Sunday, March 31, 2019

In My Dreams

This just in!

• The full Mueller report just got released and it became clear that Barr overlooked the part where Trump was clearly involved in collusion. Impeachment proceedings are beginning. 

• Brett Kavanaugh showed up drunk at a Supreme Court session and will be dismissed.

• Wall Street tycoons held a secret meeting and decided to voluntarily pay their fair share of taxes and create strict regulations. 

• The Pentagon gave over 40% of its budget to Education.

• Water in plastic bottles is banned worldwide.

• All voters will be required to pass a test about civil rights promised by the Constitution and amended in future bills before being allowed to vote. Election Day will be a national holiday, but only those who vote can take the day off. The Electoral College will be abolished. 

• Sponsored by the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, Doug Goodkin & the Pentatonics will go on a National Tour bringing jazz to children of all ages.

Happy April 1st!

Sprung Twice

After four days of jet lag, I finally have been sleeping through the night. Awakening between 6 am and 7am and that’s fine. 

Today I was excited to meet some of the Special Course folks for my Doug-bike-tour-through-Salzburg. We settled on a meeting time of 9:30 am, I had a solid night’s sleep and awoke to start the day. After about five minutes, took a peek at the clock and it was– 9:32!!!!! Yikes! How did that happen?!! Double-checked on my watch, which said 8:30 and wondered if it had stopped running. But no time to wonder. I threw on some clothes, grabbed a few things and rushed out to bike over to meet everyone in front of the Orff Institut.

But no one was there. Finally one arrived and she showed me a message on her phone: “We’re inside!” But of course the door was locked. She messaged back and finally someone came to open the door. I apologized profusely and they assured me that it was okay I was late, because others also had not realized about the time change.

Time change? What? That already happened in San Francisco a few weeks ago! But apparently it happened in Salzburg today. And so I’ve lost two hours of living in the last month! Not fair!

Well, it was a delightful ride anyway, as always, topped off by a long afternoon walk with my good friend Rodrigo and our traditional once-every-two-years Japanese dinner, complete with a big fight about who’s paying. Great conversation, great fun, great exercises, great people, a great ending to a great month.

Onward to April!

Friday, March 29, 2019

Notes to a Future Self

Dear future self,

I don’t know how old you will be if you read this again or even if you will ever read it again. But just in case you do, I want to remind you how supremely happy you are here in Salzburg and have been almost every time you’ve come here. Walking along the Salzach River the other night, twilight descending with the evening birds, passing the familiar landmarks and the twinkle of the city beckoning me to search for dinner, I felt such a lightness in my step and such a gladness in my heart. My body was glowing with happiness, matched by the beauty of the surroundings. The hour-long walk got the blood flowing and the muscles sharpened while the echoes of a day of joyful teaching accompanied the rise and fall of the breath. 

We always want to analyze. Why are we happy? Why  are we sad? How can I preserve the former and avoid the latter? But better to just accept the grace of it all and be grateful. Would I be as happy being a tourist in Salzburg or living here as an ex-pat? I suspect not, that a good part of it is the enormous privilege of getting to share just about everything I spent my life cultivating in a place where the dream took root long before I joined the choir. The Orff Institut, that is. And with people who have devoted 9 months of their life to get the most nutrients out of this sumptuous feast and come to every class ripe and ready to receive. It just doesn’t get any better than that.

But then when class is over, to walk in joyous Solitude amidst the beauty, wander where my feet will take me, move from being someone special who has gifts to bestow to no one special who has gifts to receive from a benevolent universe— well, that is a large part of the unparalleled happiness I feel when here. Add to that the friendly ghosts of all the near and dear people who I shared this place with over almost 30 years—indeed, just about (but not quite) every important person in my life—adds a sweetness to the sauce.

Of course, while reflecting on the delicate conditions that birth this happiness, I wondered if this Special Course will continue to survive and thrive amidst all the changes at the Orff Institut. If so, will they still need me, will they still feed me, when I’m so much past 64? How long will my health hold up to make this possible? Will I ever lose interest in it? (This I can’t imagine). Humans are the only corner of creation that have the mixed gift and curse of thinking ahead and sheer logic tells me that of course this won’t be forever. It is bound by time and time’s passing and I may or may not have the equanimity to accept that when the time comes.

But future self, if you are reading this, it will either be with the pleasure of being able to tell this past self that indeed you continued to walk these same steps along the river banks, perhaps are walking them having just read these words, or things have indeed changed and you’re either lamenting or assuring me that though this chapter ended, the simple fact of having done it for so long and with such happiness helps you endure it and remain more grateful than nostalgic. Who knows?

Meanwhile, just to remind you once more how sweet it is. Played a lot of jazz on a keyboard at a Jazz-it Jam Session last night, taught four 90-minutes classes today, ate lunch in the sun-drenched park after four days of rain, went to a Nepalese restaurant with these 17 beautiful souls and had fun with games and music and great food. Tomorrow another 6 hours of classes with them and the next day, I’ll be the tour guide for my favorite bike ride around the edge of Salzburg. And then still four more days after that!

Be well, future Self, and hold these memories close to your heart. You were blessed and you knew it.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

A Room with a View

Most of the time when I’m traveling around North America and put up in a hotel, the view out my window is a wall, a parking lot, a dumpster or some high rises. Here in Salzburg, this is what I got to see the other day.

I’m looking for the right metaphor to carry those two enormous beams of light breaking through the clouds, some dramatic story to go with the primeval images, some old myth involving Zeus or Thor. But truth be told, nothing comes to mind. Except how extraordinarily beautiful and majestic this moment was. 

So here’s a new idea. You write the story to go with the photo. If it becomes a best-selling novel or the screenplay to an Oscar-winning film, give me 10%. 


Tuesday, March 26, 2019

The Touch of a Feather

Bears, like many mammals, often lick their baby cubs when they’re born. It cleans up the amniotic fluid, opens respiratory passages, stimulates nerve endings and furthers bonding between mother and cub. And so mammals begin their life in loving touch.

When a child is consistently ill-behaved, the French have an expression for it that translates to “a badly-licked bear.” Meaning the child missed this crucial bonding moment of loving touch and is taking revenge on the world for not getting what he or she needed.

These days, with lawyers reaching—or rather, over-reaching—into educational policy, young teachers are cautioned not to touch children. Because of the misuse of touch, the (non) solution is punish all children by withholding affectionate touch from adult caregivers. The irony is that many sexual offenders—just a guess here, I haven’t thoroughly researched this—may be badly-licked bears who suffered from no touch or inappropriate touch as children. And thus we may actually be contributing to future such offenders by institutionally making touch dangerous and suspect and risky and encouraging teachers to withdraw all physical contact. 

But the fact is that children of all ages need touch. They need to be hugged and stroked and tickled and if they’re in any Spanish or Latin American country, kissed daily to re-affirm their bonding and connection with people and with themselves. Not only from adult to child, but from child to child and you only have to watch them hanging on to each other and wrestling and playfully fighting and braiding each other’s hair and walking hand-in-hand in all combinations of gender pairing to see that this is necessary and natural and none of it is cause for shaming or teasing or concern. Until it is and then we trust that children will know when lines have been crossed and yes, we train them to recognize it and speak up in the moment it happens and speak out, God forbid, after it happens and hold people accountable. That’s clear. But we don’t “solve” abuse by creating a different kind of touch-negligent abuse.

I begin every Orff workshop with a roomful of strangers holding hands and often doing some non-verbal arms-linked holding of each other’s weight and short back massages and sometimes at the end of a workshop, singing in a circle with heads down on the neighbor’s back feeling the vibrations of singing through the bones. When the song ends and the heads come up and the hands are released, the tears are evidence that they have been touched emotionally partly because they have been touched physically. Why would anyone try to make that wrong, ugly and legally risky?

This is on my mind because I had the great pleasure of accompanying Austrian Orff teacher Christine Schonherr to a Senior Center where she works with the elders. When she visited recently in San Francisco, I invited her to the Jewish Home to see what I was doing with folks there and she was returning the favor here in Salzburg. Where I mostly play piano and sing with the folks in San Francisco, she does some more active physical work, having them move different body parts to music, play simple clapping patterns and conduct, explore simple instruments or objects like scarves. It was a lovely lesson, but the highlight was a moment when the elders sat with their hands out and eyes closed and I, along with some other guest students, stroked their hands with peacock feathers. That simple act of sensual touch put them in a state of bliss that was remarkable to behold. And interestingly enough, some five of them were nuns! 

People of all ages need touch and they need it often—babies, children, teenagers, young adults, working parents. But particularly elders. They are suffering in failing bodies and isolated in these important health-preserving but often lonely institutions and to have a moment of loving touch—and hopefully many—during the day is one of the greatest gifts we can give them. I never visited my mother without constantly holding her hand, hugging her, kissing her— a small payback for all the affection she gave to me as a child. 

So just a word of remembrance. Touch often and lovingly and of course, appropriately and when the lawyers come to shake their finger at you, tell them to open their hands and tickle them with a peacock feather. 

Monday, March 25, 2019

Radical Conservative

I can’t tell you how much it warms my heart to see that the same empty fields surrounding the Orff Institut in Salzburg that were here in 1990 are still empty. In the U.S., they would be stripped and mauled for the next unnecessary strip mall. Not too far way, some ugly mini-malls are starting to sprout on Alpenstrasse, but compared to the U.S., the damage is minimal.

Salzburg has been called a conservative place in the same way an English or Balinese village might be conservative. That is, standing up against change just for change (and money’s!) sake and holding to some aesthetic standard of preserving character and beauty. And shouldn’t that be the best definition of “Conservative?” Aiming to conserve that which has proven to enhance life, be it an architecture style, a natural woodland or a cultural tradition.

The American version of Conservatives seems to be more about preserving unearned privilege and advantage, keeping old traditions going that hurt, harmed, limited and yes, killed people who didn’t deserve it. It’s about hoarding excessive money instead of generously spreading it out amongst those in economic need. It’s about closing the door to the next needed change in art, culture or politics. And though these conservative folks like their hunting grounds and golf courses, it’s about as far as you can get from protecting our natural ecosystems. They’d sell their grandmother and her land down the polluted river just to drill and frack for enough oil to drive them to the shopping mall to consume things they neither need nor even really want. 

I much prefer the Salzburg definition, though I wouldn’t mind them considering keeping a few markets or restaurants more open on Sunday, was surprised that the kitchen was closed at the nearby restaurant at 8:30 pm (!) and though it was briefly nostalgic, can’t say I loved writing in chalk on the battered old green boards in the Orff Institut. 

The dictionary defines conservative as “averse to change or innovation” and “holding traditional values.” I’ll sign up for the traditional values part of the definition—that is, if I get to pick and choose the values and what tradition they’re from. But as a jazz musician, a parent and a teacher of over 4 decades, I don’t accept that I’m “averse to change or innovation.” But again, it depends on why the change and whether the innovation is designed to improve, expand, serve deeper the fine things in life

At the other end of “Conservative” is radical and again, there are two contradictory definitions. “Favoring extreme changes in existing views, habits, conditions or institutions” and of relating to the roots, to the origin of things, fundamental.” When it comes to the way things are run in Washington—the excessive money, the lobbying, the stranglehold Wall Street has on politicians, the obsolete Electoral College, the crooked gerrymandering so Republicans can win by cheating, the unaccountability of boldface lies being tweeted daily by our supposed President, the rewarding of incompetency by Cabinet appointments, the vitriol spewed daily by right-wing radio and TV pundits,  in elections, the NRA’s unchecked shameless power, the money taken from schools and demanded for walls, I’d say I indeed “favor extreme changes in existing views, habits, conditions and institutions.” And equally favor going back to the roots of language and community-building. 

So perhaps the safest way to self-define is as a radical conservative.

Anyone want to clap the erasers tomorrow while I help build a future of yet more radical music education?

Sunday, March 24, 2019

2 a.m.

Well, hello, 2 a.m. Nice to see you again. I suspected we would meet after some 15 hours of plane travel with just two hours of sleep. A short nap in my Salzburg hotel, a forced walk out into the evening air to turn to sleep again at 10 pm and here we are. A full day of teaching ahead beginning at 8 a.m., but I suspected that we’d get together in the middle of the night. Nice to see you, oh constant friend of my jet-lagged mornings.

Luckily, I have things to do in which the wee hours of the morning are ideal. No distractions, nowhere else to go, a blessed quiet. A perfect time to add a new chapter to my book about the role of music in forming school community and how that vision was formed from that marvelous year of traveling around the world with my soon-to-be wife way back in 1978. A year that opened new vistas, new feelings, new foods, new musics and arts, new friends, new ideas for our school jobs awaiting our return and a name for our first daughter, Kerala. We were in search of new experiences, new adventures, new cultures, with particular attention to the arts in all its many manifestations. Our initial plan included a dip down to West Africa, based on a rumor of cheap flights from London that we never found and so we let that go for a later time—and indeed, traveled to Ghana as a family some 20 years later. Another initial thought was to visit the Orff Institut in Salzburg, but I think they never answered an inquiry letter I wrote and again, there would be many, many visits starting a mere 11 years later. But had I gone, I believe I might have actually been able to meet Carl Orff and Gunild Keetman, so there is some mild regret there. 

But mostly it was an extraordinary, life-changing and indelibly memorable year. Harking back to that time, a time of little money, but comfort in living frugally, pre-e-mail so no pre-arranging of anything—bus tickets, accommodations, food—a few people we had written to that we knew we wanted to visit and a vague sense of itinerary and plans open to the next decision about where to go next and how long to stay there, I am so grateful that I learned to live and travel with faith that the world would provide (it did), that we could count on the help and kindness of strangers (we could), that the next needed experience would present itself if we were alert and paid attention (always). And ever yet more grateful that not a single place we went to had McDonalds or Starbucks or Wi-fi, that very few people spoke English (except in—well, England where we started—and later, India) and that we went an entire year without hardly ever looking at a screen except for one movie each in Athens, Bangkok, Singapore and one in a funky outdoor place in an Indian village. I believe only one hotel (in Bangkok) had a TV screen. 

We called my wife’s parents exactly once during Christmas in India, trying to fill in expensive $3 a minutes silences and the rest of the time relied solely on American Express addresses and those blue folded aerograms and postcards to keep in touch with our folks and friends back a home. Those were the days of genuinely missing someone when you went away, but keeping them in your thoughts and heart and letting them know with slowly written descriptive letters. 

So, 2 am, I never know what the conversation will be between us when we meet, but that’s enough for tonight. Probably see you again tomorrow, though perhaps at 3 am. Good night.

The Languages of Salzburg

I recently wrote on Facebook: “Sometimes traveling is simply moving from one home to another. On my way to Salzburg for the 30thtime in as almost many years and the hills are still alive there with the sound of music. As are the halls of the Orff Institut where I’ll be teaching my 9thgroup of teachers from some 11 different countries. Along with Madrid, Barcelona, Bangkok, Singapore and (weirdly) Orange County, the place I’ve returned to time and again to teach. “

Salzburg indeed feels like home and I arrived in sunny weather warmer than the San Francisco I left! So many familiar sights, sounds, memories and people to welcome me and bring that sense of homecoming yet deeper. But it’s a bit odd that I might call a place home where I don’t speak their home language. I have my excuses lined up. Mostly, I’m always teaching in English as the common language of the diverse groups of people at the Orff Institut Special Course, I’m rarely here for more than two weeks at a time and though I can be inspired to study German just to enjoy the music of the language, I must confess that its tones don’t tickle my eardrum as much as Brazilian Portuguese, Italian or Japanese. So I get by with “please, thank you, small beer” and mostly speak English out in the world.

And yet there are many other languages spoken here in Salzburg that I understand perfectly. The bleating of the sheep close to the Institut, the call of the night birds, even if I don’t know their names, the crunch of bicycle tires on the gravel of Hellbruner Allee and whoosh and whirl of the passing wheels. There’s the rush of the fast-moving Salzach River waters, the burble and gurgle of small little streams off the Allee. I’ve been here occasionally for the silence of freshly falling snow and often for the hard beating of the downpouring rain. I’ve heard the murmur of quiet conversation and laughter and guitar strumming of the teenagers hanging out in summer evenings on the bridge across the river, the roar of the crowds in the beer halls, the multi-lingual tones of the tourists wandering through Old Town.

Of course, there are the dulcet tones of glockenspiels and metallophones and xylophones in the Orff Institut, the roar of the drums, the sound of dancing feet and clapping and patting and always, singing. There are the church bells in the distance and the echoes of Mozart’s music everywhere in this town of his birth. And even the occasional outburst from Julie Andrews. 

So apologies to Salzburg for not speaking German, but just these words to let it know I hear and understand many of its languages. And they’re beautiful. 

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Life and Lists

Sometimes it feels like there’s living and then there’s ticking off lists so you have time to live. And when you finally get to the end of the list (which will then regenerate five seconds after you completed the last task), sometimes it feels like you’ve forgotten how to live. 

It has been a busy, busy time these past couple of weeks. Every time I teach a class to kids, it feels like the real deal. Life in all its splendor and difficulty. But when the classes come relentlessly at the same time as report cards at the same time as packing for the next round of teaching in Salzburg at the same time as answering the needed e-mails to clear the deck at the same time as paying bills at the same time as… well, you get the picture. I’m still some 10 e-mails short of “finished” and my suitcase is not quite packed with my flight taking off within four hours, but I’m getting close to that feeling of relief that I got through it all and am ready to live again. 

Lists are inevitable and so is life and it’s best when the two are joined at the hip so that the item on the list IS part of the life, no matter how mundane. It’s all about how much and when and with what deadlines and with what kind of attention you can bring to each thing. Sometimes the lists overwhelm the living and sometimes the living allows you to drop the list and fully feel the coming of Spring. The calendar announced it, but to wholly know it means to sit amongst the flowers with a bit of warm sun on your face. 

I’m taking a step backward into Winter with this trip to Salzburg, but that means I can feel all over again Winter give way to Spring. I hope. Meanwhile, off to pack thick sweaters and medium-weight shirts. And whether Winter or Spring prevail, the Salzburg hills will be alive with the sound of music—well, at least inside the Orff Institut—and I’m ready to wholly sing in the choir. 

Thursday, March 21, 2019

The Tree in the Forest

Noticed the other day that my TEDx talk from 6 years ago hit 40,000 views. Following the “Famous” post, this is equivalent to buttonhole fame in the big picture of fame and fortune, but still I’m grateful to be in the mix of public discourse. Gary Snyder’s Zen teacher once told him:

Sweep the garden.
Any size.

That this quote stays with me is prophetic of feeling how small my garden is next to the thousand-acre mega-farms. But no matter. And in some ways, more real and certainly more intimate to be sweeping every inch of a space I’ve come to know so well.

Meanwhile, noticing that the Blogpost views these past weeks are way down. Not that I compulsively check numbers, but I do notice. And sometimes it feels like the proverbial tree falling in the forest with no one to hear it. But maybe the bugs and birds do and that’s enough. 

12 kids are about to enter my music classroom for some serious fun and frivolity and I’m not the least bit disappointed that there are not 12,000 or 12 million of them. It would be challenging to play a name game with that number.

On it goes. 

Monday, March 18, 2019


                                         “ The river is famous to the fish…
                                           The boot is famous to the earth, 
                                           more famous than the dress shoe,
                                          which is famous only to floors…
                                          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 did.”

                                                     Excerpts from Naomi Shihab Nye's poem Famous

Fame and fortune. Isn’t that what we’re all supposed to crave? How lucky I am that I seem to have just enough of both. Enough fortune to live in an expensive city, buy my groceries, have an occasional dinner out and miraculously, to have put both my children through college. And enough fame that I still get invited to places far and wide to teach, my books steadily sell and people show up at my workshops. 

In short, fame and fortune of modest proportions, enough to keep me fed, clothed and working, but not so much that I need sunglasses in public places and have to follow the stock market every day and worry about investments. Truly, the greatest perk of fame, any size, is the opportunity to get to keep doing what you love, to keep sharing skills, ideas and materials you’ve spent a lifetime crafting with those who seem to need it. To have the constantly renewing pleasure of offering some tasty food to satiate people’s hunger and please their palate and enjoy their convivial company around the dinner table of your calling. I would add to Ms Nye’s poem— to be useful, like a pulley or buttonhole, easing the weight of someone’s unknowing and hauling it efficiently from the unknown to the known, closing the shirt of one’s confusion so you can go out in public without your belly showing. 

This Saturday, I will fly to the Orff Institut in Salzburg to work intensively for two weeks with 16 people from some 11 different countries come to feast on 9 months of Orff Schulwerk. This will be the 9thsuch group I’ve worked with since 2003 and always a delight to work with such committed and motivated people who are immersed from head-to-toe in the full range of Orff’s far-reaching vision. My fame in the international Orff world is just right for my hope to keep getting to share what I know and keep exploring together with the students what I yet don’t know. The fortune is modest, but enough to get me to Austria, Italy, Turkey for free and with extra United miles to boot! Help pay for a few Belgian cherry beers at the Merkur (market) and come home with a few Euros in my pocket. 

Meanwhile, one more week at school with children who are impressed by rock star and movie star fame (it’s their patriotic duty), but singularly unimpressed that their teacher is in international high demand and published 8 books. As they should be. We just go about our work with a mallet that’s famous to a xylophone, a hand famous to the ukele and lips famous to the recorder. It’s enough.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

The Wisdom of Flowers

 This the view from my back deck. The cala lilies opening to the heavens and the trumpet flowers looking down at the earth. Two different perspectives and each necessary to help us remember something beyond our list to buy dish soap and find out when the Warriors play next. 

How often do we stand outside in the night and look up into the heavens? Lie on our backs during the day and gaze up at the clouds? How else can we remember how infinitesimally small we are in this vast universe? One microscopic dot in an enormous web of life. And that’s okay. Isn’t it grand just to be included in the majesty of the stars? Whenever we’re overinflated with our own self-importance, it’s a good idea to look up and open our arms to the heavens. The cala lilies recommend it.

And then let’s not forget the ground under our feet. It’s delicious to feel our spirit flying up, but also good to dig down into the soil where soul awaits, get our hands dirty in the garden. Spend some time with the ants and lie down in the grasses. Plenty of time—an eternity?—to float disembodied in the ether when we’re done here. So while we’re on this earth, let’s enjoy the earthiness of our corporeal existence. Follow the gaze of the trumpet flowers. 

Heaven and earth. Today’s lessons from the flowers. 

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Just Right

Homeostasis is the state of steady internal conditions maintained by living things. This dynamic state of equilibrium is the condition of optimal functioning for the organism and includes many variables, such as body temperature and fluid balance, being kept within certain pre-set limits.   (Wikipedia)

Yesterday I sat in the park to read a book. I chose a bench in full sunlight and after two minutes, thought “Too hot!” So I moved to the shade. “Too cold!!” I was searching for “Just right!” but never found it. Direct sun with the ever-thinning ozone layer is simply too intense, but the March air in San Francisco still carries a chill. 

It strikes me how much time we spend each day searching for “just right.” Not too hungry, not too full. Not too hot, not too cold. Not too sleepy, not too buzzed. Our day revolves around the body’s cycles and its quest for equilibrium. And so we eat periodically, snack occasionally, try to be a 21stcentury 7 glasses of water person, dutifully exercise, rest and so on in search of an elusive homeostatic equilibrium that can only last so long before tipping one way or the other. 

What’s impressive is how clearly we know when something is too much, too little or just right. Not that we always act on it. We may eat to excess or diet to excess because the brain can over-ride the body, but our homeostatic intelligence is functioning nonetheless.

And I believe that intuitive, often unspoken wisdom exists in other areas as well. We know we should like this person, but we don’t. Or we shouldn’t and we do. We get talked into doing this job or joining this church or buying this product often against our sensed feeling that something is rotten in this state of Denmark. If only we could trust our innate sense of wisdom, whether or not we find the words to illuminate and clarify the felt intuition. Time and again we don’t and later wish that we had.

If we build our life choices—small ones like when to eat and how much and when to get up and move and when to lie down for a bit and big ones like choosing life careers or partners—around our awareness of homeostatic bliss and what’s needed for the “optimal functioning of our organism,” why, I believe we would be one inch closer to happiness.

More to say, but I need a snack!

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

$10 Tea

I just finished the book The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See. I like her books a lot and this was particularly interesting in terms of finding out more about tea, particularly Pu’er tea, an aged tea formed into cakes and high on the list of tea connoisseurs. So it has entered into various conversations lately and in the course of these talks, the Lovejoy Tea House came up. 

So when I got off of the J-Church streetcar yesterday and it started to rain and I notice there was Lovejoy’s Tea House, it seemed like the perfect time to try it out. At 3 in the afternoon, it was full, but the British hostess graciously fit me into one seat in the corner. They didn’t have any Pu’er tea, so I settled for an herbal mix (called a tisane—don’t know anyone who actually uses this word!). 

But there was a catch. You couldn’t order a single cup of tea. You had to order a pot. For $10. Priciest cup of tea I ever had! 

But then I had a second cup and realized it was now down to $5 per cup. My next cup brought it down to $3.33, my 4thcup to $2.50 and my 5thto $2.00. I was beating the system! Each cup I drank was cheaper! There was still a little left in the pot and I should have had one more, because with tip and tax, the price was rising again. But I let it go at that.

By the time I left, the rain had let up, so that worked out as well. I went from there to a play and had to go to the bathroom five times during the performance, so there were other hidden expenses. 

This my lesson on the economy of tea drinking.

Monday, March 11, 2019


I don’t think I could name a single person that doesn’t feel we’re living in terrible times. As Michael Meade says, “nature is rattling and culture is unraveling” and the most honest and frequent reaction to the daily news is “WTF?!!!!!!” The constant shadow of climate change, of too many people and too little resources, of everything we thought we knew and could count on— like a President who at least pretends to tell the truth and public that at least pretends to care if he lies—is up for grabs. The solid ground beneath our feet is like a daily earthquake—unreliable, scary and damaging. 

And yet. 

A mere century ago, World War I just ended, Mussolini began his Fascist Party and Hitler gave his first speech to the German Worker’s party. Women in the U.S. couldn’t vote, Prohibition was signed into law, 38 black men were lynched, as was the white leader of the International Workers of the World organization. My father at one-years-old would grow up in a world that might call him a dirty Jew. That year, Cole Porter married Linda Lee Thomas to hide his homosexuality. And so on. 

I’m thoroughly enjoying the Australian mini-series “A Place to Call Home” which takes place in the 1950’s. By that time, homosexuality was still considered a disease and a perversion to be “cured” by electro-shock therapy, it was scandalous for a Protestant to marry a Jew or even a Catholic and growing up in New Jersey, just about all my friends and relatives used the “n” word without apology as well as all the familiar epithets for Puerto Ricans, Italians, Irish, gays, etc. 

Looking back it all from the people I spend time with now and knowing what I know, I can’t help but think, “What the heck is wrong with you people?!!!!” And yes, I know that there are far too many of them amongst us still and they all have the power to vote, but in the public conscious, the ideas and attitudes about all the ways you can limit people and put them down and publicly insult them and unabashedly hate them have changed dramatically and I wouldn’t trade one second of it for “the good old days.” Caning and corporeal punishment of children is mostly a thing of the past, the last person lynched was in 1981 (!!!!) and nobody is training for trench warfare. 

Believe me, none of this is an excuse to relax. I think the horror of our time is we know so much about what care of the environment, raising of healthy and happy children, tolerance, acceptance, compassion and celebration of “the other,”, the gifts of diversity look like and could be and are in small pockets (like the school where I work), and yet, we’re still stuck in the old ways that cause so much suffering, still having to deal with ignorance and the purposeful marketing of ignorance so the rich and powerful can have their way. That’s our version of trench-warfare.

But let’s not lose sight of the extraordinary progress humanity is making in enlarging their hearts, minds and attitudes. Not fast enough, not wide enough, not deep enough, but it’s happening and it makes it a good time to be living. Not to mention an extra 25 years in life-expectancy since 1919 and affordable dark chocolate bars at Trader Joes. 

That’s progress.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Thermonuclear Re-Energization

“ The sun contains a massive number of hydrogen atoms. Typically, a neutral hydrogen atom contains a positively charged proton and a negatively charged electron that orbits it. When this atom meets one of its fellow hydrogen atoms, their respective outer electrons magnetically repel each other like bodyguards. This prevents any of the protons from meeting each other. But the sun’s core is so hot and so pressurized that atoms whiz around with so much kinetic energy that they overcome the force binding them together and electrons separate from their protons. This means the protons, usually stuck inside the hydrogen atom’s nucleus, can actually touch, and they join together in a process called thermonuclear fusion.

Just like inside a nuclear reactor, atoms inside the sun’s core slam into each other every second. Most often, four hydrogen protons fuse together to create one helium atom. Along the way, a tiny bit of the mass in those four miniscule protons is “lost;” but since the universe conserves matter, it can’t just disappear. Rather, that mass gets converted into a dramatic amount of energy…”

From Popular ScienceWebsite in answer  to the question: “Why doesn’t the sun burn itself out?”

A music teacher asked for help on Facebook around the issue of “teacher burn-out.” Out came the stories of all the teachers who had faced the same dilemma and some of their successes in overcoming it. Here was mine: 

“There are so many reasons for burn-out. Exterior ones like a school that's not supportive and demands too many unnecessary hoops to jump through, colleagues you don't enjoy, unworkable demanding schedule. All of those can be "fixed" by identifying the source and taking the necessary action—new school, advocating for better schedule, etc. 

But then there are the interior ones—the honeymoon is over,  or never happened, or you’re teaching the wrong age, or you’re tired of your way of teaching, or you finally have to admit you were meant for a different vocation. Harder to "fix." 

In reality, it is probably a combination of many of the above and more that weren’t mentioned. But the one you have the most control over is the way you’re actually teaching. If you meet kids where they are, organize your classes around the way kids actually are, how each age tends to think and how they learn best and what they tend to care about, you have a good chance of giving them exactly what they need. 

And then they in turn will give you exactly what you need—the feedback of their excitement, energy, enthusiasm, all of which helps you feel that you’re on the right track and you should keep doing down that path. If you’re teaching well, they’ll also discover that extraordinary musicality and when you make music together—at any age—the music itself will come back to you and give you yet more energy. Like the sun, the protons of your passion and energy and enthusiasm and musicality touch the protons of the children and there is an explosive release of energy that comes back to you both. 

In my case, I work very, very hard to prepare the classes for a fairly demanding schedule—6 to 8 classes a day over an 11-year range (3-year-olds to 8thgrade). Being 67-years-old and having done this for 44 years at the same school, I should be feeling tired. But I’m not! Whether it’s 3-year-olds skipping back to their place and arriving at their spot exactly on the last note of the cadence, 4thgraders playing a complex and exuberant clapping play or 8thgraders knocking out killer blues solos, the music constantly refreshes and energizes me. As does the kids' happiness in making it, their quirky comments, astute insights, impressive support of each other and playful spirit whether they’re 3 or 13. These are kids low on the end of polite “I'll listen quietly and do whatever you say" skills, but high on the end of “Yeehaw!!” It takes a lot of energy to corral and focus their energy, but when it works, it comes back multiplied. In short, energy begets energy, the protons keep slamming into each other and producing renewable vigor and vitality. 

So take a look at what you can do to infuse your classes with child-like play, lightness, humor and joy and see if you feel the diminishing flame of your passion spark back to life. Good luck!”

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Dancing with the Day

Finally my cold let go of its stranglehold and took off to bother someone else. Instead of just doing what it takes to survive the moment, now I’m ready to get back into the driver’s seat of my own life. So I wake up and ask two questions:

1.    Hello, Day! What do you have in store for me?
2.    Hello Day! What will I bring to you today?

 The first acknowledges that World has its own momentum and sometimes life is what happens when you’re making other plans. We’re not wholly in control and need to stay open to what the day offers. But that doesn’t mean just waiting around for “whatever.”

And so the second speaks the need to make some plans and grab some control of your destiny. Have an intention and consciously vow to bring something worthy to the hours gifted to you. 

It’s in the dance between the two where the Day wholly lives. 

So today. Looks like World is offering yet more rain and 50 degree temperatures and hopefully nothing in the way of big or small disasters. Hoping the garage door will open (having trouble with that lately), the car will start, the de-alarming of school goes well and the 26 people signed up for my workshop will arrive. I’ve made detailed plans to bring joy, laughter, connection, communion and good ideas and material to be passed on later to children in the way that I know how—through music. 

In today’s workshop, mostly songs for all ages with intriguing elaborations and extensions. For someone who didn’t grow up in a singing family, school or culture, this is a surprise of sorts. But more and more I’m convinced that my ability to sing with people of all ages and in all places, to get them singing, an ability honed by long years of meticulous effort, is perhaps one of my greatest gifts as a teacher. Maybe even as a person! And for a non-singer, that’s impressive!

Let’s go, Day! Hope it’s as good for you as I suspect it will be for me!

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Perfect Fit

Today I taught a piece to 4thgraders that I first worked out in 1983. Hadn’t really done it since then, but it held up. Then walking through my colleague James’ class, I noticed he was doing a piece he created in his 2ndyear of teaching back in 1992. Also a winner! And this got me thinking of Picasso’s quote: 
“I don’t develop. I am.”

Meaning there are hundreds of ways in which we can improve as artists, teachers, athletes, etc., but mostly those who achieve something noteworthy had everything ready in place in seed form. The acorn held the blueprint and the first little sprout of the oak was as mighty in its way as the full bloom of the tree. And that particular acorn gifted to them came from another world, from an unfathomable, mysterious place, but real nonetheless.

This is a hard truth to grapple with as a teacher trying to believe in the potential of all children in all subjects. But truth be told, there is no program of development that will turn a pine cone into an oak tree. There is an ecology to the forest of human potential in which its necessary that there be a quota or limit of people who rise to the top. If everyone was a musician, who would ever get work at the club? 

Yet for everyone to be musical, well, that is a worthy and doable goal. For everyone to be handy enough to fix a few things around the house, artistic enough to get pleasure in drawing, eloquent enough to write a poem or two. I believe all people would be refreshed by the opportunity to improve their powers in these ways and the culture would as well. But when it comes down to the fundamental questions like “What calls to me and how do I heed that call?” we have to notice how we fit with numbers or words or tones or images or motions and note how our way is just a cut above our neighbor’s. And if we’re lucky, someone who has been further down the path will notice us and give us special attention, in defiance of the fantasy of being “fair by the clock” that modern thinking would have us do.

When you are fortunate enough to find a perfect fit, as myself and my colleagues James and Sofia have in this strange esoteric world of Orff Schulwerk with its unique combination of skill, there are some other signs that it was all meant to be. If you can stumble out of a plane after 17 hours of travel and teach 40 people for 6 hours the next day, that’s a sign. If you can show up at school with head-pounding and sinuses dripping and still bring some joy to 5-year-olds, why, there’s another. If you can sit down to try to figure out in the midst of 30 unattended things on the list to check off what to choose and what to leave out and how to order them in an upcoming workshop and come up an hour later with a coherent plan for the full day, that’s because this is simply what you know how to do. None of it makes you special or brilliant, but all of it makes you lucky that you found your work Soul Mate and were loyal in spite of his or her poor income, status and fickle love. 

I am sure I am a better teacher in general than I was 44 years ago or even yesterday and a better jazz pianist after all those years trying to work things out. But when I look back at some old work with kids or listen to a crackling cassette tape of my fledgling jazz improvisations, I hear myself pretty much exactly as I am. 

I think the hardest lesson I’ve learned as an adult is to give up on the naïve hope that people really change. When you’ve spent a lifetime arranging your life to support the way you feel safe and invulnerable, you’re not going to give that up and re-consider without some dramatic catastrophe to shake you up. And even then probably not. I even had a few (very fleeting) moments when I thought Trump would wise up in a few areas, but …well, no comment needed. It sounds a bit cynical, but it’s real. 

For me the punch line is for me to invest energy in people in my field who already “are,” or to put it more precisely, are aligned with the way myself and my colleagues work. No judgment—a pine is a pine and that is fine. And oak is an oak and that ain’t no joke. The big mistake is to think that you can get oaks from pine cones and pine trees from acorns. Ain’t gonna happen.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Pity Party

"Would you like to attend my Pity Party?" That’s an invitation no one wants to get. 

On my Sunday in Kansas City, the expected blizzard didn’t come and that was a good thing. But the interactive booths at the Jazz Museum weren’t working and that was a pity. I got to the airport on time, but waited an extra three hours because of low clouds in San Francisco. Home by 11:30 pm with the first little sniffle appearing and then 7 hours straight of meetings with my colleagues the next day to get necessary planning done. Back to school the next day to teach and the cold I thought I could skip around grabbed me and sent me down the drippy hallways of sneezes and sniffles and sinus headaches. Woke up today feeling a tad better and then 5 classes at school threw me down again. And apparently, since I couldn’t watch the Warriors on TV in a hotel room, they were trounced by the Celtics. The rain in San Francisco just will not stop and yes, it’s better than a drought, but enough is enough! And I have a 6-hour workshop to teach this Saturday.

Aren’t you glad I didn’t invite you to my Pity Party? 

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Thoughts on a Snowless Night

What a pleasure and privilege to yet again teach a one-day workshop to dedicated music teachers from a local Orff Chapter. People who “gave up” a full Saturday to have the chance to affirm themselves, challenge themselves, be soothed by the familiar, by excited by the new. From exuberant and vigorous jazz to tender and quiet expressive movement, from the childlike fun of “Roses are Red” to the adult encounter with complex body percussion, from the social networking with fellow colleagues to the reflective thought of pedagogical principles, I believe most people felt it was a day well spent. One that may echo on in their teaching and in their musicianship and even in their personal and professional lives. Or not. No guarantee, but it has happened. And often. 

I believe the first official Orff Chapter workshop I ever gave was in Los Angeles in Fall of 1984, quickly followed by Chicago. Since then, I’ve toured the U.S. presenting at most (but not all) of the local Orff Chapters. To my recollection, that would include Fairbanks, Anchorage, Honolulu, Seattle, Spokane, Portland, Eugene, Chico, Sacramento, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, Fresno, Orange County, San Bernadino, San Diego, Tuscon, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Reno, Boise, Salt Lake City, Billings, Denver, Pueblo, Dallas, San Antonio, Austin, Oklahoma (Quartz Mt.), Des Moines, Iowa City, Omaha, Kansas City (Kansas and Missouri) St. Louis, Wyoming, Bloomington, Lexington, Louisville, Cincinnati, Columbus, Toledo, Cleveland, Madison, St. Paul, Memphis, Detroit, Lansing, Grand Rapids, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Charlotte, Asheville, Raleigh, Atlanta, New Orleans, Tampa, Jacksonville, Orlando, Miami, Washington DC, Baltimore, New Jersey, New York, Rochester, Hartford, Boston, Portland (Maine) and a few more. 

Maybe it looks like I’m bragging here, but besides the challenge of trying to recall something about each of the above, my punchline is simply this—I don’t believe I ever had a bad day at a single one of these places. Yes, the piano and the lighting could have been better (like today) in some places, but the energy and enthusiasm of teachers who choose to be better and keep growing, the volunteer spirit of the grassroots organizers working long hours for no pay, the generosity of schools opening their facilities, is all something worthy of celebration.

And then the perks of getting to taste a bit of local culture. Like the Q39 Barbecue Place my host took me too last night. And the Jazz and Baseball Museum I hope to visit today. If I can get through the snow predicted to begin at 3 am. Still on Singapore time, I’m writing this at 2:30 am and no sign of it yet. But if it falls too fast and furious, I may be spending more time in Kansas City than I planned!

And speaking of Singapore. I was so impressed by the whole complex of teaching colleges devoted to both training teachers and then continuing their training. All bought and paid for by a Ministry of Education committed to cultivating properly our most valuable resources—the children. I was hired to teach because they committed themselves to including jazz in their high school curriculum. Not just funding jazz bands for the kids with the interest in playing saxophone and such, but exposing all students to the wonders and freedoms of this American art form. In Singapore! 

Meanwhile, in the U.S., teachers struggle to get professional development funds to attend workshops like mine and jazz is not a mandatory subject in all schools. To say the least. So rather than wait for a sudden governmental epiphany, Orff folks in the cities mentioned above (and beyond) take time to insure a better music education for hundreds of thousands of children, on their own time and their own dime. And if I have my way, that will include more jazz education at each and every level. 

Especially in Kansas City! New Orleans, may have been the birthplace of jazz up through the 20’s, but no question that its teenage years in the 30’s were in Kansas City! (And the adult years in New York.) The three great jazz saxophonists of that time—Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young and Ben Webster, all came from there, as did the next prophet of the emerging jazz styles, Charlie Parker. Count Basie (a New Jersey-born fellow) cut his teeth here and the bands of Bennie Moten, Jay McShann heated up the city on even the coldest of nights. The great pianist Mary Lou Williams, bassist Walter Page, drummer Jo Jones and so many more joined the party and the future of the music in the visionary Pat Metheny had its roots here as well. 

These some random thoughts at 3 a.m. on a still snowless night in Kansas City. May the snow plows come out as needed and all planes take off on time!

Special Powers

Miracles come in many sizes and shapes. I’m ready to claim a minor one here, as follows.

If I could get them on TV, I’d believe I’d watch just about every Golden State Warriors basketball game. I just like watching basketball and the old cliché of “poetry in motion” holds true when I watch these fine fellows play. Luckily, I can’t get them on my TV and thus, have saved myself some precious time. 

But I often have had the good fortune of flicking on a hotel TV and there they are! And there goes my evening, happily so. And I would say just about every single time, some 10 times this season, I tune in somewhere around the beginning of the third quarter and they are behind by some 10 to 15 points. And get ready (Twilight Zone music here) for the miraculous. 

Just about every single time, the moment I tune in, they go on a 13-spree mostly led (no surprise) by Steph Curry. And then go on to win the game. Yesterday, it was undecided up until the last 1.7 seconds and then they won by 3 against the 76’ers. For this to happen a few times would be an uncanny coincidence, but I swear this has happened most every single one of the 10 times I’ve watched! Behind in the 3rdquarter, victory at the end.

I don’t want to claim too much, but I can’t help but feel that me tuning in is somehow responsible. Some latent special powers I have are announcing themselves. Warriors, are you listening? Perhaps you should purchase a new TV plan for me? Or get me more workshops that lands me in hotels? Of course, you’re good, but we all could use help, yes? 

Just sayin’. 

Go Warriors!

Friday, March 1, 2019

It Could Always Be Worse

The first day of March has me fulfilling the Blog title, winging to Kansas City for an Orff workshop. After battling a mysterious sore neck last week, woke up to a mysterious sore hip and still feeling the echoes of jet lag. Compared to sunny summery Singapore, San Francisco is overcast, cold and rainy. Between rain and schedule, didn’t get to ride my bike all week, my eating habits have devolved to inhaling copious amounts that make the needle rise on the bathroom scale, my e-mails-to-be-answered keep multiplying like stud rabbits and it seems I’ve mysterious arrived an hour early in Kansas City and my driver is still at school. Oh, TSA confiscated my toothpaste, claiming it was too big.

But it all could be so much worse. Like the Jewish folk-tale that I’ve done two or three times with the kids. The father in the family is complaining about the crowded conditions and noise and chaos in his small house with the wife and four noisy kids. He goes to the Rabbi who suggests he bring the cat who lives outside into the house. Doesn’t make sense to him, but hey, Rabbi knows best, so he does. The cat jumps up on counters knocking things over, yowls, makes messes. Back to the Rabbi and now a suggestion to bring a dog into the house. The dog chases the cat, barks loudly, jumps up on the couch shedding hairs. Back to the Rabbi. Three more times and in comes the goat, the sheep, the cow. Finally, the man has the gumption to tell the Rabbi that his advice is terrible. The Rabbi suggests taking all the animals out of the house and the house is restored to its former state. Only now, mysteriously, it seems so quiet and peaceful and spacious. And then the punch line: “Remember, no matter how bad things get, they could always be worse!”

We would all do well to remember. We could have a President who succeeded in his wishes to be above the law, to take away term limits, to muzzle the free press. But those necessary institutions have stood strong and I’m counting the days until he goes down. Kansas City is much colder than San Francisco, so why complain about 50 degree days? And they do sell toothpaste here. Much to be grateful for.

My ride about to arrive. On we go.