Saturday, August 31, 2013

Moving Day

Well, yes, it was indeed moving to have my first class with 8th grade and discover they remembered everything I taught them about the 12-bar blues in a 3-class session four months ago! And to have my first class with the five-year olds whom I hadn’t taught since they were three and to have my first preschool singing time, complete with the seven guest interns. And then to go visit my Mom with two of the interns and play some piano, flute, ukelele trios, much to her— and the other listening residents— delight.

But that’s not what this title is about. No metaphor here. It simply is moving day for both of my daughters beginning separately a new chapter in their lives. Talia is forsaking her old room in our house to live with some roommates some 12 blocks away and re-start her San Francisco life. Kerala is moving to a house in Portland, Oregon they quickly bought to settle in for husband Ronnie’s three-year chiropractic training and little Zadie’s formative preschool years. According to my limited math skills, the chances that they’d both be moving into a new house on the same day is 365 to 1!  But so it is. I’ve already taken a few trips with the local move, mattresses, bed frames, desk and such, but can’t be of much use to the one due north. Awww, too bad! J

I myself haven’t moved in 31 years and though have made many small changes in my teaching room and had to deal with shifting auxiliary spaces at school, mostly have stayed in the same place at work as well. With the pleasure of not packing boxes and spackling and endangering my back and more comes the price of drowning in accumulated stuff. A constant theme for me lately that a move would help solve. But nothing on the horizon as far as I know.

So on this last day of August, all energy turned to the new year as schoolteachers know it, I wish them both the best as they prepare their separate nests for the adventures to come. May their homes be filled with strong foundations and strong friendship, good stoves and good times— and lots of love. 

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Community at the Center

It was a glorious first day of school. The parents and kids came through the gates of 300 Gaven St. with all the freshness, excitement and nervous anticipation that signals “Time for school!” Even as a kid who disliked school and lived for summer, it still was fun for  me those first few days back at school, that moment when we re-gathered with fresh pencils and erasers and books and started up again what could have been— and occasionally was— the grand adventure of learning. But my first day at Harrison School in Roselle, New Jersey was not quite like the opening of The San Francisco School.

To begin with, there was our first staff band (one teacher commented, “29 years at the school and finally I get to play an Orff instrument!”) playing a Philippine Kulintang piece on Orff instruments joined by Korean drums, Thai angklung and Tibetan cymbals. When it was time for the kids to gather, I changed to Bulgarian bagpipe with Sofia on tappan drum and James on accordion. The school admin. team ran a ribbon-cutting ceremony to commemorate the new Community Center and after the deed was done, the parents entered under the bamboo arches of Balinese flags to an old spiritual “So Glad I’m Here.” The kids then followed under the living tunnel of staff singing the same song and for the first time, there was room for parents to witness the rest of this soul-stirring ceremony.

Once everyone was seated, we continued with our school anthem, the old 20’s tunes “Side by Side,” accompanied on ukelele (an instrument that came from Portugal to Hawaii to its current status as the coolest instrument worldwide) by two of our six music interns from Italy and New Zealand. Opening remarks by the head of school that included a short clip commemorating the 50th Anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, then the oldest and youngest ringing the year in on the Balinese gongs, the profound water ceremony with 8 kids from 1st to 8th grade passing the water of knowledge and emptying it again to remember “beginner’s mind,” the Shaker song “Simple Gifts,” the short talk on stewardship followed by the kids dancing with the giant Earth Ball while all chanted “The Earth Day Rap,” and the closing recessional, “Siyahamba, “ a South African song about marching in the name of peace while the kids went off to their classrooms. Hardly your typical opening to school!

But the one the future suggests. Note the presence of music, song and dance at the center, so the words have a triple meaning— an intellectual meaning, an emotional meaning, a physical presence, carried in the breath and bones of the body. Note the convergence of songs and instruments and people from all corners of the world. Note the markedly different styles of music, none of them “ethnic” or “exotic,” all of them now just part of our community songbook, each strumming a different string in the grand possibilities of human thought and feeling. Note the values explicity stated, from caring about social justice to each passing on what they know in a community of learners to taking care of your pencils, your classroom, the earth at large, to living simply side by side. Yes, the kids will learn reading, ’ritin’ and ‘ritmetic, but not just so they can read the newspaper and balance their checkbook. All of it from day one is aimed toward the transcendent purpose of fulfilling the height of their “intellectual, imaginative and humanitarian promise,” as noted in our school mission statement.

And finally, the invitation for the Community Center to represent a place and a paradigm that does what it says— puts community at the center of the whole enterprise. Individual achievement is admirable, fund raising to build a long-needed gym, theater and additional classroom spaces is laudable, developing a relevant, dynamic and effective curriculum is praiseworthy indeed. But none of it means anything without a healthy community at the center. Healthy meaning that each person is valued, what they to offer is valued, how they work together is consciously cultivated, how they play together is encouraged, how they are given voice in decision making is carefully considered, how they talk through the inevitable conflicts is given attention. That’s hard work. And joyful work, especially when we remember to let ourselves play together, dream together, imagine together.

(If you want to see what that level of love looks like, go to: FYD5hm2-mlo. This a song and photo collage from Robin Smith, one of this summer’s Level III students who was part of this intense little community that bonded beyond most people’s experience because of passing their days together playing, singing, dancing. They came to this Orff Course for professional development, but left with their hearts blown wide open by the power of work offered and received in love. They left with great new material and ideas as to how to present it, but more importantly, with each note soaked in the remembrance of this loving community. I imagine when they do these songs with their kids, each of them will be present in the lesson, an invisible community now joined with each person's school community. That's a worthy paradigm for the education our children deserve.)

And so now that the school has a Community Center, the last nail pounded, the last beam painted, we return to the important, difficult and necessary work of putting Community at the Center. The lofty words have been publicly spoken, our good intentions said out loud— now comes the chance to live them in the year ahead. May it be so!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Sleeping on the Floor

Here comes one of those confession moments that lives up to this blog’s title:

Even though it betrays my age (and despite my joke of always saying “I started when I was five years old”), I am inordinately proud of saying “This is my 39th year teaching at the same school.” I proclaim it publicly in my teacher training courses like a badge of honor. There are many ways to justify this and I have them down:

  1. It gives me some credibility in the absence of a PhD after my name.
  2. It helps the teachers feel okay if they’re not yet at the same level of teaching.
  3. I sincerely am proud that I’ve stuck with it for the long haul and equally proud that I still enjoy it immensely.

But if memory serves me correctly, Pride is one of the Seven Deadly Sins. (Sloth is another one, and yes, I’m too lazy to look that up at the moment.) But I have a built-in protector against excessive pride— I teach kids. Whatever I’ve done in the past carries no coin whatsoever with the kids I teach, which always keeps me properly humbled. It’s a good balance to teach adults who sometimes are easily impressed and then return to kids who don’t care about it at all beyond, “Are you giving me something I need and enjoy in this moment? If not, don’t waste my time!”

So tomorrow, after a glorious summer of adult admiration (on both sides), I stoop down to the kid’s eye view— and starting this 39th year, hope I can stand back up! This time last year, I missed the first day of school because it was two days after a hernia operation and I had the Fall off anyway. But now I’m fully here for the adventure to come and surprisingly, happily so. Today in the kitchen enjoying well-earned root beer floats after a week of good, solid preparatory work and a practice sing for tomorrow’s ceremony, the staff were bubbling with excitement, jovial fellowship and overall good feeling. The energy in the air was effervescent and that’s a good sign. It’s a new year, it’s a new day, it’s a fresh start for us all as we renew our vows to serve the children we teach.

My goal for the year is to put my past behind me— all of it— and start as if it was the first time. Let go of my expectations about what I think those 38 years should mean in my vision of a healthy community and just level down to who I am now and what I have to offer, in company with a large cadre of inspired, dedicated and sometimes downright brilliant fellow teachers. It feels like a healthy attitude. Roll out my sleeping bag and stay on the floor, where I can’t fall off the bed.

Tomorrow we will open with the old spiritual “So Glad I’m Here.” And I, for one, will be singing it in earnest.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Message to Motorists

Today I whisked over to Japantown to stock up on fried tofu and dashi no-moto. Even though it was Sunday afternoon, it was also San Francisco and parking was ridiculous. But there was a man putting groceries in his trunk across the street from the store and I gleefully pulled behind him as he got into his car to drive away. To him and the hundreds like him (who always seem to be the drivers about to pull out while I’m waiting), I have something to say.

“Dear fellow motorists,

I implore you to consider following my lead in pulliing out of a parking spot. Here’s how I do it.

  1. With keys in hand, I open the car door, sit down and fasten my seat belt.
  2. I put the keys in the ignition, start the car, check for traffic and drive away.
  3. This operation takes about 15 seconds total.

Here what I do not do:

  1. Sit in the car for ten minutes    
•  adjusting my seat belt 
• looking in the glove compartment for God knows what.
• digging in my purse or backback for the cousin of God knows what
• beginning the difficult conversation with your fellow passenger you've been meaning to have
• putting on lipstick and touching up my eyeshadow and then re-adjusting the mirrors
• writing the next scene in my screen play

  1. Ignore the car parked behind me waiting for me to leave
  2. You get the idea. Just put the keys in the dang ignition and drive off!!!!

And while I’m at it, yes, go out into the intesection while preparing to turn left so at least a car or two behind you has a sporting chance of making the light.

And stop talking on your phone!

Other than that, have a nice day!”

A message from your fellow motorist.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

May Sheep Safely Graze

Grace happens, but none of us know ahead of time when or how. It shows up unannounced at our doorstep like a dear distant friend paying a surprise visit. Today it happened for me while preparing the music room for the year ahead.

I was sitting on the floor sorting through folders, in company with some of the new interns come to apprentice with us in the music department. They were similarly engaged in those satisfying short-term tasks and I decided to put some music on, i-Pod style. I scrolled randomly to B and listened to Lightning Hopkins singing “Baby Please Don’t Go” while working. Next up was Bach’s “Sheep May Safely Graze,” with those opening back and forth thirds in the flutes and then the strings beginning the soaring melody like a graceful egret rising over gentle waters.

And that’s when it struck. I was six years old or ten years old or 26 or 40, walking into the school building in the Fall and feeling some palpable but unnameable excitement, some beauty in this venture of gathering children together to find out what they need to know and to know what they need to find out. Mostly we just go through the motions of our secular day, but occasionally each act is filled with deep meaning, preparing a recorder sheet like offering a communion wafer, dusting off a xylophone like unveling a holy relic. We’re deep in the mythology of school, adults coming together to welcome and nurture and guide children alive with life’s beating pulse, filled with quirky perceptions and unbridled curiosity. This was the sacred moment before the children processed through the doors, quiet with adult energy before electrified by young bodies and minds.

I’m failing to capture here that feeling of being wholly there, being holy there, partly because grace is fleeting and has already moved on, and partly because she prefers Bach’s music to my words. Go listen to this song and think about the title. In these last moments of preparing the sacred space of school, it is good to imagine sheep safely grazing in the year to come, roaming freely in verdant fields with abundant food, protected from wolves by the vigilant teachers. Cared for. Content. Peaceful. 

May it be so. May it be so.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Defined by Love

Still churning over the diversity training and that’s a good sign. Thought was stirred up beyond the time allotted, ideas keep echoing, further conversation is sought. I had some writer’s remorse suggesting that removing racism and the like was as simple as being aware of one’s bias and being open to good communication. We don’t escape history quite so fast. If it's naive to hope that we can be eventually be color and gender blind, it's equally strange to avoid history and pretend it didn't happen. But neither can we cling to the guilt and shame and blame, cleave solely to our ethnic or religious or sexual preference identity— at least without continuing to perpetuate separation at a time when we need unity more than ever. After all, climate change is not the least bit interested in those things and we will need all the perspectives working side-by-side to make sure we have a future.

In one of the exercises, we had a two-minute conversation with a partner, asking them “Who are you?” As soon as they answered, we asked again “Who are you?” and so continued a rapid-fire excursion into how we identify ourself. I was with a colleague with a strong ethnic background of which he was well aware and justifiably proud, but he never once mentioned it. Instead he answered with things like “I’m a person who enjoys…” “I’m a person who loves…” It reminded me of Duke Ellington responding to the reporter who asked if his composition “My People” was about his fellow African-Americans. Duke suavely answered, “Well, why would you assume that?  I enjoy a fine wine, so my people might be my fellow wine conneiseurs. Or my fellow  New Yorkers. Or all the musicians I enjoy playing with.” Duke had in fact written the piece for his fellow African-Americans, but was objecting to being pigeonholed and widened the conversation to show that we all have multiple identities and each is significant. By identifying solely with one, we limit ourselves and exclude people we would be wise to get to know.

Well, it’s a big topic and it makes a difference if you’ve had a history of being a victim or an oppressor and there are so many layers to the failures of our ancestors and the social-political climate of today that it often feels overwhelming. But keeping the eye on the prize, I like the idea of identifiying ourselves and being identified by what we love, what we enjoy, what we love to do, who we love. And even then keeping the window open to the things we don’t yet love because we haven’t had sufficient exposure. Identity, after all, is not an inherited noun, but a created verb and always a work in progress. So says this musician, teacher, author and lover of too many things to list here without being late for school. Which I am! Bye!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

A Few Kinks

Amidst so many special moments in our summer International Orff Course, this one stood out. Here I am with the son of our dear friend Tik, one of the early Thai graduates from our course many years back. Not only was he a great guy, but he played fabulous jazz saxophone! Knew tons of tunes and improvised like the wind— at 23 years old!

When our photo appeared on Facebook, there were many comments in Thai. Out of curiosity, I clicked on the Bing translator below and here is word for word what I read:

• “Happy with!”

• “The wae gum in as steam.”

• “My son will want to go and stick inter.”

• “To die and then SIM card.”

I think there’s a few kinks to work out.

Biased Babies

Our first meeting at school was set— a workshop on diversity led by an outside facilitator. Truth be told, I was less than excited. Not that I don’t care about diversity. More like I care so much about it that I can’t stomach trainings poorly done. And I’ve been to a lot of them.

Generally, one of two things happens. One is that unrealistic expectations are put out about engineering human behavior without considering the ground nature of our being. As if Cain and Abel only need read “Siblings Without Rivalry” to clear up their issues or Jacob’s brothers take the “No-Bully” training and avoid all that suffering in Egypt. Adam and Eve sit down to discuss their socially constructed gender issues, Jehovah takes an Anger Management Course and withdraws his order to smite the Canaanites. We have the good intention of ending war, racism, sexism and the like and want our children to grow up to be caring, compassionate human beings. Right now, by the way, at 7 years old. If you’re fighting with your brother or gossiping maliciously with your girlfriends or ignoring your feelings while you draw pictures of bombs exploding or remarking that your classmate’s skin color is different, we have failed.

The second outcome of some of these trainings is to open up the whole sticky ball of centuries of “isms.” Out come the personal stories of being victimized, each event recalled replayed in the nervous system as if for the first time. At the end of the meeting, there is anger and tears and blame and shame and “oh, well, sorry we don’t have more time to process this” and off the facilitator goes. It is rare that any greater understanding, compassion or healing takes place. In the work with the children, we then encourage affinity groups and claiming your identity. At 7 years old.

But this one training was different. It showed some research about how babies already at 2 months old prefer physically attractive people over those less so and are soon after reading the details of gender and race. And so comes an affirmation of what I’ve long suspected. Bias, or a preference for some features over others, particularly those that look more like us, is hardwired for survival (friend or enemy), is part of our pattern-perceiving mind, is in fact essential to our existence in all sorts of ways. Bias is natural and beyond judgment. And universal. We all have it. No exemptions.

But wait! There is a punch line. Bias may be natural, but what we do with that bias, how we act and react, how we use it to open and widen ourselves or close and narrow ourselves, is entirely human. Bias alone is not discrimination and social injustice. It can lead to them, but it can just as easily lead to greater curiosity about the other, wider understanding of ourselves and people, commitment to never use it as an excuse to perpetuate privilege, but as an invitation to “love your neighbor” through a celebration, investigation and even participation in the differences.

We can never wholly know the experience of the other, no matter how good our intentions are. And rather than freaking out when we inadvertently offend someone because of our limited perspective and natural bias, rather than tie ourselves up in the knots of political correctness so we’re afraid to speak or blow the whole thing off, each incident simply becomes the starting point of conversation, without the racist/sexist/ etc. labels thrown out. No blame. No shame.

Of course, there still is a place for some degree of blame and shame when we encounter people stuck in the old thinking of unabashed prejudice who are unapologetic about their behavior. That kind of purposeful aggression and intent to hurt needs a different kind of diversity training and I say Amen (or Amin, Gassho, Namaste, etc.) to that! But the folks I know are more vulnerable to what the facilitator called “micro-agressions,” those small, unconscious asuumptions that come up that have big effects on certain people. No harm intended, but hurt received and thus begins the conversation to clarify and widen understanding.

And that’s the whole deal. Knowing we all carry biases, our job is to simply become more conscious of their effect, more aware of our inherited assumptions, more sensitive without being overly nervous about offense. That felt do-able. That feels do-able. That feels real. And in fact, it is precisely what we have been trying to do in all the years I’ve been at the school, with both each other and the children. And to some extent, it has worked. Always more to do, but the kids mostly end up being friends with all sorts of people, learn something both philosophically and personally about opening to the other, know something of the history of exploitation and sanctioned ignorance. It’s a start.

Meanwhile, I now know I don’t have to take it too personally when the two month-old baby cries when he/she sees me. I'm a nice enough guy, but George Clooney I’m not.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Silent Keyboards

I was sitting at the piano when a colleague stopped by. “Did you hear that Marian McPartland died today?” I hadn’t. I knew she was getting up there— turns out that she reached 95. So not exactly a shock. But Cedar Walton, another fine pianist, had just passed away two days earlier at 79 years old, Mulgrew Miller at 58 a few months ago, Dave Brubeck at 92 some 9 months ago. All recording artists whose work has poured often from my living room speakers, whose fingered voices were familiar, whose touch on ivory touched my emotions. And now there are silent keyboards that will never be caressed in these particular ways, pathways up and down 88 voices that no one will ever quite travel in the same way. Such a loss invites a pause in business as usual, a moment to praise that such people have been amongst us and now passed on.

Marian McPartland might be remembered as a trailblazing woman pianist making her way in a man’s world, as a British jazz musician, as a composer, as the once-wife of cornetist Jimmy McPartland. But most may remember her for her NPR Program Piano Jazz which she hosted for 33 years. Here she invited contemporary pianists (and other musicians) of all styles and ages to be with her in the studio, talk a bit, play alone and most exciting, play some duets with her. All of this is amply recorded and my own collection includes memorable and insightful sessions with pianists Dave Brubeck, Eubie Blake, Oscar Peterson, Mary Lou Williams, Bill Evans, Chick Corea, Shirley Horn, as well as Lionel Hampton and Dizzy Gillespie. Truth be told, I never liked the way she was always self-effacing, apologizing that she couldn’t play as well as her guest and then going ahead and knockin’ it out of the ballpark.

I had the good fortune to meet Ms. McPartland backstage once at Yoshi’s. In my 20 Feet from Stardom moment, I had played some concerts with jazz bassist Bill Douglass, who was also her preferred bassist whenever she came to San Francisco. I took the 8th grade to see her and one of the kids was doing a report on Marian. Bill arranged a backstage interview, but the child was not well-prepared. She began to ask questions like “When did you start to play the piano?” and I could tell that Marian, now in her ‘80’s, was getting impatient and strongly suggested that the girl get her act together. Oops! I saw the girl some ten years later and reminded her of the story, but she didn’t remember it. So I guess no damage was done.

Marian had a wonderful celebration at 85, a tribute concert with an impressive array of jazz artists, captured on the swingin' CD 85 Candles. Like Dave Brubeck, she continued to perform into her 90’s and retired from the Piano Jazz show in 2011— at 93 years old. Jazz musicians like this are my heros, giving me that music never need stop to play golf. But now that four pairs of hands are forever still, the world is just a little bit poorer. Thank you Marian, Cedar, Mulgrew, Dave.

And new hands coming up all the time, searching for their own particular pathways and voices that will be remembered. How it goes on. 

Monday, August 19, 2013

Wooden Spoon Grab Bag

 • Sung-sil and Oh Sun, two of the super-fun women teachers driving me to dinner.
Me: “You guys seem to really love each other.”
Them:  “We do. Sometimes.”
Me: “Sometimes love. The only kind there is.”

• Another 25-bowl dinner at a vegetarian restaurant with a beautiful lotus pond outside.
The delicious brown rice was purple.

• Stop at a Daiso $1 store. My contribution to the Korean economy? A wooden soup spoon.

• Tangent: When I first moved to San Francisco, I bought a wooden spoon at the Zen Center sale for 25 cents. Along with an orange plastic bowl, some chopsticks and a few thrift store pots and pans, this was what I brought to the house I moved to with my then-girlfriend, now-wife. She had a Pinto car, real furniture and kitchen appliances, I had the wooden spoon.

I still do.

Well, now I have two.

• Going to the airport, we drove over the Incheon Bridge. Our host thought it was the longest bridge in Asia and it felt like it. However, further research (thanks, Google) shows that the longest bridge over water is in Louisiana and 23 miles long. The longest road bridge is in Thailand at 33 miles and the longest bridge in general ( a rail bridge) in China over 100 miles long! The Incheon Bridge was 11 miles. Just in case you were wondering.

• Line for foreigners entering at airport customs. Some 800 people.
  Line for citizens. Eight.
  Sometimes it pays off to be an American citizen.

• Numbers Nerd says: “Yesterday my 600th blog since I started it in Korea two and a half years ago."
Time to collect the greatest hits in a book?

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Loving Judgment, Strict Encouragement

At the end of my summer Orff training courses, one theme keeps emerging. Each class I teach, it becomes clearer and clearer that all the clever ways to structure a music lesson, all the effective routes to cultivating a deep musicality, all the social benefits of learning in the circle of community, will fall short if the teacher doesn’t understand the theme that ties them together, a theme worthy of caps and bold:


(Or as the poet William Blake said a few centuries ago: “Damn braces, bless relaxes.”)

In my trainings, I often remind people of some of the most basic things we know about the brain. First and foremost, that the lower region of the brain (called by some the Reptilean brain) is programmed for survival by responding to danger with one of the 4 F’s—fight, flight, freeze, feed (is the latter the reason why we gorge on chocolate when we’re stressed?). Those four F’s are tied together by another—fear. When we feel fear, the energy goes to the old primal brain and we can’t access higher thinking skills or other positive emotions. Fear comes in all sizes and shapes— from the car running the red light to an angry, threatening face to worry about being shamed or embarrassed in front of the class by a strict teacher. Stress is a cousin of fear and all things that create fear, anxiety, worry, stress, are enemies of education and obstacles to full human development.

In my lecture in the Korean course, I began by asking people to share their experiences in their music lessons they had growing up. As I noted in the post Tools of Revelation, “out came the stories of the harsh critiques, the demand for perfection, the painful practice, the punishment-reward system (including physical abuse) that turned something as joyful as music into drudge and misery.” No one looked back on those feelings with affection, to put it mildly. And yet unconsciously (or consciously when folks believe that fear makes the enterprise more serious), so many of us continue the same patterns. Whole cultures of child-raising and certainly most schools have been built on the premise that strictness and fear make the students pay attention and reaps results.

But what kind of results? And at what expense? Before Sofia and I taught the kid’s class in Korea, Sofia asked them why they thought they were here. “To be tested” said one, with a look of anxiety. The hugs they gave us at the end, as noted in the post Kim Chee and Corn Flakes, was their way of saying, “Thank you for not judging us.” Of course, I was silently judging their first attempts at leading echo clap and improvising on xylophones, but with the motivation of helping, not labeling and sorting.  My job is to accept everything at first, but also shape it and improve it in future classes. But the first step is to simply accept and notice and not critique too soon. In fact, their echo clapping examples were excellent and their xylophone improvisations mostly between good and exceptional. By creating a safe atmosphere, the results were actually superior to what would have come out in the tension of knowing they were being judged, assessed and graded. Their desire to come back for more was amplified, their motivation to improve yet more was fed and their innate love of moving and playing was preserved.

At the same time that I’m advocating for loving encouragement over harsh judgement, I know that up the food chain of development in a particular area, a certain kind of strictness has its place. I’m thinking of the cymbal tossed at Charlie Parker’s feet, Nadia Boulanger’s composition classes in Paris, the Zen teacher rejecting the student’s answer to the koan with a whack of the stick. Perhaps it’s a question of timing— loving in the first stages, strict in the second and lovingly strict and strictly loving at the end of the path. Or an ongoing balance of loving judgment and strict encouragement.

But the summer’s theme of healing the scars of harsh strictness and re-discovering possibility in an atmosphere of friendly encouragement kept coming up time and time again, a sign that I’m on to something here, something that mostly came natural to my teaching style, but has grown in depth. And really, it’s so simple, summed up in the happy phrase that fell into my head many blogs ago—permission to be beautiful. So I’ll close with a testimony recently received from one of my summer students.

“I felt more free and more true and more connected to myself as the teacher, musician and artist that I want to be during these two weeks than I do throughout the year in my job.  I attribute this to being highly evaluated and criticized by a strongly-opinionated teacher, administrative and parent community in my school.  Although I feel respected, valued, and have a tenured position, I feel highly scrutinized and often criticized by other teachers who do not get the way I integrate the Orff approach in my teaching. having to prove myself and be “perfect.”  This leaves little room for mistakes and also little room to feel free, flexible, and even have fun.  The joy I felt during this course allowed the opening of my heart and every pore to fill with the potential, fun, and freedom that I know is inside of me but often goes into hiding due to the rigid and critical environment that I teach in.  I felt like the gates of my mind and heart flung open during these two weeks and that I was able to truly connect with the creative teaching ideas I have, the freedom in my body as a dancer and mover, and my skills as a musician and singer.”

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Back in the 60's!

“If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair…”

This the song in the background during one of my kimchee/cornflakes breakfast at the Korea Orff Course. It must have leaked into my subconscious, because when someone asked me “What is the most important thing for the teacher to keep in mind?” I unexpectedly answered by talking about coming of age in the ‘60’s. I said something like this:

“When I was in college, I was part of a counter-culture that sought to change the world. We were convinced that we were the ones to eliminate war, erase injustice, eradicate racism and sexism and classism and lead the future into a loving place dressed with flowers in it's hair. We were hopeful and idealistic, but so young— what did we know of the world? It awaited us with its harsh lessons, its bitter disappointments, its crushing blows to our naiveté. And so of course, we failed miserably. War is still rampant, ignorance and greed still mostly run the show, George Zimmerman is walking free, fine jazz artists like Eliane Elias and Diane Krall still succumb to dressing in sexy nightwear for their album covers.

And yet we did indeed make a large impact. My daughters grew up with basketball and a can-do confidence, my granddaughter will grow up in a world significantly more capable of judging her by the content of her character rather than the color of her skin— and with Michelle Obama as a role model. Gay marriage is beginning its roll down the alley, knocking down the pins state after state and people who spout hateful vile publicly are mostly expected to apologize. Small but significant steps.

Back in college, we were all looking for the way to transformation. And for me, it came from an unexpected place— a chance class with my first and most important Orff teacher, Avon Gillespie. I felt a certain spark in his classes unlike any other classes, a quality of belonging and connecting with others in a shared venture. Avon loved to create big multi-layered events, often from a simple premise. One class, we made a spontaneous opera out of the song Frere Jacques with an accompanying story of a sleepy monk. Frere Jacques was never the same after that.

I found myself as a young teacher very interested, like Avon, in the feeling of the group as a whole, intrigued by the way certain songs, games and musical pieces could create a atmosphere in the room that was both fun and profoundly serious, relaxed and spiritually intense, personally transforming and collectively connecting. To this day, I tend to first feel the whole forest and it takes me awhile to see each tree. Both are necessary, but I found that my default setting was the group, the circle, the community. I began to create some all-school ceremonies and rituals with the community in mind and with music, movement, poetry and song at the center. Here was something real and concrete, far beyond the rhetoric of political revolution or the notion that because we felt good at the end of our yoga session, the world was healed. Here was a way to “be the change we want to see in the world.”

So for me, this became the most important guiding star of my daily classes— to have each class be the world I want to live in and the world that we all would like to live in. Naturally, there is conflict and problems and flowers that wilt in the hair (or can’t find enough hair to hold them!), but it all has the intention and possibility of healing through the power of music, dance and the presence of the imagination. Whether with children in San Francisco or adults in Korea, it is the world I still live in and still love to live in and by the smiles and tears I see here, I suspect it’s a world you all have enjoyed as well.”

A college buddy of mine just turned 60 and made the astute observation, “Hey, I’m back in the 60’s!” Now there’s a great perspective. And indeed, despite World’s best efforts to squash them, my hope and idealism are still kicking and mostly due to these blessed opportunities to witness the many ways both kids and adults rise to the invitation to show their best selves. In my 60’s, the 60’s are alive and well. Minus those illegal (well, finally legal in some places) substances!

And now back to San Francisco, with the metaphorical flowers refreshed and blooming in the few remaining strands of hair. Kamsahamnida!

Universal Tears

It ain’t an Orff course until the tears start flowing. Just finished an intensive four days in Korea. The report?

It was an Orff Course.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Kim Chee and Corn Flakes

Few things surprise me any more when I travel. Each morning, I breakfast on kim chee and corn flakes, scrambled eggs and seaweed while listening to light 60’s rock. Tonight we had a party before the course closes tomorrow and while Nat King Cole was singing to Mona Lisa over the speakers, we started to play some Samul Nori traditional drums. Nat eventually lost out and it was a Korean-fest from there out, a mixture of old folk music and dance, pop songs and a djembe/conga jam with these wild women improvising on all the children’s rhymes we had done during the week. And I mean wild women in the best sense of those words, like the crazy Finns and Icelandic gals. It’s a weird and wonderful world, the old and the new living side-by-side, the far-away brought close (Nat King Cole) and the close going viral far-away— no one tonight did any gangnam-style horse dancing, but the kids in my school were obsessed with it.

Tomorrow I’ll close out my part of the course with some jazz and perhaps a Basque piece and Estonian dance. My colleague and partner-in-crime Sofia has already brought the students to Japan, Greece, Ghana, Spain and beyond. Today we both shared a 90-minute class with kids that was a great pleasure. I especially treasured one of the 12-year old boys coming back to hug me, perhaps his way of saying, “Thanks for not judging me and letting me express myself so many different ways.” The theme that keeps coming up for me is the way we create winners and losers and in so doing, everyone loses. (There’s a book on this theme called Somebodies and Nobodies which never got much attention, but I plan to re-read it. I think it’s one of the big issues of the 21st century.)

But now, I’m aiming for my first night of uninterrupted sleep, the last vestige of jet lag, only to be repeated in two days when I fly home. And then tomorrow, my last breakfast of kim chee and corn flakes. Good night.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Tools of Revelation

Tonight I gave my fourth lecture of the summer. From Finland to Madrid to Carmel Valley to Seoul, the perpetual search for the words that give shape and meaning to these gatherings of music teachers. Tonight’s began with some thoughts from the participants about what they didn’t like about their formal musical training. Out came the stories of the harsh critiques, the demand for perfection, the painful practice, the punishment-reward system (including physical abuse) that turned something as joyful as music into drudge and misery. And equally some appreciations about the satisfaction of making progress, winning competitions, getting to wear a fancy dress and enjoying a kind teacher. (Or in my case, getting to eat the candy in the waiting room bowl that was forbidden at my own house.)

I gave my talk about the three stages of learning, The first is the period of play and playful exploration with no fear of right and wrong answers. After enough of this, the child is ready for precise techniques and concepts, right and wrong ways to do things for greater control and expression. The problem with the unsatisfying piano lessons was not that there was a call for precision, but that it came too early and with too much fear and shame. The problem with the grueling practice schedule is that it came from the outside rather than motivated from within and too often, was in isolation rather that playing in a community of musicians. The problem with the gifts and threats is that music became a means to something else rather than the sheer beauty and pleasure of the act of making music. There can also be the problem of too prolonged a period of playful exploration, so that the musical impulses never become precisely shaped and refined. But for most, it was the strange atmosphere of formal music lessons that drove people to seek another way of learning and playing music—and hence, their presence at this Orff workshop.

After giving examples at the piano of what I considered to be a more balanced and friendly private lesson, I asked if there were any questions. Somebody asked what to do with sullen teenagers who misbehave and don’t participate positively in their classroom. Out came the useful aphorism—“Behavior is the language of children. And such teenagers are still children. What they’re telling you is that they’re afraid and unseen and unloved and they’re putting on a front to protect themselves from the adults who will shame them and their peers who will ridicule them. Your job is to create a safe environment that will allow them to creep out of their armor, to give them the tools for revelation as to who they really are and to have infinite patience and a fierce faith that they’re worthy. Not easy when they’re blowing off your lesson plan, but stay with it and see what might come out. It takes time. Sometimes lots of time. Sometimes a lifetime.”

My translator choked up here and the tears started to trickle out in the audience. And these thoughts are worthy of tears. Nothing sadder than a kid who was not given what he or she needed from the culture, from the school, from the family. And there’s millions of them walking around, awaiting the one adult willing to take the time to open the door and take them out of their hiding place.

And that’s why I’m here in Korea. To give these teachers some tools to reveal the beauty behind the rolled eyes, the caring, sensitive soul hiding behind the posture. A xylophone is a tool of revelation, a clapping play is an open window, a folk dance is an invitation to belong. May it be so!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Perpetually Six at Sixty-Two

At a boarding school one hour outside of Seoul and a brief moment awakening in the still jet-lagged morning when the misted hills outside the window let me know I’m not in Kansas anymore. When I go to breakfast and dine on kim chee, seaweed and corn flakes, I also sense that I’m somewhere else. The names going around the circle are different and difficult for my ear (though getting better) and like Finland, the homogeneous ethnicity and 99% women teachers attending are distinct from other places.

But beyond that, I’m back in the self-enclosed world of the Orff workshop. The feeling in the room, awash with simple poems, rhythms, melodies from cultures worldwide, is delightfully familiar. Laughter is the same in any language. We all of us were once six years old and now are so happy to take that youthful spirit out of the closet we adults consign it to and let it romp and play freely. I feel like the Peter Pan of the teacher’s world, hanging out with The Lost Boys (well, Girls) who, in these moments of amazing grace, now are found.

Often I play a little game looking at the three-year olds I teach and imagining them as 8th graders. (Not hard to do as every year I look at the scrapbooks of the 8th graders and see the photos reminding me of the kid I first knew them as.) And sometimes I look at the 8th graders and imagine the adults they will soon be. Lately, I’ve been playing the reverse game with adults— finding the little kid they once were, so obvious in their body as they play and dance like they used to (or never did), but also apparent in their faces shining out with that wide-eyed innocence and can-do confidence before the adult world shook them up and made them get serious. 

So yet another way to view this work advertised as “professional development in music education”— as an invitation to release their caged spirit and play like there’s no tomorrow awaiting with lesson plans, bills and the long list of adult responsibilities. Of course, they’re all awaiting us (especially my lesson plan for the next class!), but for some 8 hours a day over four days, it’s playtime with Peter Pan and the Lost Girls. And most amazing of all, a playtime that actually helps me pay those future bills!

I found out that there are four major life passages in Korean culture. The first is the child’s second birthday, which is really the first birthday by other standards (the child is one when born). The next is marriage, the last is death and the third is the 60th birthday. This comes from the time when 60 was considered a long, long life. (I’m curious as to whether this will eventually be updated. Almost feels like 90 is the new 60.) At any rate, by Korean standards, I had that big event two years ago. And in fact, in many ways I did, with 60 people there to share my poetry with and listen to a performance with a group that was soon to become The Pentatonics, the shining star of my new decade. But thinking back to Peter Pan and how I already related to the notion of perpetual youth as a kid reluctant to grow up, I think I found my Never-Never Land in the world of Orff Schulwerk. It's a marvelous world indeed.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The 2 a.m. Brain

Though I’d beat the system by flying out one day early to Korea and having an entire day free before teaching. But alas, I’m awake on my second night at 2 a.m. with a full day of teaching ahead in six hours and things are not looking good sleepwise. It’s a perfect time to slog through all those e-mails lined up in Procrastination Lane or update my mailing list or plan my year’s curriculum at school. Instead, I’m lying around thinking random things like:

• Do birds get jet lag when they migrate?

• Do dishwashers at Korean restaurants earn more? (We had a dinner with some 25 bowls per person, each an enticing addition to the rice.)

• Visiting the palace with the king’s quarters and servant’s quarters, should I be nostalgic for hierarchy in human relations? After 38 years at one school, couldn’t I be given a reserved parking place?

• Do my colleague Sofia and I really have room in our luggage for the two large Korean Samul Nori drums we bought? Will the airlines charge more than the cost of the drums?

• Will I get points in heaven for not turning on the air-conditioning in my hotel room in the midst of a humid 100-degree heat spell?

• Do such acts affect butterflies in Kentucky? (According to Barbara Kingsolver’s novel Flight Behavior, the answer is “Yes.”)

• Though I think I’m constantly inventing new material, I noticed that everything I thought about teaching in this upcoming course I had already done two and a half years ago. I also noticed in a photo someone brought from a course 10 years ago that I was wearing the same shirt that I had on now. Am I in a rut?

• If you like the rut you're in and the people you share it with enjoy it, is it a rut?

• If you think about it, is the word “rut” really weird?

Welcome to my 2 a.m. brain. Fascinating, huh? If I could only be bored as you are reading this, maybe I could get back to sleep. 

Monday, August 12, 2013


I never look ahead of time to see what kind of plane I’ll be on and what the amenities are, but was surprised that this 11-hour flight to Seoul was the old-fashioned one-screen-no-choice-one-movie-for-all variety. Missed the credits to the first one, but it didn’t look enticing until I noticed that it starred Gwyneth Paltrow, Robert Downing Jr., Don Cheadle and others, respectable actors/actresses all. So I started tuning in to what can best be described as two and a half hours of non-stop explosions interrupted occasionally by inane dialogue. (For those curious, it was Iron Man or Iron Man II or some unbelievable suffix hinting that the first must have been so terrible they had to go lower yet.)

But I did salvage a thought from deep in the dumpster. Didn’t Gwyneth Paltrow win an Oscar for Shakespeare in Love? Yes, I believe she did back in 1998. From the jewels of Shakespeare to the juvenile trash of Iron Man is quite a plunge. And there was Don Cheadle, who stunned me in Hotel Rwanda. Robert Downey Jr. I’ve never liked all that much, but he did decent work in Chaplin and Sherlock Holmes, amidst other films. So though not a stunningly original thought, it struck me how actors are at the mercy of their scripts and equally at the mercy of invitations that will keep their career alive, even if it be pure junk. Pity the poor movie stars!

And admire anew the Orff teachers giving workshops. We write our own scripts, direct our own classes, produce our own itinerary and act in our own plays, sometimes the lead, sometimes the supporting actor, sometimes the guy in the crowd scene as we turn over the story to the participants. When it comes to giving an Orff workshop to adults or course for teachers or class to kids, we never feel compromised, stuck in someone else’s bad script. Though we may complain about having to do everything, the freedom it gives us and the integrity that it preserves is not to be taken lightly.

And telescope that thought out further. On some level, we’re all actors stuck in someone else’s script— our parent’s role that they assigned to us, our government’s, our gender’s, our culture’s. If we’re fortunate, it’s a life-giving story and a great role worthy of Oscar-nomination. But at the end of the matter is our struggle to find the story we are meant to play in, to write the screenplay, direct the action and fill the role from head-to-toe. Like Jackie Robinson in the next airplane movie, 42.

And so off the plane in search of the bed that is paradise for the jet-lagged traveler, about to step yet again into the comfortable shoes of the traveling music teacher. Goodnight, good morning and good luck to me hoping to awaken at the far end of a Korean sunrise.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Full Circle

Home for one day from the Orff course with my piles of papers awaiting my sorting and then the happy thought, “I’m going to Korea tomorrow!” Orff workshops as a way to perpetually avoid cleaning up the front room. Of course, then I come home with more papers to sort, so it’s only a matter of time before it all catches up with me and I have to face up to the trail of debris each course leaves behind.

At the United Club in the VIP Lounge, my rare moment of official privilege and artificial dignity, and thinking, “It was two and half years ago that I started this blog and it all began with a trip to Korea." My first posting was in San Francisco on January 11th, 2011 and the next from Seoul, Korea on January 22. Almost 600 postings since then talking about this, that and the other thing, mostly to do with music and music education, trying to find the words that capture the shape and texture and meaning of the work.  It has been a happy discipline and made happier that a small group of people (usually 100 per day) find it interesting enough that they keep coming back. That’s you, dear reader! And I thank you for it.

Though fine about this next adventure, it is slightly insane to reach the end of one course and take off immediately for the next. There is a wisdom in letting something settle first, to digest it before beginning the next meal. But time is short and demand is high at the moment and so off I go. I always imagine that something will happen that makes it clear that this course had to be and so far I haven’t been disappointed. We’ll see what riches await.

On the first trip to Seoul, it was winter and snowing. Now heading into 90 degree heat and a retreat setting somewhere outside of the city. But first the 11 hours on the plane. Wireless permitting, the story will continue.

Until then, Anyanghaseyo!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Waking with Wings

Yesterday, the Level III Orff students and I sat in a circle and drank copious amounts of Tear Water Tea. Like Arnold Lobel’s Owl in the children’s book of the same title, it tasted salty, but we found it to be very good. We boiled the water by singing heart-wrenching songs about birds leaving the nest and saying goodbye to friends and such, songs from the Ukraine, Bulgaria, Finland with exquisite melodies and harmonies that reached into the depths of the heart, alternating between major and minor to make clear that tears lived in both profound happiness and sadness all mixed up at once. Then we steeped the tea in the stories of each person’s journey to this moment of completing their three-summer journey.

And such stories! So many speaking of all the people who tell us we’re not good enough, we don’t measure up, we’re a C student. Or praised us for being good in the things that don’t matter—the good report card, the sexy body and pretty face, the perfect lesson plan that never saw the children. Or the teachers or friends or colleagues who simply ignored us, couldn’t see who we are and were not interested in finding out. Or those voices in our own head that tell us that we’re not worthy, that start to believe in “that defiling and disfiguring shape that the mirror of malicious eyes casts upon our eyes until we think that shape must be our shape” (Yeats).

And then the good fortune of stumbling into a community that is not there to judge, label, sort, or place us in the hierarchy of winners and losers, of cool and uncool, of the good, bad and ugly. A place where teachers give us permission to be beautiful and an invitation to discover precisely how we’re beautiful, far beyond the small choices of talented, sexy, fortunate or wealthy. Our beauty may be as small as an exquisite gesture at precisely the right moment in a dance choreography, a 30-second glockenspiel improvisation, as large as a Teleman recorder duet flawlessly performed or a stunning group composition of Taiko body percussion or a lesson taught with a flow and musicality equal to Beethoven or Miles Davis composition.

But the size and the form of the beauty don’t matter in any kind of hierarchical way. Beauty is not to be weighed and judged and compared. Our Orff course is not a Miss America Contest. What shape it takes is important for the person to know so they can see which thread to follow in their continuous unfolding, but ultimately that it happened is more important than how it happened. And more important than when it happened. Amidst many stories I told that opened my tear ducts wide was of the boy who was difficult in my class for 10 years and then burst into bloom in the 11th. A caterpillar for so long before he surprised me and himself when he woke up with wings. And so permission to be beautiful requires great patience on the part of the teacher and student, great faith that wings will sprout and always on their own timetable. All we can do is keep that faith and be patient. These things take time.

And so as we sat sipping our tea of communal tears, marveling at each story and what miracles were possible in a short six weeks spread out over three summers. Without exception, we could name the many wing-sprouting moments and publicly acknowledge and admire them. In-between our sobs and trips to the Kleenex box.

And now it’s over. These butterflies flying out back to the world with their fragile wings must search for a habitat where they can thrive. For some, it’s back to the world that mostly doesn’t care all that much and is more interested in pinning them to the classification board than feeling the breeze of their wings in flight. Back to the world where they have the responsibility of helping create a friendly habitat, at least in their own classroom if not their whole school. For they will now be in charge of the delicate souls of young children and have to find their own way to grant the young one permission be their beautiful selves in their own particularly beautiful ways. A great challenge and a worthy one. I wish them all well.

And to them all I say, “Remember to keep some Tear-water Tea close by. It’s a little salty, but always very good. Thanks for sharing it with me.”

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Permission to Be Beautiful

I have as much reason to be cynical about human beings as the next guy. I know my history—the long brutal story of wars, conquest, genocide, slavery— and it ain’t a pretty story. I grew up in a family, made a family, worked side-by-side with others in a community and we all know what that’s like. And if ever I feel too naïve or optimistic, the daily news is there to remind me to get real— we humans are a depraved lot.

And yet I remain steadfastly loyal to the glories of human potential. Like yesterday, after watching my 22 students in the Orff training do their 15-minute practicum teach. Such intelligence! Such fun! Such humor! Such heart and soul! Such musicality! Every lesson a stellar example of “the way it spozed to be.” Why were the lessons so great and such affirmations of the heights and depths of the human spirit?

The major credit, of course, goes to the teachers themselves. Dedicated folks who came to the Orff training to further themselves, perfect their perfection and grow an inch forward from their imperfections. Folks who take teaching seriously and are willing to have fun with it. People who love children and want to give them a more joyful and effective education than they themselves got.

But as their teacher, I know I had the potential to squash their exuberance by demanding lessons that ticked off the national standards list or followed the script of the latest “innovation.”  I could have marked them down for revealing their personality or being too familiar with their students or too playful. I could have sat in the back with my pen in hand and lowered them to the fear part of the brain knowing that I was sitting in judgement and prepared to change their future by the grade I’d give them.

Instead, after spending 6 days modeling the kind of teaching I cared about and inviting them to do the same, I helped create a community open to possibility and inviting to the imagination. After the lessons, I summarized what I saw and it meant more than giving them the list first and asking them to make sure they succeeded in each. The list, some related to music teaching, and some to all teaching, was as follows:

• Begin in the body and the voice in a circle, preparing what comes next.
• Have at least one imaginative “hook” to entice the students.
• Let the lesson flow like music—enticing beginning, connected middle, satisfying end.
• Teach in your natural personality.
• Use your cultural background and style.
• Pace the lesson according to the response of the students.
• When teaching a set piece, adjust the parts to the needs of your students.
• Give feedback to students with words, thumbs up, encouraging smiles.

But at the end of the matter, the thing that allowed everything to flower as it did was simply my permission for them to be beautiful. I had faith that they are and I wanted them to show the full force of their beauty. And they did.

Beautifully, I might add.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Musical Hygiene

Our mouth feels grungy and music brushes our teeth. Our face is caked with dust and music lathers us up and washes it clean. Our stomach growls and music fills our belly. Loneliness creeps up on us and music embraces us with a loving hug. The libido screams for attention and music brings us to climax. Weariness sits on our shoulders and music gently lies it down and leads us by the hand to sleep.

In my recent lecture at the SF Orff Course, I began with the three questions of my TEDx talk:

  1. Who here is a musician?
  2. Who is musical?
  3. Who likes music?

And then proceeded to suggest that Orff Schuwerk properly done feeds all three. I began with the third, asking why it is that the answer is almost always 100% (with some exceptions—see my June blog “Music for All?”).

Music is rarely static. It swells and quiets, speeds up and slows down, builds in complexity and rests in simplicity. And so do we. Our bodies are in a constant state of disequilibrium seeking equilibrium, disquiet aiming for homeostasis. Food, drink and sleep are the fuels that recharge, refresh, satiate and calm us, helped along by exercise, work, play, sex. And so the structures and vibrations of music hit us directly and become the food, drink, sleep, sex, work and play of our sonic world. As vibration speaks to vibration, our bodily rhythms change— heartbeat, breath, brainwaves—and as they move, so are we moved. Emotion means a movement inside, a change in various rhythms that translates as feeling. And so music speaks our feeling and equally creates our feeling life.

And so we all need music. Those soaked in a culture steeped in music are given what they need. Those who need formal music education can get it also and by playing an instrument or singing in a choir or dancing in an ensemble, have a deeper and clearer understanding, and thus, appreciation, of music.  The music teacher delivers a deep human necessity, increasing our pleasure in listening to music. Just listening to music seems passive, but in fact, there is a subtle dance going on inside us with each note we hear— we are actively engaged and the more we understand because we are led to understanding, the more intricate the dance is. Playing music increases our capacity to listen to music. In short, music education matters.

And so ended Part One of my talk. (Parts Two and Three to follow.) Now to brush my teeth with a little solo piano alone in the theater at night.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Graceful Arches

Let me confess from the get go— I have no idea what I’m about to write about here. Usually I have an experience or a title that invites all the words that follow. But tonight, I have neither— just the need to take advantage of a rare moment of solitude and to write my signature on August as I head into summer’s last month. And so off I go into the void of the blank page, with word following word.

Well, it’s not entirely true that I don’t have anything to report. It’s been an extraordinary— though also quite familiar— week at the SF International Orff Course in the Carmel Valley. Beautiful classes with beautiful people in a beautiful setting making beautiful music. One of the better talks I’ve given on Thursday night, combining pedagogical reflection, music history, piano performance and a comic shtick— vaudeville inside of a scholarly lecture, storytelling alongside concert piano. The usual hilarious banter with my inspired colleagues, most of us together for these two weeks for over a decade and relishing each other’s company with so much pleasure. The usual convergence of folks from all around the globe—Colombia, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa, Germany, Spain, Finland, Thailand, Hong Kong, Singapore. Taiwan, Japan and more—co-creating the world to come where music, dance, games, laughter and creativity are the common language, the lingua franca that sings equally the differences and commonalities. (A particularly weird connection today as we Skyped our Ghanaian friend Kofi in Vancouver while another Skyped Alba in Spain and we put the two computers face-to-face so they could say hi to each other! And both of them, course graduates, wishing they could be back here with us.)

Today was a “day off,” begun at the nearby Laundromat with colleagues James and Sofia and I meeting to discuss our future incarnations of shared joy— the upcoming school year, our newly launched Intern Program, the Body Music and World Music Festivals in November, our joint schedules giving workshops throughout the year, a proposed Orff/African music course in Ghana next June and so on. When we finally arrive at each gathering, the rewards are enormous, but the work necessary for planning is relentless, demanding and at times, exhausting.

But we managed to rush off with the gang to go whale watching in Montery Bay and how good that felt to let business fly away in the ocean air and watch the graceful arches of whales breaking the water’s surface, the patterns of sea birds whirling overhead and diving into the ocean head-first, the antics of the seals. It was a San Francisco summer day, ie, overcast and chilly, but fun nonetheless. Then back on to dry land and an early dinner of fish and chips on the water’s edge. One more day to catch up on work and let work fall away, ending with a possible movie in the “barn” where we gather tomorrow night—East of Eden, rented from the local video store and projected on the big screen. Got some popcorn at Trader Joe’s in Monterey and ready to roll.

And so August rides in on the backs of humpbacked whales spouting their presence and showing off their grace. It’s a good way to begin.