Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Right Livelihood

We had a spirited discussion in my Men’s Group tonight (yep! I’m in one and still going strong after 26 years!) about Community Service. It began with, “Are we doing enough?” and soon went to “What is it?” The first thoughts were the obvious ones—the beach clean-up, feeding the homeless, planting trees—but soon widened into the thought that anything we do that uses our skills and passions and also serves the health and well-being of the community is a community service.

I confessed that the usual notion of Community Service feels to me like a white liberal guilt thing, a token short-term act that yes, might help someone or fill a need, but doesn’t get to the root of the situation. Yes, I’ve fed the homeless and cleaned up the beach and planted a tree and all of it was fine and everyone on the planet did it, what a wonderful world it would be. Maybe. But my community service is more at the root of changing the stories that make the mess in the first place and aiming for a life where we all cultivate a passion and skill that serves the community. Me playing the piano every Friday at the Jewish Home for the Aged felt to others in the group like a community service, but I resisted the notion to call it that. I don’t do it help the “poor elders,” I do it because—well, how could I not? It brings so much joy to everyone in the room and that includes me. If the joy in the room was only for me or only for them, I probably wouldn’t do it. For it to be authentic service—and already that word is adding too much—it needs to feed both the giver and the recipient.

Someone in the group called on the Buddhist term “Right Livelihood,” work that is honest, ethical, does minimal harm and aims for health and healing. That’s clear and simple and naturally, if everyone followed it, well, that indeed would be a wonderful world. No arms dealers, no bomb-makers, no NRA, no hate groups, no drug pushers, no Wall St. gluttons, no fast-food advertisers, no violent videogame makers. It’s a long list. Then there’s the good professions with people doing their job poorly and causing harm—from the music teachers to the doctors.

When people ask me about my summer, I reply, “I never had a bad day.” And it was true. Because whether I was working in the field that I love so much or soaking in some restful time with sun and water, I was happy because I was living the life I was meant to live. And happy again that it brought some small degree of light, happiness and love to the teachers I trained and the kids I worked with, some inspiration for them to pass the torch to keep the marathon of music running. That’s the kind of community service I like.

And I get to do it again at school tomorrow! Hooray!

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Home Sweet Home

The mind is an extraordinary thing. On one hand, I felt casual about beginning my 42nd year of school this morning and thought I was going to skip the teaching-naked-in-front-of-the-class dreams that reveal the anxiety that often precedes starting the school year. But last night I did have that recurring dream of being back in my New Jersey childhood home and also woke up at 3:30 am, the subconscious mind’s way of saying, “This is worthy of at least a little attention.”

I liked the childhood home dream because school is home, home and yet again home. The place I literally shared with my wife and daughters and nephews and neighbors and friends and colleagues and also the place where everything I dreamed of becoming and creating mostly came to pass. And so in I walked, started alone in my room playing Bach on the Steinway, greeted teachers in the hall, met my first 8th grade class and initiated them into my standing-up “Good morning, Mr. Goodkin!” ritual, tongues firmly in cheek, but something important about the feeling in this, our last year. And then off we went, a Boom Chick a Boom, into some hard-swinging jazz groove and they got it first time. Yeah! Then followed by a group of 5-year olds that did the class the way I hoped the 4-year olds in Toronto would have (see my blog Victorious Defeat!) and what a pleasure that was! Then Singing Time with our music teachers/ Intern band, This Land Is Your Land accompanied by guitar, banjo, cuatro, kantale, stand-up bass and spoons. Yeah!

Truth be told, I’m getting weary of having to think about and talk about retirement just because my number is high and my peers are stepping into a new life. I love the life I’ve crafted and at least on the first day of 170 more or so to come, ain’t nothin’ broke and nothing that needs fixin’. I love teaching, I love teaching kids, I love teaching these kids in this school. And it didn’t hurt that a new 5-year old, cute as could be, said to me at the end of class while putting on her shoes: “You’re a great, great, great, great, great, great music teacher!” Of course I replied, “And you’re a great, great, great, great, great, great student!”

I’m going back tomorrow. Will keep you posted.

Monday, August 29, 2016


Colin Kaepernick is my new hero. Not because he threw the touchdown pass that won the Super Bowl for the 49er’s football team but because he did something much more important—he spoke out about something that is wrong. In this case, choosing not to stand up for the national anthem until such time as our nation delivers its long overdue promissory note of Liberty and Justice for all. As long as policemen can continue to murder innocent black men, captured on camera with little or no ambivalence as to the wrong-doing and then excused with no consequences and in fact, a paid leave, we are far from delivering. And so this courageous young man, at great peril to his fan base and perhaps his future career, has chosen a small symbolic act to call attention to something that continues precisely because so few who could and should are speaking up about it.

After I saw his interview—so calm, so clear, so honest, so morally upstanding—I went to Amoeba Records. It is Charlie Parker’s birthday today and I wanted to honor him by getting a newly-released disc of Unheard Bird. While I was there, blues singer Albert King was filling the room through the speakers with a song that said, “Had you told it like it was, it wouldn’t be like it is.” Brilliant! The song was actually about a failed relationship, but hey, that’s exactly what we have here on a collective scale. Such a poetic way to say that the maddening continuance of brutality, hatred and officially sanctioned violence is allowed to continue because enough people are not telling it like it was—and is. They keep skipping around it or hiding the truth in euphemisms or ignoring it in the history books.

What would have happened if the preachers had refused to use the Bible as an excuse for slavery and the brutal treatment of other human beings? If the scientists had refused to cook up the trumped-up theories of racial superiority? If the politicians had refused the 3/5th of a human being proposal? What would happen today if all the athletes and movie stars and musicians went on strike until such time as the police were held accountable and murderers were brought to justice? Our refusal to have the necessary conversations, to hold the Truth and Reconciliation Hearings, to have an official government apology, is precisely what allows it all to continue unchecked. It forces brave folks like Colin Kaepernick to call attention through a radical and peaceful protest.

Naturally, those who enjoy the privilege of whiteness are now outraged at the lack of respect not standing for the anthem shows. They’re not outraged about Trevor Martin or Eric Garner or Michael Brown or Tamir Rice or any of the 102 unarmed—I repeat, unarmed—black youths killed by police in 2015 alone. They’re not enraged by the lack of respect black soldiers got when they returned home from wars fighting for their country. They’re more upset that someone is not standing when a song saluting a piece of cloth is sung.

Albert King again:

“Had you told it like it was, it wouldn’t be like it is.”  

He got that right. Thanks, Colin, for the courage to tell it. You put the ball up in the air and now it’s up to us to catch it and run with it. What glory there will be in that touchdown!

Rhymes with Orange

It’s Monday and the last day of my summer vacation. Tomorrow I put my shoulder to the wheel and start my 42nd year at The San Francisco School rolling. Always a Herculean effort and there’s a bit of Sisyphus in it also, as that great big boulder of work that sat on the summit last June rolls down the hill again in July and August. But it’s a small price to pay for the chance to live the glory of summer, both the days at the beach and the workshops with teachers.

It indeed has been a glorious summer. A week in San Francisco to let the end of school echo like the last ring of the Balinese gong and then off to those remarkable two weeks in Ghana, the pleasure of Spain again in spite of lost luggage, the joyful reunions in Salzburg with folks from around the globe and then 10 days of genuine vacation in Sicily without a single clapping pattern or Orff instrument. Then back to San Francisco for the always-stirring Jazz Course taught—oh joy!— in my own music room and my 65th birthday celebrating by taking the jazz students to the Jewish Home for mitzvahs and miracles. Then down to the Orff Olympics in Carmel Valley, 28 countries cooperating (not competing) and each won the gold, amidst the smoky mornings from the Big Sur fires. Off to Michigan for the A section of my life’s rondo, that summer paradise my family has returned to every year for some four decades. Swimming and hiking and biking and reading and game-playing every day with my two grandchildren in the center, fresh corn and tomatoes and barbecue and the nightly sunset over Lake Michigan. And then off to Toronto, another A section rondo in my Orff Course life, my six block radius on Bloor St., both new and familiar faces, an exquisite piano in a beautiful room in the Conservatory where Carl Orff and Gunild Keetman first brought the Schulwerk to North America. A perfect ending to a perfect summer and worth every bit of the general low salary, lack of status and dignity teachers are given in American culture. (Where’s your 10-week summer vacation, Mr. Big-Shot Businessman?)

And that brings me back to Monday, my sacred day just about my whole teaching career where I have it entirely to myself. Today is the hinge that swings the door between Summer and Fall, a time to try to file away the accumulated piles of papers and books and CD’s from the summer’s work and turn to the mountain awaiting the ascent of the boulder—school schedules, rosters, TB shots, emergency forms, meeting schedules, ordering materials, planning classes, meeting the new teachers and kids, greeting the old. Walking yet again down the same hall where my feet have trod since 1975, only now not passing my newly-retired wife in the hall hanging up art work. It will be different. But then again, it always is.

As for the title, I once had a student named Jordan who was on the edgy side of the behavior spectrum. Word has it he is now a pick-up truck-with-gun Republican. Once when we were camping with his class, we played a rhyming word game and I threw in the word “orange” as a joke, explaining that nothing rhymes with orange. “That’s not true!” Jordan exclaimed. “Really? Well, tell us what rhymes with orange?”

And to our utter amazement (and relevant to my experience today), he replied: