Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Time Travel to Formentera

I recently received a Facebook message from Bruce, an old college  acquaintance. Haven’t been in touch with Bruce for over 20 years, but he found himself thinking about a trip we took and wondering if I remembered more than he did about what happened on it. Luckily, I still had my journal, the first one I wrote to be followed by 47 more years of journal writing. And so I typed over my entries from that trip.


I was a senior in college touring Europe with the Antioch Chorus, some 30 hippies singing the sacred Masses of Guillame Dufay and Johannes Ockeghem in the great cathedrals of France and Italy. We had been together for about a month, going from Amsterdam to Belgium to various parts of France and then had a two week “vacation” free to do what we liked. I decided to go to Spain with three others—Lexi, Bruce and Suzanne. We started hitchhiking in Southern France, but it soon became clear that four people hitchhiking were too many. So we split up—Lexi with Susanne, me with Bruce—and decided to meet in Barcelona. The eventual plan was to go to the island of Formentera, where Lexi had a friend who offered her house for us to stay in. 


This entry was from Barcelona, written two days after my 22ndbirthday. My life then appeared as a marvelous banquet with an enticing table set for me and an invitation to sit down and enjoy. That wondrous sense of adventure and possibility and blank pages to be written, that delicious uncertainty about what life would bring to me and what I would offer it in return. I read again now at the other end of that banquet, looking back with gratitude and wonder at that beautiful meal shared with friends on top of a hill overlooking the city. I’m not getting up from the table yet, still another course or two (one hopes!) awaiting and other people at the table, even if now on small screens. So sweet to remember this time of travel and comradery and youth in this other time of sheltering, solitude and eldership, not as nostalgia, but as simply another dot on the same line of a long life. Here’s that 22-year old:



7/30/ 1973  “The snail crawls two feet—and the day is over.” An appropriate haiku to describe the pace of this line at the ticket office for boats to Formentera. But no matter—a chance for me to write a bit about Barcelona, this city with an unmistakable magic. A pedestrian city with many walkways lined with trees and alleys where cars never venture. The weather is warm and breezy and the city pulses with activity, drawing one immediately into its world.


The city  lives in passion, one becomes lost in the dance of events,  filled with delightful smells and sights, a carnival of impressions that carry you away. Its loudness is the chatter of the teeming jungle, the animation of people and animals, not the mechanical roar of machines that pervades most cities. ALL LIVES, ALL DANCES AND ALL IS LOUD a line from some poem that comes to mind. 


The open-air market is filled with all sorts of fruits, nuts, vegetables, fish and meat. We shopped there, milling about and moving from one stall to another guided by our appetite and our pocketbook. Then we ascended via metro, cable car and cable railway to the Tibidabo, a small mountain that watches over the city. Found a table in a park and picnicked on strawberries, grapes, peaches, dates, figs, peanuts, bread, goat’s cheese, blue cheese, wheat biscuits, green beans, milk and wind. A welcome balance to the frenzied activity below, sitting on top of the world bathed in silence and sharing food with friends. We then strolled to the amusement park which crowned the hill and had a quick battle in the bumper cars. It brought me back to the Jersey shore, walking the boardwalk and pausing to watch how everything glowed in the night and feel the beauty of the moment. 



Tickets finally in hand, we head to the boat leaving for Ibiza. Said a simple goodbye to Janet, a good spirit who I enjoyed. Then boarded the boat, hung over the deck and watched the people gathering to see us off and the workers tying up cars and boats to load onto the ship. Rolls of toilet paper suddenly appeared from nowhere and within minutes, colorful streams of paper where flapping in the breezing, connecting the ship to the people below. I caught one and flung it down to a beautiful grey-haired woman with marvelous blue eyes that were opened wide in childish delight. She caught it and we remained connected for 15 minutes, maneuvering in and out of the criss-crossing paper and adjusting to the various wind speeds. It was an art and we played as if it was a matter of life and death to maintain our bond. I started praying that our line wouldn’t break, I got so involved. An incredible spectacle as we stood waiting, the air streaming with toilet paper, people shouting back and forth, huge smiles and great festivity. And all this for a nightly 10 hour board ride! It seemed that there were some regulars in the crowd who came every night just to see boats off. (I definitely want to do that when I return—I am fascinated by the light-hearted seriousness people put into useless activities—sailing boats in fountains, unraveling toilet paper as ships depart—they seem the only things really worth doing). 


The boat finally took off. My paper-mate and I were out early in the contest, having a short roll. We bade each other an affectionate farewell as our paper blew off into the distance. And now we are 30 minutes out to sea. The night has fallen and I sit on the deck, amazed that I find myself here. Ships hold such a romantic appeal to me, a dream from childhood come true. I am happy now…


Monday, January 25, 2021

Jet Lag and Zucchini

Got time on your hands? Today’s assignment: Write a piece with Jet Lag and Zucchini as a title. Go!


Mine is simple. I was cooking a Thai Yellow Curry, vegetables over red rice, and wanted a zucchini. I didn’t have one. So out I went in the dark, cold 6 pm air in light sprinkling rain in search of a store. First stop, one block away on 3rdAvenue. Carrots, onions, avocado, but no zucchini. On to 5thAvenue. Closed. On to 10thAvenue–didn’t see one right away and was considering if it was worth it to continue to 15thAvenue. How much did I really want it? And then Bingo! A zucchini! Back home and cooked the curry. So far a pretty riveting story, yes? J


Early that day, I was in an online poetry class where the poet was talking about the change in his life from flying all over the world giving talks and dealing with jet lag. In this respect, our lives were parallel and he noted that one blessing of no-travel was less wear and tear on his body. I could relate. Arriving somewhere after a long plane ride, meeting the welcome hotel bed, but often awakening in the middle of the night and having to teach for six hours the next day. The first three days of teaching wrapped in a kind of fog as my body in canon was trying to catch up to itself. That moment were I could feel the click, the two bodies merging and back to normal. But then in a few days or a week or so, the return trip and another three days of the jet lag drama as I returned to teaching kids at school. Wear and tear indeed. 


How to connect these two stories? Both were trials asking me how much I was willing to sacrifice for what I thought I cared about. How much did it mean to me that I was willing to walk the 20 blocks round trip and contemplate 30 blocks just for one zucchini? How much did it matter to me that I was willing to get a visa if necessary, pack my bags, take the BART train to the airport, fly from 3 to 17 hours, teach for three days in a jet-lag stupor on one end and another three of the same the other end? Apparently, enough that I did it time and time again regularly during the last 30 years. 


Now the level of sacrifice is simply agreeing to sit in a chair facing a screen and especially with the opportunity to walk out in the world for three hours after sitting for three hours, the body is indeed much happier, the ozone layer is happier, the time freed up from not traveling, preparing to travel, re-orienting after travel is appreciated. 


And yet, I would get on the 20-hour flight to Australia in a heartbeat for the chance to actually stand in a circle holding hands with people and spend the day singing, dancing, playing music together. I do care about it enough to make that sacrifice, jet lag and all. 


And then after the workshop, I’d walk to the store to buy a zucchini. 

But only 10 blocks. 


Sunday, January 24, 2021

My Life on Zoom

Starting in the mid-80’s, I thought much, wrote much and spoke much about the dangers of too much screen time, be it TV, computers or video games. And now, Zoom is one of my best friends! In just the past three weeks, I’ve…


• Had a board meeting with the Orff-Afrique folks.

• Had a board meeting with SF International Orff Course.

• Gave a workshop to folks in Iran.

• Gathered with American Orff teacher elders.

• Gathered with the family-reunion folks on my wife’s Dad side.

• Gave a workshop on games.

• Sung New Year’s and protest songs with school alums.

• Sung the same with my granddaughter’s 3rd grade.

• Talked (with my family) and interviewed my wife’s 94-year old aunt who worked for women’s rights. 

• Attended an interview with jazz violinist Regina Carter.

• Gave a private Orff lesson to a man from Iran.

• Took a poetry class with David Whyte. 

• Met with my Men’s Group.

• Gave a 5 hour Orff workshop (my longest) to folks in Orange County and beyond.

• Took a class about dance in Orff Schulwerk from my colleague Christa Coogan.

• Was a surprise guest in my daughter’s 5thgrade class (well, technically that was Google Meet).


In the next few weeks, I will:


• Meet up with my jazz band for the first time since the pandemic.

• Teach a guest college class for University students in Texas. 

• Interview Kofi Gbolonyo for an article about African music and Orff Schulwerk.

• Teach an Orff workshop to folks in Verona, Italy.

• Teach the first of my 6-classes on Jazz History: The Be-bop Years.

• Teach two benefit workshops for the Orff Forum with teachers on every continent.

• Meet up with the New Year’s Walk group of family friends who have walked and dined together for 39 years.

• Meet up again with old college friends who Zoomed in the Fall.

• Meet up again with old students and teachers from the Arthur Morgan School where I taught in 1972-3 who also Zoomed in the Fall.


Thanks to Zoom, this retired teacher in a sheltered pandemic can enjoy his solitude walking and biking in the park while still keeping connected to others and his lifelong work on a screen. Whoever imagined this former Luddite thanking an electronic delivery system? 


But I do. 


Saturday, January 23, 2021

The Wound and the Awakening

“You can’t talk racists out of their racism. They have to have an experience that breaks them down to their essence so they realize two things: an awareness that I am really wounded and the reason I put all this pain on other people is that I’m denying my own woundedness and my own internal inferiority and since I don’t want to deal with it, I put it on other people. That’s the dynamic of racism”


This gem from Michael Meade’s recent talk goes far in making clear the work ahead. Biden’s executive orders are welcome and necessary. Accountability for the traitors, especially the enablers in Congress, is both an affirmation of justice and a warning to those who thought they had permission to be above the law, including the deposed tyrant. Re-working of laws to root out systemic, institutional racism, sexism, homophobia and the like are essential. 


But all of this is just a safety net to minimize the damage of our cultural failures, our educational failures, our family-raising failures and our personal failures. If people felt whole in their own soul, were wholly awake in their critical thinking skills, where able to distinguish truth from lies and good character from bad, where able to care about truth and good character…well, it would be a different world indeed. 


Hard to say something new about the catastrophe of these last four years, but I think Meade hits an important point that doesn’t make into the news. It’s not just a political problem, it’s a deep psychological, mythological, spiritual problem of how we acknowledge, look at and deal with our wounds. We are all, after all, the walking wounded, carrying different levels of hurt and even trauma in our bodies and minds. No one gets away with a sorrow-free life and even if you are so fortunate to have had the most loving parents, good food and pleasant shelter, a fabulous school with a great music program and no deaths beyond your pet hamster, life will eventually find you and that means disappointment, betrayal, injustice, lost love, lost loved ones. Not to mention your own failures to be wholly the extraordinary person you hoped to be, the facing of the hard truth that you feel less than others, inferior in some ways and ashamed of it all.  


All of these blows leave wounds and now the question is how you will meet them. Welcome to the world of drug addiction, alcoholism, money addiction, abusive behavior, depression, denial, the fortressing of the heart to avoid the next attack. Sometimes the wounds go inward to depression, sometimes outward to rage and in that case, they feel “better” if you have a target, something or someone else to blame it on.


Enter Trump and his ilk. Here is a man willing to offer the targets and stoke the fear—the Muslims, the Mexicans coming in mass mobs, the blacks taking your jobs, the Democrats limiting your freedom to drive your SUV, stockpile assault weapons, live away from the people with darker skin. Now your personal unwillingness to face your demons and acknowledge your inferiority is wrapped in a good and evil cause, elevates you to a crusader, armors you with fanaticism and joins you with the others who are also to scared to admit that they are wounded and need to look strong and tough, to take on the archetype of the warrior. And to go so far as to storm the Capitol in the name of patriotism. 


Trump also gave them another kind of permission, a living example of someone who was emotionally abandoned by both his parents and spent his life covering up his deep wound, a man who is like a hungry ghost with a vacant soul trying to fill up the empty space with constant adoration, trying to satiate his soul’s hunger with the food of unquestioned admiration that never fills him up for more than five seconds. For those wanting affirmation of their own choice to deny their wounds, he’s their guy. Heck, he became the President of the United States! 


And now here’s Joe Biden, a man who was deeply wounded by the death of a wife, son and daughter and owns that grief, acknowledges it, works with it. He consciously creates a memorial ceremony for the 400,00 Americans who have died from Covid and gives it the solemnity and gravitas it deserves. And Kamala Harris— while I don’t know the specific stories of her wounds, I know that as a black person and a woman in this country, she has had more than her fair share. To have this country run by two people who understand grief is one of the most extraordinary turns we have taken as a nation. 


And as Meade makes clear, Grief’s companion is Joy and we saw it, the descent of the Memorial the night before and the ascent rising up singing in the Inauguration and the after-party the day after. It’s not a mean-spirited Joy—“We (the Democrats) won!! In your face, Repugnicans!” but an inclusive “We all won a chance to be better than we've been.” For once we acknowledge our own wounds, we find ourselves connected to everyone else who has them—which means “everyone else” and can truly move from “me against you” to “we.” Nothing unifies so much as grief. Nothing unifies so much as joy. 


Finally, Meade notes that traditional initiation ceremonies have two parts— a descent into the wounds and ascent awakening into our larger—and better—self. That’s where we are. And it’s a beautiful place to be. More grief awaits and let’s not tap dance around it. Let’s dance through it and rise up joyfully—together.


Friday, January 22, 2021

The Founding Mothers

Did anyone notice who carried the day in that stirring and soulful Inauguration? There was Amanda Gorman, speaking with the body, voice and mind the words that soothed our troubled soul and awakened our determined spirits. Wise beyond her years at 22 years old. There was Kamala Harris representing the long-deferred dream of women finally given a voice high in the halls of power so that the dream doesn’t fester, crust over or explode, but can say its piece in measured speech. There was firefighter Andrea Hall who spoke and signed the Pledge of Allegiance in a way that made clear: “I said it, I meant it, I’m here to represent it!”


The night before the Inauguration, at the much overdue and sorely needed memorial for the 400,000 Americans who have died from Covid, the necessarily sparse words and eloquent silence were given yet fuller voice by nurse Lorie Marie Key singing Amazing Grace and Yolanda Adams singing Hallelujah. I believe those heartfelt and heart-sung notes helped carry the ungrieved dead to the ancestral lands where their loved ones awaited them. 


The “Celebrate America” event after the Inauguration had its own happy blend of music, poetry, appreciations (including a brief shot of an Orff xylophone in the part honoring teachers!!), but for me the highlight was watching the two women on the side signing the words of the songs. They were dancin’!!! Never have seen such infectiously joyful interpretations in sign language and in case, you missed it, go back and check it out. The facial expressions and whole body amplifying further what the hands had to say. 


All those folks mentioned above had one thing in common. They were black women. I, for one, would like to physically and metaphorically get down on my knees and thank black women for being the carriers of true democracy in this land. The white Founding Fathers planted the seed of the idea and ideals of democracy, but I nominate American black women as the ones who actually birthed that baby and raised it. Carried it in their bodies, endured the agonizing labor of giving birth, swaddled and held and breast-fed that baby, changed its diapers, helped it learn how to walk and talk, organized the doctor visits and drove it to soccer practice, helped it with its homework, taught it how to be fair and kind and clean its own room, how to work hard and persevere, soothed its scraped knees and got it up and back on the bike. While they did the day-to-day work of giving body and soul of airy ideals, the fathers sat in their good-ole-boys club smoking cigars and making up laws to keep democracy the small province of gentlemen who owned land. 


What makes this yet more extraordinary is that these black women began their tenure torn from their homeland, stuffed down into the dark holds of ships, unloaded like cargo, taken away from their families, bought and sold, beaten and raped, made to work sun-up to sun-down in scorched cotton fields or in the house taking care of the slave-masters’ children. All while these propertied “gentlemen” sat on their porch sipping mint juleps and talked about the honor of the South.


So join with me in honoring the true carriers of democracy, from the founding moment to yesterday’s inauguration. Speak their names out loud like the long beautiful poem they are— Phillis Wheatley. Harriet Tubman. Sojourner Truth. Ida B. Wells. Rosa Parks. Fannie Lou Hamer. Shirley Chisholm. Angela Davis. Michelle Obama, Susan Rice, Alicia Garza/ Patrice Cullors/ Opel Tometi, Michelle Alexander, Isabel Wilkerson, Stacey Abrams, Kamala Harris. Zora Neale Hurston, Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Gwendolyn Brooks, Oprah Winfrey, Nikki Giovanni. Norma Miller. Pearl Primus. Katherine Dunham. Bessie Smith. Ella Fitzgerald. Billie Holiday. Sarah Vaughan. Marian Anderson. Mary Lou Williams. Hazel Scott. Mahalia Jackson. Big Mama Thornton.Nina Simone. Carmen Macrae. Nancy Wilson. Natalie Cole. Dionne Warwick. Gladys Knight. Diana Ross, Aretha Franklin—and so many more. 


And next time you pass a black woman on the street, take a moment to thank her. And then get to work and follow their example. And yes, I'm talking to you (us), white men!

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Feelin' Good

“It’s a new dawn. It’s a new day. It’s a new life for us. And we’re feeling good.”


A song is often a good way—in fact, often the best way— to marry meaning and emotion and sing out what you feel. And so this song written by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse (who also wrote another anthem of hope “Gonna Build Me a Mountain”) and sung so soulfully by Nina Simone, captures a tiny bit of my feeling after watching that most moving and most needed and most timely of Inauguration Ceremonies. So open up Youtube and sing along! 


And I mean everyone. As expressed in a blogpost a while back, those who didn’t vote for Biden and Harris won as much as those who did. They won a chance to curtail the pandemic that devastates us all, pay attention to the climate change that threatens us all, to consider draining the hate from their heart that hurts them as much as they people they choose to hate, to consider that life is a helluva lot more fun when you choose to simply enjoy people without imprisoning them in your categories and our chances for survival are a helluva lot better when we join forces. After all, neither the pandemic nor the fires nor the storms nor the god or gods you think are on your side only gives a rat’s ass for your ideologies and dogma and group names. So give up your loyalty to your worst self egged on by that lunatic now gone—what was his name again?— and join in the song. Trust me, you will be so much happier and so will your children and so will we all. Okay?


Now sing along with Nina!  https://youtu.be/zADj0k0waFY


Birds flying high, you know how I feel
Sun in the sky, you know how I feel
Breeze driftin' on by, you know how I feel

It's a new dawn, It's a new day, It's a new life for me
And I'm feeling good

Fish in the sea, you know how I feel
River running free, you know how I feel
Blossom on a tree, you know how I feel

It's a new dawn, It's a new day, It's a new life for me
And I'm feeling good


Dragonfly out in the sun, you know what I mean, don't you know
Butterflies all havin' fun, you know what I mean
Sleep in peace when day is done, that's what I mean
And this old world is a new world, and a bold world, for me. (us!)

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Letter to My Grandchildren


Dear Zadie and Malik, 


In just 16 hours from now, we will come to the end of an era error and the future you deserve will begin again. I have waited for this moment for four long agonizing years, years I couldn’t imagine I could endure. And yet somehow I did. We all did. We got mad, we got sad, we were outraged, we were struck dumb wondering how this could have happened. But we also got together and we spoke out and we wrote postcards and signed petitions and gave money and put our bodies out on the streets and our thoughts on our clever signs and our marks on the ballot. And lo and behold, it made a difference and the man who spent every waking minute selling your future down the river will be exiled from his throne of power, leaving in disgrace with even many (but not all) of his staunch supporters and enablers cutting themselves loose from his adoring fan club. Not a moment too soon. 


You both began life with one of the finest Presidents the country has ever had. Things were so promising when you started out. The first black President, a black woman bass player (Esperanza Spalding) playing jazz at the White House, more women in Congress than ever had been before and doors that had been closed for so long finally starting to open. 


Zadie, as a girl, you can play any sport you please, aim for just about any profession you please, be proud of your talented math-skills without even considering that you have to hide them, outrun every single boy in your class (you can!). If someone makes nasty comments to you or touches you when you don’t want them too, you don’t have to keep silent and they will get in trouble. In the future, you can marry whom you please—black or white, Buddhist or Jewish, man or woman. (Or choose to remain single, of course). I imagine you are thinking, “Duh! Of course I can!” but even a mere 50 years ago, it wasn’t easy or even possible. 


And Malik, you can be wholly the sensitive boy you are and cry freely and love whatever or whomever you love without apology. Now you know you could be President (not the best job, by the way) or a poet and if you wanted to play classical music instead of jazz or hip-hop, you could. Or all three. You will have support when you choose to respect all people and appreciate women as your friends, colleagues and equals. And though you might get teased or bullied by boys or men with small hearts who confuse strength with hurting and harming others, you will be able to find others like you who find strength in kindness. 


These are all good signs. These are the things your grandmother and I fought for almost 50 years ago (and are still fighting for), things your Mom, Dad and Aunt are fighting for now, things that, truth be told, you both will probably have to continue to fight for. But hopefully not quite so much because of the work that came before.


And yet. While I write this, you are hiding in an Air B&B away from your house because there were some suspicious people in your yard and strange vans on the street and your parents are worried about Inauguration Day and all the unleashed dogs fed by this lunatic man who somehow was chosen to lead this country. I share their caution. All of us are nervous about what might happen tomorrow in a ceremony which, until this moment, has always been a sacred moment in the history of our country. 

This is not good. This is not normal. This is not what any of us ever dreamed could come to pass after each new victory against racism, sexism, homophobia, environmental destruction, capitalist greed, military stockpiling. We thought that once the right door opened, everyone would happily walk through. We (or at least I) couldn’t have predicted how important it was to so many people to keep their identity based on white supremacy, male dominance, heterosexual status, “Christian” values and how ferociously they would cling to it, to the point of wanting to overthrow the very government that they professed to love. 


And yet again. Just think of how far we have come! (I know, because I know how it was before). The casualness with which my colleague James can introduce his husband Dan, the way your white Mom and black Dad can go to some restaurants and no one looks twice, the way the Portland Moms and then grandma’s and grand-dads and then leaf-blower-equipped Dads stood up so bravely to protest murders by police, the way just about every house in your neighborhood has a sign that says “Science is real. Women’s rights are human rights. Black Lives Matter. No person is illegal. Love is Love.” We have made progress.


We were heading to the cliff’s edge and enough of us woke up in time to make a sharp turn and get back on the real road. Driven by a caring, hard-working intelligent man as President and our first female/ black/ Indian Vice President. And the First Lady is a teacher!! How about that?! And instead of tweeting out mean-spirited and hateful messages that divide, instead of stirring up violence, instead of bragging about a self that is a shame to our species, Mr. Joe Biden talks about unity, mourns the pandemic deaths, is already hard at work on actual plans to recover from this severe blow. After fingernails on a chalkboard, this is music as beautiful as Bach and as swingin’ as Sonny Rollins.


And so on this night before this moment we have waited for for so long, all I see is your beautiful faces and your future that we’re all fighting for. You are blessed to have two such loving parents, an extraordinary aunt and grandparents who love you beyond what any arms can stretch to show. Tomorrow Joe and Kamala take the seat and that disgraceful little boy in a man’s body will be confined to his golf cart or (hopefully) prison cell and we can begin this work again.


For both of you. 


For all of us. 


Happy Inauguration Day!!