Biographical Info About Chris Zorn

Portrait of Chris Zorn
Photo: Courtney Hiraoka

The Big Picture

I am a musician, multi-media artist and educator, currently living in the Hawaiian Islands. This beautiful, blue water planet and the incredible variety of its inhabitants and their various forms of expression are a constant source of creative inspiration to me. To paraphrase a line from the movie K-Pax, “the music alone is worth the trip”.

I’m constantly excited about the things I notice as I make my way through the world. All the different forms of artistic expression that I’m inspired to do every day are my way of appreciating and participating in this mysterious, unfolding experience we call life.

Defying Specialization

When I was in my mid-teens growing up in Western North Carolina, I first began reading Thoreau, starting with Walden, of course, and progressing from there. His writing continues to be an influence to this day, especially his strong connection to presence, observation, internal reflection and the natural world. In Thoreau’s time, the world was poised at the beginning of the exponential ramp up of the global industrial revolution. He understood the deep pleasure and fulfillment in a simple, more complete participation of life, rather than succumbing to the rapidly spreading trend of complexity and the resulting specialization and competition at every level of society. More than that, he understood the deep interconnectedness of nature and our place in that web of life and how that wisdom can be threatened by too much specialization and separation. It was in those years that my path as a generalist took root. I’m inspired by nearly every kind of art and music imaginable. Despite our cultural bias toward specialization and my own occasional effort to succumb to the lure of single subject “mastery”, apparently for me, it’s a lost cause – it would be like choosing a favorite child. How could I possibly choose one over the other? Making connections between apparently disparate parts and helping to bring them together is a joy I wouldn’t have without the meandering path of a generalist.

My Role as an Educator

In the summer of my tenth year, two very important things happened. To begin with, I met the first of many life mentors who introduced me to the idea of enthusiastic and engaged presence, which has since become a key and on-going element in my daily creative life. Second, I signed up to coach 6 and 7 year-olds in the local community center’s Pee Wee baseball program. (I earned $1 for every game I coached and $1 for every practice session I held. It was a lot of money at the time.) The combination of these two things awakened something in me, and ever since that year, without really trying, I have consistently found myself in a wide variety of teaching roles and I’m still trying to find ways to help and encourage others find their passion for learning, natural presence and engaged wakefulness. Through the years I’ve tutored English, taught rock climbing and wilderness skills, computer software, growing medicinal herbs, bookmaking, calligraphy and a number of other things. All along the way, I’ve been incredibly fortunate to cross paths with and be inspired by a whole host of amazing teachers and mentors, including those I teach.

During the 90s, I found myself in a very fortunate position. I had already begun studying music intensively with Bill Douglas at The Naropa Institute (later Naropa University). At the same time, through a set of auspicious circumstances, I was able to begin teaching a number of different African and world music classes there and I also founded and started teaching at a community studio dedicated to world music. During that time, I began and completed work on a Masters degree in ethnomusicology under the auspices of master percussionist and dedicated peace activist John Galm. This period of my life was filled with a rich and remarkable blend of both teaching and learning. At the same time I was being mentored by extraordinary teachers, I was able to turn around and share what I was learning with a wide variety of students, both at the university level and also the greater community of children and adults. This combination of learning and teaching together not only deepened my own love of learning but greatly informed my educational philosophy and teaching style.

For the past 14 years, I’ve been teaching music, traditional art and digital art at a small K-12 school on Oahu. My students’ work is visible in a number of places on the web. ULShoots is a student photography blog and the ULSMedia YouTube channel has student photography, films and music performances as well as a good number of my music compositions written specifically for these film and video projects. Even though I don’t teach the class anymore, the Lab School Funk Band’s YouTube channel is still getting hits on many of their most popular covers.

I’m currently working on a book about contemplative education in primary and secondary classrooms and developing a website, The Contemplative Educator, devoted to this work.