Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The "I Can't" Voice

An interesting moment in class today. After we raced through a rollicking version of Irish Polka on the xylophones, one of the students (these are teachers between 20 and 60 years old) was lamenting to a classmate that she couldn’t get it and needed the written music. I happened in on the conversation and told her that she could do it without any written music. “No, I can’t!” “Yes, you can!” “No, I really can’t!” “Yes, I know you can!” Back and forth we went and then I took over to the xylophone and said, “Let’s go.”

We sat down, she showed me what she knew, I helped her by going slower and giving her my complete one-on-one attention and sure enough, after two minutes, she said, “I’m sorry.”

“Who should you apologize to? “ I asked.

“Myself,” she said.

“That’s exactly right. Tell yourself that you’re sorry you listened to that pesky “I can’t” voice when you should have know that indeed you can. Don’t apologize to me! It’s my job to help and that job begins with confidence that you can and just need to find the right way into the music that works for the way you’re put together. And it’s my job to help you find it. So thank you for giving me the opportunity to help you. “

After the break, I shared the story with the whole group and began by asking, “Who here has an
I can’t” voice that talks to them? (Hands all around.) How do you live with it? May I suggest just adding one short word? Yet. I can’t yet. These days, this is called Growth Mindset and I highly recommend it. We all have a thousand things we can’t do and we know it. And some of it we’re absolutely fine with. I know I can’t fix my car, but I’m very happy to pay a mechanic to do it and it doesn’t bother me.

But if we find ourselves upset or disappointed or frustrated that we can’t do a particular thing, it means that we actually want to do it and need to do it. So the next step is to get to work and believe me, that “I can’t” voice is not a good companion for that journey. I suggest putting that away in a box somewhere and shipping it to some distant place.

In fact, why don’t we all put it in an enormous container and send it to the President and every single one of his appointees. Because here is a group of people that think they can and they really can’t, have no right or reason to be in the positions of power they’re in and have no idea how to do their job in any kind of functional way that actually helps people and yet, they think they got it and get it and deserve it. The only think worse than having a pesky “I can’t” voice is having no “I can’t” voice when you really deserve one.

I have 15 assignments to grade and I’d rather go swimming and it’s a lot of work and I hear the whisper of my “I can’t!” voice and am tempted to listen to it! Should I?

Monday, July 30, 2018

Down in the Valley

The Carnival of relentless community bliss continues full tilt. Taught my first classes with the new Level III group and the thought that language doesn’t contain enough superlatives to capture the joy rises again. Such an odd assortment of skills that I’ve crafted, but somehow they are just right to get a group of 30 people playing, singing and dancing with great confidence, musicality, energy and happiness. When it works—and these days, it almost always does—the energy circles back to us all. Beauty in, beauty out, energy expended, energy given back, circles within circles of euphoric celebration of this miracle of life.

After two Basic Orff classes and one recorder class, I strolled up the hill and down to the village. Where am I? Hidden Valley Music Seminars a hop, skip and jump down the road from the small town of Carmel Valley. A quaint place with wine-tasting, a motorcycle museum, an annual antique car show, the Running Iron restaurant and a still-open video rental place that had the movie I was seeking—Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe and Montgomery Clift and more in The Misfits, a classic film we will show Sunday night to the 100 plus folks gathered here from some 25 countries. A taste of an Americana without the modern day shame.

This whole Monterey Peninsula carries much cultural history, most notably John Steinbeck and friends living in Cannery Row and his various books set close by—Cannery Row (of course) and East of Eden, for starters. The great mythologist Joseph Campbell hung out with Steinbeck and biologist Ed Ricketts. As often happens, it is the outliers, the “misfits” that end up being the most interesting people in the town, not so much the bankers, accountants and lawyers.

And so here we are, on the fringe music teachers doing the radical radical work of trying to humanize education, bring zest, humor, fun, beauty and a touch of the profound into the lives of children everywhere. In my recorder class today, I had the teachers make up rhymes about the proper way to play recorder and then proceed to demonstrate how to play improperly. Things like:

“Push the air out with your tongue, so no one overblows,
 Don’t play recorder through your nose!”

And then they get to do both! Can you imagine how the bored kid in recorder class might suddenly perk up in a class like this? And then at the end, when he or she played the song properly, the contrast in sound would teach the lesson of good tone and articulation better than any regimented lesson or Powerpoint Smart-boarded glitzy plan.

This Monterey Peninsula is where my teacher Avon Gillespie first taught Level 1 at The Santa Catalina School and lo and behold, I was in that first class in 1983. Here I am carrying it forward and I’d like to think, proudly, that I’m continued the legacy of Steinbeck and Ricketts and Campbell and Avon, attracted misfits from all corners of the globe that fit into this pedagogy of possibility. “We’re goin’ down to Hidden Valley one by one” we sang at the opening and five minutes later, a hundred plus exuberant souls were showing their motion and behold, it was good.

On to Day Two.

Trouble with Authority

I began my 67th year (well, technically 68th) with an annual ritual swim in the Carmel Valley inn pool. My goal is to swim one lap per year and think of significant events during that year. Kind of a slow-motion “My life passed before my eyes.”

When it came to my elementary school years, I named each teacher and remember one event from that year. As follows:

       1st grade: Mrs. Williams. Sent me behind the piano with a dunce cap.
       2nd grade: Mrs. Tomsu. Taped my mouth shut for an afternoon.
       3rd grade: Miss Rice. Sent me out into the hall. Like almost every day.
       4th grade: Mrs. Hendrickson. Someone tapped me on the shoulder from behind and I flung
                          my arm back and swatted them. It was her.
       5th grade: Mr. Anderson. Made me duck-walk down the hall and back.

And so it went. Pretty much through high school.

My revenge? To become a teacher and do the opposite with my students. Send them to the piano to play it. Encourage them to speak out. Send them out into the hall to hang their art work. Have them do the duck dance.

And then continue the legacy of Mrs. Hendrickson, who understood that I thought she was an annoying student and ended up laughing about it.

Truth be told, I’m sure I deserved some of those punishments. But mostly, I believe my behavior was a healthy resistance to a broken system. I had the choice to perpetuate it or question and change it. And so here I am with 100 plus teachers from around the world in 35th Annual SF Orff Course to encourage them to make the choices that will bring happiness to children and show them some of the details of how to do that. May the wild rumpus start!!

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Power, Fame and Sexual Fulfillment

Let me confess at the outset: my motivation for that title is ridiculous, but hey, it’s how I think. Had this totally random goal of hitting 390,00 page views by my birthday (that’s today) and need 44 more to make that happen. So I thought this title might attract attention.

But meanwhile, I’m obliged to say something about it. A 4-year old at summer school said to me yesterday, “My cousin says you’re famous!” Pretty strange thing for a 4-year old to be thinking about. The beauty of 4-year olds is that they don’t care. They just want to know if you know how to play and can help them if needed. As it should be. I thought of a lovely poem by Naomi Shihab Nye:

The river is famous to the fish.

The loud voice is famous to silence,   
which knew it would inherit the earth   
before anybody said so.   

The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds   
watching him from the birdhouse.   

The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.   

The idea you carry close to your bosom   
is famous to your bosom.   

The boot is famous to the earth,   
more famous than the dress shoe,   
which is famous only to floors.

The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it   
and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.   

I want to be famous to shuffling men   
who smile while crossing streets,   
sticky children in grocery lines,   
famous as the one who smiled back.

I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,   
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,   
but because it never forgot what it could do.

I am a famous fish in a very small pond of Orff-Schulwerk and it’s just the right kind of fame. The kind built workshop-by-workshop with face-to-face contact and occasionally with books and articles and just enough to keep getting me work, but not so much that I have to wear sunglasses in public and sign autographs (well, I do sign books!).

As for power, yes, we all crave it and I am a little disgruntled that at 67-years old, my official titles of power amount to:

1)   Director of a two-week Orff Certification Course.
2)   Leader of the 5-person Pentatonics Jazz band.
3)   CEO of Pentatonic Press.
4)   The Headmaster of every Orff workshop I teach.
5) Chairman of the newly-formed Nunya Academy Board (proud of this one!) 

All of which is fine, but grumpy that I still don’t have an official title as Traditions Coordinator or Culture Bearer at my own school and that important decisions can be made without my consultation because I have no official role that grants me certain powers.

But the power I care most about is the one—or rather, the ones— I keep working on: the power to create instant community, to charge the energy in the room, to bring laughter, joy and happiness to a group, to negotiate my way through 88 keys to bring a room to a beautiful quiet, to lead a song that uplifts and energizes, to recite a poem that invites a deep listening, to tell a story that sets people free in their imagination. That’s the kind of power that really counts.

As for sexual fulfillment, well, did I mention I’m 67-years old today? Enough said.

So my birthday wish is for just enough fame to allow me to keep exercising my powers and the wisdom to know the intimacy of sex in other non-sexual ways. To remember that I don’t have to do anything spectacular, just simply need to remember what I can do. And to keep doing it.

P.S. Made it to 389, 999!

Friday, July 27, 2018


It has been a fine closing to a fine year. 66 was good to me. Yesterday, a simply beautiful sharing from my jazz class folks at the Jewish Home for the Aged, that ended with my folks holding hands with the elders while singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow, many with moist eyes. Then a rollicking preschool sing today, leading a 5th grade class to some happenin’ jazz in a mere 20 minutes, a sharing with the other Orff course on campus with swingin’ versions of Perdido, Jumpin’ at the Woodside, Listen Here and some jazz blues. A poignant closing circle and powerful Little Johnny Brown ending game. A perfect end to 66!

What a fine year it has been. I can’t say that about every year, as so many have involved difficult farewells, small and large betrayals, minor health issues, relationship tangles, the usual ups and downs of the human comedy. But this past year, I seem to have been spared the opera and instead thoroughly enjoyed the steady embrace of a loving circle of community. Wonderful Fall with the Interns and wonderful school classes with the kids, a moving public celebration of my teacher Avon, and in the New Year, a rich and rewarding schedule of teaching and touring in China, Thailand, India, Niagara Falls, Mexico City, Michigan, New Jersey, New Orleans, Ghana, Spain. Amazement that I fulfilled my long-time dream of producing our first Doug Goodkin & the Pentatonics CD and got to perform on the main stage at SF Jazz. Fabulous visits with the grandkids and big milestones as one learned to read and the other made huge leaps in speaking. A peaceful time with my wife as we have learned after all these years how to be together and how to be apart (haven’t seen her in two months what with her summer travels and mine!).

And so tomorrow 67. Not a very dramatic number, the unsettling sense of one more chunk taken out of my increasingly diminishing future, the satisfaction of one more year of stories and vision affirmed and deepened. I have the day mostly free and then will make dinner for the teachers coming to teach in the next Orff Course in the Carmel Valley.

Jimmy Stewart and Louis Armstrong had it right—It’s a Wonderful Life and What a Wonderful World. May the wonders continue in the next 365 days!