, we took a look at the map with a question of whom we should meet on the drive back south. We quickly set our sights on North Carolina with the thought, “Benjamin Trueblood!” Elizabeth had met him through Waldorf school events, as he is a class teacher at the Emerson Waldorf School. We were aware that he had an interest in threefolding and experimental music, and he seemed like a kindred spirit.
We contacted Benjamin, and he offered to meet us for breakfast in Hillsborough near Chapel Hill. Right away, we had a sense of his enthusiasm, openness, and depth. Benjamin was full of ideas, questions, and considerations that lend toward the health and relevance of the anthroposophical movement in today’s time.
Benjamin grew up attending the Chicago Waldorf School where he finished with the first graduating class of the school. As we shared with him about our visit to Detroit and the fabulous artistic inspiration we had met there, we wondered if he was familiar with the work of Johannes Matthiessen. It turned out that he was Benjamin’s sculpture teacher back in Chicago! Waldorf high school, Benjamin said, was the best thing going when he was a teenager.
During his 12th grade year as he was looking at his next step, he had a dream in which a woman was holding up a sign that read, “Warren Wilson College.” When he visited the school, there was a sign on a tree that said, “True it is.” Everything seemed to be pointing to Warren Wilson. Benjamin attended the college in Asheville, which operates around its own threefold picture of academics, work, and service. He formed a deep connection to the region where he would later make his home.
The history and pioneers of Black Mountain College that had once flourished nearby provided inspiration for Benjamin’s artistic striving. He had learned about the work of Joseph Beuys in his Chicago class with Johannes Matthiessen. One of the challenges Benjamin finds in anthroposophy is that much of the movement has ignored all art since Dada (Zurich, 1914!). Maybe we are all just on 100-year hibernation? Benjamin wonders if this “artistic blind spot” has something to do with the question, “What is truly beautiful?” Deconstruction is a legacy of the 20th century, and that feels dangerous to many anthroposophists.
Benjamin’s musical practice takes shape in a project called Feltbattery. He records and layers sounds that he finds in his environment. For example, he found the sound of a broken and flapping plastic fan component to make an effective rhythm for recording. He has also collected field recordings of birdsong, bees, and other natural elements, which he splices with manmade rumblings. Bird calls echo live instruments. His practice draws on a capacity for deep listening, a social art that speaks to his teaching work as well. Silence is as relevant as sound, Benjamin says. It turns out that his musical process is threefold: listening, recording, and composing. In sound, we find a reflection of an event. Some of Benjamin’s releases have included It Had Wings, Thresholds, and Behold a Golden Throng. Those names alone are enough to draw us in! Benjamin is living into the poetry of his surroundings for sure. He shared that his wife likes to joke that he makes music that no one listens to. Benjamin also builds some pretty impressive wooden skateboards and ramps that he shares with his two children (though we can see that he is not missing out on the fun himself!).
In Benjamin’s work as a teacher, he carries a deep interest in research, much like his musical work. We delved into conversation about “the purple book,” published by the Pedagogical Section, officially named Towards the Deepening of Waldorf Education. This book is often difficult to acquire even when one is working within the College of Teachers in a Waldorf School. (Benjamin was aware of one school where the faculty managed to provide this book to all new teachers!) Benjamin believes that we need to make this text more available if we hope for teachers to take up the spiritual work of Waldorf education. Benjamin is on his second loop through the grades, and he takes personal responsibility to meet with new teachers who join his school and to share with them the texts that can support their work. Indeed, towards the deepening is Benjamin’s direction.
Rudolf Steiner acknowledged that the broader society had chosen not to support the threefold social order. He said that the only place we would have it for the time being was in Waldorf schools. Carrying this seed is the task of the teachers. There would be no place it was living but in the school. Teachers must carry the Michaelic impulse. Where else in the United States are people truly working at the question of how education unfolds? In Waldorf schools, we are taking up this question without the pressure of standardized tests.
Benjamin also described the process whereby a College of Teachers could apply to the Society: “We the teachers are applying as a group.” Inner questions must be held in the Pedagogical Section, and we must make the work open. Where is our research? Steiner encouraged the teachers to take up their own research at every turn! How else do we get to what is essential? We must teach the children out of love. At the same time, teachers must find what it is that feeds them. For Benjamin, working with sound was a result of that question. How do we free a cultural space for the teachers? What do we need to be doing beyond the everyday work at the schools?
Throughout our conversation, we heard the call for research! We must bring a renewed force into our culture. In some ways, it feels like our movement has been in an incubation period, perhaps out of necessity. We now need to turn outwards to look at what we are doing. We have inherited many forms, and we need to consider what is relevant and what needs to go—a composting and preparing.
Benjamin is a bridge builder. He is interested in strengthening the connection between his school and the broader anthroposophical branch. He is also inspired to connect the different generations in the community. It sounds to us like Eve Olive would be the collaborator for him! The depth and energy of these two seem like the perfect match. Benjamin feels at home in his community and is ready to reach out more broadly as well. We are glad to hear it, as it is clear that he has much to offer! We look forward to seeing more of him. If we can all meet Benjamin in his questions and striving, our movement will be stronger for it.
As we drove away from this friend, it seemed we were close to him in his thinking. Research, dedication, a desire to be a part of the change, being a part of the change, depth-filled listening, a call to new forms… Yes, for this we came!