Sunday, May 28, 2017

Virtuoso


Back in 1993, I founded an adult Orff performing group called Xephyr. We were all Orff teachers who decided that the Orff ideal of elemental movement and music was too good to be used only with children and the six of us met every Thursday night to improvise our way into group pieces. We performed at various Orff Conferences and in rented halls and churches in the Bay Area and prided ourselves not only on performance, but audience participation Orff-workshop style in the second half of the show. We kept at it until 2000 or so and occasionally hit on genuinely engaging and well-executed pieces in our performance repertoire.

But once I went to a concert of one of Keith Terry’s groups that had a similar aesthetic and my colleague and fellow Xephyr member James Harding turned to me at the end and said in his characteristically humorous style, “Oh yeah. We forgot virtuosity.” Not that we were rank amateurs as musicians and dancers, but that whether by innate talent or all the needed practice time spent teaching children, we were far from virtuosic in our skill level. And that’s why no one reading this ever heard of Xephyr. J

I still base my gift as an Orff teacher on the elemental ideal of getting the maximum musical effect from simple (but not simplified) ideas and pieces. More Erik Satie than Liszt, more Jean Ritchie than Bobby McFerrin. Or to be right on the mark, more Orff than Schoenberg. Elemental, simple, clear, close to the root of things, as we must be teaching 3-year olds.

But let’s face it. Every art form demands and rejoices and delights in virtuosity. From Ravi Shankar to Zakir Hussein to Art Tatum to Vladamir Horowitz to Mustapha Teddy Ade to Glen Velez to…well, the list is long. And it should include Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Chucho Valdez and Michel Camilo, the three pianists I had the supreme pleasure of hearing tonight at SF Jazz. The pyrotechnics were like the 4th of July on steroids, multiplied times two in the duets and three in the trios. Rhythmically, harmonically and melodically, each was playing light years beyond the accomplishment of 99% of the world’s piano players. But that’s not all.

Apparently, the old definition of virtuoso was simply an “accomplished master musician.” But in the Romantic Era, spurred on by showmen like Liszt and Paganini, it came to be associated with dazzling technical skill in and of itself. Instead of the player being transparent to the music, an intermediary medium through which the music played itself, the show became more focused on the musician and style overshadowed substance. Jazz pianist Art Tatum was sometimes accused of “playing too many notes,” filling in every moment of silence with his breakneck runs just because he could. Count Basie, on the other hand, would enjoy the silence and place a single note in just the right place at the right time and get a fabulous musical effect.

I remember Wynton Marsalis once saying something to the effect of “Technical accomplishment is the guard at the gate. You can’t get through the door without it, but it won’t carry you all the way down the road all by itself.” I agree. Tonight, Gonzalo Rubalcaba played a simple piece and resisted all fancy elaboration, letting each note ring out fully into the silence and the effect was profound. The true virtuoso knows when to withhold. But they also have to be prepared to let fly and have put in the tens of thousands of hours to accomplish that.

Back to the woodshed for me.

Men in White Coats


Without looking for it, I stumbled on another summary of the pathological personality (see yesterday’s blog). Some overlaps with the first, some add new characteristics. Once again, our fearless (read clueless) leader scored 6 for 6. Where are the men in the white coats to take him away? We register sex offenders and alert the neighborhoods. Can we do the same with psychopaths?

An article by Dr. William Hirstein in Psychology Today titled “What Is a Psychopath?” lists a number of defining characteristics. Amongst them is:

1. Uncaring: callous, showing a lack of empathy, coldheartedness.

2. Shallow emotions: No shame, guilt or embarrassment.

3.  Irresponsibility: Always blaming others for problems.

4. Insincere speech: From glibness and superficial charm to outright pathological lying, devaluing speech by inflating it toward selfish ends. Conning others for personal profit.

5.  Overconfidence: A grandiose sense of self worth.

6.  Selfishness: A pathological egocentricity.

Remember that the leader in any situation, from the elementary school principal to the President, sets the tone for the community and gives permission for the community members to rise or lower themselves to his or her example. We’ve already seen the crazies leaping out of the woodwork, assaulting people verbally and physically with their racist, sexist, homophobic or xenophobic hatred. A psychopath at the helm of the ship is good for exactly no one.

Writing this, I was hearing the soundtrack in my mind of the 1966 novelty hit song by Jerry Samuels (aka Napoleon XIV), They’re Coming to Take Me Away. Someone once described the song as able to clear out an entire restaurant in three minutes when it came on the jukebox. The chorus is:

And they're coming to take me away ha-haaa
They're coming to take me away ho-ho hee-hee ha-haaa
To the funny farm, where life is beautiful all the time
And I'll be happy to see those nice young men in their clean white coats
And they're coming to take me away ha-haaa

Jerry is still with us at 79 years old. It would have been perfect for him to sing at Trump’s inauguration! But it’s not too late. Maybe he can perform at the Impeachment Ceremony.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Trump's Perfect Score


On AOL News today, there’s an article titled: Seven Major Signs You’re Dating or Are Married to a Psychopath (published in Health and Fitness Cheat Sheet by Sheiresa Ngo). The article listed seven clear warning signs that identify the psychopathic personality. Can you guess where’s I’m going with this? Read each one and reflect on the person leading our nation.
(Definitions from article, italics mine).

1.     Lack of empathy. Safety and welfare of others does not resonate with a psycho path. (Trump mocks a disabled reporter, proposes a health care plan that threatens 28 million American citizens with severely reduced coverage).

2.     Arrogance: Psychopaths have an inflated sense of self-worth. They believe that they matter more than everyone else. (Trump pushes the Prime Minister of Montenegro out of the way to be in the center of the NATO photo op.)

3.     Emotional detachment: People seen as pawns to be used to forward the psychopath’s goals. Rarely feel guilt, no matter how much they hurt others. (Trump fires James Comey, who virtually got him elected, when he feels threatened by an investigation.)

4.     Chronic lying: Psychopaths behave as if they are smarter than others and too smooth to get caught breaking the rules. (When Hilary called him out in the debate for evading paying his taxes, Trump replied, “That makes me smart.” As for chronic lies, the alleged Obama wiretap, the numbers he claimed at inauguration, the etc. , etc. and etc. )

5.     Manipulation: An intense need to control others and situations. They’re strategic and manipulative and charismatic all the while weaving an intricate trap. (The entire election campaign, pretending to care about the working class, saying the Islam is a great religion when visiting Saudi Arabia while initiating the Muslim ban in the U.S. and such.)

6.     Regularly breaking or disregarding the law: They aim to twist the law in their favor. (Again, not revealing taxes, mixing his business interests with his political office, taking an oath to defend the Constitution even as he tries to dismantle it.)

7.     Impulsivity: The early stage of a relationship with a psychopath will move so fast that it will make your head spin. (More attempted changes in the first 100 days than any President in history. And impulsive?” Tweet, tweet, tweet. Tweet, tweet, tweet. Tweet, tweet, tweet.” Etc.)

Take a moment to look at the list above again. This is the only perfect score Trump has ever gotten. He’s 7 for 7!!!

The article concludes thus:

“If you truly think you’re seeing someone who meets the criteria, it’s time to take action.

Did you hear that, America? It’s time to take action!  If you just sit on your hands and hope it will get better, think again. The article continues:

If you were thinking about trying to get mental help for your psychopathic significant other, you’re better off not trying. Individuals with antisocial personality disorder do not believe they have a problem, thus they will not seek or believe in the need for counseling. Their partner will likely end up in therapy in order to recover from the mental abuse suffered in the relationship. For those who do enter counseling, their rate of recovery is less than 2%.”

If you have been involved with a psychopath, don’t be down on yourself. Think of this as a blessing in disguise. You now have some tools that can help you choose a better partner (President) the next time around.  Meanwhile, for now, you’ll need to cut ties and get help.

Remember. This is not conjecture. This is not spin. This is not my bias showing. This is backed by documented examples of a psychopath at work. This is incontrovertible truth.

WE HAVE ELECTED A PSYCHOPATH TO LEAD THE MOST POLITICALLY POWERFUL NATION ON THE PLANET. 

And note that getting mental help or expecting him to improve is not an option. The only hope is to cut ties‚ i.e., IMPEACH! As it is, the nation will need some healing from “the mental abuse suffered” and the shame of electing a psychopath to lead our nation.

So I reiterate once more the punch line of the article:

It’s time to take action.

Friday, May 26, 2017

America for Sale


Miraculously, I’ve mostly been hopeful in the midst of the lowest cultural and political bar I can remember in my lifetime. But just when you think that we’re going to get to kick the football, Lucy snatches it away yet again and we fall flat on our back. The Montana Special Election fiasco is just the latest amidst Trump’s pushing Montenegro’s Prime Minister aside to get in the center of the photo op, the 100 plus civilian deaths our military caused in Iraq without apology and …well, take your pick.

The Montana story summarized everything wrong with our farce of a democracy. Consider:

1.     Republican Greg Gianforte won the Special Election even though he is charged for assaulting a reporter. If he was black, he’d be behind bars with a felony charge that would prevent him from ever voting again. But because he’s white and Republican, he can hold office.

2.     Voters defending their choice hid behind, “Well, you can’t trust the media” even as Gianforte admitted doing it.

3.     “It” was body-slamming a reporter for doing his job—asking a question. The question was a simple request for a commentary on Trump’s so called health-care bill.

4.     I’ve been receiving pleas for $3 every day to help fund Rob Quist’s campaign. Meanwhile, the Koch Brothers and other “dark money” folks are pumping in millions. I understand money means ads and political presence in the media, but the unspoken ethos is that American voters have no values or criteria for voting and elections are not to be won through civil discourse, but bought by big money. Money that began accumulating capital from slave labor, then worker exploitation, then increased by Wall Street greed.

Now I dare you to look me in the eye and claim that “this is the land of the free and the home of the brave.” When a reporter gets beat-up for asking a civil question, the assailant not only gets off scot-free but wins an election backed by big money and the citizens chalk it up to another shoulder-shrug of “oh well, what can you do?” I’d say that Democracy is officially dead in the Dis-United States of America. Except for all of us who happen to still believe in it and are frantically pumping its chest to keep it breathing. Stay tuned.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

1 Reason to Be Happy


THE SAN FRANCISCO SCHOOL SPRING CONCERT
                                    May 24th, 2017: 6th – 8th Grades

         Musical Directors: Sofía López-Ibor, James Harding, Doug Goodkin

                        6th Grade— World Music from Five Continents
1.     Dance Piece/ The Flower Vendor (Iraq and Yemen)—Arranged by Sofia
2.     Ricik-Ricik: (Javanese Gamelan)—Arranged by James
3.     Caballo Blanco (Chile)—Re-composed by Sofia
4.     El Viejo y La Vieja: (Nicaragua xylophones)—Arranged by James
5.     Shuhplattler: Traditional Bavarian Dance and Music—Arranged by Doug
6.     Spanish Frame Drums (Sofia)/ Bewaa (Ghana xylophone)—Arranged by Doug

 7th Grade— Classical Composition from Five Centuries
1.     Villano: Gaspar Sanz Renaissance Piece (Sofia)
2.     Concerto for Two Flutes in C: Vivaldi (Sofia)
3.     Pavanne for Sleeping Beauty: Ravel (James)
4.     Ecossaisse: Beethoven (Sofia)
5.     Reel: Lou Harrison (Sofia)
6.     Range of Light: Original student composition for Gamelan, Orff instruments and violin (James)
7.     Adiemus: Carl Jenkins choral work (Sofia)
8.     Acapella Medley (Sofia)
9.     America: Leonard Bernstein: Original poems, choreographed dance and music. (James)

8th Grade— Jazz in Five Styles (All pieces arranged by Doug)
1.     A Thrill from the Blues (Milt Jackson)
2.     Scott Joplin’s New Rag (Scott Joplin)
3.     Opus One (Tommy Dorsey)
4.     Comin’ Home Baby (Herbie Mann)—Dedicated to Miki Walsh
5.     Minor Swing (Django Reinhardt)
6.     Moonglow (Irving Mills, Eddie DeLange, Will Hudson)
7.     Grandpa’s Spells (Jelly Roll Morton)
8.     Chameleon (Herbie Hancock)
9.     Oye Como Va (Tito Puente)

 The breadth, the depth, the height of over 100 young people’s accomplishment last night was a wonder to behold. 1000 reasons to despair over the future, but this one reason for hope overpowers them all. The glorious legacies of the past, the kids’ extraordinary presence in the present, the imaginative possibilities for the future all held hands and danced last night, so beautifully, so tenderly, so powerfully. It will never be aired on CNN or Fox News, but the World will feel the ripples from its healing practices. And tonight, the 1st through 5th grade.

In Buddhism, a Bodhisattva is someone who has attained enlightenment and qualifies for leaving the karmic wheel of death and re-birth, but chooses to be reborn to keep working on behalf of all sentient beings. Legend has it that a group of them are meditating day and night in some remote mountain area. Nobody knows who they are or where they are, but it is their efforts that is keeping this world together and moving toward our promise of light and love.

I don’t want to claim too much for enlightened music teachers, but the feeling is similar. This is difficult, endlessly challenging, monetarily unrewarded and most publicly invisible work, but the healing effects for those who participate and witness it are palpable. If you’re within shouting distance, come tonight for the little ones and see and hear for yourself.