Wednesday, October 31, 2018


90 minutes left before we turn to November and I, like so many, approach it with fear and trembling. I’ve fallen flat kicking Lucy’s football so many times I know to approach it warily. It seems incredible that any humane reaction to the antics of the last two years would not finally lead to the turn in the tide that we so desperately need and we all so desperately deserve, even those who keep shooting themselves in the foot and think someone else made them lame.

Where to turn in these moments of great import? In moments of clarity, I know it’s not the pollsters, the pundits, the politicians, but the poets. “Hope is a thing with feathers” came to mind without really knowing this poem and I looked it up and it helps.

If the lying and cheating and gerrymandering and voter suppression and shabby values and ignorance and apathy win at the polls yet again, there’s no way to avoid feeling the blow to this fragile bird of hope. But I know I’ll be obliged to keep listening to its song, the one that “never stops at all.” If the right thing happens—and how fervently I hope it does!—I vow to keep the momentum going and join in the chorus of hope’s song.

November, I want to arrive at Thanksgiving with genuine thanks for the intelligence, awakeness, awareness, courage and determination of my fellow Americans.

May it be so.
May it be so.
May it be so.

And now, here’s Emily Dickinson.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -

I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018


It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I’m big on tradition. Not just carrying on those that work for me, but creating and sustaining new ones. At school, in Orff courses, in the neighborhood, with family and friends, life is a revolving door of ever-recurring traditions that all involved look forward to and enjoy.

When my wife and I moved into our present house in 1982, our first neighborhood activity was tree-planting, soon followed by Christmas caroling, Easter egg hunts, 4th of July picnic and pumpkin-carving at Halloween. All those original neighbors have moved or passed on, but still we continue with the Christmas caroling with a mix of old-timers, newcomers and children of our children.

I particularly miss the pumpkin-carving neighborhood gathering. So up here in Portland visiting the grandkids, my daughter organized her own pumpkin-carving party with her neighbors and how wonderful was that?! Very. The same feeling of the ones she knew as a child carried on in a new place with new people.

In a time when change keeps accelerating, links to the past are being broken and hopes for the future are being dashed, there is a great deal of comfort being in a room full of people with knives, gooey hands, animated chatter and imaginative handwork. We may feel overwhelmed by the big picture, but we are in control of the small picture and why not take time to do simple things with neighbors that bring comfort and joy? I highly recommend it.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Fall In Portland

San Francisco, I love you, but when it comes to Fall, Portland puts you to shame.

I Went to My Grandmother's House and Brought a…

Apple. Bagel. Cake. Donut. Egg. Fish. Grapes. Hamburger. Ice Cream. Jump rope. Kite. Lemon. Money. Nest. Orange. Pizza. Queen of Spades. Radio. Spoon. Towel. Umbrella. Van. Watch. Xylophone. Yo-yo. Zebra.

Had forgotten this game. Fun! And 7-year old Zadie could go through the whole list at the end!

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Life with Zadie and Malik

First day of a three-day visit in Fall-beautiful-Portland. Uno and War card games with Zadie. Chutes and Ladders. Reading Harry Potter out loud. Bike riding. Hopscotch. Flossing dance practice. Autumn leaf collecting. Piano duet. Christopher Robin movie. Pottery painting. Pumpkin carving. Almost 7 now and impressive maturation playing card games—ie, gracious about losing!

And Malik? More reading. Football kicking. Pillow fight. And tomorrow, a visit to his Montessori classroom. 3 and still astounding me with his quick mind and intriguing comments. My daughter Kerala was telling a story about a difficult situation with a child’s parents while putting on his pajamas and he echoed her “Meth addict.” Not exactly cute, but intriguing to listen to his absorbent mind at work.

Grandkids. Gotta love ‘em. 

Friday, October 26, 2018

What You Mean and What They Get

In my field of teaching, there are some narrow thinkers, usually in charge of policy, who have the fantasy that telling children the objectives of the lesson when they walk in will assure comprehension. When I mention this in workshops, I usually respond with, “Dream on!”
Of course, a teacher should have objectives in mind, but first off, telling them to the children mostly lets them know, “Okay, here we go. Another boring class taught by some weird grown-up who has no idea how we kids actually learn.” My own strategy of jumping in and doing something or making a casual comment about how cool a kid’s shoes are or asking a provocative question or making a strange comment, like in my recent guest teaching at a school I’ve never been at before when the kids walked in and I said, “Hello! So nice to see you all again, it’s been a long time!” and they all looked at me searchingly thinking, “Are we supposed to know this guy? Never seen him before in my life!”

Well, now I have their interest and we can jump in and do something and near the end, I can ask what we’ve done and how we did it and why we did it and what did they learn and that indeed is the proper order, thank you very much out-of-touch bureaucrat sitting in some office far away.

So one reality is that kids want to do things that is worth their time, whether or not they know ahead of time that it is worthy to do. The other reality is that we can teach the most brilliant lesson that we spent hours preparing and when it comes time for questions, one kid starts eagerly waving her hand and we think she’s going to say something like,

“So I think this body percussion piece is a way not only to teach canon and diminishing phrases, but I noticed that it’s also about duration values and body percussion technique and that each of the four duration values was performed with a different technique, so I’m wondering if it’s always necessary to snap 8th notes and clap quarter notes, or can you also snap quarter notes and clap eighth notes? Oh, I’m also wondering if The Flight of the Bumblebee written in 8th notes or 16th notes?”

Instead, you call on that eagerly waving hand and the question is:

“Didn’t you wear that same shirt yesterday?”

Some people have told me that they’re not able to comment on my Blog, but I do occasionally get some comments. Sometimes I wish there were more so there could be more of an actual dialogue than my monologues, some actual conversation turning an idea over and inside out that was sparked by my post. Thought truth be told, it would probably end up requiring more time than I have at the moment to keep up that level of correspondence. But nevertheless, sometimes I do get comments and more often than not these days, they tend to be of the off-topic “same-shirt?” kind. For example, someone just responded to a post I wrote four years ago (Feb. 23rd, 2014) about precisely this kind of nonsensical jumping through hoops educational policymakers are making people do and the comment I got was:

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Huh? Were they suggesting that their Make-Up Classes are free from such educational policy and we would get right down to lipstick application and eye-shadow? Help me out here.

Meanwhile, for those who are wondering, it was the same shirt I wore yesterday.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Why I Love Teaching

I know what you’re expecting here. A confession about how much I love children and just look forward to every day with the little—and big—darlings. About how much I love teaching, the satisfaction of passing needed knowledge on. About how much I love getting paid for playing, singing and dancing all day long. About how much I enjoy my dedicated colleagues who are passionate about their craft. And of course, about how much I love over two months of summer vacation!

All of the above is true. But today I came up with a new reason why I love teaching, more important than any of the others.

My second big Jazz Show for kids with my Pentatonics Jazz Band is this Saturday and while the SF Jazz show was sold out a week or so before the show, sales for this seem to be going slowly. So I’m splashing out announcements on Facebook, sending them to my Orff mailing list, alerting the 50 + staff members at my school to please come, putting something in the school’s “Tuesday Note Home,” passing out postcards to kids. My lips are sore from blowing my own trumpet. It’s exhausting!

And then after the concert, I’m always tallying up the people who should have come and hey, I went to their art show or their theater piece or their kids’ recital, why aren’t they at mine? And all these people who I think would be loyal to supporting me just because we’ve known each other from 10 to 40 years and this is new exciting territory that I want to share with them, where are they? Not at my concert.

And so it struck me why I chose teaching over performing. The kids ALWAYS SHOW UP!!! I mean, a few might be absent here and there, but mostly they’re there, class after class and I have a guaranteed audience for everything I worked so hard to put together. I never have to send them notices like,  "Hey, hope you can make it to my class tomorrow. I think you'll like it and there are still tickets left." 

So, my reader friend, I know you're not enrolled in my class, but hey, there’s still tickets left for the concert.