Thursday, October 31, 2019

Horton's Eggs

On the occasion of my 40thwedding anniversary, I started thinking about all the other things that I’ve stuck with over the many long years. It seems that some part of my character values a long-term commitment, with a steadfast faithfulness like Horton hatching an egg (read your Dr. Seuss). I can testify that on one hand, such perseverance pays off and improvement is tangible and equally, that things don’t change that much. The list below is personal and will mean nothing to the reader except for a little homework assignment. What are the re-occurring long-term commitments in your life? Why not make your own list? 

Meanwhile, “I meant what I said and I said what I meant. An elephant’s faithful, 100%!” On to my 45thHalloween celebration at The San Francisco School!

Number of years (* means not continuing now)

61—playing piano
47—Zen student
47—keeping a journal
47—living in San Francisco
45—with my wife
45—teaching at school
44— teaching Orff workshops
40—years married with my wife
38—going to Orff Conferences
37—living on 2ndAve.
37—New Year’s walk with friends
34—teaching national Orff workshops
32—Snow trip/ West Point Inn with friends *
31—teaching the Jazz Course
29—teaching international Orff workshops
29—Men’s group
29—Teaching with my colleague James
28—teaching Levels Courses
23—Teaching with my colleague Sofia
13—Xephyr performing group *
11— Playing piano at the Jewish Home
9—writing a blog
8—with the Pentatonics Jazz Band

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Schubert's Op Ed

Where does one get the news? How does one know what’s the real story and what’s really fake news—or fakely real news? What’s really going on here? 


Well, the statistics are grim. The expert’s viewpoints are not rosy. The denier’s lies are transparent. The futurist’s predictions are not suggesting fairy tale endings. But occasionally one hears something that rings true down to the bones and defies even the facts. 


Like Schubert’s Trout Quintet. The simple fact of organized vibrations bowed, hammered and plucked tell a story that sings a beauty that is truth and truth that is beauty beyond any sensible argument. Each note proclaims that this precious gift of life will endure, must endure in spite of all the death-dealers. The facts are not to be tossed aside or casually denied, but they are not the whole truth. Somewhere inside of this all is a force that has no age and is eternally present in each moment, here and now, but hidden and neglected and ignored. Until the bow passes over the string and it leaps out to embrace our darkest fears and assure us that there is more to the matter. Somehow just listening to Schubert helps heal our broken selves and societies and brings solace in the face of despair. 


That’s today’s headline news.


Apparently, 1979 was quite a year. Just went to Balinese gamelan Sekar Jaya’s 40thAnniversary concert. I played in this group from 1986 to 1988 and some of the members then were still playing in this concert! It’s also the 40thanniversary of Body Musician Keith Terry’s organization Crosspulse, another big influence in my own musical life and the group Kitka singing Eastern European music. Never have played my Bulgarian bagpipe with them (and they’re grateful!), but we love the same music.

Yesterday was also my 40thwedding anniversary and my wife Karen and I celebrated by walking some 11 miles through the city visiting some of the places where we used to live. We stopped at each while she sketched them and remembered who we were all those years back. Sweet.

But it wasn’t all nostalgia. Ate a new restaurant on Balboa Street, stopped in to see some controversial murals at George Washington High School, dropped in at the Richmond Branch of the Community Music Center, it’s parent version in the Mission where I got my first job in 1974. And being at a walking pace, discovered lots of interesting houses nestled amongst the Junior Fives of the Richmond District. A good day to mark the occasion. 

A bit sobering that we’re at the age where it doesn’t make sense to say, “Here’s to 40 more!” But grateful for the life we’ve been granted and hey, who knows? My Zen teacher passed away at 108, so if the fires and floodwaters and fanatics don’t keep rising, I theoretically could have 40 more! Happy anniversaries to all!

Monday, October 28, 2019

No Neutral

“If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.” —60’s saying

We received some unexpected guests at our house last night— my sister and husband, her son and girlfriend and two cats. They were ordered to evacuate their homes in Sebastopol due to the raging fires. It’s fun to have them around, but the reason is anything but fun. Pardon my French, but this shit is real!!!

So if you’re a climate change denier, if you’re a supporter of bad people in power who encourage denial, if you’re sitting on the sidelines thinking that this is an optional issue to get involved in, well, shame on you for selling our children’s future down the river, that is either flooding or aflame from oil spills. And needless to say, if you’re one of the folks involved in the corporations that profit from excessive squandering of precious resources, I believe there will be a special California section for you in Hell, where the fires are constantly raging and there’s no place to evacuate to. (And don’t talk to me about dangling prepositions when the world is on fire!)

How I would love to live in the Leave It to Beaver world where kids chewing gum in school or sneaking some candy from the pantry is the big issue of the day. But this habit of living in Beaver’s dream world when the black kids in the next town are suffering from minds poisoned by hatred and systems set up to fan those flames has long felt unacceptable to me. Those privileged white folks who thought they could just say, “I’m not into politics. Let’s all just get along” finally are starting to wake up to the terror that is knocking on their door. Climate change doesn’t give a rat’s ass if you’re Democrat or Republican, rich or poor, black or white, male, female or non-binary. On this sinking ship, it is sheer insanity to not embrace every living being in the hope that we can figure something out together. 

Friends, there is no neutral. You’re either thinking about this, responding personally and politically, talking about it, imagining together something that offers real hope or you’re contributing to it by doing nothing. I get that no one wants to walk around with the specter of annihilation or feel overpowered by helplessness and that it’s tempting to just enjoy a pleasant evening at home. And you can! And you should! Despair never helped anybody or anything. But find the ground where you can balance business as usual with a needed sense of crisis that needs all of us to respond from the depths of our caring and imagination. And by the way, if you can find that balance, tell us how you did it!! 

Here’s one thing that’s sure. Sleepwalking through this will feed its power and its power is real. Waking up and discovering how you can help—and there are a thousand ways beyond rallies and petitions and such—is the first sure step to hope. Let’s get going.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Not So Smart

Oh, these machines with their algorhythms think they’re so clever as they scope out your buying habits and look over your shoulder to second-guess your consumer wants so you can buy more stuff. But they’re not as smart as they think they are. Look what Amazon Prime thought I’d like to buy: 

Better Than Hamilton?

Using my 40thwedding anniversary as an impetus, I finally saw Hamilton last night. (And luckily for $120 a ticket instead of $400!) Did I like it? Yes, I did, particularly the second half. Certainly an intriguing story, the dance choreography, singing and rapping was about as tight, polished, well-rehearsed and energetic as you can get it and such accomplishment is always praise worthy. Was I moved in a deeply memorable way? No, not particularly. Which got me thinking about art.

What do I hope for when engaging with art, be it a play, movie, book, concert, painting, poem, etc? Part of it is simply a heightened experience of life, where the colors feel a bit more vibrant, the sounds a bit more melodious, the feelings a bit larger or deeper or truer. I admire virtuosity and appreciate the work that goes into mastering one’s craft, but that alone is never enough. I like a certain vulnerability that opens the gates of the soul a bit wider and reminds me that this life is a gift to be praised and savored and that we all should do better in sharing that gift amongst ourselves. Some humor is always good, joined with some quiet moments when time stands still. And so on.

I was happy I went to Hamilton, but truth be told? Singing with the preschoolers accomplishes the same feelings and indeed, perhaps a bit more. Their sincere, quirky, life-loving, ebullient selves singing their little hearts out is every bit on the same level—and again, sometimes more—than the most virtuosic adult display. And not only is it free, but I get paid!

I suspect Hamilton-lovers will think I’m insane, but hey, come with me to preschool singing sometime and then we’ll talk. Meanwhile, I can’t wait until next Thursday!

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Kilroy Was Here

At the end of the day, don’t we all want to feel that we mattered? That we were here and left some trace of ourselves to live on beyond our mortality? Sometimes we do that in big ways, leaving behind 41 Symphonies or 20 memorable novels or sometimes in small ways, like passing on your honey cake recipe that your descendants will make and think of you while mixing the flour. 

There are probably some 100 plus teachers that have passed through my school and things often come up that remind me of them. Yesterday, I spoke out loud the name “Isaac.” He was a maintenance person who worked with us for just a year or so. I enjoyed our brief morning greetings and found him pleasant to work with and interesting to talk to. One of the things he did was made arrows next to all the door locks to be clear about how to lock the door. Entering the bathroom the other day, I noticed the arrow, flipped the lock and said his name out loud. It was a strange way to leave a little piece of yourself behind, but it worked.

Thanks, Isaac! Hope you’re well. 

Friday, October 25, 2019

Raising the Baby

It was a 12-month pregnancy, but finally the baby was born. 10 fingers and 10 toes, a few minor blemishes, but all in all, a welcome addition to the family. The labor pains were at times excruciating, but to finally hold the baby in my hands was one of life’s pleasures where all the work was justified ten times over. 

But after that moment of satisfaction comes the realization that more work awaits. Having birthed the baby, now I have to raise, set it out there in the world and make sure it takes its proper place amongst friends and companions. I have to keep praising it, pushing it forward in the party to play that piano piece for the crowd, find all the people who I know would love to meet it and convince them that they should take it home. 

Of course, I’m talking about my new book, my ninth. Now that it’s out in physical form, I have to get it on numerous Websites, get it mailed to the appropriate dealers, advertise it in key places, bring it around with me to workshops, consider going to local bookstores to plug it, shamelessly display it on Facebook, the front desk at school and now this blog. And don’t you, dear reader, want to buy one? 

As of now, it’s available atwww.westmusic.comand soon at various other Orff book-dealers and soon on Amazon. It’s a little suspect when parents overpraise their child, but I’m so proud of this one. And equally proud of its 8 siblings. Each one a different corner of the miraculous world I’ve been blessed to live in—making music with children. 

A little pause and then on to the 10thbook. I’m not done yet!

Wednesday, October 23, 2019


I wonder if our ancestors ever woke up and thought, “Dang! I really don’t feel like stalking through that dangerous forest today to hunt for food. When are they going to invent supermarkets?”

After my next bonus 5 more hours in the airport and arriving home at 2:30 am Ohio time, I awoke the next morning for school, scraped the car coming out of the garage, sped to make the lights so I could get parking in the school lot, missed it by one car and had that moment of thinking, “Hey, I could be retired, still sleeping in a cozy bed and awakening to the day before me without the tension of schedules, traffic or parking. Why am I doing this again?”

But then in came the 8thgraders and I helped the first group learn a little trick about improvisation in their new piece that worked. And then second group felt like we were a garage band trying things out—and they were working! After class, seven 8thgraders came back into the room to spend their precious recess going over all their xylophone pieces. At the same time! The ones from one group showed the ones from the other group their parts. Then one group began playing the full Magnetic Rag by themselves and they sounded great! 

Question answered. 

Monday, October 21, 2019

Murphy's Law

Here are the Murphy Laws of United Airlines travel:

1.    If you’re first United flight is late, your connecting flight will leave right on time.
      (Not once, but twice on one trip.)

2.    There are normally four customer service agents helping re-book flights, unless there’s a long line. Then there are two. 

3.    If there’s a piano in the airport, the person playing will be doing hokey arpeggiated shlock—and their flight won’t leave for another three hours. 

Ah, travel!


The Blunted Lion's Paw

I met a man, whose name was Time. Who said “I must be going.”
But just how long ago that was, I have no way of knowing.
Sometimes I want to murder Time, sometimes when my heart’s aching.
But mostly I just stroll along, the path that he is taking.

                               Robin Williamson (Incredible String Band: October Song 

Since I graduated from Antioch College in 1973, I’ve continued to visit regularly throughout the years. It always is an occasion to return to a former self, one just poised on the edge of adulthood whose visions of the life to come were like little tender seedlings just beginning to sprout. 

So here I am again, just one year after my last visit and fresh from a morning walk in Glen Helen, the 1,000 acre nature preserve that housed many of my days of wandering and wondering all those years back. 

And there were the same trees still growing, the leaves still falling to bejewel the ground, the sparkling streams still flowing, as if this moment was no different from that one, time moving forward but then circling back, over and over again. The stone steps laid so long ago were still firm and sturdy and this 68-year-young body could still bound up them without a cane, aching knees or too much shortness of breath. All 128 of them. And the little boy who used to catch falling lives in the park of his childhood still was playing that game— I caught five!! I had some passing folks take a photo of me in front of the same little waterfall that my then-girlfriend captured me on her Brownie camera and of course, the hair was different and the weight (though not too bad—just 10 pounds heavier!), but there was my slightly changed face in front of the unchanging water. The lion’s paw of time has made its mark, as it must, but with soft pads instead of claws. (Or at least, I like to think that!)

I honor that long ago self, but truth be told, am much happier to be who I am now, sagging flesh and all. Then was the excitement of possibility, but of the uncertainty of not knowing if my intuitions were true. Now is the lived affirmation that indeed they were—at least for me—and I have the books, the videos and the testimonies to prove it! 

And so the deep pleasure of strolling along Time’s timeless path on a brisk October morning, along the same paths were my feet trod so long ago. 

Any Size

Out of the millions of words daily spoken, read or written, some are precisely what you need to hear at the moment and some stay with you a lifetime, guiding you through your vision of life well-lived. I was always struck my Gary Snyder’s Zen Master’s advice:

“Sweep the garden.
Any size.”

“Sweeping the garden” is the way we care for the world and show our care for the world, pulling out the weeds, dusting the cobwebs, making some beauty out of apparently random chaos. “Any size” means that it doesn’t particularly matter whether it’s a tiny plot of land or an immense acreage—it’s the act itself that brings the healing to a broken world and some pleasure to our efforts. 

Still, when we are on track and in the zone and have made a particularly lovely garden, we are happy to share it with even one friend, but don’t we wish that more can see it? Yesterday, I gave a workshop at my old alma mater, Antioch College. Since this was where I first stepped through the door of my life’s path when I met Avon Gillespie there in 1972, it felt like a satisfying circle to come back to where it all began and see if I might get some future karmic wheels spinning for another college student. When I first contacted the folks at Antioch, they suggested a Sunday afternoon workshop, made a flyer and assured me that would distribute it to the appropriate places. However, with the phrase “Just show up” on the flyer and no committed pre-registration, I suspected it might be a small crowd. And I was right. 

My class consisted of one elder person from the village of Yellow Springs who noticed the flyer somewhere, a woman who sang in the choir  my college friend who still lives in the area also attends, an Orff teacher who noticed me mentioning this on Facebook and having missed my Columbus workshop yesterday, came here instead. And the Antioch Registrar who helped organize the event. Four people. Not a single Antioch student or teacher. Of course, the college is struggling, quite small (around 100 students) and a walk through the campus feels a bit like a ghost town—literally didn’t pass a single student walking through to the workshop. But still. 

Nevertheless, I persisted and ended up giving a three-hour workshop that blended the game that Avon played with us 47 years ago, some old Antioch stories, live demonstration of the roots of jazz history and videos of my kids at school, grandchildren, mother showing what it means to be musical in the way that I mean it. I had a great time and so did the four people.

I should just accept that my “size” seems fated to be intimate and small. My TED talk viewers, blogposts, book buyers, CD buyers, concert goers, workshop attendants are in the hundreds or thousands (over time) instead of the millions and truly, it’s just the right amount of fame and fortune to satisfy any personal feelings of worthy work. But between my deep revisioning of what music and music education can be and the equally thought-out and lived vision of what education can contribute to our humanitarian promise and progress, why not a bigger audience? Why not speak at Nourse Auditorium like Ta-Nahesi Coates just did or be interviewed by Terry Gross or Oprah or get thousands instead of hundreds reading my blog or listening to my talk or reading my books? Just asking.

Meanwhile, I’ll keep sweeping the garden, any size, and happily so. 

Friday, October 18, 2019

Nevertheless He Persisted

All set for my weekend workshops in Columbus and Yellow Springs, the usual ritual through Security, pre-flight chant, Crostic, settled in my seat and of course, a slight delay. That turned into a longer one because of some problem in the bathroom. Really? Finally, they announce that if you’re making a connecting flight, you might want to de-board and go to customer service. Since the new arrival time in Denver was 5:15 and my next plane left at 5:30, customer service it was. Along with 20 other people and 3 agents. Now the clock ticking and me not knowing if it would be better to have them put me in a hotel in Denver and get out early in the morning, but no way of knowing if there was an early morning flight. (There wasn’t). 

My Premier status got me closer to the front of the line and by the time I got there, it was clear there was one option only: a non-stop Red-eye leaving at 11pm and arriving at 6:45 in the morning. With me scheduled to teach my 5 hour workshop beginning at 9:00 pm. Pleading sympathy from the agent, I suggested that they upgrade me to Business or First Class so I have a chance of getting a decent night’s sleep on the plane before having to teach. Since it was their bad for something as stupid as one malfunctioning bathroom, since I’ve proved my loyalty as a million-mile club member, since the agent said there were actually two business class seats available at the moment, it seemed like the right thing to do.

And yet she didn’t do it. Gave me two $10 meal vouchers and told me to talk to the next agent. I pleaded my case again and got the Party Line spiel. I asked to talk to someone at the next level higher, who arrived 30 minutes later to hear my plea. I tried to be as clear and straightforward and as charming as I could be under my impatience and lo and behold, he changed it! To First-Class! Still, I have missed three classes at school I could have taught, missed playing at the Jewish Home, will arrive in Columbus at 3:45 am San Francisco time to teach with 4 hours sleep, had 9 more hours to either spend at the airport or go home and back on my own dime and go through Security again, etc. etc.  Not the most fabulous deal. But better than sitting up all night in Economy. 

I did go home, bought a new pair of glasses, washed some clothes that I had wished I had washed before leaving, got on my bike to watch the kids at school run cross-country, had a lovely dinner and watched the first three Cheers shows on Netflix. Convinced my wife to drive me to the airport to spare me another BART train ride and here I am at Gate 4, having stopped at an airport bar on the way to watch the last 5 minutes of a Warriors game. After they broke my heart last playoffs, I didn’t know if I could take it again, but there was Steph sinking a 3-pointer and getting fouled and making 2 more, there was Draymond Green, didn’t see Klay and there were three players on the court who I didn’t know, but played well. I could easily get seduced back into watching them more than is good for me. 

That’s my boring First-World Problems and Solutions, but hey, it’s the life I’m living. Wish me luck on the flight and in the sleep-deprived workshop. Oh, and the moral: 

Persistence sometimes pays off. 

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Something Sweet in Denmark

You don’t have to have a science degree to be able to explain why rotten eggs in Denmark smell bad. You trust your nose, name the source of the problem and throw the damn egg away. We humans like to explain and analyze and justify and that’s fine, but sometimes our mind can override our senses and justify things we knowjust aren’t right. “Well, maybe the egg is just olfactorally-challenged and will eventually get better.” Nope, ain’t gonna happen. 


I’ve developed a pretty good nose that I can trust to tell me when something is rotten. The 30 seconds of any time I’ve heard Trump speak is enough to make clear that he is the worst person for a job he never deserved. If you want the “blah-blah-blah” about the details, I could go on, but why bother? Face it—he stinks! Get him out of the kitchen and let’s stop wasting our breath trying to understand how or why or consider alternate viewpoints. 


On the other side of things, my nose for what smells sweet and tastes good is equally strong, cultivated by the 40,000 plus classes with kids whose main goal is create a harmonious gathering of intelligence, imagination, beauty, humor and just plain fun! I know it when it’s there, I know it when it’s not, I’ve spent my life trying to prepare the space and time to invite it in knowing that some of it is just in the hands of Grace. When it arrives, I greet it, welcome it, make it feel at home, give it voice and dance with it. 


Like today. Such a joyful class with 4thgrade, making up opposite rhymes (“I say high and you say low. I say fast and you say slow. I say yes and you say no. I say stop and you say go.”) Then exploring opposites in movement and how those kids did dance! Later in Singing Time, 100 kids singing Abram Brown in 3-part canon and then at 3-different tempos (normal, augmented, diminished) and then kids coming up front to conduct scary sounds in “Up and Down the Street.” So many perfect endings and pin-drop silences! 


Best kept secret of my life? They pay for such happiness! Of course, not much and happiness is hard, hard work, but really, sometimes I just marvel that this is—and has been—an actual adult job. And I’m thankful for every minute of it.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019


At the beginning of my last year back in August, I wondered whether each week would be a constant “the last time I went to the first staff meeting! The last Back-to-School Night! The last corporation potluck meeting!” And the answer luckily was, “No.” Mostly I’m teaching as if it’s just another year, with just occasional moments when I’m happy (not having to look at next year’s proposed schedule in the staff meeting) or a bit sad (watching a class of 7thgraders with an eye to who I’ll be working with next year and then thinking, ‘Oops!’). 


But driving home from school yesterday, I was listening to Oscar Peterson and an unusual (for Oscar) song came on that I remembered hearing before. It’s called “Nighttime” and it’s on his album with Itzhak Perlman called Side by Sideand also on an album Live at Salle Pleyein Paris. It immediately evoked a feeling of sweet farewell and I began writing a poem while driving. A first draft is below and tonight I read it out loud with the music playing and it seems they need to go together. So if you’re interested and you can find that song, try reading it out loud. I’m a long 9 months from actual retirement, but when the Muse calls, you would do well to respond, regardless of the timetable. Here it is: 


It is the nighttime of my many, many years in this place I have loved so long

The sun is setting

The moon is rising.

The day’s stories have all been told

And behold, they are good. 

The fire is lit with the warmth of memory. 

I see the long parade of beautiful children now grown

And leading the next ones forward, King Glory

going up the mountain. 

Where the first one, the second one, the third 

           followed me. 

But now will follow me no more. 

Now, someone else will be walking them through the promised land.

That glorious place where we traveled along, singing songs side by side, 

Where we stumbled and fell, lost our way, huddled together in the cold, 

circled together in joy and danced our way to happiness.

Behind me now, the bread crumbs of those lived years 

are messages to the future, 

beckoning others to make the long climb to unending beauty, 

bubbling laughter,               shouted exultation. 

Here, paused on the peak, the sky is orange with the day’s close.

The owl and the whippoorwill fill the air with song 

while the morning birds turn to sleep. 

Tomorrow a new day will dawn.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Hail Columbus?

“Arawak men and women, naked, tawny and full of wonder, emerged from their villages onto the island’s beaches and swam out to get a closer look at the strange big boat. When Columbus and his sailors came ashore, carrying swords, speaking oddly, the Arawaks ran to greet them, brought them food, water, gifts. Columbus later wrote of this in his log:

“They… brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawk’s bells. They willing traded everything they owned…They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features…They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it be the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane…They would make fine servants…With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.”

So opens Howard Zinn’s  A People’s History of the United States.Columbus comes to the New World (the Old Word to the native inhabitants) and brings with him his culture of dominance, of greed, of conquering people and nature over living harmoniously with people and nature. And this begins the history of our dear country that leads unapologetically to the genocide of Native Americans, the enslavement of Africans, the insatiable appetite for money and power that leads to the exploitation of workers from robber baron bosses and always the inequality between men and women. 

What kind of human being responds to the generous welcome of a host culture with “with fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want?” 

And that is exactly what old Chris did. Came back and in 1495, “rounded up fifteen hundred Arawak men, women and children, put them in pens guarded by Spaniards and dogs, then picked the five hundred best specimens to load onto ships” to go to Spain to be sold as slaved. OF course, with God on his side. He wrote: “Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold.”

Meanwhile, his lust for gold had him order all Arawaks 14 years old and older to collect a certain quantity of gold every three months. When they brought it, they were given copper tokens to hang around their necks. Indians found without a copper token had their hands cut off and bled to death. …Within two years, through murder, mutilation or suicide, half of the 250,000 Indians on Haiti were dead. By 1550, there were only 500 left and by 1650, there were none. 

So, my friends, that’s who we’re celebrating today. A man lusting for gold, intent on enslaving human beings and sure that God was on his side as he set out to extinguish a race of fellow people. Isn’t that a lovely lesson for the children. 

If we’re going to take time off from business as usual today, let’s at least tell the real story—to ourselves and to the children. And then look sharply at ourselves and see it all at work still today. Read George Conway’s article about our President who is a certified sociopath, psychopath and pathological narcissist incapable of empathy and drawn by his lust for gold and power. And have a moment of silence for the original Arawaks and all the millions of other people brutalized by these kinds of cultural permissions. 

Happy Columbus Day?

Sunday, October 13, 2019

How to Ruin a Day in the Park

1)   Let the Blue Angels Navy planes roar and scream overhead frightening little children, birds and generally disturbing the peace.

2)   Get me thinking about the arrogance, ignorance and disrespect of a nation that hasn’t been invaded for centuries (except for 9/11) thinking it’s fun to have planes screeching across the sky when for many countries, that would mean the very real danger and traumatic memory of bombs dropping and neighbors dying. (And often those bomb-carrying planes from the U.S.!)

3)   Get me thinking up all the fossil fuel wasted for this kind of spectacle entertainment. 

4)   Get me wondering why my beloved San Francisco, the most liberal place in the country, still hosts a Navy Fleet Week that includes this disturbing display. 

I get that there is some bizarre and almost perverse kind of artistry as the four planes fly in a choreographed display, but why not try it with gliders? The whole macho “watch me penetrate the sky with my massive powerful organ” is precisely what the world needs to be done with. 

And so my hope to sit by the lily-pad pond in the Arboretum and honor the Sabbath with some quiet reflection was bombarded from above. Thanks for nothing, Fleet Week. 

Child Poets

It has been such a joy to explore haiku in my 4thgrade music classes. A few posts ago, I shared “My Life in Haiku” and now get ready for more! These from the children (though three from me), written during a class when I sent them out in the school yard to sit quietly and see if a poem came their way. To use their senses, noticing what they hear, they see, they smell, they feel and in one example below, what they taste. To try out the challenge of the 5-7-5 syllabic structure, to consider a seasonal reference, to bring their poem home with a punch line. (All of which you can find in this first example below.)

The kids have fallen in love with haiku. One bought a book of Basho’s poetry and journals (a 4thgrader!), all effortlessly turned inward to some silent space within when we sat on the benches on Pier 23 in our city walk to write yet more haiku. How their tender souls need this kind of silence and space! How we all do! Mindfulness is gaining traction in schools and this is a good thing, but like so much of the way we Americans do things, it is a “thing.” The cool thing du jour to do and yes, better that than a thousand other things it could be. To hear the peace bell and habitually stop and breathe. Lovely!

But this haiku tradition offers yet more. First off, it’s a centuries-old practice and that means it has weight and history and many ancestors to draw from. Secondly, it demands the mindful moment but also invites artistic expression, the art of capturing the flavor of the moment in the net of language and then sharing back with the group. And paying mind to a mathematical structure. Soon we will also try re-writing in a Chinese/ Japanese brush-painting style and illustrating with watercolors. And they’ve already enacted some in drama and accompanied with percussion instruments. Integrated arts, people!!

At any rate, here are some first-drafts from our class at the school. It might help to know that the school looks over the 280 freeway, so the many references to the roaring river of traffic is better understood if you know that. Enjoy!

The warm breeze of Spring
The cold breeze of the Autumn
Two seasons at once.

Pigeons in the air
All the trees with fluttering leaves 
It is quiet now.

Whoosh! The wind swarming
Vrooom! The cars on the highway
Ha! The children laugh.

Leaves crunching underfoot
The fresh smell of pumpkin
A leaf falls to the ground. 

The hot summer
Nothing but heat, the cold glass of water
Quenching my thirst.
-       Sasha

There is not one cloud
The Autumn wind blows the trees
Yet I sit so still.
-       Vedant

Trees swaying in wind
Growing bigger every year
Standing tall. Like us!

A blade of grass
Tastes bland and bitter
The texture is strange.

-       Lily

Birds chirp in the trees
They rustle the leaves and sing
Tweet tweet tweet tweet tweet. 

-       Nola

The sky is blue
The leaves are green.
Yellow is the sun.

The grumbling highway
Yet we are in Nature’s peace
Trees swaying back and forth.
-       Jane

The wind is blowing
Rustling the leaves on the trees
Fall is the best time.
-       Julien

Smell the smell of
Smoke coming from the cars out there
Bye, Antarctica!        

The roar of traffic
The children’s screaming voices
Drown out the bees’ buzz.
-       Doug

Hot in the bright sun.
Then cool in the leafy shade.
Which one should I choose?

-       Doug

Pen and paper poised
Two flies land on the table
Waiting for my poem.
-       Doug


Friday, October 11, 2019

It's Music!


Here’s a confession: I miss writing these blogposts! But somehow things have intensified and there doesn’t seem to be time or space. I could write about giving my San Francisco tour to the 4thgrade (fun!!) or sharing the next breathtaking passage in my Dickens book (there are many!) or telling the story of my next confusing betrayal (ooh! Juicy!) or tell the story of our new TV (high drama!), but hey, I’m giving the first of my workshop series tomorrow, the ones I’ve been doing since 1976, so I better pass on it all. 

Instead, I’ll feature a 4thgrade guest writer who spontaneously wrote a poem and gave it to his teacher, who passed it on to me. The kids are afire with poetry and that’s an entry in itself. Meanwhile, check this out:


It seeps through the heart with a mighty ring,
Makes cats purr and choirs sing.
It makes happiness jump wherever it goes,
Makes boys and girls swing to and fro.

It’s in every song,
And many dances.
It’s best by itself with no enhances.
It’s music to your ears,
It’s music to mine,
It makes people smile,
And makes their sun shine.

If you don’t have it, you might lose it,
It’s music I say,
It’s music,
It’s music!

-Aristu Sachdev