Monday, July 31, 2017

Crashing the Clown Car

How does one stay committed to justice and not go crazy knowing so many people are literally getting away with murder? I’m talking about police shooting black folks, war mongers, Wall Street greedy tycoons sending people spinning into poverty, Republicans hoping to cancel people’s health insurance. For starters.

I’m a sucker for courtroom dramas (movies, plays or books) where the bad guy gets convicted and the good guys win. Likewise the fairy tales where the dragon is vanquished, the giant who hid his heart so he could wreak havoc discovers someone found it and dies when they squeeze it, the monsters who see their reflection in the mirror and die from the sight of their own ugliness. But I know “real life” doesn’t always work that way—the murderers of Emmett Till not only got off scot free, but earned $5000 telling their story to Life magazine smirking that they actually did it, George Zimmerman was acquitted after killing Trayvon Martin and then sold the gun he did it with on E-bay for a few hundred thousand dollars. That hurts. It is just so wrong.

But may I say that some perverse part of me is enjoying watching the circus in the White House, feeling more and more confident that the circus tent will collapse. Sean Spicer (not anyone’s idea of a great guy) gets fired, the “Mooche” Scaramucci gets hired and as of yesterday, fired after 10 days in office. 10 days! How many is that now who have been fired in Cirque du TrumpĂ©? Is anyone waking up here? Are the Republicans with an ounce left of political savvy and respect for political process noticing all this and thinking about jumping out of the clown car before it crashes? In a mere 7 months, 45 has managed to put together the most confused and corrupt and transient administration in the history of the Oval Office and no one is predicting an end in sight. I mean, come on, he not only pissed off Fox news, but recently Paul Ryan as well. Not to mention the ongoing Russian investigation and unrevealed taxes and family nepotism. There’s no hiding good intentions behind a smokescreen of rhetoric, just the constant fact of his pathological narcissism at work and why are his voters surprised about this? Perhaps the most astounding thing is that 34% still insist that this Emperor has his clothes on.

But I think others are starting to wake up. Though no one can predict anything these days, I’ll venture a guess anyway that the guy is painting himself into a corner and no one will help him get out. There’s a trap door there and finally someone will signal “push the button” and he’ll fall away out of sight. Wouldn’t that be a perfect fairy tale ending? Won’t it be a fine day when the jury of American voters finally proclaims, “Guilty.” Of what? Of being out of his mind, out of his heart, out of his body, of being loyal to no one but Me! Me! Me!, of committing treasonous acts against the country he’s supposed to be leading, of being the least patriotic citizen in the history of our flawed (but mostly good-intentioned) democratic experiment. May it be so!

Meanwhile, I have yet again the supreme pleasure of gathering in the beautiful Carmel Valley countryside with some 100 lovely souls here to learn how to raise better children through the vehicle of music and dance, some 75 who got past the “America First!” borders and came to invade us with intelligence and love. Folks from Canada, Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Venezuela, South Africa, Taiwan, Thailand, Hong Kong, Singapore, China, Korea, Finland, Spain, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Russia and more. The month turns to August, signaling the imminent return to school. But not yet. First two glorious weeks and then one more in Toronto. May the politico-clowns fall and the teachers rise up!

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Summer of Love—Again

I was 16 years old when the Summer of Love hit in San Francisco. I’d like to say I was so hip that I hitchhiked out there and made the scene, but the reality was I was a year away from starting to grow my hair long. I went to Expo 67 in Montreal with my Aunt Flo and actually dimly remember seeing some hippies and writing something in my mind telling them to get a job. But between the books I read the next year and the music I listened to and the momentum of the times and the Rebel Without a Cause/ Catcher in the Rye developmental stage, it all started to appeal to me. Two years later I hitchhiked to Woodstock, walked some 20 miles all night to the concert site and slept on muddy ground while Jimi Hendrix played on the stage in the distance. Peace, justice, tolerance, mind-expansion, Zen and yoga, brown rice and organic vegetables, rock and roll, loose clothes and bare feet, free love— seemed like a good deal to me! When I came to San Francisco for the first time in 1972 and moved here in 1973, you could still ride on the waves of all that energy. For $45 a month rent and food stamps in a room with a view.

And as I said in a post in June, we have moved from the Summer of Love to the Winter of Hate. All that repressed anger in the South about losing the Civil War, all the undigested grief of slavery and genocide, all the unwept murders coming back as wandering ghosts to haunt us, all the unrelenting greed of the heartless Capitalist soul ravaging the world for a condo in Hawaii and private jet, the unpaid bills of our failures to live our promise of true life, liberty and pursuit of happiness coming due and the tax collector is not kind and understanding. Our refusal to look it all in the face and instead insist we have a nice day shopping at Costco and Walmart, our inability to properly grieve and weep over all we have done, the unchecked power of Wall Street and the circus of clowns in the houses of power knocking each other on the head with baseball bats—it’s all unraveling before our disbelieving eyes.

In my beloved San Francisco, there is still much to celebrate. But the overpowering large-penised Sales Force Tower blights the landscape with its ugly arrogance and a cheap basement studio apartment for one costs $2200 a month, without food stamps. Now the radical music of Dylan and the Beatles and Buffalo Springfield and Simon and Garfunkel and more is played on elevators and in dentist offices, while mainstream media offers a choice between banal formulaic pop and angry hip-hop music. That older anthem of freedom, jazz, worked out in basement clubs and accessible to the man (and woman) on the street is now a classical genre with white-haired white-skinned folks sipping wine at $90 a show.

Not exactly a lot to celebrate on this 50th Anniversary.

And yet. Marijuana and gay marriage are legal in many states, we had a black president and almost a woman president, legal mixed race marriage gave me my grandchildren, and my 8th graders know more about the true history of this country at 13 years old than I did at 33. We have Farmer's Markets, yoga studios galore, mindfulness training (and Orff Schulwerk!) in schools, better clothes and whole generations of hikers and backpackers. We have blogs and Facebook and like-minded friends in countries on every continent wishing us happy birthday, sharing the latest astounding artistic accomplishment filmed in people's kitchens or small villages. The level of political involvement determined to stop the madness is at a new high and even conservative Republicans are starting to consider that their agenda that led to 45 might need to be re-examined. (Repeal Obamacare failed 5 times!) Hope that seemed to be trampled in the mud of the anti-Woodstock Festival in Washington is rising again and folks can dimly hear the strains of Jimi Hendrix playing The Star Spangled Banner in the distance.

“Come on, people, smile on your brother, everybody get together and try to love one another right now.” That path is still possible, but not as easily as we thought with a simple song, some weed and flashing the peace sign. The road must past through grief and the ghosts must be appeased (see paragraph two). And today I go down to the Carmel Valley for the International Orff Course to do what we can to move it along.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Day After

Well, all the birthday hoopla has come and gone and it’s kind of fun to be in the middle of the dancing circle for a while, but just as nice to rejoin it and join in the singing, dancing and praising of the next person to go in. But what a circle! Really moving to read the little Facebook greetings and remember each person and how I knew them and what we gave to each other. Family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, folks I knew in high school, folks I knew in college, kids I’ve taught at the SF School these past 42 years (now adults!) and all the folks in this ever-growing international Orff community that I’ve been so fortunate to be a part of. So much satisfaction that the work that I enjoyed so much, that I simply had to do because it was the only path that made sense for the way I’m put together, that all the small sacrifices and persistent attention and constant desire to do it better paid off by not only making me a inch-by-inch better teacher, but by proving useful and inspiring to other teachers as well. In my advancing years, I’m less and less interested in admiration and adoration and fawning affirmation, but also grateful to hear that I managed to be of help to someone and help nudge them one inch further down their particular path. As others were for me.

About to dive head-first into the next community of healing, the annual Levels Training now in the Carmel Valley, the same unbroken course that I first attended 34 years ago and has grown to an extraordinary international gathering (in your face, America First!) with 6 other extraordinary and fun teachers to share it all with. One day to close out the Jazz Course, do my laundry, get to the bank, pack for the next two weeks, pick up my partners-in-crime at the airport and head south to warmer weather and less enticing food.

Found a Mary Oliver poem that seems right for the occasion of launching my 66th year. ( An excerpt from a poem titled Good Morning from her collection Blues Horses)). Here we go:

“Bless the notebook that I always carry in my pocket.
  and the pen.
Bless the words with which I try to say
            What I see, think or feel.
With gratitude for the grace of the earth.
The expected and the exception both.
For all the hours I have been given to
be in this world.”

Friday, July 28, 2017

Double Digits

According to the calendar, I’m 66 years old today. Inside it’s a different story, but math has its own version of truth. I’ll be spending the day finishing my Jazz Course and what could be better?

Meanwhile, the double digit made me think about the other five times I lived them and I discovered that each was actually a pretty significant year. Probably not interesting to anyone but me, but note the following:

11 years old—Took my first international trip to Toronto. Went to my first 7th grade make-out party and kissed Susan Herman. Listened to the new-on-the-scene group called the Beatles and heard my first jazz album, Time Out, with the Dave Brubeck quartet.

International travel, jazz, some rock (but no more make-out parties) informed the rest of my life.

22—First trip to Europe with the Antioch College Chorus (also the year I graduated college). Kept my first journal. Moved to San Francisco. Went to my first Zen meditation retreat with Joshu Sasaki Roshi down at Mt. Baldy Zen Center.

Now Europe is almost a second home, I still keep a journal, still live in San Francisco and still practice Zen meditation.  

33—First presentation at AOSA (American Orff Schulwerk) National Conference and also NAJE (National Association of Jazz Educators). Arranged my first jazz pieces for Orff instruments (Step Back Baby), met Keith Terry, made a cassette tape of the kids music at my school titled Play, Sing and Dance. Second daughter Talia born.

I’ve gone to every AOSA Conference since that year (33!) and present at about 20 of them, continue to work on Jazz elementary Education and still include Step Back Baby in my jazz courses. Keith Terry’s body percussion work was not only essential for my rhythmic development, but thanks partly to my efforts, is now a known part of body percussion practice in Orff Associations worldwide. Play, Sing and Dance became the title of the best-selling (in the Orff world) book I wrote about this teaching approach. Talia not only treated me to dinner last night, but is my colleague at school!

44—Presented in Australia, taught and performed with the adult Orff performing group Xephyr at the International Orff Symposium in Salzburg, sharing it with the Spanish group Ocho por Uno that included Sofia Lopez-Ibor. Gave my first Orff lecture at another symposium in University of St. Thomas.

Just returned to Australia last year and the Xephyr group was an important experiment in adult performance Orff-style. Sofia came to teach at The SF School the year after and remains a brilliant colleague who continues to inspire me. And now I give a lecture every year at our summer course.

55—Helped create and performed in a meeting of body music groups with Keith Terry at the next Symposium in Salzburg (what was to be the last Xephyr performance). That year I taught in Brazil, China, Spain, Finland, Scotland, Australia and at the Toronto National Conference—five continents represented. Published my 7th book, The ABC’s of Education.

The continued development of body percussion, the international teaching, the writing of books, all now established parts of my life.

So now the $64,000 ($66,000?) question: What will 66 bring? Well, my Pentatonics Jazz Group has a gig on the main stage of SF Jazz next May, so that’s encouraging. More books beg to be written, but as of now, no time set aside for it. More international teaching on my calendar and the obvious question of retirement from the SF School.

But it’s not for me to answer now. If the Fates be kind, check back in with me when I turn 77.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Experienced, Suffered and Used

Every year at the summer Orff Level Trainings, I give a lecture on some aspect of this work.
This year’s is based on the history of the Schulwerk as told by Carl Orff himself. Preparing my talk, I was struck by one part of the story. In 1932, Orff goes to Berlin to meet a man named Leo Kestenberg who was impressed with Orff’s ideas and invited him to try them out in the Berlin schools. Kestenberg’s colleague, Eberhard Preussner, described Berlin at that time thus (boldface mine):

 “…A place that had something to offer that could be described as an attempt to build a new society, a city whose intellectual life was shaped by Einstein, Planck, Spengler and where Schoenberg, Hindemith, Busoni worked, indeed, a metropolis of minds and music. Certainly those ten or twelve years were full of tensions that were not, however, pushed to one side, but were experienced, suffered and used. One was full of hope and of apprehension…”

How well that describes us today! “Full of tensions” is actually the ongoing state of the world, but now those tensions have risen up in monstrous forms and are in our face in each day’s report about the next disgrace in Washington. But pay attention here—Preussner notes that these artists and intellectuals did not push them to the side and instead experienced them, suffered them, and used them to push themselves further down the path of their commitment to artistic expression and scientific thought.

And that is precisely what America as a culture is refusing to do. Instead of experiencing the reality of what has gone down and what’s going down, we rush to the mall to shop and have a nice day. Instead of suffering the grief of our brutality, singing the blues and welcoming the necessary sorrow as the price we pay for joy, we refuse to feel the feelings. And thus the rough hand of depression pushes us down and we turn to drugs to solve it. Instead of using all of this as grist for the mill of deeper thinking and fuller expression, the way that artists do, we cut out arts programs in schools and surf the Internet for get-rich-quick schemes. And thus no healing is possible in the land and we trudge through the grey landscape wounded by our denial, bleeding day and night like the King in the Holy Grail story.

The tensions Preussner mentioned brought hope alongside a realistic and healthy apprehension. As it turned out, such apprehension was well-founded and went far beyond anyone’s wildest nightmares. Just one year after Orff’s promising meeting with Kestenberg, Hitler rose to power, Kestenberg (a Jew) fled, vibrant thought and art were shut down within three months and the 12-year horror began.

And now we have another demagogue leading the nation down into the swamp of disaster, but still we have the hope of redemption. That is, if people agree to the hard work of experiencing, suffering and using the tensions to shut down the assault on human rights and common decency and speak out and live out loud the triumph of the human spirit that knows kindness, beauty and complexity of thought and feeling.

And that includes the radical practice of Orff Schulwerk.