Wednesday, November 14, 2018

A Legacy of Abundance


Remember that scene in Tom Sawyer where he witnesses his own funeral? That intrigued me so much as a child, the thought that you could hear how you affected people while you were still alive. That’s what the past week has been for me, especially with my loving colleagues James and Sofia creating a Facebook page for folks near and far to express their congratulations on my recent Distinguished Service Award. It has moved me beyond words to not only hear how my work has entered the work of so many, but to take a moment imagining each person. Out of the 300 or so that responded, I knew almost all of them.

The day-to-day of work is simply doing it because you have to. Not have-to in the sense of paying the rent (though sometimes, yes), but have to because it’s the nature of what you love and what gets you up in the morning and uses everything you were gifted with to offer up to the world.  But inside of all that are all the questions and doubts:

• Is this what I’m meant to do?
• Am I doing it well?
• Is this meaningful to anyone? Helping anyone out?

And so on. The first felt sense is from inside—this feels right, I think I’m pretty good at it, this somehow makes me happy. But we all need mirrors to reflect back some kind of reality check as to how we really look and in the field of teaching, that would be the children’s reaction. And the adult’s. With both, I know things are going well when I see active, engaged people of all sizes, busy at work and play, having fun, connecting with each other, connecting with themselves. When kids say, “Can we do it again?!” or “Aww! Do we have to go to recess?” you know you’re on the right track.

Adults can take it to another level of appreciation and confirm that indeed, your work has touched them. (One of the funnier affirmations came from a woman in Turkey who wrote: “You touch me so much, thank you.”) Need I say how wonderful it feels to realize that what you aim for and intend—to bring joy, beauty and good fellow feeling into the world—has often hit its mark? A few quotes from these lovely people I’ve had the privilege to teach:

• Your work sharing Orff from babies to adults with artistry connects us to the emotion of who we are and where we as a people want to be. Thank you for your steadfast focus on the goodness of our humanity.

• You illuminate the heart of humanity and model that accountability in our collective work.

 I have learned so much more from you in the short time than I learned in my entire lifetime, because what you teach is much deeper than we see on the surface...

• You once shared with us "it is never too late to have a happy childhood" You might have not know back then, that that was the beginning of my musical happiness, the awakening of my true musicality, the development of my vocation and passion. From the singing voices of my new and old students, from the fantasy of my lessons, from the rhymes I make up, from the freedom I experience when teaching I think of you, of your voice, your touch, your talent... "It definitely is never too late to have a happy childhood"

• I cannot imagine doing what I do without your mentorship. I especially appreciate your willingness to always be available to your student teachers in all of our many inquiries and cries for help. Your brilliance shines through many of us as we navigate this important work.

• Well deserved for a man who lives what he loves and is a constant student of life. You have changed the lives of countless people. Thanks for being committed to your craft and for continuing to see greatness in those whom you teach. Bravo.

Doug, thank you for always responding to teaching questions, for being comforting about my teaching mistakes and curious and full of humor about your own, for truly honoring how kids think with things like "wrong words day", for establishing rituals and creating community, for your commitment to justice, and for giving your life to what you do. Your work has touched, inspired and changed so many, and I am one of them.

And so my cup runneth over. I like the way the comments are not aimed at me in a kind of “You’re awesome!” way, but focused on the effects of the work and the ways I bring the work to life. Not me, but the work, that’s where the true mirror reflects. It is a great pleasure to pause, look back, feel the encouragement and the gratitude from so many who I’ve worked and played with—and then go on to plan tomorrow’s class! It indeed is a legacy of abundance, a phrase from this beautiful closing affirmation below:

Dearest Doug! congratulations on receiving the Distinguished Service Award from AOSA, which acknowledges in a formal way your immense and wonderful impact in the world of music education or simply said, in the world. Reading some of the messages that others have written before me here gives such a great testimony to your influence in thought, inspiration, passion, and creative spark on people all around the world. now multiply each of these again by however many students in however many classes over however many years... incredible!!! like the legend of the rice corn... yours is a legacy of abundance.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Eulogy for Richard Gill

Amongst many memorable moments in the recent Orff Conference, one was a gathering called the Meeting of the Minds and another called Memory Hour. The first was six elders, mostly retired from “active duty,” sharing reflections about their life in Orff Schulwerk. Such wit, such humor, such intelligence in their talks, the gathered fruit of a life well lived and stamped with each person’s particular character. “Olders” are people who have physically survived time’s passing and grown old, but “elders” are the folks who have lived authentic lives rich with reflection, who truly marry intellect with character to create something called wisdom. Though the audience was small and I wished more young people to witness what this looks and feels like, I love that this organization makes time for such things and truly honors something the culture rarely does, that rare and elusive thing called the wisdom of the elders.

Equally important is time set aside to honor those who have passed on and this year in particular was rife with loss, some eight people who contributed immeasurably to the evolution of the Schulwerk passed on to the next world. Each had someone formally speak about them and then the floor opened for the stories that keep their presence alive and vibrant. I spoke spontaneously about Tossi Aaron and read portions of something I had written about Richard Gill, an extraordinary Australian teacher who left us too young at 77 years old. Below is the whole eulogy, beginning with a poem:

I think continually of those who were truly great.
Who, from the womb, remembered the soul’s history
Through corridors of light where the hours are suns,
Endless and singing. Whose lovely ambition
Was that their lips, still touched with fire,
Should tell of the spirit clothed from head to foot in song.
And who hoarded from the spring branches
The desires falling across their bodies like blossoms.

What is precious is never to forget
The delight of the blood drawn from ageless springs
Breaking through rocks in worlds before our earth;
Never to deny its pleasure in the simple morning light,
Nor its grave evening demand for love.
Never to allow gradually the traffic to smother
With noise and fog the flowering of the spirit.

Near the snow, near the sun, in the highest fields,
See how these names are feted by the waving grass
And by the streamers of white cloud.
And whispers of wind in the listening sky;
The names of those who in their lives fought for life,
Who wore at their hearts the fire’s center.
Born of the sun, they traveled a short while toward the sun
And the left the vivid air signed with their honor.

                                                                                    -Stephen Spender

I imagine we all have had the experience of being in the presence of someone we admired and feeling tongue-tied, shy, nervous, hoping that they’ll notice us and throw us a small bone of blessing. I’m not talking about movie stars here, but about the people who are living the life we imagine for ourselves but haven’t arrived at yet. We encounter them many times over the years, but often find it hard to shake the sense of being slightly uncomfortable and hoping we just said or did something to impress them. For me as an emerging Orff teacher, jazz musician, writer, there have been five such people in my life. And Richard Gill was one of them.

I first met Richard in the early 1980’s when Jan Rapley, the founder of our local San Francisco Bay Area Orff Chapter, brought him and his family to Chico State a few hours north as a guest teacher. During the few years he was there, he came many times to give workshops to our Orff chapter and I was present at all of them. He and my true mentor Avon Gillespie both presented at the AOSA Conference in Portland in 1982 and I believe that was when he introduced the French time-name system of rhythmic syllables, something that I still use to this day. In 1984, he and I were roommates at Hotel Circus Circus in Las Vegas at the AOSA Conference in which I first presented. Not that we were close friends, but that male teachers were few and far between in those days and he simply needed a male roommate. I don’t remember if he came to my workshop or if he did, whether he said anything about it. Because the truth of the matter is that I respected him and admired him greatly, but I never did receive that blessing for my own work. And I believe that was how it had to be.

Not that he was ever mean or dismissive to me. It was simply that we were following stylistically different stars in the Orff firmament. There is a kind of resonance when the elder recognizes his or her own particular genius in the younger and the younger sees her or his desires actualized in the elder and that’s when the dance of true blessing begins. That’s what I felt with Avon Gillespie. But thought I learned much from Richard and continued to respect and admire his approach in all the years that followed, we were indeed following different stars.

I did take a 5-day Master Class with Richard at Hamline University in the late 1980’s and that was a great pleasure, though that sometimes baffling distance between us continued. I believe we crossed paths a few times in the 90’s at various Conferences and in 2002, we were, along with Mary Goetze, headliners in the Australian National Conference in Brisbane. Some 20 years after I first met him, I still found myself hoping he would be impressed with my work and offer a word or two of blessing or encouragement. To my memory, it never came.

Again, I believe this was an honest reaction on his part. But as I continued to grow deeper into my own particular way of doing this work, I often wondered if I could be around him and finally feel comfortably and wholly myself. I was excited to hear that he was scheduled to come to Cincinnati, looking forward to his wise words about 50 years of AOSA and curious as to whether that funny dynamic would still be there. Alas, it was not meant to be.

I first heard about his cancer from Stephen Abernathy, a mutual friend who brought Richard to the Taipei International School so many times he became an always-anticipated part of that program, so loved and respected by students and teachers alike. The report soon after was that after treatment, he was doing well. And then came the devastating news that the cancer had returned with a vengeance and finally, Richard chose to be at home with his loving wife and family to end his days with dignity surrounded by love. I was on a train on my way to the airport when my colleague Sofia called me with the news. Though it was not unexpected, there is still that moment of profound realization when someone who lit up the world with their exuberance and wit and energy simply is here no more. I can still hear him say in that Australian accent after someone in a workshop improvised well, “It was a knock-out!”

What impressed me so much about this remarkable man? He had a fierce intelligence and a golden tongue to express it. He had a strength of character that burned brightly to illuminate the supreme importance of arts in children’s and people’s lives. He carried that gift of charisma with good grace and good humor. He had a low tolerance for ignorance and stupidity coupled with that mirthful sense of humor that helped him suffer the fools of this world. His particular passion was the European Classical Music tradition and in a day and age when dead white men were being disparaged and world music and jazz encouraged (by people like me), he held fast to the idea that the extraordinary legacy of music that featured grand intellectual design, nuanced shadings of human emotion, technical mastery worthy of our disciplined practice was still—and hopefully forever—of value. His training at the Orff Institut and time spent teaching children helped open the windows to that serious music and bring some fresh air to the enterprise with improvisation, humor and movement. He was too large to be confined to the title of Orff teacher and spent most of his later career conducting symphonies and operas, always with attention to some level of music education.

“Too soon!” I feel all those who knew him shouting and I join that chorus with sincere lament. And though there are no casual words to ease the grief, there is deep truth in the fact that while his absence leaves us brokenhearted, the gift of his presence is beyond his mortal body and will indeed carry forth in our memory, our work, our determination to carry on his legacy on his behalf. I think of Richard when I read Stephen Spender’s poem, feel him as that rare soul who is “lips still touched with fire told of the spirit clothed from head to foot in song,” a long lightning flash across the sky leaving “the vivid air signed with his honor.”

Richard, at the end of the day, without a single spoken word from you to me, I do indeed feel blessed by having known you. May you fly on the wings of song to the next world.

                                                                                    - Doug Goodkin Oct. 27, 2018

Sunday, November 11, 2018

The Glimmering Girl at the National Conferences: Part I



                               I  went out to the hazel wood, Because a fire was in my head,
                               And cut and peeled a hazel wand, And hooked a berry to a thread;

                             And when white moths were on the wing, And moth-like stars were flickering out,
                             I dropped the berry in a stream, And caught a little silver trout.

                            When I had laid it on the floor, I went to blow the fire a-flame,
                            But something rustled on the floor, And some one called me by my name:

                            It had become a glimmering girl, With apple blossom in her hair
                           Who called me by my name and ran, And faded through the brightening air.

                           Though I am old with wandering, Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
                           I will find out where she has gone, And kiss her lips and take her hands;

                          And walk among long dappled grass, And pluck till time and times are done
                          The silver apples of the moon, The golden apples of the sun.

It has been a most extraordinary five days in Cincinnati, Ohio and I am at least ten posts behind myself. But working backwards, yesterday afternoon was the generous opportunity AOSA (American Orff Schulwerk Association) offered myself and my new fellow Distinguish Service Award recipients to have 15 minutes to lead an activity for the Closing Ceremony of the annual National Conference. For anyone who knows my work, I’m big on openings and closings and try to attune to what’s needed to bring a sense of closure to the music (literal and metaphoric) that has been playing, search for the just right closing notes that gather the themes and bring them to their natural conclusion. Since this gathering was in a large, cavernous, cold, echoey Conference Center hall that felt more like a large basement than a cozy concert hall, the first challenge was to create the intimacy the occasion called for.

Instead of going up on stage, I stayed on the floor with the folks and opened with my favorite Yeats poem, Song of Wandering Aengus (above), to describe how this life in Orff Schulwerk beckoned me like a “glimmering girl with flowers in her hair who called my name and ran and fade through the brightening air.” I don’t remember my exact words, but went on to say something like this:

Yeats poem suggests a life of “wandering through hilly lands to find where she has gone and kiss her lips and take her hands and walk among long dappled grass plucking the silver apples of the moon and the golden apples of the sun.” She’s not your wife or your girlfriend or your secret lover, she’s the destiny you were born for, the one who understands how you’re put together and recognizes the particular gifts you have to offer the world. In a poetic “Where’s Waldo?” you spend your life searching for her everywhere you go. She doesn’t just hand you a GPS blueprint, but makes you work to find her, throws wrong directions in your way, observes your determination to persevere when you’re lost.

In my case, in turns out that I meet her every time I’m in a room with a group of people, be they children, teens, adults or elders, who can hold hands and gather in a circle and respond to whatever impulse I throw out.  And then the wild rumpus starts!  And one of the places we meet is at these AOSA Conferences, all 36 that I have attended since 1976. And I can name them all. That’s part of what gives a clue that this is a place I was meant to be and somehow AOSA is the organization I’ve needed to be a part of. (And this is a good time to thank all those hundreds of people over the years who have done the behind-the-scenes grunt work to make such things possible, given up from two months to two years of their attention to making sure there is a centerpiece on each banquet table and a mallet for a every glockenspiel.)

But let me be honest here. It hasn’t been all peaches and cream. Any place groups of human beings congregate guarantees its share of disappointments, gossip at the water cooler, in-faction fighting as to who has the true word, betrayals, midnight assassinations. AOSA is no exception. And I certainly have had my part in it. Haven’t we all? It’s just the way human beings are put together and there’s not a single organization I can think of that gets a free pass.

But here’s the good news. By day, you may be speaking ill of someone who treated you bad or did what you felt was a horrible workshop and in the folk dance mixer at night, suddenly, they’re your partner. Or in the workshop, you find yourself in a small group with them having to create a dance or make up an opera where everyone dies from someone with Restless Leg Syndrome. And that makes a difference. Your mutual humanity gets restored, there’s a check and a balance to the division of who’s in and who’s out. As we know from reading about people in bands or the movie The Black Swan, art does not solve human conflict. But it does give us a place where it is held in check and where for some brief moments, harmony is restored and love or compassion or at least tolerance becomes possible yet again.

Thanks to AOSA for this award in the face of my own sometimes cantankerous outspoken moments. For me this is a symbolic gesture that my trespasses have been forgiven—by some, at least! Where apologies are appropriate, I offer them publicly now and only hope people understand that my intention each time I deeply questioned something that was going on was to open up or enlarge the needed conversation that felt to me like someone else was wanting to shut down and for the wrong reasons. I don’t like being in rooms with elephants and I don’t think it’s healthy for any of us. Sometimes the elephant I named turned out to be a mouse and sometimes a mastodon, but again, that’s just the fallible nature of us mere mortals. We just do the best we can. And AOSA gifting me this award helps me feel that I haven’t done too badly after all.

Thank you.