Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Reluctant Nostalgia

On Saturday, I saw my film with its long middle section about the pandemic. On Sunday, I saw another documentary film titled 100 Days with Tata. A most delightful film about a young man and his great grandmothers, both of whom loved each other beyond the norm and were not shy about expressing it. The 100 days? You guessed it—sheltered together during the pandemic in Madrid. And then last night, I watched the first episode of Season 5 of The Good Fight that covers the year—  2020! The characters in masks and the lawyer teams being told to download something called Zoom.


So three days in a row, I traveled back to that time we none of us would like to re-visit. It called up all the uncertainty we had, the see-saw of complaining about the inconvenience and then facing the death toll, the sense of being given an indefinite Time-Out by Mother Nature, who expected us to go to our room and reflect about what bad boys, girls and trans we had been. So that we might come out with a sense of remorse that actually leads to change, a renewal of vows to care about what’s actual important, a new perspective on how limited the electronic world is we’ve sold our souls to when what we really crave is a hug, a face-to-face conversation, an opportunity to sing in harmony and play complementary drum parts without digital delay. And most importantly, indeed, most importantly, to stop raising our children with appliances. 


And for some of this, that long cooling-off period reaped some results. Suddenly people paid more attention to the George Floyd horrors that have surrounded us for centuries, the Black Lives Matter signs appeared in windows and on front lawns, we took some online poetry or banjo classes and truly considered that in a time of crisis, we can either grow smaller selves or larger souls, and hey, why not choose the latter?


Having traveled to Europe twice in the past six months, recently to Toronto and Rochester with no mandatory masks on planes, teaching kids and adults mostly maskless and actually singing and holding hands and playing recorder, having known many people who got Covid, but only the mild 3 or 4 day version and then back on their feet, I’ve truly felt what people are still reluctant to say out loud, “The Pandemic is over.” With the big sigh of relief that that statement brings.


But hey, what do I know? I don’t follow it on the news, I’ve heard about some resurgences, I went to a choral concert last night when everyone in the audience was required to wear masks and weirdly, the singers did too! We seem to be in some nether-zone, some betwixt and between place where “it’s mostly over, but…”


Meanwhile, I think about how my current life has some routines inspired by the pandemic—and retirement. The daily walk in the park outside. The jigsaw puzzles. The increased interest in cooking. The nightly TV Series. The Zoom interview I had today (though thankfully, no more Zoom workshops for the moment!). 


We almost have enough distance to echo the Weaver’s film title, “Wasn’t That a Time!”


Indeed, it was. 


PS Hmm. Wonder if that film is on Netflix? 

If You See Something…

The airport post 9/11 motto—“If you see something, say something”— also applies to people attending performances. Not everybody understands this— especially those that don’t perform. May I suggest the proper etiquette is to give some kind of post-concert reaction? The best is some detail that really connected with you, next comes polite affirmation— “Nice job!” Less happy is a critique without any affirmation and close to that is silence. 


After the film showing, I heard back from my sister, an alum teacher colleague the ex-school head by e-mail. Three people. In the after-gathering, naturally, various people gave me a verbal appreciation nod, though still not many details. Especially with the present and past school community, I’m dying to know what it brought up for people. Not necessarily the behind-the-scenes insights into the work James, Sofia and I have done (though that feedback welcome), but whether they felt the film captured the spirit of the school. Whether that spirit still feels alive and vibrant. Whether it called up their own memories of the pandemic. What made them laugh? What made them tear up? What other questions did it call up?  Etc.


When people don’t talk about these things, you’re left just wondering. Did it mean anything to them? Would they recommend it to a friend? Are they on the board of the Cannes Film Festival? Etc.


So just a reminder next time you go to a concert or poetry reading or film or book publishing party celebrating a friend of colleague: “If you see something, say something.”


Sunday, December 4, 2022

The Secret Is Out!

Maybe it was seeing it in a real movie theater that made the difference. Maybe it was watching it with the many people in the film who lived that life together at The San Francisco School. Maybe it was the popcorn. Whatever is was, the secret  is out—¨The Secret Song is a wonderful film that sings a song we all need to hear.


It has everything you could want in a film. You’ll laugh! You’ll cry! You’ll sit in moments of profound silence and sheer delight. The film has a shape and design that bubbles along like a refreshing babbling brook, a beautifully edited rhythmic energy that never lingers too long in one place nor moves too quickly from a scene. The adult reflections are always thoughtful and occasionally profound and the kids’ comments right on the mark. The constant smiles on the children's faces as they play, sing and dance their way through each class taught by my colleagues James, Sofia and/or myself will make you wish you had been in that class as a kid— or adult! The happy, relaxed atmosphere that lifts them up to their own musicality beyond what they or their parents could have imagined brings Gandhi’s quote wholly alive— “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” And then the few moments you get to witness when the kids bring that all onto a stage in front of 1,000 plus music teachers at the Orff Music Conference drives the points home yet deeper. 


And just as everything is so merrily rolling along, there’s the heart-stopping moment when the music stops and the camera pans out to the empty streets of San Francisco and suddenly, we’re all back to that March 13th moment when the world shut down and the pandemic wholly announced itself. After all the joy of the live teaching, the next moment we music teachers appear is on a Zoom screen. 


So more than a mere testimony to joy and exultation, the conflict that shapes life’s opera arises and it’s one we all went through and remember down to our core. We tiptoe through it with deep grief, but continued humor as we still try to bring some light into the darkness, getting kids to make music at home with kitchen instruments and dance with their siblings while we sing to them through the screen. Resilience and imagination take center stage and our urgent need to stay connected despite the two-dimensional screened unreality where we can’t touch each other, smell each other, sing in unison and certainly not in canon. 


In the first part of the film, the viewer who is neither a teacher nor a musician nor an advocate of progressive education might still enjoy it with a detached interest. But now, we’re all back in the place that none of us would ever to choose to be in again, yet in some weird way, united us in our isolation. In this part of the film, everybody can relate.


And then, like the Beethoven Symphony edging toward the final triumphant chords or the jazz tune returning to the melody changed by  having journeyed through its variations, the film ends with some sense of redemption, walking toward an unknown future with our faith and confidence in the beautiful possibilities of this life shaken, but not shattered. 


I could not be prouder to be in this film, to have the multiple blessings of a life lived as some invisible angels brought things together so it must be lived in the way that it was and continues to be, to have so much of it (but not all!) witnessed by a camera in the hands of both amateurs and professionals insisting that this was—and is— a story worth telling. My cup runneth over.


And the best moment of the film? I’m alone in the school music room, the place where I lived miracle after miracle, bidding farewell to the SF School community after 45 glorious years of teaching by singing the song we often sing in our many ceremonial moments, Side by Side. The community is on the other end of the screen with all microphones muted, but suddenly you hear everyone singing. It was the parents, kids, teachers, alum students and teachers in the movie theater spontaneously singing along! Can you feel the goosebumps? Two and a half years later, there was the moment I had hoped for.


Immeasurable thanks to my guardian angel, Samantha Campbell and the wonderful production team— Todd Dayton, Rachel Benson, Jeff Boyette. Loretta Molitur, Wynn Padula and others. Once the film has run through the season of the film festivals (and I hope more accept it!), it will move to the next tier of viewability. Meanwhile, you can see the trailer and get other information at www.thesecretsongfilm.com.

Saturday, December 3, 2022

Flotsam and Jetsam

     Flotsam is defined as debris in the water that was not deliberately thrown overboard, often as a   

     result from a shipwreck or accident. Jetsam describes debris that was deliberately thrown overboard

     by a crew of a ship in distress, most often to lighten the ship's load.


It’s a long way from Rochester, New York to San Francisco, California and last night, it got 90 minutes longer as my plane sat on the runway while the maintenance crew worked to make sure we’d make to the other coast. (Funny how you can be grouchy about that when they’re working to save our lives!)


It was 9 pm in Chicago when they started working and I was not thrilled to think I’d arrive in SF around 3:30 am Rochester time. I had my book and Crostic puzzle, but had already done some of the latter and read much of the former getting to Chicago. So I looked at my e-mails on my phone and decided it might be a good time to delete those that I no longer needed. Down that rabbit hole I went and when the plane’s engine roared to life around 10:30, I had reviewed the last seven months of my e-mail life, tossing most of a couple of hundred out and archiving a few. 


Interesting all the things we get that are useful for the moment and then we’re done with them. Flight announcements, workshop arrangements, class schedules, monies paid, Audible books purchased and read, invoices received or sent, online class announcements and follow-ups— not to mention the political pleas that I daily throw overboard.  All the flotsam and jetsam of daily life that has its short mayfly moment, but is not worthy to keep to re-visit. 


Of course, having used those words, I had no idea what they actually meant and so, the quote above. Seems like I mostly threw out jetsam— not that I’m in distress, but I deliberately threw it overboard into the ether (less ecological impact) to lighten the load. Hopefully, there’s no flotsam out there!

What's On the Menu?

It had been a while since I’ve presented at a State Music Conference. Truth be told, they’re not my favorite venue. There’s a lot of workshops for high school band, choir, orchestra and bless their hearts, it’s all worthy work. But it’s not my scene. I’m not likely to go to the workshops titled:


• Creating a Performance-based Assessment to Accumulate Meaningful Data

• Make Your Software Sing! Best Technology for the Choral Classroom

• De-Mystifying the Mouthpiece

• Will I have Enough Money to Retire?


There’s usually some “general music” elementary presentations and occasionally, Orff Schulwerk is represented. And that’s where I fit in. My workshop titles are more down home and this time, mostly named for my book titles— Teach Like It’s MusicPlay Sing and Dance: An Intro. to Orff SchulwerkNow’s the Time: Teaching Jazz to All Ages and Children’s Games (this last a thought for my next book). I shoo away the technicians asking me about my Powerpoint and microphone needs. Not that I wouldn’t mind showing a couple of great short videos of the kids, but the sessions are shorter than usual (60 minutes instead of 75 or 90) and there’s so much for us to do! We begin in a circle and get right down to it— playing, singing, dancing, the way that I do for 20 minutes or more without talking— and there it is: the instant community of adults having fun like kids and then some short reflections afterward to show how serious the fun is. 


My first three sessions were scheduled at user-unfriendly times and ranged from 10 to 30 people, but my last session at 10:45 in the morning had some 65 people. I’m painfully aware of trying to justify my carbon footprint with numbers, but on another level, if one person has an “a-ha!“ moment and a door-opening experience that changes the game, I think it’s worth it. 


After the workshop, I had 5 hours free before the return flight to San Francisco and spent a little time browsing the Conference booklet to see what’s on the menu these days in American music educator venues. Out of some 75 workshops, 20 were tech-based, all about things like “performing to gather data” or “making your software sing” (see above), always depressing topics and yet more so when there’s still so much screen time after two years in Zoom jail. Some were about the details of the craft (de-mystifying the mouthpiece) and a fair number about diversity and inclusion. 

All well and good as far as they go. But for my money, too much about data, software, mouthpieces, de-colonizing material and not enough about the children themselves— what they actually need and how we can re-train ourselves to give it to them. Of course, there’s room for all, but especially in post-pandemic times, we need to do some triage and deeply consider what needs the most attention. Has always needed the most attention (the children) but more than ever as the stakes are higher.


Still, I’m grateful to have participated and thank all the teachers who prepared presentations and all those who took the time to come. It’s a high bar to expect that everyone’s life be changed after each workshop, but I hope those practices find their place on the menu and the waiters bring them to the table. That delicious and nutritious meal we all need.

Thursday, December 1, 2022

Agitate! Agitate!

I’m at the New York State Music Association Conference in Rochester and I kept noticing Frederick Douglass’s name in various places. So I looked him up and sure enough, he lived 25 of his 77 years in Rochester. Quite an extraordinary man who lived quite an extraordinary life and we are all indebted to his courage, intelligence and passion to create a more worthy world. The Wiki entry noted that though he died in Washington DC, he is buried in Rochester.


I had an afternoon before I began teaching and so I made a pilgrimage and walked 6 miles (round-trip) to Mt. Hope Cemetery to pay my respects. The air temperature was 35 degrees and with the wind whipping around, I’m sure the chill factor was in the late 20’s. The cemetery was enormous and consulting a posted map, thought I might find it on my own. The map indicated that Susan B. Anthony was also buried here, as well as some of Buffalo Bill’s children. So now I hoped to find two of the gravesites— you can guess which.


But no such luck. So I found the main building and with a little help from a friend and a few modest signs to point the way, I finally found his gravesite, and then a bit later, hers. So sweet to see some “I voted” stickers near the grave, left by women who were thanking Ms. Anthony for the right that she worked so hard—along with Frederick Douglass! (and of course, countless other women)— to procure.


Apparently, a month before Douglass died, a young black man visited him and asked his advice to a young man starting out in the world. Without hesitation, Douglass proclaimed: “Agitate!! Agitate!!” If we note one of the dictionary definitions— campaign to arouse public concern about an issue in the hope of prompting action—both Douglass and Anthony are the poster people for a life based on constant and needed agitation. 


Today I thanked them for it.


PS I did note that Ms. Anthony’s gravestone seemed new, as if it had been replaced. My theory is that when the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade, she rolled over so far that she dislodged it. 



Looking for one book at City Lights Bookstore the other day, I found another. A poet I had never heard of named Margaret Randall. The title—Out of Violence Into Poetry — attracted my attention and a quick browse through the book was intriguing enough for me to bring it to the check-out counter. 


Having started this morning’s turn of the month with Youtube, I returned to the more familiar ground of morning meditation and then decided to continue the celebration with a poem. Ms. Randall’s poem “I Celebrate” seemed like a promising title and the last stanza perfectly complemented Stephen Colbert’s good news (see last post). Here it is:


I celebrate our indelible grief, hard knots

bursting with scattered tendrils of hope.

Beyond these shadows of avarice and sickness,

racist hate and twisted power I celebrate

each victory as we bring it forth.