Saturday, February 25, 2017

Odds and Ends

I ended five glorious days of teaching at the United World College Singapore East Asia School (longest school title ever!) yesterday. The kids started to recognize me, either asking about my rubber chicken as I passed by in the hall or patting Juba or making the motions to our “building a mountain song.” Some even remembered me as the “To Stop the Train” guy from last year. “Make yourself memorable” is my advice for all teachers and with a little help from my friends, (see last blog), looks like I’ve managed to do that.

The kids in general were marvelous. Real children with children’s energy and joy, but also polite, focused and respectful— a bit more than my kids back in San Francisco! I learned two new cool clapping plays from them—Tic Tac Toe and High Low Piggalow and loved playing two piano concerts for them: one with a Jazz theme and one with the story of my childhood piano lessons and what they were missing. The teachers were likewise hard-working dedicated folks and we had a grand time playing Marko Skace on professional marimbas in seven different modes and seven different meters.

So on Saturday, I decided after five full days of work it would be a good time to—give a 6-hour workshop! Thanks to Paul Grosse who organized it, some 45 Singaporeans mostly working in the public schools (and some 40 turned away!) came on their day off to climb another inch up the mountain of inspired teaching and what a grand time we had! A truly spirited group, quite quick with some challenging body percussion, great blues soloists on the Orff instruments and fun dancers in our Conflict Resolution Oxdansen dance. I got to speak firmly and honestly about the disaster in my country relating it to the work we were doing now, in this moment, and I felt a strong quality of sympathetic listening. There were two people who came who asked if I remembered them from a four-hour workshop in 2008 and miraculously, I did!

After the workshop, off I went to dinner with four of the future Board Members of Orff Singapore and wasn’t that fun! Of course, being Singapore, we went to the mall and had out choice of cuisines. Settled for some good Japanese food and had a rollicking good discussion about pedagogy sprinkled with gossip from the Orff network worldwide. (Anyone’s ears burning?) We also talked about future Singapore possibilities and the excitement was tangible, especially the thought of me getting to bring my whole Pentatonics Jazz group! Let’s hope.

And now, just as I conquered jet lag, we will be companions again as I turn back home for a 15-hour flight. Before I turn for a blessed non jet-lagged sleep, some little odds and ends:

• In one class, I gave the same task to a group of 4th grade girls and a group of boys and asked them to comment on what they noticed. One astute girl said, “The girls were more organized. The boys were more reckless.” Brilliant! And, by the way, they both came up with great dances at the end.

• I moved hotels and my new one, the Park Rochester, boasted of a robot who would deliver your room service. Too creepy for me to even consider.

• A Singapore newspaper listed the most heavily trafficked cities in the world. Not surprisingly, L.A. was first and New York was second. But depressingly true, San Francisco was 4th!!! In the world!

• In order to buy a car in Singapore, you have pay some $30,000 (US) just for permission to buy the car. Which will cost (a small one) some $25,000 more. I repeat. $30,000!!!! And it expires every 10 years! Well, that’s one way to keep traffic down. Or one way to keep the rich folks with the privileges.

• Driving around, my hosts told me I was in West Singapore. I asked, “What sets it apart from the other neighborhoods? Oh, I see —it has some high-rise apartments and malls!” Ha ha!. Makes me appreciate the uniqueness and character of San Francisco neighborhoods.

• Talking with the teachers, it seems like the Singapore Educational Bureaucracy is awash with initials and acronyms designed to keep teachers occupied jumping through hoops so that they don’t have time to actually teach with and to their passion. Sigh. The same all over. But nice sense of resistance from the teachers I talked with. That’s not always the same all over.

Thanks, Singapore, for a memorable six days. I have a feeling I’ll be back.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Traveling Companions

I love everything about growing old. Except growing old. But to carry inside my life’s work and so thoroughly enjoy the company of other elders like Old King Glory, Old Man Mosie, Old Doc Jones, Old King Cole, Grandpa Griggs and Grandma Moses is a great joy. Not to mention the young ones like Little Sally Walker, Little Tommy Tinker, Little Johnny Brown and Wee Willie Winkie, my medical man Doctor Foster, my gardener Peter Piper. Ayele, Rashshid, Marko, Anna, Lisa and others in my international entourage also travel with me without ever getting their passports checked or fearing they’ll get turned away at the border.

I bring them all with me to every class with kids or adults and everyone is always so delighted to meet them and spend time together. Many of them have been at my side these four days at the United World College in Singapore and in every class they have appeared, happy children have left happier. And me too.

As always, my classes are based on constant repetition, needed to make the neuron connection, joined to variation, needed to keep the brain alive, alert and active, tucked inside. The same thing one hundred different ways. And so I’m looking for ways to say the same things 100 different ways, the constant truths of my life choices—I love children, I love teaching, I love music, I love the play of it all, I love the work of it all. I love having gathered this community of material and taking it wherever I go, ready at a moment’s notice to bring a spark of joy to whatever venue presents itself. And yes, I was doing this when I was in my 20’s, 30’s and 40’s, but not with the same clarity, assurance and dependable repertoire, those tried-and-true war horses that never tire and never let me down.

Thank you, my friends. And who wants to come to class with me tomorrow?

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Early Morning Talk

Well, hello 2 am. Here we are again in the middle of a jet-lagged Singapore night. We have to stop meeting like this. Really. But it is an interesting time to hang out and there’s plenty to do. Catch up on e-mails, read, brush up on Solitaire skills. And yes, a full day of teaching ahead, but the first two days have been fine, wholly energized by the privilege of sharing my life’s work with eager, fun, attentive and appreciative children who leave class humming the song they’ve just learned to play, sing and dance.

Singapore joins Spain, Salzburg, Sao Paolo, Sydney and Scotland as S-places where I seem to have taught a lot. 2008, 2011, 2015, 2016, 2017, to be exact, at three different International Schools, a University, a Conference, an Orff Chapter workshop. In my spare time, I’ve been on the Singapore Flyer Ferris Wheel, strolled the Botanic Gardens, seen the aquarium, went to a Balinese gamelan rehearsal in Little India, sipped a Singapore Sling at Raffles Bar, enjoyed the mix of Indian, Malay and Chinese cuisine and culture, walked pass the uninviting posh stores in the mage-Malls.

It’s an interesting place, to be sure, but a bit too much on the consumer than the cultural side for my taste (though as is always the case with places with lots of money, plenty of opportunities to hear all kinds of music or see theater and dance). But except for the buzzing energy in one-storied buildinged Little India, I’m not feeling much of the spirit of the street or the village —it gets buried under the pop-music blaring in the Malls and people mostly out shopping for goods. Then there’s the whole government response to marijuana and chewing gum.

But I don’t come here to either judge or wholly partake of the place. It’s the great gift of working with all sorts of kids doing what I do best that brings satisfaction to the blog-titled “traveling music teacher.” And now alongside the always-fun and musically-satisfying activities and chances to help kids feel more musical than they’ve ever been and help their teachers consider the pedagogical details to apply to their own inspired teaching, I’m talking to the kids more than ever about kindness and social justice. Mostly in the context of the African and African-American material, but not exclusively.

If I’m to be remembered for any particular talent, I would be happy that someone noticed my honed-over-years ability to talk to 3-year olds and 8th graders about the same subject in a way that makes sense to them. I put the story of politically-approved, religiously-sanctioned, economically-motivated and pseudo-scientifically-justified human cruelty in the context of the child’s world of being nice to friends and knowing what it’s like to be teased or bullied or ignored and how brave one must be to break the cycle of harm. And I’m noticing a profound hush falling over the room these days as kids ponder what I’m saying. They’re really listening.
And I often end with, “My generation did our best to stop these things, but we didn’t do well enough. I hope you can do better.” And then, of course, a song to complete it all.

I am completely convinced that, in the words of the Albert King song, “had we told it like it was, it wouldn’t be like it is.” The fact that we don’t tell kids the truth about what happened before and why or tell it in a bland and matter-of-fact way (“Slavery in the United States lasted from 1619 to 1863…”) has everything to do with why we haven’t been able to heal the gaping wound of institutional racism and sexism and classism and all the other isms that have grown fat on our silence and reared their ugly heads with renewed vigor and power. Schoolteachers and parents, take note. And I’m not talking about leftist political indoctrination here. That’s boring and unfair to the child. I’m talking about counting on the inherent compassion and sense of justice children feel even as they grab their sister’s toys and finding a way to connect the personal with the historical forces at the child’s level. It’s not easy, but it’s necessary.

So, 2am, I hoped to use this time to steer slightly left of the political catastrophe and just return to the blog’s original “confessions of a traveling music teacher” begun six years ago with my trip to Korea. Give the armchair traveler the feeling of being in another place enjoying the perspective of wandering through and witnessing the passing parade of humanity. But these days the true north of every confession is the re-doubled commitment to keep revealing all the Emperors with no clothes while doing the day-to-day healing work of laughing with and loving children and the adults who teach them. And now it’s 3 am and time to restore myself with needed sleep so I can work and play with full-energy today.

Good night.

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Elevator of Success

If you have done well, it is your job to send the elevator back down.

                                                                                                -Kevin Spacey

I like this thought-provoking quote from Kevin Spacey! Partly because it brings up other thought-provoking questions. Clearly I’m obsessed at the moment with reflecting on and revealing the moral crisis at the heart of the political crisis, so bear with me. But for those who made it to the top floor, I ask the following:

How did you get on the elevator in the first place? Hard work only or some privilege you inherited but didn’t earn? What about luck? Being in the right place at the right time when the doors just happened to open and the elevator wasn’t full?

Who wasn’t allowed on the elevator? Who tried to get on, but it was always full with the same kind of people? Who took the stairs? Who was even denied access to the stairs?

Who held the doors open for others? Who closed the doors when there was still room?  Who farted in the elevator and pretended it wasn’t him or her? Who pushed all the buttons just because?

Who got out at the top and didn’t press 1? Who put something in the door to stop it from going back down? Who cut the cables? Who locked the doors to the stairway? Why did they do that?

Who never got to the penthouse, but lived a full and rich life on the first floor? Who stayed high in the tower and lost touch with the earth and the people below? What will you do if the elevator gets stuck and you didn’t choose the people on board with you? How will you finally talk to each other and figure out what to do together?

And most important of all. Who knows any good elevator jokes?

PS My most hilarious moment on an elevator was on with an old-fashioned emergency phone that started ringing. Everyone looked away pretending nothing was happening and finally I said, “Is anyone going to answer it?” More staring at the walls so I answered it. “Hello? Who? Well, you called an elevator, but I’ll ask,” then turned to the 10 people and asked, “Is anyone here named Scott? “ Finally, some of the folks began to laugh. “No, try again with the crowd going up. Good luck!” 

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Venn Diagram

Remember the Venn Diagram from schooling? It’s a diagram representing mathematical or logical sets pictorially as circle with common elements of the sets being represented by intersections of the circles.

I promised a Venn Diagram connecting the 36 Hostile Takeover Actions of the current Administration (see yesterday’s blog), trying to find the points of connection between the remarkable variety of policies threatening environment, economy, educations, health care, targeted groups of people, free speech and the press and more. What are the connecting points between the all-out assaults?

So at 3 am on a jet-lagged Singapore morning, I set to work with my Venn diagram and then realized, “Hey! I’m doing too much work. This should be the reader’s homework assignment!”
And so I turn it over to you. Find the bullet points from yesterday and group under the following philosophical justifications that the Republicans have either explicitly stated or implicitly endorsed these last few decades and now are blown up to extreme proportions that even some Republicans are starting to question. I’ll get you started with my perception of the thinking behind the permission for such outrageous policies. I’m fully aware some might read them and think, “Yeah, so what’s your point?” These are the folks that I hope will be sent to the future country of United Red States leaving the rest of us free to get on with human evolution. Have fun!

1. I’m more concerned about my team winning than the welfare of the whole country.

2. I will do anything I can to win regardless of whether it is legal or Constitutional.

3. I will put incompetent people in positions of power as long as they further my agenda.

4. I got mine (whether I earned or deserved it or not) and I don’t care if you get yours. In fact, I will work to make sure you don’t.

5. I will continue to protect the privilege I didn’t earn or deserve and claim my people as the legitimate ones and the rest as expendable, disposable, unworthy of respect and dignity.

6. I feel threatened by any person who chooses to be different from me and will not allow them any of the rights and benefits I enjoy.

7. I care a lot about money as a measure of self-worth and though I have more than enough, will do everything I can to keep making more and keeping it for me and mine, not giving it to the common good.

8. The world is there for my plunder and I don’t care about the future of my grandchildren or sustaining our resources.

9. America first—MY America—and screw the rest of the world.

10. All of the above.