Friday, June 30, 2017

Wait, WHAT?!!

Browsing through Facebook, I came upon an excellent short graduation speech based on five questions. Couldn’t find it again to figure out who the person was and can’t remember the last question, but I liked it a lot and think it has something to offer the extraordinarily low level of public discourse we find ourselves in. The four questions with my comments:

1.     “WAIT, WHAT?!!!” So we’re listening to a speaker and have given up our thinking brain counting on them to say the things we think we want to hear to keep ourselves comfortable and not have to think deeper than an inch below the surface. As in, “So we Republicans are going to turn back Obamacare!” and we’re thinking, “Yeah! Right on! We’ll show those lousy Democrats!!” and keep cheering along. “This will mean 22 million people without sufficient healthcare” and we continue “Yeah! That’s what I’m talking about! This is the best idea…WAIT! WHAT?!!! Did you just say 22 MILLION? And I might be one of them? Hold on here!!”

2.     “COULDN’T WE AT LEAST…?” as in, “Couldn’t we at least take a moment to think a little more clearly about this? Shouldn’t we read this proposal and consider whether it really is what we want and whether it will really help ‘make America great again?’ beyond freeing up more parking spaces and less rush-hour traffic when we decrease the surplus population by letting folks die who can’t pay big bills?”

3.     “I WONDER WHY AND I WONDER IF… as in “I wonder why these Republicans call themselves Christians when Jesus was very clear about helping the meek and poor? I wonder if their hearts might grow a size or two if they knew a friend or family member without millions of dollars who has a pre-existing condition that would deny them treatment?

4. “HOW CAN I HELP?”  Might this be a better question than “How can I win? How can I show you what a loser you are and how it’s your fault you don’t have the money that I have to take care of my health care bills? How can I make insurance companies richer?”

So next time you get in a political discussion with your distant cousin or Uncle Don, keep these in mind. “Wait, what? Did you really mean what you said just then? And if you did, couldn’t we at least take a moment to think about it another way? I wonder why you think that’s true and I wonder if it’s possible that you’re open to another point of view based on actual facts? And remember how you helped me that one time? Might we ask how we can help others?”

Not surprisingly, I’m tuned into the political disaster that is bringing us to our knees and am especially aghast at the sheer cruelty of the so-called Health Care proposal that cares for nothing beyond making rich corporations richer. But I do believe that these questions are applicable in all sorts of situations. (And if anyone can point me to the speaker who put them together and remind me of the fifth one, I’d be ever so grateful.)

How Sweet It Is

I’m not big on bumper sticker clich├ęs, but this one I feel deeply: “Today is the first day of the rest of my life.”

Why? Because literally for the first time in three long and difficult weeks, I feel wholly myself again. I can speak, I can sing, my throat stops catching when I breathe and I am not coughing. Perhaps a coincidence that I just took my last antibiotic pill, but no matter why. Just the simple fact of feeling something called “normal” is enough for me to host a one-man party of “Yee-haw!!!” Teaching was so much more pleasurable, I’m more connected in conversations, I can walk through the world and see more deeply, hear more clearly, taste more delightfully the sheer gift of being alive. I soldiered through my sickness the best I could, did my best to add too much self-pity to the mix and convinced myself that I could teach as well sick as healthy. But how much better this feels!

Gratitude to all the healing forces that gathered, even if you seemed to take your sweet time doing it! Thanks for the concern from friends and family and appreciation to the workshop participants who supported me and could see past the cough and cracked voice to the deep point of the lessons.

So today is indeed the first day of the rest of my life and I hope I’m not asking too much for it to be filled with the blessing of good health. For my part, I will use that energy as best I can to continue the work of helping to heal a sick planet. And do my best to remember the deep blessing of simply being alive. As Jackie Gleason used to say, “How sweet it is!”

Enlarging the Soul

“Every object truly, rightly seen, unlocks a new faculty of the soul.” 
      Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Every musical groove, rightly played, sung, danced and felt, unlocks a new faculty of the soul.”       -Me

And so another marvelous day in this wonderfully weird world of Orff workshops. The pay-off for creating a lesson that step-by-step reveals the intricate workings of a great piece of music is that they play it well and we all are refreshed by the groove. And so many different grooves to explore! In the last two days alone, the North Ghana xylophone groove, the Deep South blues groove, the Big Band Swing groove, the exquisite slow ballad groove, the Latin Jazz Groove and more. Each one charged the air with an electric power and each in its own particular style. After the last note, we walked out the door to lunch still singing, the buzz still in the air.

And because we learned each piece through the body, through the hand, through the heart, through the voice, through the ear, through the imagination, through the analytic intellect (always last in line), we felt the full vibration of each note from our toes to our head and back again. And because our intent was revelation of the particular beauty each of us carries inside, because our concern was connection—with the music, with ourselves and with each other, because our hope was joy shared and multiplied, we grew so much larger than those musicians who just want to show off technique or outplay their competitors. People felt free to try new things (stand-up bass particularly popular), to try out a pentatonic solo on Moonglow and just hear what happens, to choreograph a dazzling Lindy Hop to live music.

And so all day long, as it has been for the last four days, we are immersed in a carnival of Soul, with new faculties opening right before our eyes and ears and in full view of our fellow players. We have grown large enough to have deep conversations without fear of being misunderstood, to cry in front of with each other, to laugh with each other, to set aside any remorse for how we might have taught better or played better or lived better and just open the door wide to the bright new day that beckons.

Emerson would have been proud.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Rise Sally Rise

I have no problem crying in public, especially in front of a class of kids or adults I’m teaching. But today I was an inch away from breaking down totally in front of 40 beautiful Colombian souls. And no surprise. The unspoken saying is, “It ain’t a jazz class until the teacher cries.”

This one came from a session of videos showing the progression from Minstrel Shows to Vaudeville to Broadway Musicals to Hollywood Musicals. Clips from The Jazz Singer, Singing in the Rain, Stormy Weather. It started with Al Jolson singing Mammy in blackface, went on to Bill Robinson and Shirley Temple and Fred Astaire’s tribute to Bill Robinson with a twist (he’s in blackface) and ended with Fats Waller, Bill Robinson, Cab Calloway and the dazzling Nicholas Brothers.

One student asked when Americans realized what incredible contributions black people made with the sheer genius of their skill, spirit and hard work in music, dance and such. When did they realize what a mistake they had made treating them so badly? When did they acknowledge the deep spirit of their work and thank them for what they gave to the world? And my answer was, “When indeed. Well, not quite yet.”

I started talking about my theory of no progress until we as a culture apologize and not only apologize, but deeply feel the grief of the suffering mainstream white folks have caused, let the deep sorrow in. Of course, people in general are terrified of opening their hearts to emotion, too scary and vulnerable. And people inheriting the story of unearned privilege that not only have to face messy emotions, but also the death of their fantasy of racial superiority, are even less likely to go there. So we deny, deny, deny, repress, repress, repress, hide, hide, hide and the catastrophe continues unchecked. We cheer for the black athletes of our home team, but grow conveniently silent around the next police murder of a black man driving. We refuse to learn our history and wrap ourselves in the pop fluff sensation of constant electronic distraction and the hideous ignorance of the daily news shows. And so on and so on.

In the middle of one sentence, I stopped and felt the waves of sorrow and grief rise in my body and that was when I could have fallen to the floor in uncontrollable sobs. Instead, I channeled the energy into my go-to song in these occasions and got the whole room to eventually join me. The song that says precisely what we need: Go down into grief, choose to go down, awake and alert and willing to cry and weep for all we have done. And then rise up, wipe the eyes, turn to the one you love best and you don’t get to choose. Just spin around in a circle with your eyes half-closed and arm raised with finger pointing and wherever it stops, that’s the one you will go down to cry with. Whether it’s a disabled lesbian black Muslim or a Trump-supporting Republican, you just grab their hand and go down. (Though the latter will not likely be at the Orff workshop and if so, willing to either hold your hand nor sing nor get down—but hey, I’m willing to be surprised.) Don’t avoid grief and repentance, but also don’t wallow in guilt and remorse. Wipe your eyes and rise up singing. It’s a new day and the rising will heal exactly proportionate to the depth of the grief. And look at Fats and Bill Robinson and the Nicholas Brothers! Didn’t you feel their joy? That’s what the triumph of the spirit looks and feels like.

Thank you to these lovely Colombian folks for sharing the moment with me. Americans, are you ready to go down? I mean, really ready? Let’s go.

Little Sally Walker, sitting in a saucer.
Cryin’ and a’weepin’ over all she has done.
Rise, Sally, Rise. Wipe those cryin’ eyes.
Turn to the East, Sally. Turn to the West, Sally.
Turn to the very one that you love the best.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Bubbles and Balloons in Bogota

And so from Brazil to Bogota, Colombia, a surprisingly long 6-hour flight and arrived having saved two hours from the time change. Met by my former students and good friends Bea and Sandra and whisked off to a lovely Asian restaurant by a park. Bea’s husband and 5-year old daughter came as well, the same daughter that was in the belly when Bea took Level III with me. Something special about that.

The food was excellent and in the park, one man was blowing large bubbles and another selling balloons. My time in Sao Paolo was extremely urban, from the hotel to the school to the hospital to the shopping mall, no time or opportunity to soak in a city park. So it was a refreshing change to eat stir-fry looking out at bubbles and balloons.

Off to my next hotel, feeling a bit winded walking up 4 flights of stairs and then realized that Bogota is at 8,675 feet altitude! That’s high! Up early the next morning to start the next 5-day Jazz Course, this in a lovely private school with a bird sanctuary, friendly staff and beautiful plantings. The energy and spirit of the 40 Colombians quite similar (no surprise) to the 44 Brazilians and both groups were impressive in terms of the number of men—about 15 in each case, rare for Orff workshops. A fine day, but once again, my voice failed me. Tomorrow will try a microphone. Maddening to teach without full voice!!!!

Driving back with three of the students, we got pulled over by the police. I had remembered from my first time here 7 years ago that Bogota’s strategy to ease traffic is to only allow people to drive every other day. They have it figured out with a license number system. Of course, some get around it by buying two cars. But my driver forget this wasn’t his day and we got pulled over by the police. We tried the light banter “Please be kind! An innocent mistake!” approach (and it was- the driver simply had forgotten), but the policeman was not giving. The punishment was to take the car right then and there to some far away place where you had to pay lots of money to get it back. Looked like we were going to have to leave to take a taxi when the driver told us to wait and went back to talk some more the police. Apparently, the police suggested that he could just pay them some money directly, he did and off we drove. Corruption is alive and well! But in this case, mercifully so. He paid them each about $20 instead of the $200 and many hours it would have cost otherwise. But worried it could happen again, he left the car with a nearby friend and we all got a taxi. And we got a story out of it.

I am happy to report an increase in bicycles and also bicycle lanes. And the neighborhood I’m in has lots of trees and walkways through greenbelts. In the distance, some mountains. And nice to be in a place where I can actually mostly speak the language. Teaching in Spanish in Sao Paulo was just fine, but felt bad not to join in the dinnertime Portuguese conversation or talk with the people in the supermarket.

So back in the traveling music teacher mode, still not as wholly here as I would wish, but the cough is disappearing and I’m ever hopeful the antibiotics will fully kick in. We’ll see what tomorrow brings. And I hope it includes bubbles and balloons!