Thursday, March 23, 2023

No Apology for Splendor

A while back, I noticed the phenomena of people often saying “Sorry!” if they begin to cry in front of others. Why? Why do we apologize for grief, a natural response to the loss inevitable in the human incarnation, to the distressing daily news and to the unfathomable ways we treat each other? Why ask to be excused from a mere choke in our voice when talking about what matters? Why not just let the tears gush forward and ride the rapids in the embrace of a fellow listener? After all, they’ve suffered too and would be happy to have the same invitation to express sorrow without asking to be forgiven for showing emotion.

Lately, I’m noticing a similar tendency in myself having written about the wholehearted joy of my last few days. And yet another day today worthy of being gift wrapped and remembered as I taught some 30 Bangkok music teachers, many of whom I know from previous courses I've taught, many completely new, but eyes widening at the peek inside the house of music via the Orff approach. They’re tasting the delights at the banquet table and then observing me sharing the meal with 20 eight-year olds who just had me smiling from bottom to top for the too-short 50 minutes we were together. 

Looking back at the titles of my last four posts— “Enough/ Glorious/ Tropical Splendor/ Small Miracles”— I had the weird sensation of doubting whether I should publicly share my joy like this. Would the readers be annoyed, would I appear to be boasting, do people really care about hearing about other’s happiness? Knowing how much more people relate to our admissions of frailty, of vulnerability, of bad luck, of feeling betrayed or unjustly accused or wronged, should I apologize for noting this brief window of unabashed gladness in getting to keep doing what I love so much? 

Perhaps yes if it comes across at gloating. But knowing that I’ve paid many dues down in the swamp of human misery and more awaits me, why not simply appreciate the gifted glory of the moment? And share with others? I would hope that readers would feel more uplifted than annoyed, more encouraged to remember their own tiny delights, more content to know that it is possible to do what one was put on earth to do, with both proper humility and firm ownership of one’s joy. A gentle reminder that love is possible, that children can radiant their lovely selves yet brighter when an adult notices them and gives them worthy work and praises them for their efforts and their genius, that a single gust of a cool afternoon breeze after a day well spent is enough to shout “Hallelujah! We are here and we are splendid.”

No apology needed.

Wednesday, March 22, 2023


I awaken to the butterfly of happiness perched on my shoulder, the delicate beating of its wings the breeze from the ceiling fan above. The music of rooster crows and cooing morning birds stirs the strings of the heart and the lightening dawn opens it arms to embrace me and whisper, “Come. The day awaits. “  

All that I think I need— shedding five pounds, reading the news story I’ve waited seven years for, answering opportunity’s knock on the door — drops away. This moment, this life, this body and mind— it is enough. 


Yet another glorious day working with children. This one at St. Andrew’s school in Bangkok. Games, songs, dances, Orff instrument ensemble  with classes ranging from pre-k to grade 8, each one without exception fulfilling my standard for success— both the students and the teacher left the class happier than when they walked in. 

But that was just the warm-up. The happiness quotient increased exponentially when I did an hour long class for the staff of the school. I was mightily impressed by their willingness to sing, to dance, to make letter shapes with their whole bodies, to spell words with their whole bodies in groups of four, to create little performances based on rhyming opposites, to play the marvelous Stations game in which  they come up with words from one letter— like “Tina Turner teaching Tai-Chi to turtles”— and silently act it out to my piano music. The room was a-buzz with laughter, delight, appreciation of each other’s notable creativity and not a second passed where people itched to look at their phones or wondered how many more slides in the Powerpoint. In short, it was so much damn fun! 

And as if that weren’t enough (it is!), all activities were things they could translate to their classroom and do with their kids, all of them are proven to increase kids understanding, motivation, self-confidence,. And yet more perks— teachers working together, playing together, discovering things about each other that they never have learned nor could learning sitting around the oh-so-tedious agenda. 

I could not praise them enough. That spirit of adults in a living, loving, trusting, imaginative and creative community together has receded further and further away in the current “gotach” climate, the endless national standards, the well-meaning but so ineffective trainings about what’s acceptable that has everyone tiptoeing around on eggshells, that increasingly top-down management from a bulky administration. People, people, people! Can’t we just have fun together? Relax a bit? And when serious trespasses occur, not consult a script, but actually sit down and talk. And combine it with singing and dancing to put it all into the larger context of shared humanity. 

I know it’s possible. I lived a community like that for some 30 of my 45 years teaching and lived

 it again today. And believe you me, it was glorious. 

Monday, March 20, 2023

Tropical Splendor

 I leave my house in San Francisco and drive 15 minutes to the BART train. Wait ten, travel 20 to the airport, some two and a half hours for check in, security, waiting at the gate and another hour plus sitting on the plane, delayed as usual. Off we go for the 14 hour flight to Hong Kong, then five hour layover, some of it spent sleeping on the airport floor. Another four hours to Bangkok, 30 minutes Customs and luggage, picked up at the airport for the hour plus drive to the home where I will be staying. From door to door, some 27 hours total. The things we will do for the privilege of getting to play, sing and dance with stellar human beings.

So  here I am, back in familiar territory and the heart rousing despite a sore too-long-sitting body, uninspired food , little sleep and jet lag. Back in the land of little Buddhist shrines, the Muslim call to prayer, evening rooster calls and tropical bird songs. Heat and humidity tempered by ceiling fans and breezes, a snack of tropical fruits, a swim in a large empty pool. The 8th floor apartment with a 180 degree view of the city, the muddy river below, distant large buildings, small food stalls, the sounds of motorbikes. 

It is a home of sorts, one of many that I’ve known and loved in over a half-century of travel. It could be Bali or Ghana or Costa Rica or Rio de Janeiro, but it’s not. It’s Bangkok, a place my wife and I first visited on a year-long trip around the world in 1979, Driving on the freeway from the airport into the city, I vividly recall that same drive 44 years ago. Coming from five months in India, it was a bit of a culture shock re-entering the world of freeways, liquor stores, televisions and bathtubs in hotel rooms and streets choked with traffic. A life we had left behind in India and now seemed briefly strange and alien.

It would be another twenty plus years before I returned, this time teaching Orff workshops at International School Conferences, International Schools and the local Thai Orff Association. Some 30 to 40 Thai music teachers have come to our Orff training in California and it has been such a delight to be hosted by them and toured through their home territory, visiting temples, museums, parks, festivals and of course, Thai restaurants! 

Bangkok is a big, bustling city and not on any ocean, but the delight of waking up without having to huddle against the cold, hearing the sounds, smelling the smells, tasting the extraordinary foods brings me into a euphoric state of tropical splendor. While I will never, ever, retire in Florida, a state hosting two of the worst human beings on the planet doing their best to kill our last hopes of knowing our history and defiling our humanity, I feel a sense of belonging to a culture dressed in shorts and relaxed temperatures. A day ahead to recover before four different short Orff courses here in Bangkok and then another one in Macau. Returning to this blog's title, a traveling music teacher still alive and well singing a version of the old jazz standard, “I’m Confessin’ That I Love It.”


Saturday, March 18, 2023

Small Miracles

I am not impressed with the Virgin birth, the Maccabees oil or the latest sighting of Elvis. But I am constantly amazed by those small, serendipitous congruities that seem wholly accidental, but suggest some hidden guiding hands. For example:

1) In planning what piece to play with the colleague I’m mentoring, I suggested a piece from another country that introduced a style, meter and musical concept that the 6thgraders had yet to experience. The perfect song popped into my head and I remembered it simply as Bolivian Folk Song. Off we went.

2) When my colleague asked for the score, I couldn’t find it in my Sibelius file with that title. I dug back into my files to find a little book I made in 1984 to go with the first cassette tape recording I made of my students title Music from Five Continents.There it was— Bolivian Folk Song. But it was a different tune!

3) Digging back in the dusty archives of my musical memory, I could hear it being played by a group I knew from the 80’s named Sukay. Looked all through Youtube and Spotify and couldn’t find the song. Steeled myself to go down to the basement with my 1000 LP records, but first checked out the 10 I had upstairs sitting on the turntable. And the first? That very Sukay album!! With the real name of the song we were playing: Flor de Santa Cruz. (The first little hint of a guiding hand.)

4) I thought a little more about that other Bolivian song I recorded, trying to remember where I learned it and there was some out-of-focus distant memory of visiting a man and a woman in their apartment while they taught it to me. And that was that. Until…

4.) Yesterday, about a month after these little events, I walked out of the Arboretum and bumped into my wife’s friend Marcia who I had biked with in Italy. She introduced me to her friend Francine and told me that she was a musician also who played flute. We exchanged pleasantries and as I walked away, I said, “Nice to meet you!” 10 seconds later, Marcia said, “Actually, Francine just asked me your last name and said she already met you a long time ago at Cazadero Music Camp.” I walked back and tried to identify the year and the people we knew in common. Off I went again and then stopped, “Did Marcia say earlier that you played music from the Andes?” “Yes.” “Did you used to play with a man as your musical partner?” “Yes.” “Okay, this is bizarre, but do you recognize this song?” And I sang her the one from the Music from Five Continents tape. She said she recognized it, but didn’t remember the name. And I told her I think she taught it to me!

5) They were in a hurry, so we said goodbye, I went home, got out that cassette tape and read the liner notes. Nothing in the song description about who I learned it from. And then finally, in a little paragraph of thanks, there it was:” Thanks to Franzy and Lorenzo.” (see below)

Bingo!! Move over, Elvis!!

Go back over this little story— the initial impulse to choose a song for 6th grade, the confusion with another Bolivian folk song, the dim, dim memory of how I learned it, happening to bump into Marcia who happened to be with Franzy who just happened to be her friend who just happened to recognizes me from Cazadero (almost 40 years ago!) who I happened to associate with this song to finding that little thanks on the tape liner notes that of course I saved instead of throwing it out as my wife would like me to do! 

These are the small little miracles that astound me. And now, of course, I have to teach that second Bolivian folk song to the other 6th grade.


Friday, March 17, 2023

Move to Germany

March 17, USA Today: West Palm Beach, Fla. — A Florida English professor whose lessons about racial justice put him at odds with his university's administrators has been fired. 

“Racism is a thing of the past.” How I wish that this was true. Amongst the people I know, I would say we’ve made tremendous progress in my lifetime and if you look at the surface signs— people of color more thoroughly represented and included in TV ads, the Oscars, the bookstores, children’s dolls, emojis, Diversity trainings abounding, TV shows and movies from even 15 years ago making us feel uncomfortable, a black reparations proposal in San Francisco in yesterday’s news—you might agree.


But the country as a whole is so far from healing, mostly because of the refusal of a large portion of the country to want to heal. Healing begins by admitting the atrocity of Native American genocide and African slavery and taking the collective steps to acknowledge it, apologize for it, educate the next generation and begin to repair it. Precisely what so many Americans would rather not do because it takes effort, is painful and challenges our unearned privilege. Precisely what Germany has done in the face of its Nazi past. Here are some comparisons from Isabel Wilkerson’s book Caste (pp. 346-47):


In Germany, displaying the swastika is a crime punishable by up to three years in prison.

In the United States, the rebel flag is incorporated into the official state flag of Mississippi and hung outside courthouses and legislative buildings up until recently. It is displayed on the backs of pick-up trucks throughout the north and south.


• In Germany, few people will proudly admit to having been related to Nazis or will openly defend the Nazi cause. In America, at Civil War reenactments throughout the country, more people typically sign up to fight on the side of the Confederates than for the Union.


• In Germany, some of the Nazis who did not kill themselves were tracked down and forced to stand trial for crimes against humanity. In America, slaveholders and Confederate generals like Robert E. Lee became an esteemed college president and Jefferson Davis  wrote his memoirs from his plantation in Mississippi. Both were granted state funerals with military honors and were revered with statues and monuments.


• In Germany, restitution has rightly been paid and continues to be paid, to survivors of the Holocaust. In America, it was the slaveholders who got restitution, not the people whose lives and wages were stolen from them for twelve generations. Those who instilled terror on black Americans over the following century after the formal end of slavery, those who tortured and killed humans before thousands of onlookers in lynchings, not only went free but rose to become leading figures—southern governors, senators, sheriffs, businessmen, mayors.


• Germany has no monuments that celebrate the Nazi armed forces. America has well over 1700 and to this day, there is backlash every time one is removed.


• In Germany, it is a mandatory part of every school curriculum, even for grade school students, to learn about the horrors of the Holocaust and visit the death camps. In America, visits to plantations (ie forced labor camps) are mostly about landscape and architecture (black-run Whitney Plantation the one exception) and school children not only are not required to learn about the horrors of slavery, but now at least 36 states have adopted or introduced laws or policies that restrict teaching about race and racism. (Boldface mineWith 2022 state legislative sessions underway, new legislation is in the pipeline.


Add to the mix above the Charlottesville riot with Confederate and Nazi flags proudly displayed and the American president publicly commenting “There were good people on both sides,” the Alabama bill making it illegal to remove any monument that has been in place for twenty years or more (ie, all Confederate monuments), the new laws restricting voting rights, the tidal wave move to ban books, today’s news of the Florida professor fired for teaching about racial justice in a University (boldface mine, to accent the mission of higher education to foster free thought and critical thinking) and you get a bleak picture and clear summary of why we are still so stuck in the racism quagmire. 


Which leaves us with two choices:

1) Get to work.

2) Move to Germany.


Thursday, March 16, 2023

What's the Difference?


“The question is not what you look at, but what you see.”  -Thoreau


There is a difference between looking and seeing. 


There is a difference between listening and hearing.


There is a difference between eating and tasting. 


There is a difference between information and knowledge.


There is a difference between knowledge and wisdom.


There is a difference between instructing and teaching.


Etc. (Add your own here.)


Today’s pop quiz: What’s the difference?