Thursday, February 20, 2020

Do-Be-Do-Be-Do

“To be is to do.” – Plato

“To do is to be.” – Sartre

“Do-be-do-be-do.” – Frank Sinatra

This graffiti I saw in the Antioch College bathroom a half-century or so ago. It’s a good description of my last few days with unexpected time off at home.

On the doing side, I decided to take care of those nagging details I keep putting off. Went to the dentist, to the Social Security office, starting working on my taxes and such.

On the being side, I sat in the park under the plum blossoms and inhaled a bit of the approaching Spring.

And then I played songs Sinatra sang on the piano. 

Three for three!

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Happiness or Happeness?

I gave myself a Buddhist lecture today, trying to remind myself what Mary Oliver has also suggested— “you must not, ever, give anyone else the responsibility for your life.” Or for your happiness, I would add. 

The Buddhist idea is to wholly, utterly, completely, accept the world as it is. Or more accurately, to detach oneself from the rise and fall of both your own desires and the world’s ebb and flow. To practice non-attachment is to float over the muddy waters of world like the flowering lotus. 

And yet, aren’t we creatures of desire? Don’t we navigate through the day-to-day filled with wishes, hopes, dreams, intentions, visions of the world as we want it to be? And when those hopes include creating a more just world, bringing some healing and happiness to ourselves and others, adding beauty to a world already beautiful but also made ugly by our failures, aren’t those worthy hopes and desires? 

And yet. When we want—and expect—the world to behave according to our wishes, be they small and petty or large and glorious, aren’t we bound to be disappointed? Won’t we suffer when the world goes off our script? Yes, we will and yes, we do. I think of my own disappointments in myself and then go on to the way some others treat me and then it magnifies yet again when I feel the ups and downs of my children, my colleagues, my friends, their hurts, their illnesses, their blows from the random chaos of life. And yet again when one opens to compassion and reads the newspaper. From the personal to the political news of the day, there is a constant volley of suffering raining down on us, from the lethal virus in China to the Democracy-killing virus in the Senate to the next ignorant decision that diminishes the quality of life. Really, how do we even manage to stand up each day? 

All these things that either randomly or purposefully (sometimes with ill-intent) happen are simply out of my control. I can stand up and speak out and offer advice and offer a listening ear, but I can’t do a damn thing about most of it. So one way to balance it all is to re-focus on the things that I can do. I can sit in morning meditation and be content with just breath, I can ride my bike and use less gas while getting exercise, I can keep working on the piano until the notes flow with some sense of beauty, I can eat less, I can sit and watch the motion of the water on the bay or hug a tree or stand outside at night looking at the stars. But if I do all of that expecting a result, I’m back on the karmic wheel of disappointment or fulfillment. If I’m out in nature and wishing that cold breeze would stop so I could relax and appreciate the scene, I’m asking the world again to bend to my wishes. It’s maddeningly difficult to simply accept what comes before us wholeheartedly. 

So I finally came up with this sentence:

“Don’t base your happiness on what happens. Happiness is simply the natural overflow of resting wholly in the center of your nature. Don’t confuse it with “happeness.” That’s when you’re overjoyed because the Warriors won another championship or you got a lot of likes on Facebook or you got a cool workshop invitation. Fine to feel some pleasure in all of that, but watch out! Soon you expect World to keep winning all the games you want won and then you become attached to a particular outcome and back you are at square one— life is suffering. In short: Happiness, not happeness.”

End of today’s Buddhist lecture.

PS: Makes me SO HAPPY that I came up with that cool idea!!!! I hope I get another one tomorrow!

Monday, February 17, 2020

No Cell-Phone-Free-Zone

It’s no news that cell phones are both heaven’s gift and the Devil’s instrument. The wholesale invasion of human attention and interaction, reducing it all to heads-down on tiny, private, self-enclosed screens, is now simply the new norm. I’ve done my best—and perhaps better than most— to not walk and talk through the streets, not check it in public every chance I get, to still bring books on buses and such and even occasionally, just sit and notice and observe and sometimes (gasp!) talk to strangers! 

But last night, the phone appeared in a here-to-fore sacred spot—my dreams. Still struggling with jet lag— slept 11pm to 5am the first night, 11 pm to 10 am (!) the second and last night, 11 pm to 3:30 am, up for 90 minutes, back to sleep at 5:00 am and that’s when I left to go to school by bus (in my dreams)  and then realized it was 9:15am and my first class started at 9. So opted for the car and on the way to school, tried to call while stuck in weird traffic on a new unfamiliar route and couldn’t get to my normal screen on my phone. Found a way to put in the number (which miraculously, I got right digit-wise) but no way to send the call and kept fumbling with buttons to try to get the screen back to the way I know it. Luckily, I woke up (8:15 am) so the 8thgrade didn’t miss their music class after all and my phone still worked as I’m used to it working.

So there you have it. Jet-lag sucks and phones are now officially everywhere. That’s my message to start the day.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

Sometimes things just go smoothly, like a jazz band being gifted with a particularly swingin’ groove when every note holds in place. Like yesterday. The Singapore hotel graciously agreed to extend check-out time to 6 pm, allowing me the full day to swim, wander and pack. My generous host, Paul Grosse, rode to the airport with me in the taxi and we had a most lovely and delicious dinner at an airport restaurant so tastefully decorated with equally tasty variations of prawns and tofu over red rice. Checked in my bags without waiting in line, went straight to the gate and through another line-less security, checked in at the desk to see if I may have been called for the Business Class upgrade. Earlier that day, I found out there were 9 seats available and I was number 8 on the waiting list. The woman checked and said that now I was number 1 on the waiting list, meaning the other seats had been filled, but if one person failed to show, up I went.

That seemed like a hiccup in my flawless day, but fact is that though the upgrade never happened, my window Economy Plus seat next to a short woman with narrow shoulders ended up being just fine and I didn’t have to use up my miles or pay the additional proposed fee. Instead of a 14-hour grueling survival test, I simply had a triple-feature movie and lucked out on three great films interrupted by some okay sleep. 

The first was House with Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler and it was a typical American zany over-the-top comedy, but hey, with those two, you can’t go too wrong and it didn’t. Next was Late Night with Emma Thompson and that was truly excellent, a little reminiscent of The Devil Wears Prada with a successful not-too-nice woman at the top slowly transforming into her fuller humanity. But with 3 hours left in the flight, the last took the prize. 

Yesterday is the name of the movie about the musician singing all the Beatles songs in a world in which the memory of the Beatles is mysteriously erased. It was a lovely reminder of how poor the world—and also my world, as they appeared on Ed Sullivan in 7thgrade just when this then-adolescent was entering the world of rock music, and became a major part of the soundtrack of my adolescence and college years—would have been without the Beatles. The variety, poetry and simply great tunes were stunning when looked at from this film’s unique perspective.

And probably my favorite part was after the musician goes through the dog-and-pony show of the mega-spectacle with millions buying “his” music and thousands attending his concerts, he reaches the true apex at the end by singing with kids in a school. That sincerely warmed this music teacher’s heart. (I, of course, opted out of the rock star period. Ha ha!)

To complete the smooth flow of the day, my flight actually left on time (!), arrived early, 8 people ahead of me in the immigration line, walked to baggage claim just as my bags came out, walked to BART a minute before the train left, walked out of BART and waiting 30 seconds before my wife met me to pick me up and had time and energy to thoroughly unpack, re-settle and sleep through most of the night (he says writing this at a 5am jet-lagged morning). And most important, it seems like I’m virus-free. 

Today then is my reunion with the piano, with my bicycle, with shopping and cooking, with the colder weather (San Francisco’s 47 degrees instead of Singapore’s 74), the details of homecoming. Tomorrow is digging into a book project with two weeks of unexpected time ahead. Grateful for it all.

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow is also the name of a great Italian film. Maybe I’ll watch it on my next 14-hour flight.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Sauntering Around Singapore

Tonight I have the dubious pleasure of spending 14-plus hours in an airplane seat, so I thought it best to get this body moving today. Began with a swim in the hotel pool and then off for an aimless saunter through Singapore, heading down to the Marina where the Singapore Flyer and strange gardens and such are. My New Orleans hat on my head, my Cuban shirt on my back, my Michigan shorts, Spanish sandals, all my various selves joined together. (I usually bring my "man’s purse" that traveled around the world with me in 1978 and still is my companion. But today I thought about traveling lighter and seeing what it might be like to go off without a book or Crostic puzzle and such. Just walk and think my own strange thoughts. It was enough. 

The sun was out more than my skin would have liked, but in-between bouts of genuine summer heat, there were some cool breezes. As happens when we travel, certain sights spark off memories of other travels. Some things reminded me of the Sydney Opera House, some of Spain (the heat), some snippets of San Francisco at the water’s edge, some sense of Salzburg feeling the echo of satisfying teaching. The convergence of Singapore, Sydney, San Francisco, Salzburg, Spain both a tangible trip through triumphant travels and a pleasing alliterative connection. 

Singapore is immaculately manicured and though it’s partly because of its Disneyland-like artificial simulation (man-made sculptures imitating trees), it sure is a refreshing change from the constant garbage on the street in San Francisco. And today on the way back, I took my third foray into the underground MRT that rivals Tokyo and puts San Francisco’s MUNI to shame. If you just miss one train (as I did), not to worry, the next will arrive probably within 2 to 5 minutes. If you miss the N-Judah in old San Fran, chances are you will wait between 15 and 30 minutes. If you’re lucky. The trains are clean and the signs announcing their arrival even color-code the cars to show whether they’re relatively empty (green), full (red) or in-between (orange). How cool is that?

Yesterday, I talking to the students in my course about jazz as the gumbo mix of the meeting of diverse cultures, naming how that happened in New Orleans and New York. I went on to note the richness when the Moors, Jews and Catholics mixed in 15thcentury Spain (before Trump-like Ferdinand deported 2/3rds of the mix), noted the other rich musical mixtures (though horrendous political injustices) when Portugal met West Africa (Brazilian samba and beyond), Spain met West Africa (Cuban son and beyond). And then acknowledged that there was another rich mix right here in Singapore—Chinese, Malay, South Indian and European/American. But one can’t predict precisely how cultures mix. From my limited vantage point, most are keeping to their own, equally with restaurants, festivals and music. But what do I know? Maybe there’s some cool fusion groups doing kung-fu dances with Indian drums and singing Malay lyrics. 

I did a little research dipping back into my travel schedules and discovered that I’ve been here to teach seven times—2020/19/17/16/15/11/08. And came here for the first time (to a quite different city!) in 1979. So it seems indeed that there is some karmic thread linking me to here, as it has to other places I’ve kept returning to to teach—certainly the Spain, Salzburg, Sydney link, as well as Scotland, Sao Paolo and out of the S’s to Tokyo, Turkey, Finland, Italy, Canada, Ghana, China and more. A great pleasure to get to know a bit of these (and other) places while also sharing work that seems to be needed and enthusiastically received. Maybe I should start a Blog called “Confessions of a Traveling Music Teacher” and talk about that! Ha ha!

For now, it’s back to the pool.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Ain't Misbehavin'

The subject of children’s behavior came up in the course today and I punished the group by giving my long view answer before getting into the details. Ha ha! The short version was something like this.

“Compared to the days of ‘children should be seen but not heard,’ corporal punishment, 
hushing up life’s important stories (be it sex, that different uncle or social justice) and/ or children working in brutal conditions in factories or going to brutal schools as described in Dickens, it’s not a bad time to be a child. And yet, this time, like all times, has its own particular challenges and most of them are falling in the laps of teachers who thought they were signing up to teach a subject they loved, but are expected to be therapist, counselor, friend, policemen, healer, social worker and more to their children, children who may report a misunderstood incident that can get the teacher fired. 

So when children “misbehave” in class, there is a long list of possible energies at work that reflect the difficulty of being a child today. Amongst them:

• Childhood itself is threatened as the child’s deepest needs to move, to play, to explore, to engage the world sensually, to imagine, to work out the trials and triumphs of friendships, are all under attack. From one side, by overbearing parents overscheduling classes and organized activities outside of school and the pressure to work on improving test scores, from another by parents abandoning their children to screens designed for addiction, encouraging non-consequences of tweeting and texting free from face to face contact, reducing the child’s multi-sensual world to the flat two-dimensional world of screens with no smells, tastes or textures, short-circuiting the curiosity that arises from boredom, promising instant gratification that is shallow and superficial, inhibiting needed movement and exercise and robbing the children of nature’s precious window to know the world through the body, through the senses, through the imagination and through three-dimensional engagement with plants, animals and other breathing human beings.

• Families are confused, economically forced to work harder and harder, not clear whether to be their child’s friend, guardian, protector or guiding parent, either too much in their business or too little, expecting either too much or too little from the kids, not eating meals together, not conversing habitually, not making music together, being strict in the wrong way and loose in the wrong way. Of course, not all families, but the growing trend toward blaming the teachers instead of holding the child accountable under the illusion of “understanding the child” is making teaching yet harder than it need be.

• Culture—at least in the United States—is unravelling at an extraordinary pace so that the actions by and words of politicians (for example) that were unthinkable and 150% unacceptable a mere 5 years ago have suddenly become normalized. How can the children not feel this? How can they not feel abandoned by the people they’re supposed to look up to, who clearly act on behalf of their own selfish position of privilege and publicly proclaim without shame their lack of care for others, for the tenets of the most basic democracy, for the fate of the planet? 

• Nature (to quote Michael Meade) is rattling as culture is unravelling and children are picking up either directly by the fires and floods around them or hearing the news or feeling indirectly in the air the fear that their future is diminishing. With all of these heavy, heavy issues on their small, small shoulders, should we wonder that Johnny is misbehaving in music class? They “ain’t misbehavin’”—they’re singing the canary song in the mines that is off-key because there’s not enough air in there!

Of course, part of being a teacher is to help correct, guide, understand misbehavior and this involves another role as translator. Since “behavior is the language of children,” the teacher must decipher what’s going on, which can range from a child who didn’t eat enough breakfast to one worried about the fate of the universe. None of this background is intended to get children off the hook for stepping up to being a better citizen in class, but it does put us teachers in a position of re-evaluating if we are giving children what they deeply need in the face of everything they’re not getting (see above). All of the above is out of our control, but what happens in our class when we shut the door is where we can begin to change our often outdated notions of “misbehavior” and think an inch deeper about what’s really important in the short time we have with kids and how we can help them align themselves with the flow of a positive group energy. That has a different ring to it.”

Part II will offer some thoughts about how. Stay tuned.


Wrong Choice?

Singapore went up a color notch in the virus game, but so far, my small classes with no kids are holding steady and in fact, just have one more tomorrow before I’m home free. 

Today, we did the kid’s clapping game “Head and Shoulders” and when I had them make up new verses, many appropriately made it wholly contemporary. In fact, this new song could be government-approved and spread on all available media. Things like: 

“Wash your hands, baby, 1-2-3, 
Wash your hands, baby, 1-2-3
Wash your hands, wash your hands, 
Wash your hands, baby, 1-2-3.”

“ Wear a mask, baby…”

“ Stay at home, baby…”

Etc. Of course, the irony is that to properly play the game, you need to get out of the house, touch your partner’s hands and to properly sing, you need to take your mask off. Ah, this complex world.

Besides washing my hands a bit more frequently, I’m refusing to give in to hysteria and pretty much going on as normal. But yesterday, I was waiting for the elevator and just as the elevator doors opened, the man inside sneezed. Should I enter or wait for the next one? 

I entered. But truth be told, kind of held my breath until my floor. 

That was two days ago. So far, so good. 

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Advance in Civilization


When every aspect of life seems to be in decline, one is especially watchful for signs of progress. And today I found it!

The Garden Inn Hotel in Singapore has a wonderful guest service— a set of washer/ dryers that allow guests to do their much-needed laundry at a charge much cheaper than $12 per shirt. So I gathered my laundry and all the change I had to discover two fabulous innovations:

1)   Instead of plucking coins into the machine and hoping I had the right number, another machine to the side had a way to insert one bill and receive one token. The token starts the washer and/or dryer. Brilliant! 

2)   But yet more brilliant was the soap. Instead of having to buy a big box and use just a little or travel with a small bag of detergent or get change to buy a little box from yet another machine, the washing machine was designed so that you didn’t have to add soap. The machine itself did it internally, all for the price of that token.

Remarkable!!! Why didn’t we think of that in our public laundromats? It’s like someone finally figuring out to put wheels on suitcases.

So, my friends, there is some hope after all that civilization can still advance. Soon no one will be able to remember those little boxes of soap in the laundromat.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Pierced by Sorrow

I haven’t felt this bad since November of 2016. After a brief plunge into darkness when evil won the Electoral College, the Women’s March turned me around toward hope and the sense that evil would walk itself to the cliff’s edge and step off. But the recent events in the Senate shut the lights out again. And I know I’m not alone.

What helps is to telescope out to a larger perspective and try to see things in a greater context. And so enter yesterday’s celebration of Thaipusam in Singapore. As I watched people insert sharp needles into the back of a man holding up a heavy structure and watched him bear up without a wince of outward pain, I felt the outward image of what I and so many feel inwardly. Dart after dart of shameless actions piercing our flesh—truly an extraordinary number when you add kids in cages, Ukraine, Stormy, Russia, tax evasions, murders (Iran), praising of neo-Nazis— dart after dart after dart and that’s just the beginning of the list, while we stand there alone holding the heavy weight of the Constitution and something called democracy on our small shoulders while the Senate refuses to hold their share of the burden and tacitly endorses each and every dart. That’s precisely the image of what’s going down.



But helpful to remember that this is a sacred undertaking and at the end, the goal is for evil to be vanquished. President Soorapadman will have his day of reckoning. As described in Wikipedia:

The word Thaipusam is a combination of the name of the month, Thai, and the name of a star, Pusam. This particular star is at its highest point during the festival. The festival commemorates the occasion when Parvati gave Murugan a Vel "spear" so he could vanquish the evil demon Soorapadman

Murugan is the embodiment of Shiva's light and wisdom and devotees pray to him to overcome the obstacles they face, as He is the divine vanquisher of evil. The motive of Thaipusam festival is to pray to God to receive his grace so that bad traits are destroyed.


In the Festival, devotees choose to purify themselves and undergo such rigorous pain and sacrifice voluntarily. We have no choice in the matter. But by accepting the circumstance, bearing up and making the pilgrimage to get out the vote, we can help participate in the vanquishing of evil. Both the inner and most certainly and most necessary, the outer as well. The pain is still sharp and the structure heavy to carry, but now I at least have a sense of why this must be so. Onward, my friends.


The Wisdom of the Weekend

When one loves one’s work, as I do, it’s tempting to do nothing but. But Jack will be a dull boy if he doesn’t get out of the house. And so after making the wise choice of a morning swim, I set out into the Singapore day. It began promisingly enough with watching the local celebration of Thaipusam in the Indian community (more on this next post). This the kind of ritual that I have so admired my whole life long—the meeting point of human community, communion with the gods, life made more colorful and intensive with music, dance, food, costume, the buzz of the crowd and the crowd all ages mixed together. 

From there, on I walked to Orchard Road, from the sacred to the profane, past all the stores filled with stuff, so little of which we actually need. My goal was the Botanical Gardens and trying to follow a little map I had printed out, found myself in a neighborhood that didn’t look familiar. I had passed the Hotel Jen where I had stayed many years previously and often walked to the garden back then, but this old brain was still capable of noting, “Hmm. I don’t think this is right.”

Luckily, I don’t seem cursed with a male reluctance to ask directions, so I did and was turned around to the right direction. Suddenly, everything was now familiar and I made it into these lovely gardens, sat by the lake and read a bit and just sat and breathed in a bit of the day. On to new territory to meet some folks for dinner at a hard-to-find (but easier after asking yet more directions of people) restaurant called Original Sin and what a pleasure to sit outside in the shade under light ceiling fans and have fabulous vegetarian food (kale salad!), with three delightful music teachers. Having probably walked some 8 miles, I was happy to take the MRT Subway home and that was a different kind of pleasure, the kind I enjoyed many years in Tokyo trying to figure out a new transit system.

A short evening of reading, writing and listening to some music. In short, a perfect day.

Tomorrow, the laundry!

10,000 Words


Real words will come later about these images, but meanwhile, in the spirit of “one picture worth…” a glimpse of Singapore. 











Friday, February 7, 2020

Four Things

A lifetime of reflection about my work and still looking at ways to capture a bit of what feels important in the net of language. In a course with high school music teachers here in Singapore, I shared this little summary of the four things I think we’re intending to teach. 

• Memorable Material:  Which pieces/ songs/ styles/ dances are best suited for your particular situation? Pay attention to:
-      Cultural relevancy and inclusion
-      Quality literature that will pass (or has passed) the test of time
-      Inspiring or poetic or funny or relevant text
-      Music you love

            • Musical Process: How do you teach the material? Pay attention to:
-      The class flowing like a piece of music
-      Engaging the children and keep them active and involved 
-      Developing step by step so they feel successful
-      Challenging them, but not overwhelming them 
-      Educating their whole self: hand, head, hearing and heart

            • A Child Who Needs to Feel Valued: Do you feel the class as an opportunity for each 
                 child to feel known and welcomed? Pay attention to:
-      Belief in each child’s generalmusicality, look for each child’s specific musicality.
-      Give them opportunities to share their interests. 
-      Look for moments of a breakthrough in understanding or mastery. 
-      Praise their actions and accomplishments, not their general personality.

              • A Connected Community: What might music class offer the school community as 
                  a whole that helps unify the mission? 
-      Look to unite the school with a shared song repertoire.
-      Look for ways to add life and color to school events and ceremonies.
-      Educate colleagues and parents as to how music helps cultivate the intelligence, imagination and humanitarian promise of each child and the community as a whole. 
                 
 That’s a lot of things asking for our attention. But if can unite our intention and attention, the rewards are… well, simply marvelous. 

Thursday, February 6, 2020

V Is for…

Perhaps I’ve confessed this before, but one of my little literary vices is reading the complete works of Sue Grafton. Almost finished with her alphabetic series and last night began V Is for Vengeance.  Love her quote on the back cover:

“I’m all for forgiveness, as long as I’m given the opportunity to get even first…”

I hate it when the bad guys win. I still believe in fairy tale endings where evil gets its just desserts. But it takes a lot of patience when elected officials in the Senate put their weird notion of winning— our party beats your party by any means necessary without the least trace of shame when we cheat by not counting votes, suppressing votes, gerrymandering votes, not hearing evidence in a trial, publicly proclaiming the verdict before the trial begins, etc. etc. and yet again etc.—over their actual job to defend and uphold the Constitution and put the health of the country over simply winning elections. That’s treason. These are cowardly traitors who need to be held accountable for their shameless choices of towing the party line even when it’s corrupt, mean-spirited and clearly violates the oath of office. So in the face of every reason to despair, here’s a few V’s to consider: 

Vice: Stop it. Bring the bad guys to justice. They are vicious. 

Virus: Contain it. Quarantine those infected, both with the physical virus and the immoral virus, and keep them away from the healthy. Build a wall around Mar-a- Lago and throw them all together there.

Vision: Stay true to it in spite of everything trying to trample it down.

Vengeance: Get even. Then forgive.

Vote: Get vengeance by convincing the 42% who opted out last election to get their butts to the polls, armed with information and real knowledge about what’s at stake.

My friends, let's be vigilant, not veer off course, step up our valor.

And of course, play the vibraphone.


Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Dis-appointment

I’ve been hit by a volley of disappointment and never has that word been so literal. I had appointments in Hong Kong, Bangkok and Macau to teach workshops, appointments I worked hours to negotiate and prepare, plane flights that had to be calibrated just so to meet all obligations, financial contracts I was counting on, friends I looked forward to seeing. And yesterday, all three of them cancelled. My appointments were “dissed” and I was indeed, “dis-appointed.” 

Of course, it’s all understandable and yet another reminder of the uncertainty that is part and parcel of every human life. You prepare, you plan, you dream, but you also come to grips with preparing to see your plan abandoned and your dream shattered. It’s remarkable how smooth my decades of travel and workshops have been in the light of everything that could go wrong. But though it was edgy sometimes (as recently as last October going to Ohio), planes mostly arrived on time and more importantly, they all arrived. Participants who signed up mostly showed up, money promised was paid, things proceeded as planned, always with some unplanned moments on the delightfully surprising side of things.

The scariest near abandonment came last summer in New Orleans with the threatening storm that almost had me cancelling the course and fleeing on the first day! It thankfully all worked out and remarkably so. And I did have some hope that such a miracle would again happen here in virus-scared Asia. But alas, it was not to be. 

Do I care? Yes, I do and I’m not going to pretend otherwise. And yet, simply the fact of stepping out yet from another satisfying workshop into warm air and the call of a distant bird, simply the privilege of being alive, helped soften the blows, which after all, are more like friendly playful punches from Fate given the range of possible more catastrophic blows. 6 more scheduled days of teaching here in Singapore and hope that they will survive the closures. If not, time to re-arrange my appointment book yet again.


Monday, February 3, 2020

Full Circle

I’ve worked 4 days a week just about my whole teaching life, with Monday as a sacred time to do as I will. In the early days, I’d stick a book of poetry in my pocket, set out the door and just started walking where my legs would take me, following my nose and exploring one neighborhood after another in San Francisco. It was a glorious way to get to know the city and just the right way to get exercise, savor some solitude and balance the busy workaday life.

Later, Mondays would be the time I’d write an article about teaching, develop a rigorous habit of reflection that explored the why behind the what of my chosen path. Some of these articles found their way into music education journals, many sat unread on my desk and at some point, I made a few Kinko’s spiral-bound books of collected articles that maybe ten people would read if I passed them on. Still later, many of those articles were reborn in a new life in my books, especially Play, Sing and Dance, The ABC’s of Education and Teach Like It’s Music, my most recent one.

In the latter part of my career, Monday was simply catch-up time—answering e-mails, planning workshop travel, doing errands, sprinkled with some piano playing. 

So last night, amidst the rich assortment of jet-lagged dreams (still with me 3 days later), I dreamt of my upcoming retirement and said out loud a plan to return to the beginning, to earmark one day a week (Monday?) to once again take off with no particular plan other than chose a neighborhood and walk through it noticing the details never noticed while biking or driving or on the way to an errand. It was a lovely feeling in the dream and the first sign from my deep-down psyche that leaving school was real and it was the time for a new life and gloriously so. Isn’t that interesting?

Meanwhile, off to teach here a full, long day, driven by taxi to the school site, no time to wander through Singapore as I did on Sunday. And that’s just fine too. 

Banana Leaf Bliss

The news was not good today. The still stinging blow of betrayal in the Senate, the SF 49’ers lost the Super Bowl and then the blow that my two courses in Hong Kong are cancelled, which means a significant financial loss and confusion as to where I’ll be and what I’ll do next week. I had every reason in the world to succumb to despair and its hand was on my shoulder ready to press me down to the ground and get its foot on my neck.

Then I went out to dinner at the local Kerala restaurant. Ordered more food than I needed and paid a total of 6 Singapore dollars—about $4 U.S. And there I sat, once again eating dhosa and rice and papadums from a banana leaf with my fingers, sipping ginger tea with milk, listening to Indian old-style pop-music, feeling the breeze from the ceiling fans above and the open non-wall to the street, listening to the buzz of conversation with barely a cell phone in sight and the strangest thing happened. I felt happy!

Perhaps it was the instant throwback to 1979 when I lived like this for three glorious months in the state of Kerala and loved every day of it. A place where there were two cars, bikes, oxen, elephants and a few buses, no telephones (I mean, not even landlines!), ceiling fans, packaging was newspaper or banana leaves (which were also plates), very little garbage that the goats wouldn’t eat, so much made from local rice and coconut, visible, tangible, understandable, no TV, a rich festival life, no buildings over two stories. In short, the way human beings mostly have lived on this planet. How I loved it!

And here in my Hilton Hotel, locked away in my Rapunzel prison (with no hair to let down!) on the 16thfloor, a damn air conditioner that I can’t easily control, no windows I can open, a silence void of human chatter or bird calls, the beckoning distraction of Netflix which occasionally offers elevating art, but mostly distracting entertainment, the despairing news-of-the-day a few computer clicks away, the pool with the pop music from hell (not the Indian variety) and yes, I’m used to it, but let’s face it. None of it makes me as happy as those 20 minutes in the Kerala restaurant. 

I believe I’ll go back tomorrow.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Letter to the U.S. Senate

@)$(%^*&#$!!!!)%(^*#&$*%%## TREASON!!! #%$^& TRAITOR!!!! #$%^@ ROT IN HELL!!??????? YOU !!#$WILL$%@!* PAY!!!????? $%!!!! HAVE??$%#%^YOU*($%^*)$&&
NO *$()%^*&#$%^#!!DECENCY?!!

Sincerely yours,

A patriotic U.S. citizen

Bad Music

I’m back at the Hilton Garden Inn in Singapore’s Little India and it’s mostly a nice place to be. But I had forgotten about the swimming pool. It’s a bit weird that it’s right outside the dining hall so people eating are watching half-naked people swimming. Or not, as I actually haven’t seen anyone in the pool yet except me. 

But far worse is the fact that they pump out non-stop insipid American pop music. No problem when I’m swimming, but part of the package is to relax in the lounge chair with a good book and with this sonic nightmare, relaxing is simply impossible. I started to try to analyze what makes this music (don’t ask me what it is or who’s singing it) so unbearable to listen to. Weirdly, I’ve been pushing the notion that music brings you into a world where everything is connected, everything makes sense, its rhythms tone the body, its melodies pluck the heart’s strings, its form awakens our mathematical mind. But now I take it all back. Certain rhythms can deplete the body’s energy, certain melodies shut down the heart instead of open it, certain forms put the mind to sleep. And the poolside music was three for three. 

After a few moments trying to describe the maddening thumping disco beat, what makes the vocal timbres and pseudo-melodies so insufferable, what predictable formulas and banal lyrics bypass the thinking mind, I gave up and decided it was a fruitless task. When you open a carton of rotten eggs, analysis of why they smell bad is the last thing on your mind. Throw the damn things out and get away from it as fast as you can!

After an evening swim, I raced indoors to have dinner, though the agony was still audible. Suddenly, the Byrds came on singing Mr. Tambourine Man and it was as if the runaway car bound for Hell was suddenly diverted to the Elysian Fields. For 3 brief minutes, life was good again. And then back it came. 

Don't get me wrong—the issue is not Pop music vs. classical or folk—after all, Ella and Billie were the popular singers singing the popular songs of their time and how happy do those songs make me? And the era of the Byrds and Bob Dylan and—oh, around 75 other fabulous groups—churned out some pretty listenable and endurable music. 

So I imagined some genie emerging from a bottle and offering this deal: 

“Okay, you have two choices here. 

1.    For every minute you spend listening to Bach or Billie or the blues, you have to spend a comparable amount of time listening to Singapore swimming pool music. 

Or:  

2.    All music will vanish from the world.”

Right now, I’m leaning toward 2.