Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A Place for Everything

Those following these blogs may remember my car was broken into by someone determined to steal an old ratty Jansport backpack filled with classical music Xeroxes. The window finally got fixed, but now I needed a new backpack. I found a Jansport backpack and bought it quickly without thinking. But now I have buyer’s remorse.

The old backpack had one outside zippered pocket and one main compartment. This one has five. So everyday as I arrive at class, I spent way too many minutes fumbling through each compartment: “Is this where I put the recorder? Where is the homework folder? I’m sure I put my Memo book somewhere.”

The solution is obvious. Pick one compartment for each type of thing and put it in the same place. Every day. Every time. As Maria Montessori so wisely said, “A place for everthing. Everything in its place.” I wish she could be my personal assistant.

So much wisdom there. Not only in terms of organizing your life so things are retrievable and dependably where they’re supposed to be, but in the larger picture of understanding everything. When someone’s behavior goes against the grain of my expectation of behavior, it feels “out of place” and disturbing. When I can locate it inside a recognizable and dependable pattern—even a negative one— things feel better.

Wendell Berry once said, “Order is rest.” Maybe that’s why I love music so much. It is the orderly progression of sounds that soothe my soul and create meaning to a day that carries its share of chaos. What disturbs order rattles the psyche.

My chaotic front room awaits my cleaning and it’s not that I don’t enjoy sorting and filing away. It’s all the things that have no obvious place or could be in two different places or would have a place if I had room in my small house. That’s what drives me crazy.

I jotted down a few other thoughts on a piece of paper and stuck them in my backpack. I know they’re in there somewhere… hold on a minute…

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Shifting Sands

Like Kennedy’s assassination, all San Franciscans can tell you where they were during the ’89 earthquake. What I remember the most was the sense of being betrayed by the very earth I stood on. What I always assumed was solid ground, dependable and unchangeable, suddently wasn’t. It was a disconcerting feeling and it took some 6 months before I settled back into the (illusory) surety of a dependable ground under my feet.

As I repeatedly say (in a variety of ways) in my classes, the brain needs two things to thrive— repetition and variation. The former to mylenate the synapses, lock the learning in and make knowledge dependable and retrievable, the latter to grow new connections and feel alive with new learning that is fresh and exciting. It’s the continuous conversation between the known and the unknown, the solid and predictable and the fluid and the surprising, the routine and the novel, that makes life interesting. Part of the art of living is finding the proper balance between the two. I believe that both our brain and our life lean toward repetition. I hypothesize a three to one ratio like the old songs—“Where oh where is little Dougie? Where oh where is little Dougie?  Where oh where is little Dougie?”… and the satisfying punch line, “Way down yonder in the Paw Paw Patch.”

So here I am in the Carmel Valley in day two of the Orff training course and where I used to pick up paper copies of homework, mark them with a red pen and return them to their authors, now I’m trying to learn about DropBox and how to correct PDF music scores on the computer screen. It could be intriguing and fun, like some new gizmos and procedures on machines can be. But mostly it’s exhausting. The old way worked fine for me and I don’t relish the idea of more screen time while others are jumping in the pool and that maddening sense of being a few steps removed from the simple act of writing a comment on a piece of paper.

The rate of change as technology shifts is simply far beyond anything humans have ever known and while exciting and novel, it also creates a climate of shifting sands that keep us perpetually off-balance. My computer is some five years old now and every day I’m finding new things I can’t do because it’s “obsolete.” Thank goodness for a few thousand year old meditation practice, a 250 year old tradition of piano mastery, a 60-year old practice of dynamic music for children.

And a few hundred thousand year habit of walking up the hills and down the valleys of this good earth, solid ground beneath my feet. Well, not really in California. But I hope for a long while to come. Now to correct some papers. With red pen in hand.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Virgin Voyage

Today was my first Facebook birthday. Quite an experience! If I’m lucky these days, I get two or three birthday cards in the mail— and one of them is from my Insurance Company! But today I sorted through some 150 birthday greetings from friends, colleagues and acquaintances far and wide. No need to guess why the disparity— the difference between seeing someone’s birthday pop up on Facebook and taking five seconds to write two words and picking out an expensive card, getting a stamp at the post office, writing a few sentences, inserting the card in the envelope, closing it, writing (or stamping) your return address, putting the stamp on it, taking it to a mailbox— well, needless to say, that’s quite a difference.

But still the impulse to send a birthday wish is a friendly one and it always feels good to know that someone is thinking (kindly) of you. I took a moment to try to visualize the particular path-crossing I had with each person and that was a good exercise. Of course, most of it had to do with music teaching (duh!), but still a pleasure to remember something about each person and the circumstance of our meeting.

Truth be told, the day itself could have been better. Woke up late, rushed around to finish packing, close out the house, run to the bank, drop in to see my Mom. She started off very lucid and after a little echo-type game similar to granddaughter Zadie (played this yesterday), got her to say the words Happy Birthday. I thanked her for everything she gave to me—including my life— played a little piano and wheeled her around for a walk, but by the end, she was getting agitated and it was time for lunch.

Then to school to pack some more, set off two alarms, figured out how to silence them before the police came and took off to pick up my great friends and colleagues, Rick and Paul at the airport. Both their planes were coming in at 1:30 and both ended up 20 minutes delayed. So I circled around four times before they finally showed up. Then a 3-hour drive to Carmel Valley to kick-off the 30th Orff Summer Course.

After the marathon Facebook check-in, helped lead the opening session, ending with a birthday cake (thanks to James!) and 100 people singing in tune. I can’t tell you what they sang, because apparently we would then have to pay royalties on the song (have you been following the Mildred and Patty Hill case?), but —hint, hint—it was something related to the occasion.

Well, truly, no need to fuss any more about birthdays at my advanced age. And like many, would ultimately prefer a quiet dinner with a few well-chosen old friends and/or family. But it was fine to get all the shout-outs and tomorrow back to work. The real work of building community and joyful communion. And most important of all, future Facebook friends for next year’s birthday!

Saturday, July 27, 2013


“ What is wrong in this world can only be healed by those in the Other World. What is
   wrong in the Other World can only be healed by those in this world.”

I first heard this quote from Michael Meade, attributed to the Celtic Irish. It’s a powerful thought and I felt it deeply during the sharing of three concurrent Orff courses yesterday. The Intro. to Orff class shared some music from Zimbabwe, the Latin Orff course played some Andean music, danced a Brazilian Ciranda, played, sang and danced some Venezuelan quitiplas music and my Jazz-Orff class played and sang the Duke Ellington-Juan Tizol tune, Perdido. The Spirits were present. In many cultures, they feel this literally— that music and dance properly performed with heart and soul calls forth the Ancestors. But we all know that feeling when everything is aligned, the music hits its groove and there’s a palpable happenin’ energy in the air. We might not have the vocabulary for it, but it’s real nonetheless and we can feel it.

At the end of the sharing, I referred to this quote as I gave some closing words.

“ Here on planet Earth, we have to figure out what’s going wrong, have hard conversations, make plans to fix problems, but we can’t do it alone—the problems we face are too big and there’s a spiritual dimension to them that need the help of those invisible hands from the Other World— the muses, the angels, the ancestors, call them what you will.

And they need us too, because they no longer have bodies and voices. It’s up to us to sing for them, to act on their behalf, to right the things that they did wrong. And at the same time that we thank them for what they’ve bequeathed to us, it’s clear that they messed up big time when it came to peaceful co-existence. So much of the music we’ve enjoyed came from the muck of genocide, enslavement, brutality, hatred between people of different sizes, shapes, colors, genders. It’s up to us to walk the bridge between differences and dance together. And that’s exactly what we’ve done here. Did you feel the Ancestors smiling?

Here’s a photo of my granddaughter Zadie, the offspring of love between two people who a mere 50 years ago were not allowed by law to marry. On her behalf, we have to keep the love growing. Keep singing, dancing, playing, laughing, loving together with all kinds of folks, keep learning the hard stories of all the people and situations where people couldn’t join together like this, either by law, by ignorance, by learned hatred or by simple lack of opportunity.”

It’s weird for this guy growing up in 1950’s New Jersey to be talking about the notion of the Ancestors, but every day, I feel the truth of it. Not only a feeling of ancient beings sending their blessings down through centuries or millennia, but the newly-minted Ancestors as well, with names I know— Bessie, Louis, Ella, Billie, Duke, Dizzy, Milt, Monk and beyond. The people who we know from the fruit of their struggles that they left behind— such potent music that still charges us with its electric energy.

Today it occurred to me that all of us here in the present are Ancestors-in-Training. What are we doing now that will be worthy of remembrance then? What are bequeathing to our grandchildren beyond the silver tea service? What healing gestures are we making now that we’ll continue in a different way when we are gone? These are good questions to frame the day. These are good questions to frame a life.

Friday, July 26, 2013

100-Year Connection

My day began with a music class with 4-year olds, with 27 teachers observing and soon playing, singing and dancing with the children. Yesterday’s fountain of joy continued to flow full force. Ethan charmed me with his comment, “It sounds like suctions cups” as we chanted a name with our hands covering and uncovering our ears. He also had some of the more expressive shapes in our “One Potato” game.

From there, off to the Jewish Home and playing, singing and dancing with the elders. During my “Leaving My Mama Blues” number, some of my students walked around with xylophones offering them to the various seniors to play a hot solo on the arranged blues scale. My favorite was Doris on the glockenspiel. Her age? 104.

And so the gap between Doris and Ethan is exactly one hundred years. A whole century. Imagine that! But the effect of music was exactly the same— each note sending a love letter of joy and happiness.

When Doris was Ethan’s age, the first jazz recording was still four years away, Louis Armstrong was learning cornet in reform school, George Gershwin was a truant kid running around wild on the streets of New York. The actual music that brought such pleasure and happiness to us all this week in the jazz course was barely born. Doris is at the far end of that century of remarkable music and Ethan just beginning, but though separated by a century and a couple of miles down the road from each other, today they were both “traveling along, singing a song, side by side.”

It Runneth Over

I’m sure it’s a crime to enjoy one’s work so much. This week’s jazz course has been nothing short of extraordinary and each day I awaken to a day of joy spread out before me. A joy born from relentless hard work and willingness to grieve, because jazz demands both. And so does Orff or any worthy work, for that matter.

But to feel the way that the blues form, the old standards from the Great American Songbook, the hard-swingin’ Big Band music, played and Lindy-Hopped danced to and the hot Latin groove get into the body and move the muscles and breath and heart-rhythms around is a gift beyond words sufficient enough for gratitude. Each brings out a special combination of emotions and feelings and healings and they all spell J-O-Y. . Each piece, each game, each style a different kind of wave to “wash away the dust of this world.”

And not a private epiphany, but a communal yee-hah!, mixed with the sweat, touch, smiles and amplified energy of 27 other people in the dancing ring. And such a group! Last night went out to dinner with a large group of them and not only marveled at the intelligence, humor, good looks and plain good fun of each and every one, but also the clichéd diversity adding to the mix. Not an ethnic quota for politically correct purposes, but the real deal of shared humanity where person comes first as folks from Venezuela, China, Spain, Japan, South Africa, Germany, Brazil, U.S., young folks, old folks, men, women, black folks, white folks, straight and gay folks, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, atheist folks sat together over Thai food and had an uproariously great time. Nobody (except me in one moment of noticing) needed to accent their background, but it all came to the table and like the contrasting ingredients in the Miang Kum appetizer, made for a tasty treat, all the different flavors and colors and textures sharing the same spinach leaf and bursting into one taste on the tongue. Delicious!

My Thai iced tea stayed in my glass, but my cup runneth over. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A Teardrop Away

In the midst of my 3rd Jazz Course this summer and they’re all fun, moving (in all senses of that verb!) and revelatory. But I have to say that the one that I teach in my own music room, the former chapel of the church the school was before it was a school, and the present chapel of 38 years of miracles, has a special significance. And though there are marvelous people from Thailand, China, Japan, Spain, Germany, Canada and beyond attending, the fact that most are American adds a special twist when delving into the depths and heights of this miracle we call jazz.

The night before the first day, I had a profound dream about Bessie Jones of the Georgia Sea Island Singers. I was present with her and she was sharing things with me and this was a good sign. Because in her world, the whole show is about calling forth the Ancestors to rejoice with the folks and here she was in my dream world encouraging me. As my mother would say, “Imagine that!”

Once I’m in the zone of this music and the way I teach it, there’s the moment after when I start to talk and several times, I say a sentence on the edge of tears. They come unbidden, but they are welcome because I know I’m getting close to something real and authentic. I think those hint of tears are the presence of the Ancestors giving the venture their blessing and letting me know that the music is flowing with enough vitality to bring them to the window to peek in. And occasionally through the door and in moments that I can name of extraordinary grace, right into the center of the circle.

And I welcome them all.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

A Mediocre Failure

Be careful what you write—you might just have to live up to it. Two posts ago I talked about finding the here in every here, there and everywhere. And so the air traffic controllers at Chicago Airport decided to put me to the test.

I failed.

Not a glorious, spectacular failure, but a failure nonetheless. I began by remaining nonplussed when my flight took off late from Traverse City. But with some 30 minutes until my next flight after landing in Chicago, I started to grow a bit anxious when we waited some twenty minutes for a gate to open up.  I rushed off as fast as I could when we finally stopped and asked an attendant if my next flight had left yet. She called and said to them, “We’ve got a runner.” To me,  “Go! C-22.”

So I started sprinting down the long F concourse to find the shuttle to C, boarded the little bus and watched him weave in and out of traffic to cross the 100-yard runway and then angle much closer to C-1 than to C-30. Thanks a lot. My Buddhist acceptance of “wherever you go, there you are” did not include meandering on the O’Hare runway while the seconds to my flight departure were ticking.

I bounded up the stairs— well, as much as I could bound with slow people struggling up the steps ahead of me— and took off down the C-concourse with as much speed as this old body could muster, arriving breathless at the gate. My spirits drooped ten degrees South when I noticed the closed door. Three employees there, me flashing my ticket, “Still time to get on?” while they practiced the ancient of art of pretending I wasn’t there. I asked three times. No eye contact, no response. Finally, one makes a call and says, “Sorry. They’re in lock-down.” Which means the plane is right there on the other side of the door and my empty seat awaits me, but they had closed the door and God forbid they should have to open it again.

So off to the long Customer Service line and given the ticket for my 7:00 am consolation prize flight the next morning and a pink slip with a number to call about getting accommodations. Very nice guy shaking his head— I could feel it over the phone— and telling me everything is booked solid. Except—oh, yes, one room left at the Motel 6 out in Rolling Meadows 20 minutes away. With no shuttle service.

My little paper says I’ll be reimbursed up to $75 of the room cost and the room will cost $40—well, before tax. Things are looking up. But the cab estimate is $45. One-way. Back to Customer Service and a guy who casually says, “Yes, they should reimburse you for that.” But I didn’t take his name and later reading the fine print it says “Accommodation only,” Good luck with that, Doug.

So in a cab with a $45 estimated cost and a TV screen in my face. “Excuse me, can you turn that off?” “Actually, no, because then my whole system will go down.” So I dug out a hat and put it over the screen and made the driver laugh. Having heard him on his phone speaking another language, I asked him what it was and he said “Xhosa.” And so some conversation about South Africa, I tried out some bits of songs I knew, he sang back in recognition, but totally different melodies. Well, that was kind of fun. I was starting to enjoy— say 3% upgrade—a bit of the adventure of being here.

But now we arrived in the American no-neighborhood from hell, the ubiquitous industrial park with its big blue Motel 6 sign. The meter fare said $32.00, so I was perking up thinking I beat the system. “That’ll be $51.00.” “Hm, why does the meter say $32?” “Oh, didn’t you read the sign (below the TV in the dark). Outside of Chicago proper, the fee is a meter and a half.” Apparentely a new mathematical measurement without me getting the memo— a meter and a half. With tip, $13 over estimated cost.

Then inside the dingy office to get my dingy room, thinking (see two posts ago) “Well, at least they’ll have free Wifi.” I asked if there’s a code and she said, “Yes, but it costs money.” So much for that theory. “Do you have a toothbrush and toothpaste?” “No.” “Can you call me a cab for 5:20 am and wake me at 5:00?” “Yes, we can.” Well, hooray for that.

Just for fun, checked out the TV in case there was a Seinfeld rerun to cheer me up. Instead, the usual— boxing, baseball, basketball, guns, knives, bad acting, bad news, accent on the Zimmerman trial (Really? In 2013? Have we accomplished nothing?!), the whole wasteland such as T.S. Eliot never dreamed it could be. So back to my book about Jews in popular music (quite a tale!), then turn in on a bad bed breathing stale forced air with unbrushed teeth.

Well, I could be grouchier or angrier, part of me is accepting it is what it is, but it’s far from the full-fledged spiritual victory of “one here is as good as another.” I had one day back home to prepare for a week of teaching and now I’ll have considerably less. This room is ugly and I have to wake up way too early. And there’s no free Wifi.

But like I said, not a spectacular failure. My blood pressure stayed within acceptable bounds and here I am, healthy and not too hungry and still a little bit happy. All in all, a mediocre failure at being here now. I’ll try to do better—or worse—next time.

Blame It on Boingo

One of the surprises of the electronic revolution has been the generosity of various providers. In this land of free enterprise, consumerism, capitalism and everything fair game when it comes to the almighty dollar, it’s extraordinary how much is available to us for little or no money. Is Homeland Security getting on this? It’s downright anti-American! Unheard of to offer something for free when you can make a buck! And yet it’s happening all around us.

Instead of buying those hefty, expensive encyclopedias, it’s Wikipedia baby! No more buying obscure videos to find the scene with Louis Armstrong and Danny Kaye singing “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In” or enjoy Fats Waller playing piano in “Stormy Weather.” A simple flick of the Youtube switch will do. Coming from the era of plunking a pocketful of coins in those European phones to get a couple of minutes to talk to the folks back home (“Send money!”) or the gal you left behind (“I miss you, baby. I…Hay que depositar 50 pesatas más…), Skype is a blessing and completely incomprehensible as to how it can be so cheap— as in virtually free! It would cost serious postage to send your vacation photos to all your friends via mail, but Facebook lets you do it for—how much? Oh yeah. Free.

Then along came Wifi. In any funky Motel 6 or Ramada Inn, it’s free. But if you’re at the next level up, it means a trip to the lobby for the free stuff— in the room, you gotta pay. And then at the swankiest hotels, you pay wherever you are—and it ain’t cheap.

And finally, the airports. San Francisco is free, L.A. is free, Helsinki is free, Madrid is free— as are some 80% of the airports I know these days are. But Chicago, the place this United Premium Member inevitably must fly through, is still monopolized by Boingo Hotspot. And Traverse City, where I'm waiting to board to arrive at O-Hare, is the same. What’s the deal? How does one airport get away with charging when most of the others are generously offering their travel weary customers the courtesy of a few minutes online without having to dig out your credit card?

I know that my average blog reader is waiting breathlessly for the next entry, anxious to read the next insight into the human condition that came to this writer like a gift from the gods while waiting in the airport, observations that will amuse, inspire or affirm. But thanks to the stranglehold of those capitalist dogs at Boingo, that reader will have to wait until I arrive in San Francisco and the freshness will already be fading.

For example, here are two people carrying their shoes some few hundred yards past Security, making a statement worth pondering. But knowing that the reader won’t receive this until I’ve arrived in the Wifi haven of my home, I’m not inspired to pursue it.

Upset about this? Blame it on Boingo!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Neither Here Nor There

It’s the last of a glorious seven days in northern Michigan. The heat wave broke, but the lake waters are still warm enough for swimming. My day began as usual— quick morning walk up the giant sand dune called The Sugarbowl, breakfast, bike ride on the lonely back roads of the countryside (hardly ever pass another person, bicyclist or car) and then a long swim in the lake. My little triathalon.

But it all feels a bit different today because tonight I fly back home to San Francisco. That little edge to the day knowing it’s the last, partly here trying to savor the last moments and partly there, packing and thinking about what lies ahead. This life of perpetual arrival and leavetaking keeps me on my toes. Not enough time to wholly settle in for the long-haul rhythm nor enough time for things to get too sedentary or routine letting the grass grow under my feet. In the past six weeks I’ve been in Finland, Estonia, San Francisco, Barcelona, Madrid, Michigan and soon San Francisco, then Carmel Valley, then Korea. Truth be told, I love it. But sometimes there’s that feeling of neither being wholly here, perpetually passing through on the way to there.

But as Baba Ram Dass advised years ago, there is only “here.” “Wherever you go, there you are.” The trick is to inhabit fully the here of being here, the here of heading to there, the here when you arrive there. So here I am in the Frankfort library, soon to be here in the Traverse City Airport and then Seat 5C and so on.

See you here!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Night Swim

Where is Paradise? Is it in a beautiful landscape or exquisite cathedral or lovingly decorated home? Why do we trek to the Himalayas or search for a pristine beach in Fiji or take the trouble to find a medieval Italian town in the hills of Tuscany, preferring all of the above to a few days hanging out in the New York subways or roaming the aisles of Walmart? Why do we have this thirst to seek out beautiful places? Simply because where we are matters.

But likewise who is standing at our side while enjoying the wonder before us matters. Knowing how humans affect humans, we’re nervous meeting the group and guides who we’ll spend four days with on the inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Or we carefully choose our own traveling companion knowing that no matter how beautiful a sight we might witness, we can’t wholly enjoy it if the person next to us has been driving us crazy every day with his or her annoying habits, inane conversation or nonstop complaints about the heat, the cold, the food, the hotels, what have you.

And politics matter a great deal. I think of this often, riding my bike through Salzburg with its distant mountaints, roiling river, open fields, intimate woods, exquisitely cared for and manicured parks. Beauty around each turn in the road. And yet how beautiful was it in the grips of the Nazi regime?

All these things matter. But even when everything is lined up perfectly— a beautiful place with lovely people and a life-affirming political system and culture, Paradise’s address is ultimately ME, HERE, NOW. As the sages uniformly agree, no paradise except that which is inside of us.

I’ve been five days now in the summer paradise of Lake Michigan, but it was only yesterday that I finally felt wholly here. Maybe it was the last poof of jet lag, maybe the usual 3 or 4 day acclimation period, maybe it was a touch of sheer grace, but I woke up yesterday feeling a different quality to time, a different sense of self, a different sense of body with a thinner, more porous skin. So often self feels like a rigid wall that sets me apart, but between the temperature, the exercise, the release from lists, I could flow more easily into whatever surrounded me. Instead of looking out at the lake as a mere postcard backdrop to whatever drama I was living, I started to melt into the view, drawn into its greater life.

When I swam the back lake, I dutifully counted my strokes as I do in my “numbers nerd” way to quantify my exercise, but there was another quality present as well. Each stroke felt like a warm embrace from the waters that welcomed me, a return to the comfort of some watery womb that felt wholly (and holy) like home. Next to the numbers was another voice rhythmically chanting, “Happy. Happy. Happy.”

The afternoon included a trip to town to check e-mail and a trip back wondering why I bothered. Nothing but details to attend to for the upcoming courses and things that I suppose must be done, but must they really right now? I left it aside for a pre-birthday dinner out at a restaurant with a stunning view, the pleasure of wholly tasting the refreshing local IPA and the warm ciabatta bread and the Greek salad and chicken with pasta. Perfect.

We got back just in time for the nightly sunset over Lake Michigan. The wind had come up, the lake was rolling with waves, the air a perfect temperature. “Night swim!” I shouted and we ran down to the beach and jumped in the water. The lake was warmer than it has been in 38 years, the sun setting in the West, the moon rising to the South and no reason to get out of the water.

And so we stayed and then I stayed longer yet, feeling the moonlight on water like so much magic fairy dust sparkling on the surface. I started singing “Blue Hawaii” and felt all the protective layers fall away, all the years fall away, all the bitterness of these past few months shatter and disperse like the moonlight on the water. My childhood vision of paradise from my Dennis the Menace Visits Hawaii comic book was back, complete with a sung soundtrack and that delicious feeling of no longer being a stranger in paradise, but a native citizen.

Next time you feel expelled from your Garden of Eden, may I suggest a night swim in Lake Michigan? 

Thursday, July 18, 2013


I was 30 years old when I first shaved. Not that I was an exceptionally late bloomer. Simply that when the peach fuzz appeared around 18 years old, I just let it be until it finally became a full-fledged beard. When I hit the ripe old not-to-be-trusted age of 30, I decided to commemorate the occasion by shaving my virgin beard. In secret. To surprise my wife.

I happened to be up at the summer cottage in Lake Michigan and it happened also to be the only time my parents ever visited there. So I plotted with my Dad to awake early so he could help me and teach me how to shave. It was a manly father-son bonding ritual and went off without a hitch. Except that when I returned to bed waiting for my wife to wake up, she slept for two more hours until I finally began clearing my throat loudly and she awoke with the anticipated shriek. And I’ve shaved every day from that moment on.

Yesterday shaving in the same bathroom and looking at the same mirror, I thought about that moment and about my Dad. A quick calculation and I realized that he was 62 years old when we did that. And here I was, a very different face in the mirror, about to arrive (in ten days) at the same age. 62.

After shaving, I had a brief chat with my sister on the phone. She is in L.A. commemorating the anniversary of our mutual Zen teacher’s arrival in the U.S.. What year did he arrive? 1962.

1962 also was the year that Carl Orff and Gunild Keetman came to Toronto for the first (and last time) to firmly plant the seed of the Orff Schulwerk in North America. I was 11 years old and wholly ignorant of a future determined both by Orff and Zen practice. But it turns out that 1962 was to be significant for me.

While writing this, I opened randomly to a page of the Ben Sidran book (see “Cut the Rainbow!”) searching for some jazz milestone from that year and—I kid you not—came upon this sentence: “On July 12, 1962, Bob Dylan went into a demo studio and recorded the song “Blowin’ in the Wind.” 

What else in music from 1962?

• The Girl From Ipanema topped the charts.
• The Beatles released their first single Love Me Do.
• A band called The Rolling Stones was formed.

Finally, I played my daughter Talia in Boggle, an annual ritual to increase her self-esteem and insure my humility. Naturally, she trounced me. And the score?

Doug: 34

Talia: 62!

It was a banner day for Numbers Nerd.

"Cut the Rainbow!"

Take a moment and picture this— The Wizard of Oz without Judy Garland singing “Over the Rainbow.” According to Ben Sidran’s new book, There Was a Fire: Jews, Music and the American Dream, the first movie viewers saw it like this. He tells how the songwriting team of Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg were inspired late in the game to write the song that would become the “dramatic hinge of the whole film.” They knew they had struck gold, but were in for a shock. Sidran writes:

“Some in the front office felt like the song created too slow a moment too soon in the film. Some thought it was too depressing, too odd, to see a love song being sung in a barnyard to a dog. Still others thought that the big octave leap at the beginning of the song made it unsingable. Subsequently, when the film was first screened, unannounced and unbeknownst to Harburg and Arlen, the song and the scene had been cut from the film. They were dumbfounded.”

When we’re familiar with something that has touched us, we imagine that it was as natural as The Grand Canyon and as inevitable as rain. In fact, there are thousands of little decisions made along the way—especially in the film world— some of which (“cut the rainbow song!”) would have made the final version significantly less memorable. (Including Judy Garland as Dorothy. Apparently, it was first offered to Shirley Temple.)

I’m a lifelong advocate of speaking up for what you feel is right, insisting on further conversation. Had Arlen and Yarbug just shrugged their shoulders with a “You’re the boss” attitude, the world would have missed those happy little bluebirds flying over the rainbow carrying our own dreams with them. Instead, Harburg relates:

“Harold and I just went crazy. We knew this was the ballad of the show; this is the number we were depending on. We went to the front office; we went to the back office’ we pleaded; we cried, we tore our hair out. Finally, Arthur Freed went to Louis B. Mayer and pleased with him… L.B. Mayer was very kind to Arther and said, ‘Let the boys have the damned song. Get it back in the picture, it can’t hurt.’ So the song went back in the picture and of course, you know what happened—when the film was released the following year, the song won the Academy Award.”

Anything worthwhile in this life begins with dream, but it turns out that looking to a rainbow and singing your dream to a dog in a barnyard is just step one. After that, you have to fight like hell so that the ignorant ones in power don’t tread on your dreams, don’t shout out in the midst of your final notes, “Cut the rainbow!!”

Swimming with the Alewives

Those looking for adventure go to the Yucatan to swim with the dolphins. Me, I’m up near Frankfort, Michigan swimming in the lake with the alewives. Little sardine-like fish between two and six inches long. Okay, I know it’s not as romantic as the dolphins. And even less so because…well, because they’re all dead. A bunch of little silver corpses floating in the water.

Then on the beach, there’s a lined path of dead alewives stretching as far as you can see in either direction. Probably at least ten thousand between the summer cottage and the outlet a mile away. You have to watch where you step.

And it’s a little creepy when I’m swimming, because I keep imagining that I’m going to surface to take a breath and inhale one. Hasn’t happened yet, but certainly plausible. And since I hate eating fish, it makes me doubly paranoid.

But beyond my own personal discomfort, I wonder what the heck is going on. One theory is that it’s some natural cycle and no need to worry. One person mentioned that there’s botulism at the bottom of the lake and it has entered the food chain. We’ve all noticed that the seagulls who are usually here are not— and too bad, because it seems like it would be a festival of free lunches. Unless the botulism thing is true, in which case it would end up as mass seagull suicide.

I’m thinking of going into town to the local bookstore and get a copy of Barbara Kingsolver’s new book, Flight Behavior, which I’ve heard centers around some of the symptoms of climate change. But truth be told, these things terrify me. Really, what can one do to counteract the absence of bees and butterflies, the epidemic presence of dead alewives on a pristine Michigan beach?

So I leave it aside for now and go to swim in the lake. The back lake, that is. Not an alewife in sight.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Honor Thy Elders and Kill the Buddha

Still working on a piece about elders and youth, but hey, it’s my vacation out on a lake and it’s a lot of work stitching together all the ideas into any semblance of coherence. Ideas that no one is asking for.  But I like some of the sentences and I promised to deliver something in the last blog, so between abandoning it all together and seeing it through to the end, I’m opting for select quotes from a longer article that is yet to be. And so:

• “Honor thy father and mother” was the first commandment Moses received. And for a good reason. No them, no us.

• We are here by the grace of those who came before us and the proper etiquette includes large doses of gratitude.

• Such gratitude is a lifelong conversation that walks the full peaks and valleys of a complex, treacherous and extraordinarily beautiful landscape that has no map. It properly should begin with respect and end with love and appreciation, but in-between is some rocky terrain passing through challenge, questioning, rejection, disdain, dismissal and some intense eye-rolling.

• The job of the young is to rise to the bar the elders set, to caretake as precious jewels the wisdom and culture and beauty they bequeath, to carry the lit torch further down the field. (The job of the old is to beware of mixed metaphors.)

• But it is equally the job of the young to question, to challenge, to untie the knots of prejudice or narrow thinking or dubious practice, to make contemporary a way of life that grew in one era and now needs re-adjustment in another. If you meet the Buddha on the path, kill him! Even loving guidance can be an obstacle to finding your own proper way.

• That’s where the path gets steep, negotiating the cliff’s-edge balance between  “thank you” and “no thank you.”

• As we grow into adulthood, much of what we dismissed and rejected from our elders comes back to us in a new understanding. Mark Twain says it best:

“When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years!”

• The beginner in any field of endeavor should be properly awed by their seniors, but not intimidated. They must have enough humility to recognize their accomplishment and learn from them, enough courage to question them and enough confidence and audacity to think that they can surpass them. And the wise elder welcomes it all.

• When we live in “the sibling society,” all equal peers sharing our opinions, we live in a flat, horizontal world and lose the vertical dimension of spiritual blessing. Worse yet, when we look to the youth for guidance in matters more profound than how to download an ap, we place too great a weight on their narrow shoulders. They are properly terrified when granted power to decide things too large for their tender years. (When a school I know was  hiring a new head, the hiring committee gave the point of view of an elder staff member, a point of view formed by over 35 years of teaching, the same weight as the opinion of a 7th grader who thought that this candidate was “cool,” that candidate “not as cool.”)

• A culture that looks to youth for guidance and bypasses elders is a confused culture.
All have something valuable to contribute, but the greater weight must come from above, from those with ample experience.

• Elderhood is a state of being that mere years alone cannot grant. It is achieved through certain kinds of experiences married to a refined practice, a mindful sensitivity and a storehouse of knowledge. The elders are the ones who have walked further down the path and noticed the important things. As such, they carry the power to guide those coming up the path, to beckon them forth and bless them. Not all old people are necessarily elders, but all elders are old enough to have earned their status.

• Some young people have an enlarged sensitivity, an alert mind, a dedicated practice that grants the necessary experience to contribute, but there are certain kinds of knowledge that simply need the long gestation of the years to come to full bloom.

• Some old folks talk on and on when instead they should be swimming on a hot summer day. And so today’s wisdom from this wannabe elder: Go jump in the lake!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Respect Your Elders?

I recently wrote a piece called Respect Your Elders and posted it on the national Orff Facebook page. It provoked quite a bit of reaction (some 86 responses) and surprisingly (for this medium), most of them quite thoughtful. The piece touched on various topics and it was fascinating what jumped off the page for people. Not surprisingly, the comments about electronic technology provoked the most response. We have a thousand opinions about that simply because it is so pervasive in our life. But disappointingly, the dynamic I was trying to reveal between youth and elders, what might constitute a healthy respect and what the role of each was, elicited hardly a single word. It seems to be a conversation we’re not ready to have and that itself is a symptom of some trouble in our culture.

But I did have to smile at me writing an article titled “Respect Your Elders.” Especially given the actual facts of my life. I think it’s safe to say that the values I formed and the work I engaged in were all based on rejection of what came before, of trying to change and re-make the world the elders had handed me.

Take education. I hated most of my schooling— that is, until I enrolled in Antioch College with its liberal progressive education. At Antioch, I worked at various alternative free schools in the early ‘70’s, from the Summerhill variety to a Quaker Boarding School. I landed in a Montessori preschool and eclectic elementary school in San Francisco and planted my flag there for the next four decades, attempting to correct everything the previous generation (and generations) had gotten wrong. And the surprising thing is, my colleagues and I actually succeeded in our efforts! (Still a work in progress though).

My time at Antioch was the heyday of “Don’t trust anyone over 30” and mostly we didn’t. I tried to stay on the cutting edge of a every musical innovation, be it rock, jazz or world music. I rejected racism and sexism and colonialism and war and homophobia and put myself out on the street to say so. I left aside my Jewish ethnic roots and Unitarian upbringing in favor of a Zen Buddhist practice. I protested against my narrow piano lessons and pathetic music education by encountering the dynamic transformative practice of Orff Schulwerk. I discounted my parents’ various choices they made, from childraising to politics and vowed to do just about everything differently. And mostly did.

So what am I doing writing an article titled “Respect Your Elders”?!!! Is this hypocrisy? A sell-out? An awakening? Or simply an affirmation that given my life of apparent disrespect, I might have an interesting point of view?

In starting to clarify my thoughts, I quickly realized I had opened Pandora’s massive steamer trunk! So much to say and just about all of it ambiguous. If I was invited to a debate team taking the side of the Elders or the Youth, I would be on both teams. But in-between long bike rides, swims in Lake Michigan, reading on the beach and such, I’m trying to gather the ideas into some level of coherence. This entry a mere enticement.

Whether you’re a young punk or an old fart, stay tuned!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Portable Movie Theater

Poet Gary Snyder once called his airplane window seat his little “hermitage in the air.” A place for solitude, for reading, writing, free to let thoughts roam with the clouds below and marvel at the world out the window. I’ve enjoyed the same, but lately have been opting for the aisle seat. Without the window view, the sensation of travel changes and it’s simply time spent in a long narrow room.

Today’s flight from Madrid to Newark offered 60 movies. That’s a long way from the single screen with one film per flight and your fervent hope that you hadn’t already seen the movie. So now flying for me has become a trip in a portable movie theater. The length of flights are determined by the movie time unit— a three-movie flight, a two-movie-plus-one-TV-show flight and so on. Nothing takes me out of time like a movie and though I still enjoy reading and writing and my ritual Crostic, all three are hard to sustain for the 10 hour flight. Nothing like spending the day with Miss Congeniality, My First Wives and The Gangster Squad to pass the time.

The screens are tiny, everyone’s plugged into their private films and it’s a pretty expensive way to go to the movies. But the cool thing is that people come by to serve you drinks and food and when you walk out of the movie theater, you’re in a completely different place! And you don’t need to remember where you parked the car! Two flights to go, just enough time for one more movie and one TV show. Pass the popcorn.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Still Running with Bulls

“What’s on TV?” I asked yesterday and every morning, it’s the next day’s run at Pamplona. Today was especially difficult, an errant bull who trapped a young man and literally tossed him with his horns, while others pulled the bull’s tail and tried to distract him. Unsuccessfully, I might add, until someone finally pulled the guy away.

In this case, it seemed to be the bull who wasn’t playing the game correctly. But the commentary was all about the Americans and Australians who think it would be fun to cross Pamplona off their bucket list. They come into it casually, as part of their paradigm of the world as existing to entertain them. They know nothing of the reason for the event, the history of the event, the ritual songs, the details of the art of running. They just think it would be a cool thing to do. And preferably while drunk.

The Spaniards, by contrast, come to the event from inside the culture, They train assiduously, learn how to run while looking around, sing to San Fermin  and kiss their Rosary beads before the bulls are released. When the event flows smoothly, it actually is a beautiful dance, less people taunting and teasing the bulls and running for their lives and more (from this spectator’s point of view) running alongside of them in a stunning choreography, the waves of runners parting as the bulls run through the middle.

Of course, the bulls don’t differentiate between the nationalities, but I did notice that the photo of the American who was gored today showed him holding a camera in his hand. That camera was symbolic of a vast gulf in attitude. (I’m aiming for a point here, but the bulls running in my head are not exactly turning the corner!) It has something to do with the difference between deep ritual and casual entertainment. I admire greatly the former and am sometimes impatient with the latter. To the casual observer, it seems like the American, Australian and Spaniard are all doing the same thing— running like hell so they don’t get killed! But the preparation, the intention, the respect, the depth of understanding are all quite different. And that difference matters.

I just finished my Madrid jazz course with a moving closing circle in which each spoke the truth of their experience here this last week. Followed by a rousing performance of two pieces for the other 80+ people in the general Orff course. It was a fitting culmination to five days of running alongside the bulls of inspired pedagogy, soulful jazz history and powerful music-making. We prepared ourselves, took risks, sang to the Saint or Buddha or Orisha or Ancestors of our choice, watched out for each other running side-by-side, left the cameras closed while immering ourselves wholly in the experience. No one got gored and all the bulls were corralled into the ring.

Properly exhausted myself from 8 days (counting Barclona) of teaching the course, I’m not quite hitting the bull’s-eye here— and mixing metaphors besides! (Hmm. Where does that expression come from? Was that how one best killed bulls with bows and arrows?). But it has something to do with a level of preparation, depth and ritual seriousness that I often find missing in our “anything-goes-whatever” culture. World as our frivolous playground, to document and throw up on Facebook in place of deep participation in its mysteries and ritual engagement. An Orff course well-taught and well-received is a healthy mix of hushed solemnity, boisterous humor, joyful surprise and much much more. I’m grateful for every minute of it.

But we can’t stay in church all the time. Right now I’m opting for the swimming pool. No bulls allowed.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

What's on TV?

I love what I do. Everything about it. I love teaching kids, I love teaching adults, I love teaching music, I love teaching. I love it when everything that I’ve taken the time to think about and investigate and practice proves useful in a teaching situation. Like yesterday.

In the 3rd day of my Madrid Jazz Course, I began by introducing a new pattern in our intricate body percussion piece, made powerful by a booming wood floor and the precision of the 32 people playing. From there a game about shooing turkeys, a rhyme for 3-year olds and ending the session by playing the blues Bags ‘n’ Trane. The leap from the preschool game and rhyme to a cool minor blues may not seem obvious to the casual reader, but it made perfect sense in the class.

The next 90-minute session was the music theory class we all wish we had, one that actual connected the sophisticated mathematical patterns of functional harmony with real music. We learned the main characters of a jazz standard and then learned their particular relationships by playing the old chestnut Moonglow. After lunch, it was Jumpin’ at the Woodside with Count Basie on Orff instruments, then Lindy Hopping, such as I do it. I’m no Frankie Manning, but I can hold my own Messin’ Around, Peckin’ and Suzy Q’in. At least for a few more years!

The last session began with the appearance of my nervously-awaited pen pal (see last entry). In she came and joined us in the circle for a little pattin’ Juba and a Head and Shoulders clap play. We moved over to the xylophones and she tried out her first piece with us and did a lovely job. When the class was over, we went to the piano and had a little blues piano lesson, just as I promised in our postcards.

But after about 20 minutes, it was time for me to give a lecture in Spanish titled The Secret of Music Education. I told three “secrets,” the first simply having faith that everyone is musical. To prove it, I invited six people to come improvise xylophones in front of the 90 folks gathered there. One was my pen pal (I’m keeping her name private), one the husband of an Orff teacher, one the mother of an Orff teacher and one a man who has been in charge of the business side of the Madrid Orff course for over a decade, but had never played a single note on an Orff instrument. Off they went and Kaching!— first secret proved. (The other two I’ll save for another blog.)

By the end of the lecture, I had been at the workshop site for 12 hours, much of it spent teaching. We took my new/old friend home and I just loved every moment of conversation with her. She was super-sweet and engaging and interesting and interested in the work she was witnessing, but it was a little hard to read whether it meant much to her to finally meet me. As we dropped her off, I said goodbye and promised her more postcards and just as she was about to go through the door, she turned and asked if she could come back tomorrow. That was a good sign!

And come back she did. After a day of classes in Latin jazz and beyond, she came and saw a review of all the games and songs we had done the past four days and seemed simply delighted by it all. We then had another short piano lesson and it was time for my colleague Sofia to show a video of the school Holiday play. Another farewell to my friend and by the time we dropped everyone off and had dinner, it was 10:00. Fourth day in a row of working about 7 hours straight and out for 12 plus hours.

And so we come to the title. It’s all wonderful, but I am ready to plop in front of a TV and be entertained. I turned it on and there was a Western with Anthony Quinn dubbed in Spanish. It will do. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

First Date

I’m as nervous as a 14-year old on his first date. Tomorrow I’m going to meet my pen-pal. For exactly one year, I’ve been sending postcards to a 19-year old in Madrid. A friend who does music therapy in a a cancer ward told me about this young patient with a  a remarkable spirit who has a passion for postcards. She thought with all my traveling that I’d be willing to send her some.

At that point, I had just come back from several trips, but had my own little postcard collection in a drawer and started to send them. You can’t write much on a postcard— mostly I talked about whatever image was on the card. The writing and looking for postcards became a habit not unlike this blog, but somehow more satisfying knowing there was a person on the other end who I might come to know. On every subsequent trip, I bought and sent postcards and when home in San Francisco, I exhausted the supply of all our local images.

I never really expected a response, but some three months later, I got a lovely postcard thanking me and introducing herself and making funny comments like how bad my handwriting is sometimes. In the course of a year, I got two more postcards, each one a prized jewel and sent a hundred or more, each one a pleasure. It was odd that in these days of e-mail and Facebook and the like, I never once saw a photo of my friend, but I kind of liked it that way. This was a real old-fashioned pen-pal, built on the strong foundation of the imagination, a mutual fun project and two strangers passing in the night sharing little stories.

Knowing I was coming to Madrid to teach, meeting her was a big priority and tonight, we arranged it. I talked to her on the phone! So now I have a voice to go with some image in my mind and tomorrow, she may come to my jazz course and sit in.

And so here I am, that nervous 14-year old. What if she doesn’t like me? What will we say to each other? Should I buy a few more postcards? Meanwhile, I hope I don't wake up with pimples. 

Monday, July 8, 2013

Running with the Bulls

Well, I’m not (see title), but I am in Madrid and watching the runners in Pamplona every day on the TV news. Definitely something I can cross off of my bucket list, but it is quite an impressive spectacle. When everything is flowing, it’s fairly remarkable to see this sea of humanity running for their lives with a few tons of muscle and razor-sharp horns behind, alongside or ahead of them. I imagine it’s quite an adrenaline rush, to put it mildly. Of course, one has to wonder why anyone in their right mind would put their life in danger simply for a few thrills and not only once, but for seven straight days. If they ever proposed it to their workplace's Risk Committee, I’m reasonably sure it would be turned down.

But there is much I admire about it. We have insulated ourselves from so much natural danger, lived our lives based on comfort and safety, become vicarious armchair players of thrills and spills and perhaps our life has lost a bit of flavor. Putting yourself on the edge of safety, from fixed gear bike riding without brakes to rock climbing to running with the bulls in Pamplona, brings a certain color and luster back into our life. Of course, everytime we drive a car and set foot out into traffic, we’re perhaps at as much risk as the hunter in tiger territory, but we don’t feel it quite the same way.

Of course, my idea of danger is to set out on an improvisation in a jazz tune and not know where I’ll end up. My level of risk is teaching my second jazz course in a row in Spanish and start sentences not knowing if I can finish them with grammar and accent correct. My way of running with the bulls is to lead a bunch of three-year olds down the hall to music class. Or starting a blog with a title that felt like a good follow-up to "counting sheep" not knowing if I have anything valuable to say or can come up with an interesting way to say it. Which it’s starting to look like I don’t and I can't.

So off to plan tomorrow’s class while watching today’s bull run on TV.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Counting Sheep

Logic doesn’t solve this puzzle. I managed a reasonable sleep through the first two nights after landing in Spain and by all the laws of jet lag, I should have been acclimated to the new time. And yet after turning in at 12:30 am last night, I was awake at 4:00 am. The kind of awake that I knew was hopeless. So might as well— what else?—catch up on e-mail. Then read another chapter in my book, call it a freak middle of the night awakening and hope to still catch a few hours sleep. But Insomnia had other plans for me.

I know a few folks who struggle with insomnia and the few times I’ve had it makes my heart go out to them. Nothing more maddening than lying in bed knowing you should sleep and knowing you won’t. Especially with a full 7-hour day of teaching ahead. If I was working on my next book, it would be a good time to knock off a chapter. If I lived in isolation with a piano, well, great time to practice! The flip side of insomnia is you can get a lot of stuff done. Apparently, Thomas Edison slept very little and hey, had he been snoozing away, I might be awake in a dark room with no electric light.

But I have no piano, I want to save finishing my book, I’m caught up on e-mail and there’s no one around to wake up and talk to. My only company is the church bells ringing every 15 minutes to remind me “Another quarter of an hour you haven’t slept. Ha ha!” And then, suddenly it’s light. Could be a good time for me to go out and walk around town, but I don’t. I’ve seen most of it and I wonder what kind of company I would have in the wee hours.

So here I am with you, dear reader, punishing you with this boring blog and making you secretly glad it’s me and not you. Well, happy to be of service. Sleep well and we’ll see what the day has in store for me.

Sacred Geometry

Out to dinner in this Medieval town in Catalunya waiting for my gazpacho, I found myself gazing out the window at a triangular wall leading to a curving street. The church bells were ringing, the children playing, the folks hanging out on their balconies with the drying laundry. I felt my spirit lifting simply from the act of witnessing a sacred geometry. Aesthetics matters. We feel differently in a Cathedral than we do in Costco, a different person on a outdoor rooftop restaurant in Santorini than at a formica table in Burger King, connected differently writing on a Balinese verandah than in an office cubicle.

While I was pondering this, I remembered an article a friend sent me called Fractals and Baroque Dance. After dinner, I opened it up and found this:

“The Ancients have taken into consideration the rigorous construction of the human body, elaborated all their works, especially their holy temples, according to these proportions; for they found here the two principal figures without which no project is possible: the perfection of the circle, the principle of all regular bodies and the equilateral square— from De Divina Proportione by Luca Pacioli, illustrated by Leonardo da Vinci.”

The article goes on to discuss how “thoughts, emotions and psychological states are expressed by angles within the body as well as lines in space” and evokes the image of Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man outlined in a circle, square and triangle, the meeting of the spiritual with the material. Exactly my thoughts as I sipped my gazpacho!

My whole life I’ve been searching for the ways to live well, to live wholly, to live fully. Thank goodness I never found THE way, because that would have been an illusion and would have immediately narrowed me to the full range of glorious possibilities, trapped me in a cage, however well-decorated, that I would have had to cling to in fear that I might have made the wrong choice. But between dogmatic fanatacism and “whatever” are all the things that make my day shine a bit brighter. All kinds of music, both listening and playing, Zen meditation, children—all of them—good food, good company, time outdoors, lifelong reading habits of great literature and stirring poetry and stimulating non-fiction,attention to doing things well and artfully with an eye to aesthetics etc. etc and again, etc.

Like all people, uplifted myself, I’m convinced that others will be too and what starts as a personal preference turns quickly to a social program and my plan to improve the world. “If only everyone understood the nuances of Chopin, the intricacies of Art Tatum, the soul force of Coltrane, if only everyone had experienced an Orff program or gone to a Zen retreat or shopped at the farmer’s market or lived in beautiful (not necessarily rich) places with architecture that cares and so on, what a wonderful world it would be.”

Of course, I’d like to think it would be a better world for all. But maybe I can just appreciate how these things sustain me and not put so much weight on its shoulders. Because I know that none of these alone really matter— inside this lovely town with its narrow curving streets and magnificent cathedral and elaborate stone work are people with the same foibles as people living in trailers or ticky-tacky suburbs. I love the work various artists produced, but the stories are out— you wouldn’t necessarily want many of them to be your neighbors or marry your son or daughter.

So I’ll leave my appreciation of a sacred geometry as an appreciation of a sacred geometry and nothing else. And then go search for my next restaurant with a good view.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Children at Play

Soundscapes I love while lying in bed on a hot summer evening with the window open
after 16 hours of flying:

• Children happily at play.

• Birds singing.

• Occasional dog barks and hardly a car motor in earshot.

• Children happily at play.

Managed an early evening nap after a long flight to Frankfort and another shorter one to Barcelona (where I miraculously met an Orff colleague also on her way to Barcelona!). Two good airplane movies and one more that deserved the theater—Promised Land, with Matt Damon. Just the kind of movie I love about bad guys hurting innocent people for profit— in this case, “fracking” for natural gas— and then some transformation occurs. As well as a surprising plot twist that I won’t reveal.

Awoke to the lovely sounds above, strolled up the cobblestoned street in Manresa, northwest of Barcelona, to a bar and a simple dinner of patatas bravas, chicken wings, a refreshing salad with Roqueforte cheese and walnuts (by why, oh why, does iceberg lettuce still exist?) and a clara beer (beer with Sprite). Just what the Spanish—well, Catalan—doctor ordered.  Short stroll to the church atop the hill, looking up at the stars and out to the Roman-arched bridge and happily so.

The children have gone to sleep, the birds are silent, small groups of men roam the small town’s plaza, we’ll see what jet lag has in store for this sleepy traveler.

Financial Advisor

I like money as much as the next person, but a shrewd financial advisor I am not. However, I do have one piece of sound advice.

Don’t change your money at airports.

I asked the fellow there how many Euros I’d get for $40. He replied “27E.”

I then asked how many dollars I’d get for 27E. He replied, “$30.”

I may not be Donald Trump, but seems like a bad deal to me.

Don’t take it.

Front Stoop Sitting

Back to the life of perpetual parting and professional packing. Took out my handy list that has saved the reinvention of many wheels and filled my familiar suitcases with the familiar items, with the necessary adjustments for weather (hot) and circumstance (jazz courses in Barcelona and Madrid). Got e-mails down to two, unplugged the appliances, closed up the piano, changed the answering machine message and even got the perishable onions and cilantro delivered to my upstairs neighbor. The CD’s re-shelved, the piano music piled neatly, all the wood showing on my various desks— travel a good motivation to straighten up the house a bit. This time last year also would have meant goodbye to Chester the cat and making sure all his needs were met and the housesitter prepared to care for him. Almost exactly a year since he left us. I do miss the guy, but must admit it makes traveling easier.

So nothing left to do but wait for Super Shuttle to arrive. Brought the bags down and sat myself down on our front stoop— 13 stairs leading straight to the sidewalk. The sun had broken through the morning fog, a refreshing light breeze was stirring and suddenly I was back on my New Jersey front stoop, where I spent many a summer day sitting with my cat Zorro purring on my lap doing nothing more than—well, sitting on the front stoop.

Stoop sitting, especially on a summer’s day and often in the early evening, was a respectable and much-enjoyed pastime. We had no portable devices to distract us, no harried schedules running from one lesson to another. We had time to hang out, time that moved slowly and was marked by the exhaled purrs of the cat on our lap. It was a time to greet the neighbors passing by, indulge in the “Hot enough for you?”/ “How’s your Mom?”/ “And the kids?” kind of conversation. All the little gestures that glue together the social contract of good-neighborliness.

And also a time to exhale with the day, watch the fireflies coming out, think thoughts that passed through our head like puffy clouds in the sky. Feel a little relief from the sun’s mid-day heat, wonder about the folks driving by, listen to the sounds of my Dad playing the old jazz standard Tenderly on the organ on the other side of the screen door. “The evening breeze, caress the trees, tenderly…”

Sweet to remember that feeling in a rare moment of sitting on my San Francisco front stoop. It lasted for about three minutes and —Zoom! Super Shuttle arrives and off across the country and the ocean to this strange, weird and wonderful life that found me, that invites me to Barcelona to teach jazz to music teachers.

Maybe we’ll start with Tenderly.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Handwritten Vows

It was a glorious wedding by any standards. The venue was ideal, the weather pitch-perfect, the people smart, good-looking and fun to talk to. There were the old folks (my crowd) and the young folks, the locals and the come-from-afars, the bride’s side, the groom’s side. All the stars were lined up to be a memorable first wedding with me as an “officiant”— the rather cold clinical term for my status, since I’m neither rabbi, monk, priest or minister. In short, the officiant is the guy who runs the ceremony and marries the couple. And this was my virgin voyage. 

Was I nervous? Not in the least, since I’ve been the self-appointed “officiant” at almost four decades of ceremonies at my school. I’ve helped open and close the school year, host the Martin Luther King ceremony, told the Halloween ritual story, run the campfires on various camping trips, spoken about kids at graduations— including Erik, the groom, as one of his friends discovered pasting that photo on Facebook (making this moment yet more special!). I’ve led a few memorial services, made toasts at formal dinners, been the keynote speaker at music conferences and so on and so on. A lifetime as MC or Minister in the Church of No Dogma, work that fits just right for my way of thinking and my pleasure in public speaking.

The one thing I’ve learned is to use the whole of my personality and character and speak from the bottom of the belly with conviction while remaining transparent to the occasion. Not blocking the view with unnecessary flamboyance or center-stageness, but serving the needs of the moment. Having carefully crafted each word of the ceremony with Erik and Kerry, I felt prepared to shine the light precisely where it belonged— on them.

And when it came time for them to read their vows to each other, the blazing sun on a cloudless summer day in Berkeley was dimmed by the shining light of their beautifully spoken and deeply felt words. The kind that brings tears to the speakers and listeners both. And the one editorial comment that I couldn’t resist throwing in near the end— how moved I was that these were handwritten in pen and pencil on simple lined paper!!! Not typed, not flashing on the screen of a device. Real paper! Real writing! I can’t help but think that this added something to the sincerity and the personal nature of the vows spoken, but hey, that’s just me.

After the Tibetan gongs had been rung, the Unity candle lit, the poem read by Erik’s Dad, the exquisite vows spoken, it was just a matter of two “I do’s”, a slip of the rings on the fingers, the traditional kiss and the glass (light bulb) stomped on and broken. And then all the lovely friends and families arising refreshed, remembering their own vows, whether recent or long ago or yet to come, reminded that Love is real. Everything that a wedding should be. Congrats to Erik and Kerry for a most beautiful ceremony and their continued shared life to come. And thanks for the great honor of inviting me to be the “officiant.”

A friend wrote today, “How does it feel to be defrocked?” as my 24 hour license expired. I’m fine returning to the lay life, but hey, all you readers, I now can get a letter of recommendation if you’re looking for someone and my next 24 hour Ministerhood is just a trip to City Hall away. And I can throw in jazz piano, body music and Bulgarian bagpipe at no extra charge!

There’s only one condition.

You have to handwrite your vows.