Thursday, June 25, 2015


“Mr. Rockefeller, you’re the richest man in the world. Tell me, how much money is enough?”

“Just a little bit more.”

I trot this quote out whenever I need to show that greed has no bottom or top. But if I think about it, it kind of works for all kinds of situations. Substitute “fame” or “love” or “Orff workshops” for “money” and the people who have those nouns at the top of their dream list would probably agree. If we’re lucky, we’re also graced with those moments when everything feels “just right,” we’re wholly content with the blessings of what’s before us or within us or who’s next to us, desiring neither less nor more. But usually the engine of desire is run on the energy of wanting something more than we presently have, be it piano technique, understanding or social justice.

Today I drove back from Portland to San Francisco in a world-record-10-hour-non-stop drive with my daughter Talia, fueled by deep and honest conversation, good snacks and the intellectual stimulation of sharing various talks through our various devices. One theme was “play,” another “compassion,” a third “grief and praise” and not only did I find that I’ve said many similar things to the speakers in various talks I’ve given in my Orff workshops, but I have handy the extra dimension of ritual musical activities that activate them beyond mere mental comprehension. These vibrant ideas come into the active body and enter the opening heart and jump-start the imaginative mind, all within the living circle of community.

The speakers I heard on the TED Radio Station talking about play were limited to talking about video games or Burning Man for examples, both far inferior in my view to the kinds of things we do in Orff workshops—and without drugs or expensive machines, I might add. The speakers on compassion were good, but none of them were aware of the power of the Beanbag Game or the Boom-Chick-a-Boom circle to generate a living, breathing practice that both demonstrates our innate compassion and joyfully develops it. The need to actively and publicly grieve the atrocities of genocide and slavery in the U.S. in particular to get out of our stuckness around the legacy of racism is something that rarely enters the political conversation. But without this spiritual dimension of weeping for the wandering ghosts of our ancestors ungrieved, I believe there’s no hope to truly move forward. And to do that, we will need some songs and dances and may I add, I have a few? Every jazz course I teach, there comes a moment of reckoning as we descend into the darkness surrounding the creation of this joyful music we are playing and a moment of heaviness where guilt and shame hang heavy in the air. Then comes the “Little Sally Walker” song and game and everything changes. Not by trying to step around it and be happy again, but by learning how to step through it and feel both the grief and the praise, the fall and the rise, the suffering and the triumph.

In my “just a little more” greed, I feel frustrated that what I can contribute to the conversation around human health and happiness rarely gets further than the 40-person Orff workshop. Yes, I do have a TEDx talk that is close to 20,000 views, but it’s not exactly going viral and my hands were tied not having enough time to actually do something with the audience. And yes, it’s entirely possible that my work is not worthy of an audience larger than it currently is, but still I have that desire for more. And the accompanying frustration that it stays so small.

I comfort myself with Gary Snyder’s quote from his Zen teacher: “Sweep the garden. Any size.” It’s not about the numbers, it’s about the quality of the offering, the feeling in the room that the Ancestors are present, the immeasurable healing of a group of people simply having the courage to talk about and sing about and dance about uncomfortable topics that stay underground and stagnate our collective Soul. It just might be that one courageous conversation or a group of people sitting in profound meditation or a jazz concert in a small club that enters some sublime territory is more powerful than a Hollywood Bowl lecture. Who knows?

But if anyone with connections and influence is reading this small-audience blog and wants to take a chance on finding out just how much the world needs me to demonstrate the Beanbag Game and play Boom-Chick-A-Boom, give me a call. A bigger TED talk, Terry Gross, Oprah, New Yorker article, United Nations meeting, session with Congress, Middle East Peace Talks, Superbowl halftime…whatever. I’m ready. Give me a call.

PS If none of that works, I also do kid’s birthday parties. J

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