Thursday, July 18, 2019

The Stern Teacher

One day left in some of the most powerful and beautiful 9 days of teaching I’ve had in the last 45 years or so. And still one day more!

Today was the tremendous pleasure of welcoming Ms. Germaine Bazzle to come sing with us and for us and share the deep wisdom of her 87 years. (And the extraordinary look at how eloquent, clear, physically present and in-shape a human being can be at 87 years! I would not have put her as a day over 50!). Next guest was a saxophone (and beyond) player named Khari Allen Lee, husband to an Orff colleague who impressed me when I met him a year ago in my first trip to New Orleans as a fabulous musician and super nice guy. 

But today, after the great pleasure of playing with him for the group with the Pentatonics band, he began to speak about music with an eloquence, passion and musicality that made us all feel—“We are in the presence of greatness.” An old soul in a young body who is as long in understanding as the Mississippi River and as deep as the ocean. 

In a short chat after his presentation, we were talking about the political circus and these strange, strange times we live in. I confessed my complacency during the Obama years, my naïve sense that simply electing a man of integrity, intelligence and the darker skin than any of the country’s previous Presidents was enough. Meanwhile, the Repugnantcans set to work to spread fear so they could hold on to and regain the power and privilege, got organized with gerrymandering and town meetings and media control and the like and landed us in the swamp of Trumpdom. 

Khari compared it to teachers who constantly affirm kids and tell them how wonderfully they’re doing to the point where the kids get complacent and lazy and think they’re just fine as they are. But none of us is wholly fine as we are. We are always a work-in-progress and to attain the elder status of someone like Germaine Bazzle requires doing the work your Soul demands to meet your promise. Years alone are insufficient. So many are simply children in adult bodies and that is dangerous for everyone. 

So Khari followed this image of the over-praised child meeting a stern teacher who says, “Uh-uh. Not good enough. You need to learn about this, you need to practice that, you need to take this all more seriously than you are and do what it takes to master the difficult.” And that’s what the current political scene is telling us. We have to work harder, do better, enlarge our understanding, speak out stronger to stop the damage of the adult-toddlers and move toward genuine healing. 

And I’d like to think that’s exactly what we’re doing in this Jazz Course. Tomorrow we go to Whitney Plantation to witness the deep suffering that has brought us such joyful music. I suspect it will double our admiration for those who survived the worst humanity has to offer and double our determination to tell their stories, sing their songs and play their music. And pass it all on to the children. Then someday we will thank the stern teacher of our times for the needed reminder. 

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