Friday, April 22, 2011

Simple Pleasures

“Well, the sky is high and the ocean is deep, but we can’t treat the planet like a garbage heap!” So opens my Earth Day Rap and it got a lot of airplay today on Earth Day at The San Francisco School. (A full version with instrumental accompaniment and a photo of me “rappin’” with Bobby McFerrin is in my book “Now’s the Time: Teaching Jazz to All Ages.”) Today I rode my bike the five miles up and down hills to the school and passed a typical Friday morning. The 6th graders played a dynamic piece from Argentina, the 8th graders played some jazz from Swing Band style to Be-bop to Latin with such ease and finesse, both preparing for a concert in two weeks (local folks, mark your calendars for May 4th—details to follow). Then five-year olds passed beanbags to a Ghanaian song, balanced them on different body parts while walking around the room, figured out how to stack fists while singing “One Potato, Two Potato.” Such simple pleasures. Had the electricity gone out, all would have been exactly the same, depending on nothing more or less than bodies, voices, acoustic instruments made from wood, metal, string.

In the afternoon, the elementary school walked to a playground about a mile away and spent some time playing on the playground. There are few things more heartwarming and entertaining than watching kids play on the playground. Perhaps playing in the woods or by a river or on the beach or in a field trumps the playground, which is but a synthetic version of those natural environments. But still pretty great to have it all condensed in an urban park. (And if your neighborhood is lacking one, contact KaBoom! where my daughter works and organize for them to build one!). The kids were climbing, swinging, balancing, jumping, crawling, doing precisely what kids need to do and trusting their bodies to choose which activity it needed at the moment and for how long. We really are born with an interior guidance that we can learn to trust to lead us to the next thing we need to learn and practice. Excessive adult-organized structure, constant electronic entertainment, lack of facilities, short-circuits all that and we suffer the consequences. (Amidst the merriment and carnival-like romp of the kids on the playground, a mother was pushing her babies on the swing while checking her text-messages. Aargh!!)

After the playground time, we gathered to do a public rendition of “The Earth Day Rap” with different groups coming into the center to show their motions. We then set to work on the afternoon project, pulling invasive mallow weeds. The kids were in heaven, pulling up these large (some bigger than them!) weeds, calling for help and teamwork for the really big ones and comparing the root size, getting their feet dirty and their hands sweaty. Me, too. Great fun to be in the midst of a clump of weeds responding to the kids’ calls, working side-by-side with a 9-year old with a great work rhythm and thinking, “This is the kind of work adults and children have done side by side for millennium (I’m betraying my American urban experience here—of course, many still do) and there’s something so satisfying, so engaging, so communal, so right about the feeling. Simple pleasures.

My afternoon ended with a visit to my Mom, mostly me playing piano for her, first while she read a magazine and then, while she just leaned back in her wheelchair, closed her eyes and waved her hand to the music with such a beatific look on her face. Who would have imagined those typically boring, sometimes painful and occasionally fun piano lessons with Mrs. Lutz down the street would have helped lead me to a moment like this? Of all the pleasures of the day, there is nothing more satisfying than giving my mother a couple of hours of soothing music that transports her to some private paradise.

A good way to spend Earth Day—playing, working, dancing, biking, making music, side by side with people from 5 to 95 years old. Simple pleasures. 

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