Monday, December 31, 2012

The Wheel of Fortune


“Oh Fortuna!” proclaims the opening notes of Carl Orff’s signature work, Carmina Burana. Orff was fascinated by the Medieval Wheel of Fortune as the metaphor for what life hands us, the ups and downs of Fate spinning just out of control. When things seem unbearable, just wait— the wheel will soon be on its upturning swing. When everything is going your way, don’t gloat— the next turn down will come. An image too pessimistic for some and not accounting for our own efforts to spin the wheel. After all, the choices we make daily do indeed affect our so-called luck. As one movie star quipped, “I’m a lucky man. And the harder I worked, the luckier I got.” Perhaps we might also say it’s the way we respond to the turns of the wheel that counts most.

And so on this last day of 2012, as I continue to live life forwards excited about 2013 and occasionally am graced with presence in the present, it’s the moment for the backwards glance over the year to note the highs and lows of the spinning wheel, to give thanks as is due and returned refreshed to keep working the threads in the year to come.

For this tiny dot in a sea of 7 billion, it has been an extraordinary year. Through my own efforts to keep my vision steady and aim yet higher, to do the necessary work joined with the “little help by my friends,” good luck and good timing, it has been a year filled with excitement, accomplishment and blessing. The specifics that are fascinating to me are likely to be boring if not downright annoying to others, but still, it feels important to say some of them out loud. And indeed, for any reader of this blog, I’ve been doing just that the whole year— in 244 postings, to be exact.

This blog and your readership is high on the list of 2012’s happy occurrences. It has been easy to claim myself as a teacher, but a long, evolving process to call myself a writer and the combination of my own obsession to capture experience in words and positive response from readers has given me permission to say in public, “I am a writer.” And so, I published a new book this past year (All Blues), reprinted an old one (Intery Mintery) and conceived the next one (the education postings gathered from these blogs).

I’ll count 2012 as the year I got the nerve to say in public “I’m a jazz musician.” The formation of my Pentatonics jazz group and more performances in one year than I’ve had in the past ten is a long-deferred dream coming true. No words can express my excitement here—if I had a piano, I’d play it for you instead. The chance to continue to play for my 91-year old mother twice a week continues to be one of the greatest blessings I have known.

On the teacher side, a fine year with the kids at the SF School from January through June and then the “traveling music teacher” of the Blog’s title alive and well. Still happy to take my shoes off at Airport Security knowing what’s at the other end. As chronicled here, courses abroad in Finland, Estonia, Turkey, China, Japan, Brazil, Canada (Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto, Montreal, Nova Scotia) and throughout the U.S. in New York, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, St. Louis and Fresno.

2012 has been the year of granddaughter Zadie—that alone will make it forever memorable! Then nephew Ian’s marriage, daughter Kerala’s scary accident and help from angels, daughter Talia’s last year in Argentina and her turn homeward to S.F. It marked the reunion of the 1973 Jug Band in North Carolina, singing with my students from back then 40 years later. After 13 years of imagining it, my Ghana xylophone teacher SK Kakraba Lobi made it to San Francisco to play at my school and give a workshop to adults as well.

It was our first summer Orff course in the Carmel Valley— extraordinary!— and our fourth performance with colleagues Sofia, James and SF School kids in the World Music Festival. It was the year of farewell to our companion of 18 years, Chester the cat, the year of farewell to the elementary school building where so much of my life was lived and the year of beginning construction of the new SFS theater/gym. It was a year of heart-wrenching goodbyes to friends Luz Martin and Sue Walton. It was a year that brought me to two new countries—Nicaragua and Peru (almost at my goal to match the number of countries visited with my age!)—and the time I walked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. It was the year of no mustache and a trimmer body. In short, it personally has been a varied, surprising, affirming and happy year lived mostly at the high end of the Wheel of Fortune. How could I not be thankful?

In the wider culture, there were the usual spins— poignant losses with Dave Brubeck and Ravi Shankar’s passing, points lower then is proper for even human tragedy—Sandy Hook and the NRA’s shameful response— and for this SF citizen, high points with the Giants’ World Series win and Obama’s decisive victory. Money and power still seem to make the world go around, often trumping culture, justice and beauty. But hopeful signs abound everywhere. Here in Cuzco, Peru, there are separate trash containers for organic, recycle and landfill, Finland holds steady with inspired education, music education is alive and well in Nova Scotia and if you know who to talk to and which news source to trust, good people everywhere are doing good things, each from their tiny corner of expertise.

In short, 2012 has been the usual blend of the height of human promise and the depths of human depravity, the quirks of Fate and the focused intentions of Work, the Wheel that spins on its own and the one that we control as we spin the threads of our own fate and fortune. Given a choice, I lean towards hope and love and justice and beauty, renewed each day in the eyes of the children I teach and the teachers dedicated to giving them the world they’re worthy of. May each of us continue to weave separately and together the fabric of our glorious future. On to 2013!!

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