Sunday, April 17, 2011

Me and Icarus


Dear Reader,

Guess where I am? Hint: I enter, kick off my shoes, take off my jacket, set down my backpack filled with work. Afterwards, I browse in a bookstore, see a fabulous Folk Art Exhibit, sit down with a cup of coffee and look out the window at the swirling fog, enjoy the murmur of folks chatting. Perhaps I’ll see a movie later. You might be thinking:

"A foot-massage in San Francisco Chinatown, stroll down to City Light’s bookstore in North Beach, drop into a hip art gallery, then settle down at CafĂ© Trieste with a triple expresso with a newspaper and see what’s playing at Embarcadero Cinema." Wouldn’t that be a lovely evening!

Instead, I’m back at SF Airport (read through the list again) and yes, there is a fabulous Folk Art Exhibit at the United Terminal called Second Chances. And maybe there will be a movie on the plane. I’m en route to Edmonton for a one-day Orff festival, where I have been chosen to judge and work with the performing groups. Something I’ve never done before and so when invited, I thought, “Hey! Why not?” Always up for adventure. Just looked at the weather there—33 degrees! Hmm. Not quite ready for that!

Yesterday was the third in my series of workshops Education, Arts, Anthropology and Neuroscience, this one based on Steven Mithen’s fascinating book “The Singing Neanderthals,” where he makes a convincing case that music was—and is—essential to our survival. So I combined the theme with jazz, a music that grew from a culture that indeed survived a few centuries of brutality, in no small part because of the power of music. We sang through the songs that lifted people up when everything conspired to beat them down, revealed the hidden messages and ingenious strategies for keeping their Spirits alive, finding ways to drum without drums and dance without crossing their feet. And then when we finally played some jazz blues, the people understood who had paid their dues and the music communicated even deeper and soared yet higher.

On of the highlights of the workshop was an alumni family dropping in. Maddie, one of the daughters, was in the 5th grade group that played my arrangement of The Cookie Jar game back in 1998 when—and I'm not making this up—Milt Jackson came to my school and spent a morning playing for and with the kids. (If you don’t know who Milt Jackson is, first "Shame on you!" and then go look him up and be suitably impressed). I have a video of that momentous occasion that I often show in workshops and so have watched a permanently 10-year-old Maddie playing an impressive blues solo on the xylophone. Now she’s living in San Francisco as a young woman, some 13 years out of practice on the Orff instruments, but ready and willing to try it again. So she got to relive her moment of glory (minus Milt Jackson’s appreciation) to play another solo. She still sounded good—as did her sister, mother and father.

But the return engagement of the blues solo was nothing compared to playing the original Cookie Jar game with eight people in the class. This just happens to be a game I excel in and indeed, in my 36 years at The San Francisco School, I have only been beaten once. (Michael Canaveral, if you’re out there reading this, I’m ready for a re-match!) Michael beat me when he was in 4th grade (he’s now 30) in front of 100 children who whooped and hollered like the Giants had won the World Series—times ten! So I set off playing with supreme confidence and still was relaxed when it came down to just Maddie and myself.

Oh, dear brethren, how far we fall when hubris overcomes us. I was flying high, like Icarus on his waxen wings: “Who me?” asked Maddie, “Yes you!” I replied, “Couldn’t be!” she continued,  “Then we…” WE??!!! (for non-Cookie Jar players, the correct rejoinder is “Then who?) A moment of stunned silence—did I really just say that?—and then Maddie’s ear-to-ear grin. So I fell to earth in shame and humiliation and Maddie Katz became the second person ever to beat me in the Cookie Jar.

Well, I’m proud to report that the depth of my Fall took a back seat to the exultation of her victory. Like Michael, when times are dark and despair is in the air, Maddie will always have this comforting thought, “I beat Doug in the Cookie Jar. “ I’m happy for her. Really.

Still though, I’m ready for a future Maddie/ Michael rematch. 

Any time. 

Any place.

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