Friday, March 31, 2017

Satisfying Ending

It’s no secret that I care deeply about enticing beginnings, connected middles and satisfying endings, whether it be in a piece of music, a novel, a film, a music class or a human life. My life teaching music and my life lived as music have joined together and are now one and the same. A mere 12 days ago, I gave an opening class to this group of 16 teachers gathered in Salzburg that enticed us all to jump into the deep end of the water, the place where the waters are most refreshing, the colors of the fish swimming below most vibrant, the effort to stay afloat enough to keep us alive and alert and in shape without exhausting us. Sharks are a possibility, but we protect each other and they sense that they are not wanted here.

And so class after joyful class, we dove in, doing the hard work of revelation. Diving deep and coming up for air to show and share the treasure we found at the bottom, those hidden or timid parts of ourselves we put out of the world’s clutches that we now could claim and own and publicly celebrate. Yes, the waters got frothy and turbulent at times, it’s part of the deal and we each of us finally accepted it even as our habitually frightened selves were cautious or distrusting of our immense power and beauty. And all of this happened side-by-side with the details of how to create and sustain music classes with children, right next to the safe territory of important skills and concepts like scales and rhythms and the architectural forms of music. Our minds were active, confused, clear and engaged. Our bodies were active, struggling, mastering and fully alive. Our ears were listening, listening and again, listening. Our hearts were open, vulnerable, hurting, healing. And for all but two people, all of this in a second language!!

In our last 90-minute session that stretched to 150, we began with the exact same opening as 12 days ago, now experienced differently because we had become different people. Same point in the circle, but higher up the spiral. After a song and dance, a little talk about how we might be different. How this work allowed me to feel closer to these folks in 12 days than with someone I’ve worked with at school for 42 years. How the road to this piece of paradise goes through the hard territory of all our childhood—and adulthood—wounds, hurts and disappointments rearing their ugly heads to haunt us and make us doubt. How our vision of the world as it could be is both glorious and terrifying because now we expect ourselves to fulfill and create it. And up come the doubts—can we do it? Will our local cultures—voices inside of us/ family/ friends/ school/ political climate/ etc.—encourage us, ignore us or beat us down? Because once they get wind of the fact that we might not accept the commonplace, the dull, the narrow, the mundane, the hurtful practices that pass for a life, they’re on the lookout to bring us down. It takes a special kind of strength and support to hold steady and keep our heads high.

And that’s who these folks have become for each other and hopefully, one inch deeper and stronger because I both showed this practice in my classes and spoke clearly and openly about it. In the quality of their participation, the quality of their listening, the quality of their comments, I felt that they were with me each step of the way. And then as they spoke in their closing circle, I was affirmed in my perception. They got it. All of it. The terror and the beauty, the hope and the doubt, the clear knowledge that they had some 10,000 hours of work ahead of them.

But such a fun and satisfying 10,000 hours!! None of it casual or easy, but all of it worthy and joyful at its root—no mere getting through drudgery to earn a piece of paper. Time spent playing with those glorious little beings we call children, time spent playing with those equally glorious adults with their childlike selves still alive and glowing.

In the closing circle, I had the good sense to shut up and just deeply listen, despite the thousand affirming comments I could have made. But when one asked me directly, “What do you think of all this crying we’re doing?” I answered simply: “I love it. Camus said 'Live close to tears' which means no hiding from life’s terror and glory. Look it full in the face, sing to it, dance with it, play with it, converse with it and yes, the tears will come and also the laughter, a deep authentic laughter. The kind we had every day of our classes."

From the closing talking circle to my new favorite song, “Gonna Build Me a Mountain” followed by the tender Estonian song with heads on backs, breathing together and feeling our mutual vibrations and then a final Kiss of Peace (new for me but perfect for this group) to each person in turn around the circle. An exuberant body percussion phrase we learned with the exclamation point at the end, “LI!!” (well, this a private joke)—and we’re done.

But then the coda. Lunch outside on this clear, hot summer’s day in March. Sitting in the nearby park. Nobody seemed to want to leave. Final photos and hugs—again—and off to the train station I went. And now writing this on the train on the way to Munich and the next chapter.

Yes, every group is special and worthy of remembrance and many times I have said, “But this one…!!!" Comparisons are odious, but I say again that it was an extraordinary honor and privilege to be with each and every one of these luminous beings and I will frame our final group photo and keep it on my desk to greet them each morning and remember what beauty and love we have wrought. 9 bows and Ashay, ashay to Mohsen, Mona, Mehrnaz, Dena, Anna, Sencer, Ezgi, Duygu, Gustavo, Diego, Pilar, Hana, Jessika, Li, James, Julia— Special Course 2017.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Feeding the World

The first thing I see when I look out my Motel One window each morning is a worker in the Merkur arranging the fruits and vegetables. Day after day she wakes early to make sure that the food is not only replenished to feed the world, but artfully arranged. All the different shapes and colors and weights of food that nourish our bodies and sustain us displayed to attract us.

And so I awake on the last of 10 extraordinary days with 16 extraordinary people in Salzburg for my own version of feeding the world. Planning how to artfully arrange the tones and rhythms and sonic colors that nourish the Spirit and sustain us through the chaos of the world by creating order, meaning and beauty. This morning is our Last Supper, but there will be no betrayal and the future sacrament of wine and wafers will be all the classes with children awaiting us.

There will be tears today, a watershed of deep feeling that already began yesterday afternoon for me as I showed photos of my teacher Avon, a video of my Mom, a letter from a former student and was treated by three students to a performance of the Barcarolle by Offenbach inspired by a poem I wrote years back about my dying father. As is my custom, I like to invite the Ancestors into the circle and their presence is part of which makes the meal more memorable than a fast-food feeding.

It is a strange life, this instant opening of letting strangers enter the market of the heart and pinch the fruits and peel back the skins and release the flavors and cook the feelings evoked by each song and dance artfully ordered. The price is the inevitable bittersweet goodbye, the reluctant getting up from the table and going back home where the bills and mortgage payments await, the gratitude that we shared these moments together and they’ve become an indelible part of our future selves mixed with the sadness that soon we won’t wake up to be greeting by these smiling faces and warm hugs. For me, already difficult in a short two weeks, for them, still three months after the six they’ve already been together and when that farewell comes, it will be an ocean of salty tears.

But this is the life that has chosen me and I wouldn’t have it any other way. The last apple is put in place and the Market is about to open.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

It Is Good

“If it sounds good, it is good.”   —Duke Ellington

“How does it sound?” I often ask at the end of a piece in my classes. If the group says “Good!” I quote the Duke.

And if it is good, it means we feel good. The rhythms and meters and grooves and melodies and harmonies and textures shape themselves in our bodies, bring our separate bodily systems into accord. It changes our breathing, changes our heartbeat, incites the body to organized movement, from the tapping toe to the swiveling hip to the whole body explosion. When we move, we are moved. E-motion means things are on the go and traveling to some destination of fuller presence and awareness and connection and we become feeling beings instead of asleep automatons. Our bodies awaken into something larger and more meaningful than two legs transporting our head from one dull subject to another.

When we feel good, we also feel connected, not only with our own self, our bodies, hearts and minds aligned harmoniously, but with the others in the room making or sharing the music with us. James Brown’s “EEYOW!!” changes pronouns to “We feel good, we knew that we would…”

So when the music is good, then we are good and when we are good, we are good together and when we are good together, the community is refreshed and when the community is refreshed, the echoes and ripples radiate out to the larger world and a little piece of healing happens. How could we go on without this?

One full day ahead and a final morning class with this exceptional group of people in Salzburg and I’m feeling like James Brown meets Mozart’s Requiem. So joyful to get to make music and dance for some 8 hours tomorrow, so painfully aware that all good things must end and though “the melody lingers on when the song is over,” the lingering is not as uplifting as the melody itself. There will be time enough of Friday to feel the full bittersweet flavor— meanwhile, on to Duke’s music tomorrow, in full confidence that it will sound good, be good and make us good people even gooder.

The Fire This Time

What is the role of political satire? Seems to me a way to expose the hidden agendas of people and policies that hide under misleading language, pretend they’re doing something wonderful for humanity when they’re just disguising their own greed and selfishness and narrow self-serving thinking. But what happens when they don’t bother and try to hide it?

During this last year’s Campaign of Horror, it constantly struck me that the guy was bringing out into the open the hidden hatreds and proud ignorance of his constituents. He was popular because he said straight out what he thought without any apologies for political correctness or any veneer of tolerance. Some found it refreshing and apparently enough found it refreshing enough that he’s sitting in the Oval Office trying to figure out how to do a job he knew he was completely unprepared for and unqualified for.

The thought that everything good-hearted and clear-thinking people worked so hard for— simple things like “It’s no okay to be racist. It’s not okay to treat woman as mere sexual objects. It’s not okay to disclaim something just because you choose not to believe it. It’s not okay to mock disabled people. It’s not okay to lump masses of people under one stereotype.”—was now yesterday’s news and it was open season for any Tom, Dick or Harry to disparage Meryl, Malala or Mexicans.

But now I wonder. James Baldwin predicted "the fire next time" and just when we thought it was snuffed out, it appears to still be burning. It’s time to hold powerful politician’s feet to it. For example:

1.     Ivana and Betsy DeVos hosted something for young girls in school in honor of Women’s History Month. They told them to study hard and go into the sciences at the same time the Husband/Boss was cutting funds to education and scientific research and disclaiming Science as real. The fact that they felt like they had to pretend to encourage young girls means that feminists and teachers created a standard of discourse that is still true—young girls should have all opportunities available to them and education is important enough that the government should wholly fund it. So now it’s back to hide-and-seek and it’s time to call them out.

2.     Similarly, Trump hosted a televised gathering celebrating Black History month and proclaimed that Frederick Douglass was doing great things. Of course, he’s shameless about his ignorance (he seemed to imply Mr. Douglass was still around). But again, the fact that the Toddler-in Chief felt compelled to praise both Douglass and Martin Luther King means that he’s publicly recognizing they’re worthy of praise, even as their lives and thought were 180 degrees in the other direction from his own.

3.     Somehow I’m on some White House e-mail newsletter list and though my first impulse was to get off as fast as I could, my second thought was to notice how they talk about things. In talking about the nomination of Judge Gorsuch, they filled it with liberal-sounding ideas like “deep respect for the rule of law, integrity, professional competence, judicial demeanor, highly principled, fair and even-handed, has reverence for our country’s values” and more—in short, all things that the not-to-named guy who nominated him doesn’t have. It could be possible that that guy nominated him to balance his own dismantling of reverence for our country’s values, but let’s not be na├»ve here. The game is to pack the court with those committed to dismantling the country of increasing equity we have become.

My point? The fire of real values is still the standard by which people defend their actions and though it’s being used as a smokescreen, it is far better than “I hate these people and a culture of inclusiveness and people who want me to pay taxes on my billions to support things like education and health care and I’m proud of it all!” Though things like this leaked out during the campaign, the official discourse is now demanding the illusion of fairness and integrity and the rule of law. So that helps define our job. Grab their feet and hold them to the fire.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Latin Jeopardy

It’s time for Latin Jeopardy. Test yourself. (Remember the question is a statement and the answer is a question. Who thought of that weird detail?)

1.     It was the official motto of the United States.
2.     It is found on something that we carry with us most every day.
3.     It is stated on something also on the above.
4.     The bird holds two things in its talons.
5.     The above bird is facing one of those things and it represents something.
6.     In 1956, Congress changed it to a new motto.
7.     There are two more Latin sayings on that common household object.
8.     The current regime has reversed all of the above.

How did you do?

Just as I thought. We carry these things around with us every day, but are woefully ignorant of them and even more ignorant of the message they carry. Time to educate ourselves.

Answers below:

1.     What is E Pluribus Unum? “Out of many, one.”
2.     What is a dollar bill?
3.     What is The Great Seal?
4.     What is an olive branch and arrows?
5.     What is the olive branch, symbol of peace?
6.     What is “In God We Trust?”
7.     What is Annuit Coeptis—“Providence approves of our undertakings” and Novus ordo seclorum—“A New Order of the Ages?”
8.     a) What is “Out of one, one and deport the many?”
b) What is “The eagle’s head is now turned to the arrows?”
c) What is “God, we trusted you and you let Trump happen?”
d) What is “A New Disorder of the Ages?”
d) What is “Providence. Really?!! This is okay with you?!!”

     Keep studying your dollar bill. Next test is "The Pyramid and the Eye."