Friday, August 31, 2018

Farewell to Summer

And so September begins tomorrow. Every day is a chance to renew one’s vows, but the turn of the year, the season, the month sometimes calls for some reflection and intentions. Here are mine for September:

1)   To finish the first (or second) draft of at least one book.
2)   To record my first (or several) podcast.
3)   To begin to contribute with time and/or money to turning things around in November.
4)   To memorize a few Goldberg Variations and keep working on jazz skills
5)   To organize the New Orleans Jazz course for next summer
6)   To keep biking or hiking most every day.
7)   Etc.

Even as I bid farewell to summer, September is summer, weatherwise, that is, in San Francisco. Looking forward to some warm days, Opera in the Park, Comedy in the Park, some great SF Jazz shows and movies as good as the one I saw tonight, BlackkKlansmen. (Do see it and join my number 3 resolve above!)

And so a ritual Hares and Rabbits as we turn to the 9th month. 

Dolphin, Ghost and Toilet

I imagine you might be wondering about that title. It would be a good writing exercise for you to write a short story with that title. Or an essay. Or a poem

Meanwhile, here’s the story. While I’m doing well staying put in my chair at home to get this writing done that I’ve promised myself I’d do, I do need to get up and about in the afternoon. Knowing I wanted to continue playing on Friday afternoons at the Jewish Home for the Aged and that it will feel good to keep doing Preschool Singing at school (I can imagine myself doing that at 90) and knowing that the two places are just a mile apart, I signed up to do the Preschool Sing every Friday afternoon before going on to the Home. And today was the first class.

No surprise that it was every bit as delightful as it always is. While reviewing Funga Alafia, I spoke what the gestures mean in English and then told the kids that we were going to switch to some West African languages (Hausa and Yoruba). I asked if any of them spoke any other languages and the hands shot up. “Spanish!” “Italian!” “Hawaiian!” “Japanese!” “Dolphin!”

“Wait!” I said. “What was that last language?”


“Hmm. How do you say hello in Dolphin?”

She showed me.

Yep, I’m back with the people I love. These preschoolers are always so much more interesting than adults.

At the end of the Singing Time, as they were filing out, another boy stopped and confided to me, “I also speak Ghost and Toilet.” Luckily, there was no time to hold a conversation with him.
Maybe next week.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

It's All About the Rhythm

 I’m in Day 2 of my sabbatical/ retirement-preview and truth be told, it’s pretty glorious. It’s not time off of work, it’s just transferring the work to different levels. Ironically, my main project is writing a book or two about music and music education and the precise thing needed to succeed is a musical thing—a rhythmic groove that sustains energy and moves things forward. Time in music is not measured by minutes and hours, but by tempo and groove and rhythmic variations. I’ve often thought that when I’m teaching abroad, I theoretically have time on long plane rides and in hotel rooms to write, but other than these blogs, never do. Why? Because though the time in minutes and hours is there, the focus of working on one project that builds upon itself is not. I’ve known this and resisted it, but at least for me, it could not be more clear. The only way to churn out a book is to seatbelt myself in at home and get in the groove. That’s how I wrote my other eight books and that’s the only way I’ll write my next eight.

So after my morning routines, I’m at my desk from somewhere around 9 to 1, with little breaks to play a bit of piano or check an e-mail. Lunch and then at least an hour of piano and then off on my bike with an errand or not—just to get out and moving and exercising and re-connecting with my home town.

And so in each of these three areas— writing rhythm, piano chops, getting-in-shape exercises—I’m feeling the benefits of continuity and flow and routine and practice. And thinking, “Hmm. I could get spoiled here. All of it more calm and energizing and pleasurable in some ways than the intense schedule at school, plus meetings and such. Maybe the Golden Years are just around the corner.”

But of course, the Golden Years are right here and right now and have been for a long time. Whether at school with kids and giving a workshop to adults or writing about the work with kids and adults or practicing music to bring to the kids and adults, it’s all just different facets of the same golden nugget. And there isn’t a day that goes by without me feeling profoundly grateful that everything fell into place for me the way it has.

Meanwhile, note that this excitement about the life-giving rhythmic groove of my new schedule has come from just TWO DAYS! That’s how powerful it can be.

Okay, off to write the next paragraph.

Relief from Disaster

It was the worst class of my life. I was teaching 6th grade and we had to prepare for the concert next week and nobody—and I mean, nobody—was with the program. As I was going over the plan for the rehearsal, no one was paying any attention. They were all talking with each other or lethargic or just generally checked out. I was getting angry with them, but to no effect. The louder I talked, the more they ignored me. Finally, I started singling out the worst offenders and kicking them out of class, a strategy that usually makes others perk up. But now it had the opposite effect. My anger escalated and I grabbed a kid by his shoulders to escort him out and squeezed harder than Child Protective Services recommends. Another kid I grabbed by the head while yelling in his face and still another dug my fingernails into his cheeks while talking. I told them that I was cancelling their part in the concert and they’d just have to come and watch the 7th and 8th grade and that never in my 43 years of teaching had I ever had to do this. Still no effect. I told them I was about to walk out the door and never return and it would be their fault and they didn’t seem to care at all. It just was getting worse and worse.

And then I woke up.

Such nightmares have been a part of my August repertoire most of my teaching life. Most teachers have them, the kind where they show up to class unprepared or naked or in the wrong school. It is the psyche’s way of preparing the teacher for the year to come, getting the disasters out of the way in the imagination so we perk up and make sure they don’t actually happen in real life.

Odd to have this dream since I’m not teaching this Fall, but maybe a reminder from my sub-conscious that I’m still in the game. Yesterday was my first day of my writing projects and it went well, despite the three hours spent biking around to the Apple Store, a jewelry and a funky Mom & Pop computer repair place to see if anyone could get the miniscule end of the headphone jack stuck in the portal out. No one could, I don’t have sound on the computer and have one more chance short of an $800 repair or a new computer. That was not fun. But the beginning of the writing felt good, a different way to keep connected to teaching by trying to capture both the material and effective processes from the last six years or so since publishing my last book.

So now that I’m awake, it’s time to work. 6th grade, I’m happy to report that you’ll still be in the concert. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Spread Sunshine

“Spread sunshine, all over the place. Just put on a happy face.”

“When you’re smiling, when you’re smiling,  the whole world smiles with you.
When you’re laughing, when you’re laughing, the sun comes shining through.”

“You get brighter every day…You give all your brightness away and it only makes you brighter.”

                “Love is something if you give it away. You end up having more.”

Time for another confession. Though I love poetry, challenging non-fiction and have happily walked through the dense prose of novelists like Dickens, Dostoyevsky, Steinbeck and even some James Joyce, I’m a sucker for the mystery novel/thriller. I’m spending lots of time on planes with John Grisham, Sue Grafton, Dan Brown and the like. And it was finding the latter’s new book Origin that got me through—happily—the last few plane rides and beyond.

It’s the usual bubbling plot that makes you look forward to the next chapter, but with some extra perks. Thought-provoking science that probably deserves some fact-checking, but satisfies the non-fiction curiosity I’ve kept lit my whole life.  I was particularly intrigued by the idea that the mandate of the universe is to  “spread energy.” As quoted in the book (beginning of Chapter 93):

“…when the universe found areas of focused energy, it spread that energy out. The classic example was the cup of hot coffee on the counter; it always cooled, dispersing its heat to the other molecules in the room in accordance with the Second Law of Thermodynamics.”

This got me curious about the sun. Why doesn’t it cool off after giving out so much heat? The sun has its remarkable nuclear fusion going at its core that seems to give it renewable inexhaustible energy that we benefit from. Of course, I don’t really understand what’s going on. And truth by told, I’m a bit fuzzy about both the first and second law of thermodynamics.

But I don’t have to understand it because I got songs! Like the ones above. And more important, my own experience. There is something in the human spirit that can renew itself and even grow stronger and larger by the illogical act of spreading its energy to others. It’s what accounts for me giving some 8 weeks of workshops in a row, teaching by myself some 6 hours per day, leading activities that require me to be 100% physically, mentally and emotionally present and arrive at the last day in Toronto as energized as I was the first day in Ghana—and indeed, more.
Music, rightly played and shared and experienced, can do that. So can just about any work that holds purpose and passion for the person doing it, allowing them, inviting them, encouraging them to spread energy out without that coffee ever getting cold.

Maybe when I retire I’ll take a physics class. But since retiring feels to me like pulling the plug from my energy source, that might not happen for a long time. Or ever. Spread your energy, people!