Saturday, August 19, 2017

Drive to School


Out the door, up 2nd to Irving, Irving to 7th which turns into Laguna Honda which turns into Woodside which turns into O’Shaunnessy which turns into Bosworth. Left on Alemany, up a street whose name I realize I don’t know even after driving this route every school day since moving to my house in 1982, left on Sweeney, left on Bosworth and into the parking lot of 300 Gaven. That’s the drive I’ll do today as I go to the Work Day to prepare my room for my 43rd year of teaching at The San Francisco School.

On the closing day of my World Music Course in Toronto yesterday, I spoke, as I often do, about a different kind of Drive, a book of that title by Daniel Pink that describes three powerful drives that motivate us to do our best work. They stand in opposition to the old ways of the stick—do this or I’ll beat you— and the carrot—do this and I’ll reward you. When we build a school culture around the carrot and the stick, we turn the whole venture into an economic transaction, giving children the message that the thing we are doing, be it learning music, math or how to be nice to each other, has no intrinsic value and is not worth doing for its own merits. We act from the assumption that people are lazy and if didn’t motivate them with external threats or enticements, they would sit around watching bad TV all day drinking beer and eating potato chips.

But if we accept Pink’s researched ideas that we have deeper drives that paint a more positive picture of human potential and motivation, we might just stumble upon the secret of a place that makes kids and teachers alike happy and excited about coming to school each day. In short, the three key drives are:

• AUTONOMY: The freedom to figure out our own way to do things, to try to understand things the way that our minds and bodies are wired, to try to express them in a way that makes sense to us and speaks something of our unique character. When everyone goosesteps to the same drummer in the same style, mindless obeys some outside national standard and proscribed method of teaching with mandatory keywords and use of the i-Pad, we have a severely reduced notion of what education actually is or could be. Since “educare” means to lead forth or draw out that which we already have within, it is essential to acknowledge that no two person’s insides are the same and the invitation that Frank Sinatra gave to do it “My Way” is what will make all the difference.

• MASTERY: We all have an innate urge to do things well. We’re frustrated when we can’t, so when we hit that wall, we resist the temptation to drop out or call the activity stupid or call the teacher stupid. We buckle down, focus and get to work and rejoice in each little inch of progress. But first we might assess if indeed the task is worthy of attention. I would have trouble making homemade explosives to use to harm people and would wisely choose not to master that particular skill. And that brings us to:

• PURPOSE: To devote time and energy to disciplined practice presupposes a purpose that speaks to our vision of the world as we’d like it to be. It’s the fuel that will propel us through the hard spots, justify the sacrifices we’ll make, encourage us to persevere. It is often the “mission statement” that connects us to our colleagues and gets us working together. For we accomplish very little alone—collective purpose and action, from the hunt to the barn raising to the political campaign to the meditation retreat, is the true nature of the human beast. By agreeing on a purpose that brings something of value to the world, we fuel our drive toward mastery and frame our autonomous way of working.

Autonomy. Mastery Purpose. I often talk about this to describe the way the music program works in my school, but yesterday, stumbled upon these drives as the center of the entire school culture, as the way of working that is responsible for the vibrant community and culture we have created.

From the beginning, the teachers have been granted the autonomy to create curriculum and teach in their own style. That makes them feel respected and entices them to think about how to craft each lesson in a way that keeps the whole venture fresh and alive. The record number of staff who have been at our school for 10, 20, 30, 40 and more years is unique and testimony to the excitement that comes when teachers feel valued and free to go to the edge of their craft in their own way.

But with every freedom comes an equal measure of responsibility. Combined with the drive towards mastery, teachers take that gift of autonomy seriously and work hard day after day, year after year, to master the intricate art of teaching, constantly poking and probing to see where they need to adjust, change, grow or let go. And hence, we have a large population of educators who have truly earned the title of “Master Teachers.”

And finally purpose. Like every school, we have out Mission Statement—“…to cultivate and celebrate the imaginative, intellectual and humanitarian promise of each child within the circle of community” and it’s one that means so much more than empty clich├ęs to us. We believe in it, we organize our classes around it, we do our best to live it. When the next method-du-jour comes sweeping through the school, we consider whether it will enhance or distract us from our purpose and refuse to be swept off our feet.

And so today I will once again take that familiar drive in my car to a place that honors these other drives and even though it marks 43 years of the same old same old, the autonomy, mastery and worthy purpose keeps it all perpetually fresh and new and worthy of my efforts. It allows me to say without hesitation:

“Here we go again! Yeeehaw!!!!”

Friday, August 18, 2017

Coming and Going

In our Level III sharing last week, I hit upon the theme of arrival and departure. Each piece had a movement component with the dancers entering from afar and then leaving waving goodbye on the other side of the stage. It was a strong physical and visual metaphor for the actual experience of these folks finishing their three-year commitment to Orff Schulwerk training. They arrived as one person and left as another and in-between wasn’t the dancing wonderful!

Introducing the performance, I noted that each arrival is already a step towards departure and each departure an arrival to the next step. The art of living well includes creating a welcoming space for arrivals, both for others and for oneself, a happy way to say hello and begin a new venture. And then ceremoniously giving a shape and form and means to fully be present in the bittersweet fact of departure, a way to say goodbye and prepare for the transition to the next hello. And then to make sure the dancing in-between is joyful, vital, connective to the best in others and the best in yourself.

And so today is the last day of vibrant World Music Course with some 27 beautiful souls from Canada and the last of my six courses I’ve taught this summer. Each course a lifetime in itself, a birth with the opening activities and welcome songs, a life filled with the best of music, song and dance that I have to offer crafted from my 42 years of teaching and research, a death eased by closing songs of goodbye that speak the sadness of things having to end and the privilege that we got to live and love all those days together.

And then I immediately turn tomorrow to preparing the space for the next opening, the beginning of the longer cycle of my 43rd year with children at The San Francisco School, a place with its own stunning Opening Ceremony, rich calendar of life and love lived for 175 school days and then another stunning Closing Ceremony ending with a Hug Line, in defiance of all lawyers and cynical views that children can not be touched. (We hug our children constantly and appropriately and because they learn loving touch, they can be touched by things that happen. We teach our children to move artfully in music classes that include dance and movement, in yoga classes, in P.E. and thus, our children can be moved by things that speak to the heart. If an institution forbids touch and neglects movement, they raise the next generation of cold-hearted confused people suffering from the loss of warmth and human contact.)

Truth be told, I’m reluctant to say goodbye to this strange but wonderful life of creating these powerful instant communities in 5 or 10 day life-spans. It will be fine and familiar and joyful in its own way to reenter the longer life span of the school year, but this work will be harder and instead of being wholly in charge, I will return to my non-titled role as teacher somewhat at the mercy of others making decisions and having to negotiate much with fellow teachers. When looking at political systems, I sometimes found myself attracted to the apparent oxymoron of “benevolent dictator.” It’s a role I enjoy in the workshop setting, feeling like a god creating a world and alone responsible for each decision I make as to what happens that day. But always with the idea of knitting folks together, bringing out our best possibilities through the vehicle of music and dance, leaving space for all to contribute, to question, to change the direction of the activity if needed and always with humor, warmth and fun at the forefront. It’s a great responsibility and a great privilege and I take it all seriously.

So eight hours from now, it will be goodbye Toronto and hello The San Francisco School.
With some tears and laughter in-between.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

World Music


“All music is folk music. I ain’t never heard no horse sing a song.” –Louis Armstrong

“All music is world music. I ain’t never heard no music from Mars.” –Doug Goodkin

My 6th course of the summer—four jazz courses in Brazil, Colombia, Nova Scotia, San Francisco, then Level III Orff in Carmel Valley and now World Music in Toronto. It’s all just music and it’s all just the Orff approach to releasing music and shaping it and keeping it in company with dance, drama, community and more. But in my first day, I felt compelled to clarify the title.

The actual title is Music from Five Continents, which is more clear and specific. But “World Music” is the convenient umbrella term that allows CD stores (remember those?) and i-Tunes lists to name a genre under which to group things. Mostly World Music means all the music that a narrow Western music education has excluded. The reaction to books titled “The History of Music” that begin with Gregorian Chant and end with Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Boulez and John Cage.

Like the work with Jazz, my role is to share what works with children and how and why and how it aligns with classical Orff practice. And like jazz, the truth is… It works beautifully. The instruments originally inspired by West Africa, Indonesia and Germany now come full circle to play music from those places. The elemental ideals of drones and ostinato are found worldwide, as is the pentatonic scale and the diatonic modes. The use of percussion instruments from throughout the African diaspora and Asia, Europe and the Middle East alike make it a no-brainer. The combination of flute and drum (recorder and hand drum) is as old as humanity itself and found in every corner of the globe. The marriage of music with dance and body percussion and story and ritual is not even up for discussion in most culture’s folk and classical movements. The invitation to improvise and create varies in degree and kind, but is mostly alive and well in folk music cultures worldwide. Like I said—Orff Schulwerk and World Music are meant for each other.

So in a mere three days we’ve travelled sans passports to Ghana, Uganda, Bolivia, Chile, Virgin Islands, Slovenia, Japan, China, Java, Bali, Thailand and soon to go to Bulgaria, Hungary, Turkey, Serbia, Azerbhaijan and beyond.

The discussions that have arisen spontaneously from the activities have been rich, vibrant and meaningful. Getting out of our narrow framework and tasting different tunings, timbres, voice qualities, languages, postures, gestures, relationships to gravity. Giving up our inherited point of view as THE correct one and expanding our notions. Yes, the pentatonic scale is universal to some degree (though not all cultures use it), but listen to the tuning of the Javanese gamelan we played today at the Indonesian Embassy! Isn’t that different? And thus, refreshing and intriguing. Listen to the east-west “aye” sound of Bulgarian voices singing a major second. Quite different from the Western “ooh” singing in thirds and viva la diferance! And where the heck is the 1 in this polyrhythmic Ghanaian drum piece? And can we live without a 1?

If, if Joseph Campbell claimed, there is one archetypal hero with a thousand faces, then perhaps there’s also one song with a thousand voices. We’re all swimming in the same waters of a shared human mythology and non-partisan vibrations and thus, each cultural voice is partly our own. Such pleasure for me to help release sounds and gestures and the particular vibrations of diverse cultural styles and then let the music do its magic, let the textures and melodies and rhythms speak for themselves and go to work on our reservoir of feeling and emotion. And thanks to my own short studies in diverse musics, years of listening and knowledge of how the Orff approach can lead us close to the center of each style, I can do this work without apology for not being of the people that created it.

But when one of our Chinese students today shared a song in Mandarin that she learned from her father as a child and her whole body changed and face opened up and you could feel the community of ancestors behind her, well, that was a special moment. I stepped out of the way, let her first sing for us and then lead us and it was a beautiful reminder that even as we stretch ourselves to the full measure of connection with the world’s music, it is the one we absorbed as our mother tongue that will affirm a large part (but not all) of our identity. The one we sing without effort because it is wholly and indelibly a part of us.

And so two more days to keep the dance going between the particular and the universal, our ethnic identity and our human possibility. I can’t wait!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Long Life


Such a mystery is time. 10 years ago to the day I was in Toronto when I got the news about my Dad crossing over to the land of the Ancestors. I was teaching the same World Music Course then, though of course not the same because no Orff workshop river that we step into is ever the same. And 54 years ago I was here with my Dad for my first foreign trip, the one where I experienced my first puppy love at 12 years old with a girl named Lizzie and memorized a license plate number I still remember—B23-882.

 The going wisdom is that life is short and passes in a flash and thinking that it has been 10 full years since my Dad left us, that seems true. But that life I lived 54 years ago—well, that indeed feels like a long, long time ago. And it was. My Dad was a young 45, my Mom 42, Kennedy was still with us (but not for long), The Beatles were about to share the top ten on the charts with Louis Armstrong, Roy Orbison, Barbara Streisand, Al Hirt, the Beach Boys, the Supremes and Astrud Gilberto. Cousin Brucie was still the DJ on AM radio, Martin Luther King was about to deliver his “I Have a Dream” speech and the world was such a different place, for better or for worse. We were about to launch the cultural revolution that would change the landscape of the 1950’s value system and open the gates to more life, liberty and happiness.

All the work that has now hit a wall and is in danger of unraveling. But the strength of those changes, now being severely tested, is perhaps stronger than we thought as the attempt to bring it all down keeps meeting both legal and ethical blockades.

Well, mostly I wanted to evoke my Dad and the long life we shared and you see how quickly it can become something else. Things my Dad wasn’t particularly interested in and had the luxury and privilege of letting them pass. But that was his time and his way and his children and grandchildren are moving far down the path he chose not to enter, dedicating themselves in their own way and at their own pace to the balance of living the life cut out for them while dedicating themselves to social justice. He would be so proud of his first grandchild as mother of two and writer re-dedicating herself to her talent, his second doing such extraordinary work as a teacher, his daughter still dancing and practicing Buddhism, his son keeping up with the piano practice unfurled all those years back by Mrs. Lutz down the street, while teaching so happily so many different people in so many different places. And likewise the unfolding of my nephew’s life paths.
So in this wandering writing, remembrance of my father joins with political reflection and the uncanny workings of linear time, whose complexity I can’t capture in this net of words. Just my astonishment that all those previous selves and times and incarnations live in this mortal body, loosely connected by some thread we call self. And so it goes on.

Monday, August 14, 2017

One Side Only


Someone once asked the sage Ramakrishna, “Why is there evil in the universe?”

His answer: “To thicken the plot.”

Well, that’s interesting on a metaphysical level, but as for me, I’m ready for a thinner plot.
The Charlottesville terrorist attacks by our own citizens is enough to make me consider closing the book and moving to—well, maybe Canada, where I am right now, and I can speak freely about this without worrying if someone is offended because they think 45 is doing just great. With a good friend and an Orff colleague living in Charlottesville, a charming town I once visited, the evil is feeling just a little too close to home. Of course, even without friends there, I would feel I have friends there who need my support and thoughts. But that’s far from enough.

I got an e-mail from my old Alma Mater, Antioch College and a report from three students who went there to offer support on the spot. They reported:
“We were only 50 feet away from the spot where the car mowed into a crowd of protestors this Saturday in Charlottesville, killing 32-year old Heather Heyer. We attempted to chase the car as it backed up the alley and drove away. There was a group of police who just watched the car drive away. We went to them and said: ‘What are you going to do about that?’ At first they shrugged but one eventually got into a trooper car and drove after it.”
Okay, let’s hold right there. Imagine a large group of African-American men with assault weapons gathering and chanting racial slurs about white people, then a few in a car mowing down a crowd of white protestors. Do you think the police would shrug their shoulders? Hmm, don’t think so. They’d come in with guns blazing and no questions asked.
And that right there is the whole thing in a nutshell. The President, condemning “both sides” (must have been Heather’s fault that she had the audacity to get in the way of that car), the police letting things slide, the privilege white supremacists feel knowing that folks in power mostly have their back. What the hell kind of country is this?
Basically the same one it was during slavery and post-slavery lynching and here we are, still fighting the Civil War. But, Mr. 45, it is NOT the fault of “both” sides. It’s not another media tragedy to get by with a few prayers and fake tears. It’s the bleeding wound of our sickness that has never been healed and never will be healed until we look ourselves in the eye and say, “This is what we have done. It was wrong. It was evil. And now it must stop.”