Whether I’m planning an Orff class for kids, an Orff workshop with adults, playing a familiar jazz tune or imagining a social policy, this is the motto that guides me. It has kept my work fresh and new for over 45 years, kept my music constantly interesting (to me, at least!) and given a certain freshness and vitality to all aspects of my life.
In the face of crisis—and that’s clearly where we all are now—it also has proven to be a handy companion and a useful discipline. It’s a question that helps keep things moving, keep things bearable, that opens the door to a new perspective and sheds light on the possible renewal just around the corner from the collapse.
Like all of us, I have always planned ahead “as if” what I plan can actually happen— and it almost always does. Until now. Everything changed on March 16thwhen school announced we would be closing for a few weeks. A few weeks? Little did we know. The pandemic clearly had other plans.
And so as each plan became a provisional possibility that never happened, I turned to my companion question: “How else can we do this?” Now it was not just a luxury that made music classes more intriguing, more interesting, more satisfying—it was the necessary question that determined if and how I could continue with the things that had sustained me throughout my many long years of teaching.
“How else can we do this?” I suspect you know the first answer— ZOOM!! Whoever could have imagined I would turn to a technological solution as the savior? But so it was. Zoom allowed me to finish the last three months of my 45 years teaching children at The San Francisco School. Not the way I would have wished, of course, but still a chance to keep the connections built in the Fall and Winter continuing through the Spring. And what of my annual Summer teacher-trainings? Zoom allowed a version of Orff-Afrique, my Jazz Course and many courses from the SF Orff faculty to sustain us through the summer. Zoom allowed me to “go to” St. Louis, Little Rock, Canada, New Zealand, Russia, Armenia, Ukraine and beyond to keep some connection minus the hand-held circles, singing in canon, dinners out and immersion in different cultures.
“How else can we do this?” Back in April, I started an Alumni Zoom singing, gathering the “kids” now 30, 40 and even 50 years old together to sing the old songs, many with their own children on their laps. We did this once a week for some three months and it was also here that I put together a slide show and got to give a sort of farewell speech to the people, kids and former teachers, who had lived that life together at the SF School. The Alumni Sing continues, now once a month and my alum “grandkids” are learning a lot of the repertoire their parents did.
“How else can we do this?” Since my wife worked (for 42 years) as the art teacher at The San Francisco School, my daughters Kerala and Talia attended school for 11 years each and Talia now teaches at school in her 10thyear, I had always hoped my grandchildren could go there and I could be their music teacher. But San Francisco is an expensive place for an alum from our school to live, especially since we told them to follow their bliss and not care about money! So with my grandchildren Zadie and Malik in Portland, Oregon, the best I could do was to an occasional guest class at their wonderful local public school whenever I visited.
Until now. With Zoom, I’ve started a weekly singing time with Zadie’s 3rdgrade class which looks like it will continue throughout the year. Isn’t that a pleasure? We’ve sung getting-to-know-you songs, Halloween songs and recently, songs about food to lead us to Thanksgiving. I get to teach my granddaughter after all!
“How else can we do this?” Zoom was not the only answer. Knowing that it was safer to be outside six feet or more apart, I began a neighborhood singing time on the street and sidewalk. In the Spring, we gathered twice a week for about 45 minutes, took a break in the summer and resumed in the Fall, now once every two weeks. It is mostly the neighbors with kids ranging from 2 to 10 years old, neighbors who didn’t know each other before this, but have certainly come to enjoy each other now. One definition of community is a group of people who know the same songs and that is exactly what we’ve become. Drawing from my repertoire of over 200 songs that I’ve done in our daily Singing Times at the SF School, I’ve shared some of the greatest hits that are just right for the different ages of kids. Songs with motions, songs with a lot of repetition or choruses to join in on (no printed words needed), songs for different occasions (lots of protest songs, recently Halloween songs), clapping games (to be played just with the family members) and even dances adapted for the situation. Turns out the kids—and adults—are pretty good singers so at least a few times a month I can actually hear songs sung in canon or in parts! (None of which works on Zoom!)
“How else can we do this?” With legal pressures being as they are, my casual neighborhood solution of singing outside properly distanced probably can’t happen at school. And isn’t that a shame. But while we wait for the vaccine and proper leadership to control the pandemic, why not get together your own neighborhood sing? And wouldn’t it be wonderful if such things could become a new cultural norm of the future, not depend upon pandemics to organize? We are made to gather, to sing our pleasures and sorrows side-by-side or square-by-square together. Be in on Zoom with folks far-away or out on the street with your neighbors, the songs goes on.