Saturday, July 24, 2021

Three-Ring Circus

For most of my life, I’ve been a juggler, trying to keep the balls or clubs or fire sticks of teaching kids, giving workshops for adults, arranging workshops for adults, writing, my own musical life, family life and more up in the air without crashing on my head. It was an ongoing Three-Ring Circus! 


But with retirement, the tent came down, the elephants in the room went back to their proper cages and there was the leisure to sit under a tree and chew on a grass stalk while contemplating the next step in the tour. Until this week. 


Suddenly, it was back in the Big Top! Finishing my 5-day Toronto online class, helping get my daughter off to Europe, preparing to host three guests coming for two days and then giving them the Doug Tour of SF, packing for the live Orff course down in the Carmel Valley and preparing for my birthday party next week—the show was on! A few more balls got thrown into the air— the emergency meetings about the student from abroad who was about to arrive with the wrong non-CDC-approved vaccine (we held firm to our promise not to let her in, but it broke all our hearts), the question about which instruments/ supplies we can pick up from school and so on. 


It struck me that I rarely had to juggle so much with deadlines and time pressures during the last 18 months and like the return of rush-hour traffic, one of the less attractive sides of post-pandemic life. But just as I can choose whether it’s worth it to get on the freeway, whether I need that trip or not or should consider biking or walking, so is it my choice whether to teach this class or that. I’m scheduled to present at a Conference in Australia in January and they’re still unclear whether it will work for me amidst Covid restrictions. If it has to be online, the thought of avoiding 24-hour plane travel and arranging other courses while I’m there to justify the time is somewhat attractive. 


Okay, my guest have awakened, I have to pack and then take them on Part II of the Doug Tour. The circus is back in town! 

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Points to Ponder 3

• Teaching as an act of revelation. 

Alongside  leading students to discover the key elements of a given discipline, you also are leading them to discover what they can do and think or imagine that they didn’t yet know they could. Each activity is a stepping stone to who they are and who they might yet be. 


• “Each object rightly seen unlocks another faculty of soul.”– Coleridge

Art is the key to unlocking the soul’s closed doors, inviting us to see deeper into things, to listen deeper into things, to move like a dance in the world. The case for wide exposure to all kinds of literature, art, poetry, music, dance, etc. is a path to growing larger souls. No one composer, artist, musical style can speak all of the multitude of selves within us— we need  Debussy to reach the places Bach can’t, jazz to touch the parts of ourselves that European classical music can’t reach, Indian music or gamelan or Ghanaian drum choirs to sing selves we didn’t even know we had. Amidst the social reasons to enlarge our repertoire beyond the Western canon are the deeper reasons to awaken large selves lying dormant within us.


Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Points to Ponder 2

Each thing you learn is not the end, but the beginning of the next possibility. 

Art —and life— is a verb, a constantly evolving and changing expression. The act of creation is what moves things forward and keeps them perpetually fresh and rejuvenated.  Whether learning a piece of music or considering how to plan a class, developing the habit of asking “How else can we do this?” leads to the excitement and surprise of the creative act. 


 The job of the teacher is to lead the children to the edge of discovery.

 Rather than simply explain an idea or show a technique, consider how to structure a class so that the kids discover the main points of the lesson. "How many different ways can you make sound on this drum?" can be a good lead-in to introducing tried and true effective drumming techniques. , "Choose two bars to take off the xylophone and create a little piece in your scale" can make a good introduction to different forms of the pentatonic scale. "Find three notes that sound the most like blues to you" might make for a more involved and more exciting way to begin to learn about the blues scale." And yes, sometimes its simpler, more effective and even necessary simply to show a technique or explain a concept, but by beginning with hands-on exploration and problem-solving, you set the foundation for the student's interest. Try it and see. 

Points to Ponder 1

Still loving my online class and particularly, the way that being in a community of teachers, even online, stimulates both thought and occasional surprising eloquence that I sometimes try to remember after class and set down. Today, I came up with six, nothing that I haven’t said before, but some new ways to articulate them. In the spirit of narrowing the focus instead of the constant side trips, I’m putting them out here two as a time. Whether or not you’re a teacher, hope they seem interesting. 


Do it first. Some teachers in the U.S. are required to begin class by telling the children the learning objectives of the class. Telling the kids what they’re going to learn might be a useful beginning occasionally, but takes away intrigue, mystery, surprise. It’s not an enticing beginning. It’s more of an adult notion not always friendly to kids’ mindset. But immediately doing something, setting up a riddle or a problem to be solved, beginning with humor, etc. is the best teaching, meeting kids where they are and from there, leading them to where they haven’t yet been.

Watch the children. Criteria for evaluating an educational strategy is not its credentials coming from an “educational expert.” Simply watch the children and their response. If they’re engaged, happy, connected, making progress, you’re on the right track. If not, throw out any notion of your “perfect class.”


Monday, July 19, 2021

By the Way

Have I mentioned that I love to teach? Any age, any time, any subject. It’s not exactly like the craving I had for basketball in 8th grade, feeling my fingers itch to bounce the ball and shoot the basket and feeling restless until I did. (I used to shovel the snow off the court in the inter just to satisfy that obsession!) If I go through a long period without teaching, I’m fine doing other things. But when I return to it, it’s always a homecoming.


And so off I went this morning with yet another 5-day/ 15 hour Zoom class on the theme of my last book “Teach Like It’s Music.” Most people are so Zoomed out and can’t believe that I would want to do it and that anyone would want to sign up (19 have). But once engaged, I come to life in my whole self, share the things I considered valuable in almost a half-century of working on it, feeling the palpable pleasure of sharing ideas and material and the enthusiastic response from the folks in the little squares, with smiles, gestures, comments and questions. And soon, in just one week—oh, joy of all joys—I get to do this live!

In today’s class as in all my classes, I did have a clear plan, a marked trail that I laid out and intended to walk with the folks, but there are parts of yourself that you will never change and for me, it’s my fascination with all the side trails, all the beckoning off-trail wildflowers that beg to be admired and occasionally picked. Because of my lifetime of reading and writing and thinking about diverse fields, all it takes is a tiny impulse and off I go talking about the myelination of the synapses in the brain or the modern culture’s hyper-pace of change like a song that changes keys, rhythms and styles every few bars and never allows you to sink into one sustained feeling or how the Orff teacher’s “How else can I do this?” mantra is also good advice for Congress. I fervently believe that the marked trail is a worthy one and it feels good to be led from point to point in a straightforward way, but truth be told, the most interesting part of any class, whether it be with adults or children, often are the side excursions. My most common little phrase that I insert when I teach is “by the way,” which turns out to be the perfect expression of what’s off to the side that I think is important to note. Either that’s true or it’s my way of spinning my serious learning disability into something positive. 

I'm sure it's a little of both. Don't want to pave the road and put up "keep off the grass" signs, but also recognize that one good point artfully developed that resists the side trips, be in a musical thought, a philosophical thought, an image or a story plot,  has a power worth pursuing. Wish me luck!



Sunday, July 18, 2021

The Return of the Lilliputians

I have been na├»ve and gullible here and there, but generally think of myself as a pretty level-headed person able to distinguish truth from fantasy. Until recently. 


Remember my daughter’s piece about Marriage Counseling yesterday? I was shaking my head in disbelief that someone would charge so much money and that people would pay so much money just to think that they were right and their spouse was wrong. I passed it on to a friend complaining about the state of the world and she gently tugged my sleeve and alerted me: “Um, I think it was a satire.” Which my daughter confirmed. 


But hey, given the news these days, it certainly could have been true. I mean someone just sold an invisible sculpture for $18,000, a visual art equivalent of John Cage’s “4’33”, that piece where the pianist sits for 4 minutes and 33 seconds without touching the piano and whatever sounds are in the auditorium are the music. With the difference that this would just be one piece in the concert and the ticket probably didn’t cost more than $50. The invisible sculpture is simply a pedestal and wherever you put it, well, the view over the pedestal is the sculpture. Had I bought it, I would have written the number $18,000 on a piece of paper and told the artist, “Now imagine the check.”


In these days of Jewish space lasers and satanic Democrat child-devourers, the satirical, unimaginable and just plain insane has become the norm. Today there is no difference between Fox News and the satirical Onion newspaper. What to believe?


PS: By the way, have you heard that the Republican Party is worried about dwindling numbers and has recruited an army of Lilliputians to cross the border from Mexico to join forces? Be prepared.


Saturday, July 17, 2021

The Latest in Marriage Counseling

My daughter Kerala, whose writing often (always?) outshines mine, has been publishing pieces on the online format This one was a bit out of character and baffled me. Stay tuned tomorrow to find out why. 

Marriage Counselor Makes Millions By Telling Couples Who’s Right and Who’s Wrong

Dr. Woodburn‘s new therapeutic model hits the sweet spot between profitability and consumer demand

Dr. Amber Woodburn, LMFT, LP, has surpassed Esther Perel as the country’s highest earning marriage counselor, with a reported net worth of over 100 million dollars. Based in Tampa, Florida, Woodburn charges up to $25,000 for a single 45-minute session. She is currently booked 18 months out.

“When I started my practice, I tried everything I was taught in school,” said Woodburn. “You know, like giving couples tools to improve their communication skills and validating each other’s feelings and practicing active listening and all that jazz. But at the end of the day, I realized most couples really just wanted to know one thing: who is right and who is wrong.”

Like many entrepreneurs, Woodburn realized that she would need to pivot to meet consumer demand.

When asked how she determines who is right and wrong, Woodburn smiled. “If you learn one thing in my line of work,” she said, “it’s that in 99% of troubled marriages, one partner is consistently being more of an asshole.”

Despite the hefty price tag and long waiting list, couples flock from all over the country to meet with Woodburn, typically after exhausting more traditional counseling methods.

Alicia Paz of Tuscon, Arizona, a former client of Woodburn’s, had nothing but glowing reviews. “I had to cash out my retirement savings, and now I’m a single mom, but it was all worth it just to see the look on Daniel’s face when Dr. Woodburn told him he’d been wrong all these years.”

Paz’s former spouse could not be reached for comment.

Kevin Johnson of Reston, Virginia, who is currently #10 on Woodburn’s extensive waitlist, is, in his words, “absolutely sure” he’s right. “I just can’t wait to throw it in my wife’s face,” he said, rubbing his hands together with a look of maniacal glee. Johnson has no plans to divorce his wife, as he would like to continue throwing it in her face until death do them part.

“My partner and I tried many traditional counseling methods,” said Laurie Greer of Needham, Massachusetts. “But all the ‘I’ statements in the world didn’t change the fact that she is pretty much wrong about everything. Maybe I should have left her sooner, but I toughed it out for an extra year and a half while on Dr. Woodburn’s waitlist just for the satisfaction of being able to say, ‘I told you so.’ ”

When asked if she now shuns more traditional counseling methods, Woodburn said, “I think more traditional methods can work wonders if both parties come to the table with humility, empathy, and an open mind.”

Unfortunately, according to Woodburn, “most people kind of suck. They’re egotistical, insensitive, and close-minded. If I can’t change that, at least I can ensure that one person will walk away from each session happy.”

Mandy Bowman, a spokesperson for The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT), admitted that Dr. Woodburn’s methods are “a little unorthodox.” But, she said, “considering the social forces that have led to significant increases in people sucking, this might be a direction that more marriage and family counselors will need to explore moving forward.”