Sunday, September 30, 2018

Sure on This Shining Night

Patient: Doctor, I have these terrible headaches. What can I do to stop the pain?
Doctor: Let’s start with this: Stop banging your head against the wall.

Some vague memory of a joke that isn’t funny, but revealing. I went yesterday to a Dalcroze music workshop with Dr. Marla Butke and amidst many lovely moments, the ending activity took my breath away. It’s a simple movement exercise I have done many times before—4 people in a diamond shape facing the same direction, all copy the person in front who is moving to music, in this case, a recording of an exquisite choral piece called Sure on This Shining Night by Morten Lauridsen. When the leader feels finished, she or he simply turns a quarter turn and there is a new leader. There were some fifteen groups and I had the good sense to sit out and watch. The serendipitous moments when arms reached upwards just as the sopranos entered or one group descended while another ascended were many and it was one of those moments when the world stopped and I stood there witnessing prayer in motion. Not the tossed-aside “thoughts and prayers are with you” but the deeply felt sense of reverence, of unity, of gratitude for the miracle of living in a body that could move and listen to a voice that could sing in company with other sentient beings.

All of this intensified by the contrast between someone vying to sit on the highest court of the land and make decisions that can either help or hurt millions and that someone whining like a spoiled child, showing the world anything but the face of the calm impartial demeanor a judge must have and not a single ounce of empathy for a woman who he most likely violated and seriously damaged by his actions. And if by some miracle he was innocent, not a single nod of empathy for what she suffered. All of this multiplied by the support of that callous, shameless, mean-spirited, cold-hearted, emotionally-stunted, privileged and proud of it, arrogant good-ole-boys club while millions of women around the country were having their own traumatic memories triggered by this whole shameful show.

Okay, it feels true and a little cathartic to hold these men’s feet to the fire, call them names (that they deserve) in the face of my outrage and feeling of powerlessness to stop them. But where does true healing come from? What’s an active and effective way to get at the source of this head-banging that does exactly nobody any good? We are so stuck in the same old ways of thinking about the world, of experiencing the world, of negotiating a conversation with our fellow humans about the world and the inevitable bumps and thorns and wrong turns and head-on collisions just keep happening with renewed force and no intention to consider another way.

But dream with me here. What if before every session of Congress, the members stood up and did shadow motion in bi-partisan groups? Learned to follow and read and enjoy and marvel at each other’s motions and feel connected vibration to vibration (yesterday’s post), all with beautiful music playing? And then stood together and sang the music together and felt their voices blend in something larger than their little agendas, joined together to create something of beauty. And why stop there? How about if they improvised some jazz together (I can show them how without years of practice) where each one got some solo time and then had to support the soloist? And then sit and discuss their differences. Maybe naked in a sauna. You’re laughing, but seriously, why not? Can you feel how the conversation would change? Can you feel how much more successfully any conflicts could be negotiated?

I’m not joking here. What we’re doing isn’t working and we keep banging our head against the wall and then act surprised that it hurts. Wouldn’t it be a better idea to dance and sing and play together before we talk? And when it comes time to talk, it could start with a game my daughter is making for her 5th graders about American history—the good, the bad, the ugly—that actually gives them the information to understand what went down and how this led to that and gives them the moral frame to decide what never should have happened (land theft, genocide, slavery, for starters) and helps them draw the line and declare “Here it stops.”

That’s our choice. Moving toward a shameful night or a shining one. I have no easy confidence that the Senate will do the right thing, but I do believe that if the shameful one appears to win, it’s just a signal to us to redouble our efforts to create the shining one that will surely come. And this is my dream of how it could happen.

What’s yours?

i-Phone Report

 It has been two weeks since I reluctantly joined the i-Phone club and last night, it entered my dreams. Someone was doing some hot body percussion on a big screen and it occurred to me that I could videotape them on my phone so I could learn the routine.

So there you have it. Once these things get into your dreams, you know they are officially a part of you. I’m proud to report that I seem to be holding steady and it hasn’t yet taken over my life in unwelcome ways. And I’ve appreciated some of the following:

Quick response: One motivation for getting it is simply following the mode of communication most people use. If I try to confirm a rehearsal with my band by e-mail, responses can vary from one to three days or never. Yesterday, everyone responded—and I am not making this up—within 10 seconds!!

24/7 photo: Another motivation was to have it handy for special moments in my music class or workshops. Since I’m not teaching right now, haven’t done that yet (except in my dream above!), but have enjoyed taking some photos from the ferry on the way to Larkspur and at the Dahlia Garden close to my house, both situations in which ordinarily I wouldn’t carry a camera.

GPS: I’m a big opponent of the GPS as a dangerous dumbing down of our capacity to navigate through understanding a terrain and knowing how to read maps. I have a bee in my bonnet about the educational fallacy of giving over your power to someone (or something else) and just following directions without deeper understanding. However…I also love taking those tour buses where you just sit and let someone else take over. By not having to think about where to go or what you should see, the mind is freed to notice details or think about other things. So I was quite happy to drive around the always-confusing-to-me Oakland yesterday just following whatever my GPS voice told me to do. (Sometimes she seemed a bit late talking to me and that was interesting! “Come on, talk to me, baby!” I shouted.) In the end, it worked.

• Alarm clock: They have simply stopped making usable analog alarm clocks. Either the ticking is too loud or the tiny piece of plastic to put the alarm on or shut it off is impossible to find or breaks. So I’ve gone the last 5 years or so training my natural alarm clock or asking the hotel clerk for a wake-up call and it has worked out okay. But now feels good to have this option and I used it once and it worked.

Future Paypal/ Lyft: Some young person came to my recent workshop who didn’t carry cash and didn’t have a checking account. So if I have to “follow the money,” Paypal and Venmo are not on my app list. And I still believe in walking, biking, buses and cabs, but if I’m in a pinch, now Lyft is a possibility (haven’t used it yet).

I’m happy to report that since getting the phone, I’ve ridden on buses and not buried my head in the phone, still looked out the window or talked to people (delightful conversation with a 4-year old girl the other day and an older women reading a book who wanted to know what “solipsistic” meant. We had fun trying to guess and then the guy on the other side of me pulled out his i-Phone and we found out we both were wrong. But nice that we had those moments thinking about it.). Haven’t walked down the street looking at it. Went to the Opera and didn’t pull it out right after to see if I missed anything. Still wrote little notes to myself in my little memo book using a pen (though with my occasional shaky handwriting, good to have the electronic notes option). Happy to say I won’t be one of those, “I can’t imagine how I ever lived without it!!!” person breathless with adoration for my little device. Though it has only been two weeks. A year later, that could happen.

That’s the report and in the face of what’s going down in this country now, who cares? But hey, maybe quick and easy texts to Congress on the phone might be a good tool and if that helped stop Kavanaugh, I will be a lifelong i-Phone Devotee.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Vibration Is Social Justice

Physics tells us that everything in this world vibrates. Sound is vibration that you can hear and music is sound that is organized. When the outside vibrations of music touch the inside vibrations in our bodies, it creates motion in our muscles, breath and nerves and that motion makes us feel e-motion. When we say that something moves us or this piece of music (or art or poetry or dance or sunset, what have you) is moving, we are speaking about what actually happens in our bodies.

If we sing music with a group of people, we are connected vibration to vibration, we are all joined together as one vibrating body. That helps us feel that we, all of us, are worthy to be welcomed, to feel like we belong, to learn that we’re one small part of something larger than just us and that that larger thing is beautiful. My tribe of music teachers often gets hung up in the details of getting the kids ready for the show and forget this larger purpose.

And there’s more. Since vibrations never ask us about our religion or economic class or ethnic identity or gender, we can learn that none of those things should ever be used as barriers to keep us apart. When people try to convince us that these things matter and we should only accept these people and not those, it’s probably because they never felt the beauty of being part of this big vibration. When those people get in positions of power, it is essential to use the usual political means to limit their power to hurt. But the larger healing is to try to give them what they never got or once had but forgotten. Invite them to sing with you. Bring them into the circle of singers and have them hold hands and close their eyes and feel the beauty and power of vibrating bodies and voices singing together. The song doesn’t even matter. Twinkle Little Star  will do. Have them close their eyes and put them next to a poor African-American Muslim disabled lesbian woman and help them understand how she and the rich straight white Christian Republican male are united in vibration and could become best friends if only the latter opened their closed hearts and widened their narrow thinking and stopped using their unearned privilege to shut others down or keep them out or insult them or deport them.

And please, let’s all remember ourselves that we will get angry with our friends and carry strange ideas about other people or groups of people and that it’s almost impossible to live every moment in this loving vibration. But that’s the direction we should lean toward. If you had the pleasure of making music with a group of people, remember that beautiful moment shared. When you feel disconnected from yourself or your work or your family or your friends, the vibration of music can connect you again.  It’s there for you when you need it.

And we all need it.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

The Heroes We Need

Like all of us, I admire mastery and appreciate the super-stars in any field. Love watching Steph and Lebron and KD shoot their three-pointers, love listening to Chick and Keith and Herbie and Brad and Fred tearing up and down the piano, love hearing the poetic eloquence of David Whyte, Mary Oliver and Alice Walker. When it comes to Social Justice, I always start with the big three—Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela.

But this is dangerous territory, the giving over of your own power to be content to bask in the reflected light of the “stars.” In my own work teaching music, I emphasize the opposite—discovering the musicality waiting to be expressed in each of us at the level that we’re ready for. And finding out that a group of people who have never practiced or studied much music can actually create something of surprising power and beauty with a simple rhyme like “Criss Cross Applesauce” or “Rain Rain Go Away.” None of this takes away from those who have dedicated themselves to more intricate, nuanced, technically-proficient forms of music-making, all of it actually adds to it, helping us all appreciate the sacrifice and dedication the masters have made to give us the additional pleasure of being an audience as well as a maker of music.

The time is ripe for us to do the same with social justice. "We are the people we have been waiting for" says an old Hopi prophecy and while we rightfully continue to honor the past "super-heros of social justice," what we now need is for everyone to get off the bench and into the game. I just witnessed the extraordinary testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford in the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings and there it is, a sterling example of what it might mean for all of us to stop being silent about the things that matter because we don’t want to “rock the boat.” The boat has crashed onto the rocks and we’re stuck in a dangerous place and we need everyone on board to rock it so we can get things flowing again!

Dr. Ford is a person like you and me who would rather be teaching her classes and taking a walk in the park with her family, but has bravely chosen to speak truth at the exact time when it is needed to stop the pipeline of shameless morally bereft good-ole-boys from continuing to rise to power and make life miserable for us all. Who are these people now stalking her with death threats and computer hacks and vile character slander? And the people who excuse them? They are our neighbors and distant family and all of them empowered to vote. And then there are the thousands of others rising up to support her—count me in here!—and that's where the hope lies. It takes bravery beyond what most of us have to even speak up in an office meeting about a dubious decision! But now's the time to stand and be counted. And also at the polls in November!

Don’t be shy about polluting your Facebook feeds with something that someone might feel—Gasp!— is too political. Political rants, no, but affirming the truth of Dr. Ford’s testimony by sharing your own experiences, calling for a higher moral character than we currently have, encouraging people who been content to sit on the bench and let the first-string play the game to get up and join in, that’s the kind of energy rising up and while there’s safety in numbers, please join us.

Blessings to Dr. Ford and may we all rise and follow her example!

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

A Curmudgeon View of San Francisco

Every time I see it, I curse the Sales Force Tower downtown that appears like an ugly wart on the beautiful face of the old San Francisco Skyline. It lords above everything else and sticks up unwanted from multiple views around the city. Back in the 70’s, San Francisco voters clearly voted against “the Manhattanization of San Francisco” and then suddenly in the past ten years (I think mostly under the watch of Mayor Ed Lee), these monstrosities just started appearing and there’s no apparent end in sight. And besides the uglification of the skyline, they’ve brought in some 40,000 more commuter cars to clog the streets and freeways.

So today, I went to the heart of the beast and visited the Salesforce Rooftop Garden at the base of the building (on the 4th floor of the neighboring TransBay Terminal). It was a lovely space carefully crafted, with planting on the side and signs about native vegetation, attractive places to sit and eat lunch or sketch (my wife was there with a group doing the latter). And then there were all these stations: A Tai Chi place with free outdoor classes, a Cardio exercise space, a Beginning Knitting Station, an Art Cart, a Board Games Cart, a Toddler Tuesday session, a Reading Cart with free books. On the surface, lovely ideas all, generous offerings leaning toward quality-of-life experiences featuring art, music, play, exercise. Reminiscent of going to visit Google with everyone dressed casually and playing volleyball and drinking free organic smoothies.

And yet, there’s something off here. All of this is coming from the top down, from the folks with lots of money. In the 70’s when I first moved to San Francisco, all the excitement and innovation and cultural breakthroughs were coming from the bottom up, from poor artists low on money but big on creative vision. The San Francisco Mime Troupe, the Pickle Family Circus, the Zen Center, jazz at Keystone Korner, the alternative schools like my own (The San Francisco School), the Community Food Stores, the artist loft spaces like Project Artaud, the World Music Center over in Berkeley, the Ethnic Dance Festival and so much more. It was at once rough, daring, experimental, occasionally indulgent and sometimes brilliant, real, honest and held together with duct tape and hustle. And it was made possible because rents were as cheap as $40 a month shared with a few roommates (my actual rent on upper Downey Street in 1974!) and the City was affordable to those not working in high-tech.

So good for you, Salesforce Folks, for making a nice park, but hey, we already have Golden Gate park and Buena Vista Park and the Presidio and if I had to trade a place with stations for Art, Tai Chi, Free Books, etc. for a city where a teacher like my daughter doesn’t have to pay $1800 a month living with two roommates in a modest flat, where the streets are less congested, where the skyline is a modest scale, where the tuition at my school could be reduced by half, I’d choose it in a heartbeat. Too late to turn back those clocks, but maybe the Salesforce/Google folks could use their wealth to build affordable subsidized housing for people like teachers and artists, buy up some empty buildings in the Presidio and give huge discounts for studio space for artists, dancers, musicians. Just a thought. Let’s keep San Francisco bold and honest and livable.