Saturday, January 28, 2017

Weekend Workshop


Outside the window of seat 16a, the snow-capped mountains of the Rockies below, with their intricate curves and ridges and slopes and jagged peaks, the long sentences of rivers filled with snow. A world apart from the daily news, aloof from the ill-fated actions and muddled thinking of us puny humans, unconcerned about the havoc we’re wreaking because it will survive even if we don’t. Will the mountains miss us? Will the birds notice we’re gone? Will the bees rejoice that they can feed again on the flowers poking through the abandoned Walmarts?

Not that I’ve entirely given up hope. I’m winging home after giving three workshops to music teachers in Colorado Springs at the Colorado Music Educators Association. Flying out there on Thursday morning, I felt grateful for this weird life of giving workshops to people in school gymnasiums, hotel conference rooms, university classrooms. Since 1984, it has been a steady part of my ritual annual calendar and along with the music room at The San Francisco School, the workshop has been the place of worship, of baptism, of trial by fire. It has been my temple, my courthouse, my playground, my lecture hall. Everything I care about, everything I think about, everything I dream about, is on full display. My hope is to affirm, to reveal, to challenge, to open, to offer questions previously unconsidered, to offer answers previously unimagined. I am at once blended into a circle, leading the line, observing from the side, at once a teacher, student and colleague, at once giving unconditional love and kicking everyone’s butt. Including my own.

My first two sessions were a mere 50 minutes each and that’s brutally difficult to get energy flowing and reach the full stride of the workshop rhythm. Made more difficult by some 150 people in the crowd. But hey, we did it—made some exciting music, created some simple, but dynamic dances almost instantly, shared our creations and filled the room with joy. My thinly-disguised political comments (always in context) seemed to fall flat—and later I was told that Colorado Springs is the heart of the conservative beast, with its Focus on the Family sites, Air Force base and Cheyenne Mountain hollowed out to protect the President in case of nuclear attack. Yikes! But a few people chuckled and later expressed appreciation.

In-between workshops, I wandered around the grounds of the opulent Broadmoor Hotel. My first taste of a little snow that fell Thursday night, cold invigorating air warmed by some sun, ducks and swans on the pond. A paper on my room’s desk listed possible activities that included zip-lines, air rifle shooting and tomahawk-throwing. (Hmm. It’s been a while since I’ve worked on my tomahawk-throwing chops, but these days, it could come in handy.) But mostly I walked about, sat and read, peeked in on a few workshops, retreated to my room and the Facebook party of my friend’s WTF??!!! reaction to the next transgression of common human decency coming down from above.

I did have a wonderful dinner with my friend Paul Cribari and two other spirited Orff colleagues. Paul is 24/7 hilarious, but his best story was promising his two daughters, aged 8 and 6, a dinner of Frozen Pizzas. He baked them and served them and they burst into tears. “These aren’t Frozen Pizzas!” After five minutes of confusion, he finally realized that they expected pizzas topped with characters from the movie Frozen. So Paul cleared it up, but they kept crying. So he sang, “Let It Go!”

Today I walked to my final workshop on jazz and my host said, “Hey! Good news! There’s no workshop after yours, so you can go a bit longer if you want!” So not only did I get to help people play some hot jazz within fifteen minutes and astound one woman with the quality of her xylophone solo with me at the piano, but I had to time to remind them that they had to pay for what we just experienced by vowing to tell the stories to their kids that we keep on neglecting. I’ve been criticized by some for stepping up on the soap-box in a venue when folks just want plans for Monday’s lessons, but never have I felt so proud of it as now. Because it’s not about me just ranting about my opinions to a captive audience, but it’s about connecting my carefully crafted points of views with the pleasure of what they all just experienced. And I have been right. Our purposeful ignorance about the sorrows and glories of our history are now hitting us in the face.

And it’s not just about our fearful leader. It’s about ignorance in all its manifestations of authority that doesn’t know what it doesn’t know and doesn’t care to know it. One teacher afterward told me how discouraged she was because she was forced to make her kids fill out paper tests in most of her music classes. Because it was “the law.” After my usual offer to have me come speak with the lawmakers (which exactly no one has ever followed through on), I suggested she give a Spring Concert with her kids up on stage filling out the answers on paper tests in front of the audience. And at the end, turning to the parents and saying, “I hope you enjoyed the concert. I followed the law exactly and this was the wonderful result! See you next Spring!”

And so, dear diary, that was my weekend. 

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