Tuesday, January 2, 2018

All Dressed Up

“All dressed up and nowhere to go” is that sad moment when the world doesn’t meet your invitation, you’re ready and willing and able and have something to offer and all the doors are closed and nobody’s answering your knock. We’ve all been there, yes?

But occasionally the stars align and you’re all set to be the life of the party and all the clothes fit and the invitation comes in time and you find parking right in front of the house and you walk through the door and feel like everyone’s happy to see you.

That’s a little bit of the feeling I got coming back to school after a two-week break. Not that the staff or kids rushed up with wide grins and warm hugs, but the sense that I was once again in the perfect place at the perfect time of life with a perfect opportunity to use my skills and share my passions. It started a couple of days ago when serendipitously, as almost all good things that happen to me happen, I was playing through some tunes in a jazz fake book and hit upon one called Cute. How did I miss it all these years? The perfect simple melody that kids could learn in five minutes and yet will sound great, especially backed by my piano accompaniment. And that led me to another simple (actually simpler) melody I had long considered titled All of a Sudden My Heart Sings and boom! there were my two first 8th grade classes of the New Year, all wrapped up in ribbons and bows ready to be opened.

With all those tens of thousands of hours of teaching behind me, it took my two minutes to think about it how to present it to the kids and how to develop it with variations that keep the music rolling, keep the kids thinking musically, keep the texture of the music shifting and fill 30 minutes of class with great music, with just enough challenge and just enough easy success. And it worked. Perfectly. The kids’ ears opened wider, their musical minds thought deeper, their musical hands got a mild technical workout and their hearts opened, as evidence by one tough 8th grade boy who said, “This makes me feel emotional!”

That short circuit from the spark of the idea to the impulse traveling to the wires of the class and lighting up the minds, hearts, and hands of the kids is enough. But it gets better. Now I have two new pieces to share with those music teachers eager to do some jazz with kids, but unclear as to how to go about it. So these pieces and the details of the way I develop them in class have a place to go beyond the class with the kids and reach teachers who can reach other kids. And with a full schedule of workshops ahead, all the wires are laid for the impulse to travel further. And should I want to share it in a future book, why, my own Pentatonic Press is all set up and ready to go to get the good news told yet further.

None of this happened accidentally. I spent many long years laying down the pathways and knocking on every available door before I discovered the ones that would open. But it does take a certain share of luck and grace and help from my friends to complete the circuits and I am forever grateful that the world agrees. So turning to a new year and wondering if I should retire just because everyone else is, the answer seems a firm “not yet.” Why would I give up this perfect arrangement?

I won’t. But maybe the day after New Year’s is not a bad time to publicly announce the Jazz for Kids CD I hope to record with my group of stellar jazz musicians/ Orff teachers. A hope that has a date at Fantasy Records Recording Studio next Monday. I think I'll dress up for that!

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