Saturday, November 30, 2019

Dear Diary

My plan to catch up after a week of not-writing almost worked. But time marches on and just a little bit faster than I can manage at the moment. So before November comes to a close, a short synopsis for the historical record:

• Saturday, Nov. 23: With no workshops to teach and no kids to perform with or take care of, I had a delightful day actually going to workshops. Some from former students in our summer training course (hooray!), some people I didn’t know and hadn’t seen teach, some I had seen teach doing something different. It was mostly fun, but truth be told, by the end, I was not excited about getting into small groups and making something up. I just wanted someone to tell me what to do and in the last workshop, she did—and it didn’t turn out to be much worth doing. Oh well. 

There was a closing session that deserves its own entry, a continuation of the shift-in-the-wind feeling of the Conference with 4 out of the 5 teachers people of color and leading us into helping three quotes come to life in speech, song and movement. The quotes? From Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela. We ended with concentric circle singing and the tears were flowing. As they should.

That night was the annual banquet and the by-now usual kick-ass dance band and everyone kicked their shoes off and got down to it! Fun! The only thing missing was the ritual conga line and truth be told, I didn’t miss it. Post-banquet, happened into my California peeps and headed up to their hotel suite (someone had perks) and played a fun 14-person game of Cheers Guv-nor! Until 1 in the morning. Most of these folks in their 30’s and 40’s and all my former Orff students and I love ‘em to death. And was both grateful they let the old guy hang with them and proud that I could!

• Sunday: A meeting of the Summer Course teachers with small group discussion about where we should be going in the next 50 years. (My world music sharing from that discussion in the last post.) Again, where often there is discord and a sense of different camps, “we” was the predominate pronoun. Hooray for that.

Lunch with my old Orff buddy Pam looking over a draft of her Orff/ Bali book I hope to publish with my Pentatonic Press and off to the airport. But not home. Straight to Portland, where my daughter and two grandchildren met me at the airport and whisked me off for the first 5 hours of our 12 hour drive to San Francisco. Wheee!

• Monday: Woke up in Grant’s Pass and off we went in my preschool-music-class-in-the-car as I worked on engaging my 4 and 8-year old grandkids. Three stories, a few rhythm games, many songs, some recorded stories and songs and the seven hours whisked by—well, not that rapidly, but we made it. Barely, it turns out, as the car was doing weird things up hills and we took it to a mechanic right away who noted the oil was almost out (a separate problem) and had we driven another hour, we would have ruined the engine. Whoops. 

• Tuesday:  A morning of hanging out with games, drawing, eating, etc. and then a film crew came for the afternoon to interview me and then later my wife and two daughters. Part of a project chronicling my last year at school and I’m pretty casual about it, but the film folks (led by a school parent) are pretty serious and already have some 15 hours of filmed material—classes, performances, interviews and more. Yikes! That night, off to daughter Talia’s house for dinner and a family celebration of her 35thbirthday. Yikes again! (My second daughter is 35!) Our first rain came and how it came! Arriving at Talia's house, there were twin rivers running down the hill, almost too wide and swift to cross! (And apparently, we will have rain for 13 out of the next 14 days! But of course, we can always use it.)

• Wednesday: Spent a lot of energy thinking about kid-friendly things to do in San Francisco and opted for just walking down Irving St. while we did little errands, stop for a lunch of fresh dumplings (inspired by a Japanese story I read to them 4 times!), visited Talia’s new apartment where she will soon move, came back through Golden Gate Park. Perfect grandkid time and no tickets needed. Son-in-law Ronnie flew down that night.

• Thursday: Thanksgiving at my sister’s house in Sebastopol. A lovely family time and great walk on Florence Avenue where all these fabulous metal sculptures are (see photos below). Talia, Karen and I drove home while the Portland crew spent the night to get a head-start on their 3-day drive back home. 

• Friday: My house was so quiet! And clean! I love the little kid energy, but find myself quite happy to get a break from it as well. Spent the day getting e-mail down to 0 and other such business-like things and treated myself to the Tom Hanks “It’s a Beautiful Day” movie that night.

• Saturday:  Drove down to San Jose to gather at one of the Interns’ house. We’re all getting a bit sad that we only have three-weeks left of this marvelous four months together, so nice to have some time eating Chinese and Persian food, playing a card game about sushi and sashimi. Came home and played Bach for two hours, realizing how much I’ve missed the piano. 

And now here I am. December a mere 3 hours away, I bid farewell to a vibrant and memorable November and prepare myself for the next round of intensity before the Holiday break. Breathe in. Breathe out. And off we go!…………

The World Music Foundation

…is not a non-profit organization designed to promote, support, sustain that mysterious non-entity called World Music. It’s a description of what the elemental foundations of the Orff Schulwerk gifts to people interested in expanding their musical universe beyond the narrow borders of pop and past the horizon of the harmonic European classical tradition. 

Still back-pedaling on this blog to try to unpack some of the exciting suitcases we brought to the Orff Conference. James and Sofia did a session on Stravinsky that included modal improvisations, I did one looking at pentatonic melodies from northern Ghana and the southern Philippines (with an Emily Dickinson poem I arranged as a choral piece thrown into the mix) that offered unique compositional devices. But the most important thing we offered was the Middle School children’s concert showcasing music from India, Bali, Brazil, Cuba, Ghana, Philippines, Spain alongside the work of two contemporary European/American composers and the American genius, Duke Ellington. (See "Culture Bearing" post for the actual concert set list). Not your standard fare for an Orff Conference and I remember thinking during the show that the audience reaction seemed lukewarm. I’ve heard folks cheer so loudly for kids who did cute things passably well partly because the kids deserved it and partly because it all was comfortably familiar for the teachers attending the conference. I think for some, our presentation was a bit of a surprise, showing material and expertise and dynamic kid energy that was a bit outside of people’s frame of reference and thus, received in a different way. (And, by the way, there was significant cheering by the end and all of it much appreciated.)

We have presented 6 concerts like this at Conferences between 1991 and 2019, so from our point of view, this was nothing new. But as I mentioned in “A Shift in the Wind,” there was something about the timing of this that made it precisely what people needed to see and hear to consider how to move forward into the greater diversity that we’re starting to hunger for. The audience was prepared to look at it with new eyes and hear it with new ears and consider it with a new mindset and feel it with a new heart-feeling. Or at least, that’s what I’d like to think. 

In a meeting on the last morning with the teachers teaching the summer courses and giving workshops around the country, we looked at the beginning of the next 50 years and considered where we wanted to go. In my break-out group, I gave the concert as an example of where I hoped we might be heading and laid out how the Orff approach is the perfect foundation for this work. We just need to start framing the building and filling in the details. 

This is a book in itself and indeed, my next project with my colleagues James and Sofia. But the short version of the marriage between “World Music” and Orff is as follows:

• Instruments: The Orff instruments themselves were initially inspired by similar models in West Africa, Indonesia and Germany. What a pleasure to mix the original grandfather Ghanaian gyil with its grandchildren. And in general, Orff Ensembles integrate recorder and percussion instruments worldwide— a perfect foundation to study further the technical demands of the conga, gourd rattle or triangle as practiced in Cuba, Ghana and Brazil. Additionally, our program integrated traditional Western instruments— a string quartet, piano, saxophone, trumpet, trombone and flutes. 

• Elemental composition: Most of the pieces we presented were based on pentatonic or modal scales, layers of ostinato, color parts and drones, exactly the elements of Orff and Keetman’s compositional style given new—and old—voice. 

Tradition: The Bobobo dance and drum patterns of the Ewe people we learned in Ghana and passed them on to the children in their traditional form. Likewise, the Coco dance and song from Brazil. Passing on the tried-and-true is part of our responsibilities as music teachers, alongside giving a taste of cultural practices as they have been and continue to be in diverse communities.

• Innovation: At the same time that we honor tradition, we take seriously Orff’s invitation to innovate and create something new. Making body percussion patterns from South Indian drum syllables in the context of a “West Side Story” drama, combining Balinese kecak with ball-passing routines, adding new instruments like Thai angklung to a Philippine kulintang piece are just some of the ways we used our creative license.

• Integrated arts: Following Orff’s axiom that “elemental music is never music alone, but forms a unity with movement, dance and speech,” virtually every piece had movement and many had props—balls, fans, sticks, bamboo poles. There were choreographed dance routines, a film, body percussion and a bit of story and drama. 

• Child-centered: The show was crafted around the particular talents of the students who signed up. Some were featured as singers, as dancers, as solo viola players, as dancers, always with a sense of each child’s particular strengths. The kids mostly crafted the particular dance routines and the energy throughout was playful, as children are. 

• Repertoire: The show was also crafted around our unique Middle School curriculum—World Music in 6thgrade, European (and beyond) classical composition in 7th, American (and beyond) jazz and improvisation. Besides mastering examples of these diverse genres, our students also study a bit of history, geography, culture, learning the context of where a particular music come from and often touching on themes of social justice.

• Composition: “Let the children be their own composers” Carl Orff (theoretically) said and through exposure to diverse compositional styles, children begin to compose their own music from a broad palette of sonic possibilities. 

In short, the whole concert was a model of the kind of foundation a good Orff program offers for further study and development. The bad news is that it isn’t easily packageable and transmitted through a mere book of pieces. It requires a fiery curiosity and determination to study, imagine and apply new ideas to one’s old pedagogical habits. The good news is that there are plenty of courses—many of them under the umbrella of the San Francisco International Orff Course I direct—that open these doors to the willing teacher. Many of these courses flow two ways, helping people with a background in a specific cultural music to experience how the Orff approach can help communicate, introduce and extend the material, while simultaneously helping those with a background in Orff pedagogy learn some culturally-specific music to widen the playing field of their repertoire and expand their own musical skills. Both the Orff-Afrique Course in Ghana and my Jazz Course in New Orleans/ San Francisco/ Newark are examples of these unique opportunities. 

The foundation is laid. Now comes the building. And then the housewarming party. Finally, the life lived in these marvelous rooms. 

And if you're not yet convinced, look how happy these children are in their post-concert joy!!!

Chimaltenango and the Calendar of Faith

The first trip my wife Karen and I took (before marriage) was to Guatemala in 1975. We were enjoying the known tourist spots, but got an idea to pick a random town on the map and go where tourists usually don’t. So we got on a bus and got off at Chimaltenango. We looked around for a few minutes and immediately re-boarded the bus. Nothing about the town looked the least bit appealing and we quickly figured out that there was a reason that Chimaltenango was not on the tourist list. It became a metaphor for future situations where we thought that things that didn’t pass some test of time and experience were as interesting as those that did. And then finding out they weren't. (I actually believe they might be if you look at them differently and know where and how to look, but that’s another discussion.)

So yesterday we took a welcome bike ride to the Legion of Honor Museum to see an exhibit by 19thcentury French painter James Tissot. I had never heard of him and by the end of the exhibit, I knew why. He actually was a very technically accomplished painter but the subject matter of French women’s fashion, followed by a late-life obsession with Biblical images, left me feeling like he was the Chimaltenango of French painters. There was a reason why his name is not sounded alongside Renoir, Degas, Manet, Monet, Seurat, Gauguin, Pissarro, Cezanne and others. But I did like an early painting of the Dance of Death, complete with bagpipes and a later one of two people holding a light at a séance that seemed like it was truly a light shining out of the canvas. 

From there, went to our beloved Green Apple Bookstore to get next year’s calendars. I’m not at the age yet when I wonder about buying an unripe banana, but well past the 50-yard line on the mortality football field, I did feel a twinge of buying calendars as an article of faith. A faith I’m happy to profess as I look at its blank pages, imagine how they will be filled in both familiar and unknown ways and hope that the fates will be kind and this time next year, I’ll be buying the next calendar. 

Meanwhile, on I go with my bucket list and I’m pretty sure that Chimaltenango is not on it.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Mentionable, Manageable, Musical

“If it’s human, it’s mentionable. If it’s mentionable, then it’s manageable.” 

One of the choice nuggets from the new “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” the Tom Hanks version of Mr. Rogers trying to name the elephant in the room to bring its silent rampage under control. As also mentioned in the movie, Mr. Rogers may come across to many as a goody-goody, but he really did deal with dark and difficult themes with precisely the idea that saying them out loud to children—and adults— got them off the merry-go-round of under-the-rug-repression or off-to-the-side-distracting-entertainment. And then proceeded to give some advice about expressing one’s sadness, anger, frustration in ways that don’t hurt others or oneself. 

He mentions pounding clay and banging on the low keys of the piano, but I would add shaping and sculpting clay and playing Bach or the Blues on the piano. Repression certainly doesn’t work but neither does unbridled “Primal Scream” (remember that?) expression. But art or meditation that takes the raw energy and cooks it into something nourishing and tasty is a third option that I would recommend. Whether it’s music or art or poetry or a walk in the woods or following the breath, it is the effort to face and name the darkness and to work with it in some way or another that begins to help us manage it. The very act of making an effort makes us larger and makes it smaller, so that it’s still with us, but its impact is diminished. 

The habit of the “unmentionable” has been with us at least since the Medieval Parzival story, when the naïve young knight stumbles upon the Grail Castle in the midst of the Wasteland and meets the grail King who is carried out on a litter with a wound that bleeds day and night and neither kills him nor is healed. Trained to be polite, Parzival says nothing about the wound and the next morning, the castle has disappeared and Parzival is doomed to 30 more years of wandering before he finds it again. This time he says to the king, “What ails you?” and the very act of asking the question is the beginning of the healing. 

Whether it be psychological, cultural, political or spiritual healing, Mr. Rogers had it right. Start by mentioning it and then begin to manage it. And may I suggest again the third M— make into a music that soothes, comforts, expresses, deepens and enlarges all who play it and all who deeply listen. 

And that’s what will make it a beautiful day in the neighborhood.

Heater Wars

It is seriously cold in San Francisco! For us, that means in the 40’s, which folks in sub-arctic temperatures will laugh at. But keep in mind that our houses—or at least my house—is not well-prepared for cold temperatures. This one heater (see above)  heats our whole house and there’s usually about 5 days a year when it’s chugging all it’s might and barely keeping our noses warm. Of course, we’re in a habit of shutting it off at night, so the drama begins anew the next day and technically, we don’t have to do that. Like I said, it’s a habit. 

But during these cold snaps, there is a little passive-aggressive war going on between my wife and I. I turn it on and an hour or two later, I find it turned off. Or I turn it on full-blast and mysteriously, it has been moved down to the low heat position. Makes me wonder if any couples-therapy groups have thoroughly discussed the role of different temperature tolerances in their compatibility studies. Relationship is all about compromise, but when it comes to freezing my butt off, I’m not feeling generous in the negotiations. Just sayin’.

I could discuss this more here, but I have to go check the heater. 

More Is More

It doesn’t take a literary specialist to note that modern writing is more condensed, more pithy, more leaning to the soundbyte than the long, flowery sentence. Sometimes this feels like a decline, a capitulation to our shortening media-tranced attention span and inability to hold a long thought in our mind. Othertimes, especially in the hands of artful writers, it feels like a haiku kind of condensation of the “less is more” variety. In short, the number of words alone are not so important as how they are constructed and what they have to say. But certainly modern writing teachers will steer their students toward the shorter sentences and modern readers will mostly be impatient with overly-long sentences. 

I was worried when I resumed my Fall Dickens that my own tolerance for lengthy phrases would be diminished, but mostly, it has been a great pleasure to re-enter his genius for both plot and poetic writing, for character and conversation. But I did have to smile reading this one—I repeat, one, sentence last night. Check it out!

But now, when he thought how regularly things went on from day to day in the same unvarying round—how youth and beauty died, and ugly griping age lived tottering on—how crafty avarice grew rich, and manly honest hearts were poor and sad—how few they were who tenanted the stately houses, and how many those who lay in noisome pens, or rose each day and laid them down at night, and lived and died, father and son, mother and child, race upon race, and generation upon generation, without a home to shelter them or the energies of one single man directed to their aid—how in seeking, not a luxurious and splendid life, but the bare means of a most wretched and inadequate subsistence, there were women and children in that one town, divided into classes, numbered and estimated as regularly as the noble families and folks of great degree, and reared from infancy to drive most criminal and dreadful trades—how ignorance was punished and never taught—how jail-door gaped and gallows loomed for thousands urged towards them by circumstances darkly curtaining their very cradles’ heads, and but for which they might have earned their honest bread and lived in peace—how many died in soul, and had no chance of life—how many who could scarcely go astray, be they vicious as they would, turned haughtily from the crushed and stricken wretch who could scarce do otherwise, and who would have been a greater wonder had he or she done well, than even they, had they done ill—how much injustice, and misery, and wrong there was and yet how the world rolled on from year to year, alike careless and indifferent, and no man seeking to remedy or redress it;—when he thought of all this, and selected from the mass the one slight case on which his thoughts were bent, he felt indeed that there was little ground for hope, and little cause or reason why it should not form an atom in the huge aggregate of distress and sorrow, and add on small and unimportant unit to swell the great amount. (p. 791)

1 sentence. 23 lines. 358 words. 28 commas. 10 hyphens. 1 semi-colon. 

But note the content—concern for social justice, timeless meditations on the world’s ways, rich descriptive adjectives (ugly griping age/ crafty avarice), poetic alliteration ( honest hearts/ gaped and gallows/ remedy or redress)and imagery (an atom in the huge aggregate of distress and sorrow). It’s a mouthful, but worth the effort. Next time you’re in such a hurry that you’re texting things like “Lol. Tx!,” think about Mr. Dickens.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Thanksgiving Day

Some folks choose to be hateful
Some folks choose to be grateful
Some folks have a bad attitude
Some folks are filled will gratitude.

Some folks just care about banks
Some folks prefer to give thanks
Some folks are obsessed with investing
Some folks are counting their blessings.

And so all your gifts you won’t squander
Here is a thought you might ponder.
To buoy up hope, ward off despair,
Choose the second of each pair.

The Moral Hierarchy

            Some people are so poor all they have is money.  —Bob Marley

The power grid in Nicole Robinson’s workshop (see last post) is about as real as it gets. Where you are on the grid can determine where you live, how you live, what resources are available, what dreams can be realized and can literally be a matter of life and death when it comes to things like health care. Our determination to re-shuffle the accepted notions of who gets the goodies and aim for more fair, just and equitable distribution is the responsibility of each and every one of us. But it’s not the whole story. 

The above is about political and economic power and once more I say it clearly—this is as real as it gets. Nothing I’m about to say discounts this. It’s a “Yes, and…” not a “Yes, but…” But again I say: “It’s not the whole story.”

Because there is another kind of power that also determines the quality of life and is equally—and sometimes more— important. I’m talking about spiritual power, moral power, the power of integrity and character and comradery and kindness and compassion and artistry. And though it’s not precisely a one-to-one ratio, it seems that those who often have the political/economic outer kind of power are sorely lacking in the inner spiritual/ moral power. Witness the toddler-in-chief and the cronies who surround him. So while the white, Protestant, upper-class male is at the top of one kind of power grid, he often is at the bottom of the other kind. 

Look at the history of jazz. The folks who created the artistic legacy that the world admires and that has brought beauty, comfort and solace to so many couldn’t eat or sleep at the hotel where they played, but played and sang with such joy, passion and artistic truth. They suffered every day of their lives from racism, yet transcended it and generously shared their gifts. Likewise, poor immigrant families are marginalized and insulted, but often the children are surrounded by an extended family network eating convivial meals together and celebrating cultural roots while their privileged counterparts are being raised by appliances. Women everywhere are still struggling to be paid equally and be freed of male-dominant assault both physical and psychological, yet can also enjoy the gifts of nurturing life and not having to hide behind a macho front that is afraid of true emotion. A Buddhist has no clout whatsoever in the political mainstream, but can cultivate the power to connect to the Soul of the World through the simple act of sitting still and following the breath.

No one feels sorry for those who sit at the top of the political/economic grid as they golf their way through their privileged life, but truly, they are often so empty inside and worthy of our deepest compassion. Likewise, even the best of the liberals amongst us tends to feel sorry for and pity the poor people of color, but (again while not naively dismissing their challenges of political marginalization) I often admire their family life and artistic accomplishment and well-earned sense of humor. So as we re-balance the scales, let’s think about both dimensions. If the rich and powerful were able to access some inner richness and power, they wouldn’t have to be so mean-spirited. If the poor and dispossessed had access to the same resources we all have been promised, they wouldn’t have to struggle so hard to receive what the Constitution promised.

Just a thought. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Shift in the Wind

I’m a big fan of old music, old books, old movies, often finding a sense of artistry, character, depth lacking in the modern fly-by-night special-effects sensation-driven counterparts. But besides their timeless artistic, poetic or philosophical value, there are qualities in these classics that are disturbing to our modern selves. They reflect the given and accepted values of the  times in which they were made and the mere fact that some of these things seem strange or outdated is a means to measure the needed changes that are slowly evolving. What was accepted as the norm back then and what is no longer excusable now (at least by a certain class of thinking people) is good food for thought. 

Non-controversial examples include those movies in the 40’s and 50’s when everyone smoked— and smoked a lot. And the accepted notion that the first—and often only—response to be beaten down by life, betrayed, disappointed, devastated by the turn of events— was to go directly to the bar, do not pass go and get rip-roaringly drunk. 

Then things like Frank Sinatra walking past a working woman in Ocean’s Eleven and patting her butt without a second thought. All the movies with black folks as maids, porters, waiters, cooks and always happy and deferential. Not to mention the warring “Indians” and “inscrutable Chinese,” replete with cliched pentatonic riffs and gongs and drums. And then there was blackface, casually accepted and propagated from our beloved Hollywood icons—Fred Astaire, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland and more. 

Of course, all of it looks horrendous from our modern perspective and while some innocently just shrugged their shoulders as “the way things are” back then, those being stereotyped certainly suffered in direct and indirect ways. But behind it all was something much more profound than creating and perpetuating stereotypes. There was a mass, collective, willfully ignorance of how all “isms’ work and thus, little hope of understanding or considering changing the way in which they were purposefully fostered so select people could enjoy a power and privilege they neither earned nor deserved. Without the language to even begin such discussions, racism was seen as something to either deny or hide or shrug off or cry out powerlessly against. It also existed as an isolated event, without thinking about how it was connected to sexism, classism, homophobia, religious intolerance and beyond. Without the language to identify it, to speak about it coherently, to think about intelligibly, we were stuck. Until now. 

My Thursday morning at the AOSA Conference was Diversity Education (not Training) with Nicole Robinson and it was simply stunning. (See her website for more details). Through simple card games and real talk, we looked at 12 different “isms”, defined which way the power flowed in our current culture and placed ourselves on the grid, surprised to find out that a straight white male like myself was middle to low on the power scale in areas like religion, class and education. In this no-blame, no-shame approach, the room was an instant “we,” all of us both more aware of our particular patterns of privilege and determined to speak out on behalf of those lower down. And eventually change the hierarchy. It was the most inclusive, empowering class of its kind and everyone left feeling both good (for the right reasons), more aware, more hopeful and just a bit more determined to proactively begin to turn things around. 

This was not business as usual for our music-education organization, which mostly has chosen to step over or around the muddy waters of courageous conversations and politic issues that directly affect the children we teach. Now it feels like a major shift in the wind, something not possible even a few years ago. And that gave me hope that yet more of our beloved country is waking up and realizing that the isms are not givens, but creations of our own lesser selves, that silence is complicity and then the world awaits each and every one of us to share the burden of righting the wrongs and creating a sustainable and just future—or even just a future for the children we teach. As we educate ourselves and begin to recognize the devious ways the privileged and powerful try to set us against each other, see the common links between all isms (things like “follow the money” and “feel bigger by trying to make others small”), we become the citizens that our democracy expects. That our AOSA leaders are leading us in this direction is reason for celebration. May it keep moving forward!

Dragnet Report

The poet Mary Oliver described writing as waking up in the morning and the world saying: “Here I am. Would you like to make a comment?” Most people say, “No, thank you. I’m busy.” The writer says, “I believe I do.”

And so 8 years and over 2500 blogposts later, it has been my habit to make comments. Yet my last post was November 20—seven days of blog silence. What’s going on?

In short, life. I’m 100% aware that the world went on just fine without my comments and I was okay as well. But I did miss those moments of reflection and the invitation to enlarge the experiences just a bit more through giving it some sense of meaning through language. And that Kilroy sense of  “I was here. This is what happened and it mattered.”

But life is still overshadowing reflection with the grandchildren visiting and their constant demand for attention. So in this rare moment when Malik is fingerpainting in the basement with his grandma and Zadie is entertaining herself with kazoo melodies, I’m at least going to try to remember what happened last week. In the style of Jack Webb from the old Dragnet TV show: “Just the facts, ma’am.” Low on the adjectives and heavy on the nouns and verbs. As follows:

Wednesday: 11/20/19
Jazz Jeopardy game with the 8thgraders, off to the airport with James and Sofia, arrive in Salt Lake City for my 38thOrff National Conference.

Thursday: Morning workshops in Diversity Training, afternoon two workshops that I taught, evening rehearsals with the 38 Middle School kids who arrived to perform at the Conference.

Friday: Morning workshop, sound check with the kids, afternoon performance with them, dinner at Buca di Beppo and bid them farewell.

Saturday: A day of workshops and schmoozing, closing ceremony, banquet and dancing, late night party in a hotel suite playing “Cheers Guv’nor.”

Sunday: Morning of meetings with national Orff teachers, fly to Portland, drive to Grant’s Pass 5 hours with my daughter Kerala and two grandchildren.

Monday: Drive 7 hours to San Francisco, arrive in time for dinner and taking the car to the mechanics. 

Tuesday: Take the grandkids to the playground in cold, cold weather (oop! adjectives!), retreat indoors to play with a friend’s grandchild, film crew at my house to interview me and extended family in this ongoing film project chronicling my work in this last year of school, celebrate my daughter Talia’s 35thbirthday at her house. 

Wednesday: Here I am and these my Dragnet-style comments. More (hopefully) to come.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

The Orff Tourist

Los Angeles. Portland. Las Vegas. Kansas City. Boston. Chicago. Detroit. Atlanta. Denver. San Diego. Minneapolis. Indiannopolis. Philadelphia. Dallas. Memphis. Seattle. Tampa. Phoenix. Rochester. Cincinnatti. Las Vegas. Louisville. Long Beach. Birmingham. Omaha. San Jose. Charlottesville. Milwaukee. Spokane. Pittsburgh. St. Louis. Denver. Nashville. San Diego. Atlantic City. Dallas/Ft. Worth. Cincinnatti. Salt Lake City. 

These the sites of the Orff National Conferences I have attended over the years. The first in L.A. was 1976, the second in Portland was 1982 and it was the third in Las Vegas in 1984 where I first presented a workshop at the conference and continued to attend—and present and perform—for the next 35 years without missing a single one. Not only do I remember each conference in order and by year—and ritually invoke them with friends at the beginning of each conference— but I remember key moments from each. This year I again both present and perform with the SF School kids (our 7thgroup we’ve taken) and get to go freely to the workshops without pre-signing up in my new status as a Distinguished Service Lifetime Member (conferred upon me last year at this time). I always enjoy hanging out with the California crew in a new place and likewise, meeting the folks from around the country—and the world—some of whom I’ve gotten to know mostly because of these Conferences. 

Truth be told, most of the drama takes place indoors in a generic hotel or convention center, but there have been some memorable tastes of American cities—blues clubs on Memphis’ Beale St. and a trip to Graceland, Niagara Falls near Rochester, a Cirque de Soleil show in Las Vegas, the Civil Rights Museum in Birmingham, an art museum in Milwaukee, the arch in St. Louis and so on. These 3-day affairs truly are a condensed version of life, with weddings, memorial services, betrayals, awards, meetings with notable musicians (Jean Ritchie. The Georgia Sea Island Singers. Paul Winter. Glen Velez), great dancing at the Saturday banquet, late night convivial comradery at the hotel bar and just plain fun. 

Three classes at school today and then off I go. Wheeee!

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Letter to My Father

“It is an exquisite and beautiful thing in our nature, that when the heart is touched and softened by some tranquil happiness of affectionate feeling, the memory of the dead comes over it most powerfull and irresistibly. It would almost seem as thought our better thoughts and sympathies were charms, in virtue of which the soul is enabled to hold some vague and mysterious intercourse with the spirits of those whom we dearly loved in life.”

Dear Dad,

I happened to read this passage last night in my annual Dickens’ novel (this year Nicholas Nickleby, that quote on p. 652) and couldn’t help but feel how timely it was. Because today would have been your 101stbirthday. Of course, the best memories come unexpectedly— a song, a smell, a moment that calls you back to life. Such things don’t occur just because the day turns on the calendar. But it’s a good reason to pause and remember you. I played a bit of two of your compositions, Refugee Pathetique and Forma and that felt good to hear those notes again (though I must confess I didn’t play them that well first time over!). I have two photos on my desk, one of you and Mom in Sausalito, frozen happily in your late 60’s selves, and another of you and I playing cards when my kids were young. So I see you every day. 

What’s the report here? Well, Zadie just turned 8 and I think you would love her and her brother Malik and I’m sorry you didn’t get to meet them. I could imagine you teaching her how to draw Mickey Mouse and writing some of your little doggerel poems for her. Karen’s quite happy in her retirement, Talia is a simply wonderful teacher at the school and there seems to be a new love interest, which she so richly deserves. She’ll be 35 next week! Ginny just left for Mt. Baldy, continuing her Zen studies commitments and Jim is still playing golf. Ian has two kids, Kyle is a roving poet and Damion will get married this summer. And so the family carries on. 

I’m as busy as ever and mostly happily so. About to go to Salt Lake City with 38 kids to perform at the annual Orff Conference. My new book will be for sale there, as well as my CD. 
Yesterday was Grandparent’s Day, my last as I will “retire” from school this June and naturally, thought of the days when you and Mom used to come to visit Kerala and Talia in their classrooms. Of course, now the grandparents are my age! Or younger! But the spirit is the same. 

And while I would like to keep writing to you and telling you yet more news, the 4thgrade is waiting for me to cast them for upcoming Holiday Play, The Phantom Tollboothand I have about two hours left in the evening to do so. And then pack. So I’ll keep this short and know that there will be more moments to come when you will visit me as Dickens describes. I do miss you, even 12 years after you’ve left. If there’s such a thing as being well in your World, well, of course, I wish it with all my heart.

Your still-loving son,


Monday, November 18, 2019

Letter to My Granddaughter

My dearest Zadie,

Today you are 8 years old! Imagine that! When your Aunt Talia asked what you were most excited about turning 8, you said, “I get to fly all by myself to visit you and Pop-pop and Mima!” Yep! We’re pretty darn excited about that too!

And what a remarkable young person you are becoming! I have loved you from the moment I first heard you were on the way, but let’s face it—you were a feisty, strong-willed, pushing-the-envelope kids with lots of time-outs!! When you weren’t even three, we took you to a Farmer’s Market and you leaned against a tent-pole and wouldn’t listen to me when I told you it could collapse and to get away. And then the stall-owner himself said the same and you still didn’t move. I grabbed you and pulled you away and took you to the car and said, “Zadie! I’m so disappointed in you.” And your little self shot back, “Well, I’m disappointed in you!” Ha ha!

But I can’t remember the last time you got a time-out and you’ve taken that big ball of energy and aimed it for the right things— figuring out how to master the many skills we need in this world. You are now reading far beyond your grade level, can run like the wind, have a good mind for numbers, can ride a bike and swim and jump rope and shoot baskets, can draw well and expressively, can entertain yourself for a long time just following your imagination, are fun for your friends and grown-ups to be around, are a serious student in school who listens to the teacher and gets good work done. You’ve learned a few little pieces on the piano and oh, how I wish you could be in a play! On top of it all, you keep having these shining moments of empathy and compassion and kindness, which might count for more than all of the above together. You’re a good older sister to Malik and simply the most wonderful granddaughter I could ever hope to have! Everything about you makes me happy—except for living so far away so that I can’t see you each and every day!

When you were born eight years ago, I was in Lisbon, Portugal. Here’s what I wrote to you back then: 

Oh, Zadie, you are only one-day old, but you’re already changing my life. I’m sitting in a Fado club in the Barrio Alto of Lisbon and thinking that I’m going to take you here someday. When you’re 12 or 15 or some such age, we’ll go to Europe and take the cable car up the Lisbon hills and go to Club Luso. We’ll sit at our table, enraptured by the beautiful sounds of the three guitars and the sensuous singers whose words we might not catch, but whose meaning is clear: “This life is full of beauty and wonder and sounds, dances, songs that grew in Portuguese soil, but can touch anyone’s heart.” Maybe they’ll invite me up on stage again as they did tonight holding a wreathed arch and I’ll do tricky little dance steps that will surprise the musicians and impress the tourists and maybe you’ll be proud of your old Grandpa and not roll your eyes the way my children were required to do. We’ll take a cab back and chat with the amiable and knowledgeable taxi driver who will tell us, as mine did tonight, how the ukelele came from Madeira to Hawaii and how Music, Mathematics and Metaphysics are the three most important things in life. Then we’ll walk into the Hotel Opera, where two men will be singing arias in the lobby and you’ll think, “This is definitely not the Ramada Inn!”

The next day, we’ll walk along the river looking at the bridge so much like the Golden Gate Bridge and if the future unfolds as I would like it to, I’ll show you where the monument to Columbus used to be until people finally decided to not pay homage to such a cruel man or celebrate such a greedy bid for power and money that caused so much harm. Perhaps we’ll go to the coast and I’ll tell you the story of how your great-Aunt Ginny and great-Uncle Jim slept on a beach in a sheltered cove in their newlywed European year abroad and then were awakened with water lapping at their sleeping bags, realizing just in the nick of time that the tide was coming in and narrowly escaping. 

Or we’ll head north to Galicia and I’ll show you the park where Grandma Karen, Aunt Talia, your Mom and I had a perfect picnic lunch on our journey through Spain, close to the spot where I abruptly stopped our rented car and jumped out to see the Galician bagpipers and then show them my Bulgarian one. Who knows? Maybe by the time we take our trip, I’ll have actually learned how to play that thing decently. 

You see what you have done? Given me something new to dream about and made me giddy with anticipation of sharing with you all the things I love in this world. The trip to the Cherry Bowl Theater in Michigan will have new meaning with you in the back seat ready for your first Drive-In Movie. I can’t wait to take you on my favorite bike ride in Salzburg or ride the Staten Island Ferry after visiting my old home in New Jersey or go see the elephants at the Pooram Festival in Kerala, the place your mother was named for.

I’m reserving tickets at the Castro Theater for the Sound of Music Sing-a-Long, anxious to show you the Calaveras Big Trees where we all used to camp with 60 SF School kids, ready to take you to the chicken place in Madrid after a day in the Prado. Oh, the places we’ll go and the sights that we’ll see! 

So little Zadie, hope your first day was a happy and healthy one. Drink your milk, get plenty of sleep and grow up to be big and strong and ready to travel with your Grandparents. Maybe if your Mom and Dad are nice to us, we’ll let them come along too. 

Well, so far we’ve only traveled together to Hawaii and soon to Palm Springs, but I’m ready for you to get your passport and see the world together. Happy birthday to my dearest Zadie from her Pop-pop who loves her to the ends of the earth!

Culture Bearing

Not the water into wine or Virgins appearing in trees variety, but some lucky people were able to witness the miracle of 45 minutes of music and dance come together in our first performance of our upcoming Middle School Show for the Orff National Conference. Some folks who have been filming the process and having seen rehearsals in their raw trying-things-out form, were shaking their heads how it all came together flawlessly—including transitions where each of the 38 kids knew exactly where to go and exactly what to play on the next piece and did so expertly. Accent on “kids” who are between 11 and 13 years old with all different degrees of musical background and performing experience.

This will be our 7thshow at an Orff Conference since the first in 1991 and is carrying on our tradition of enlarging people’s notions about what kids can do and expanding the repertoire far beyond Orff and Keetman’s original “Music for Children.” In a day and age when Fox News pundits are proud of the fact that no American knows or cares where the Ukraine is, we are proud to introduce the greater world to the kids and get them inside the beauty of each culture they encounter through music and dance, song and story. Our Middle School music curriculum of World Music, Classical Music and Jazz is unique in the music education world and besides providing kids with great music and dance worthy of their attention, we accent the context and culture and history and geography. And thus, we take seriously our adult role as culture bearers carrying on the good that our ancestors accomplished while also looking at the bad that needs re-thinking. This takes this work far, far beyond simply learning the next band arrangement for the half-time football game. 

Here is the program we performed yesterday. If you’re close to Salt Lake City Friday afternoon, come and hear for yourself. 

LA VIDA ES UN CARNAVAL: The AOSA National Conference-Salt Lake City
                performed by The San Francisco School Middle School Ensemble
    directed by Doug Goodkin, James Harding and Sofía López-Ibor

1)   Body Percussion Medley– Body music inspired by Indian rhythms, contemporary Balinese kecak and a dance song from Brazil.

2)   Bolero Mallorquin(S. López-Ibor)- A celebration of the famous rhythm of the Balearic Islands.

3)   Adongko Adongko Agagit(Philippines)- A Kulintang melody and dance over rhythmic bamboo poles.  

4)   Wanyema/Bobobo(Ghana)- A xylophone piece from the North of Ghana paired with one of the most famous dances of the Ewe Culture from the Volta region. 

5)   Palladio (Carl Jenkins)- An arrangement for strings and Orff ensemble featuring composed episodes and an accompanying original film.

6)   Kinderyoren (Yiddish) – A poignantly sad and sweet ode to the life of children, featuring vocals by  6thgrader Vivian Scheben

7)   Musica Ricercata #8(Györgi Ligeti) A rondo treatment  of the main theme with original rhythmic episodes and bamboo stick choreography

8)   I Ain’t Got Nothin’ but the Blues(Duke Ellington)- The famous standard, featuring vocal stylings of 6thgrader Ella Ford and guitar solo by 8th grader Oliver Moore.

9)   La Vida Es un Carnaval(Victor Daniel)— This anthem to life was made famous throughout the world by Singer Celia Cruz. Featuring vocals by 8thgrader Joel Ajin Rivera.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Amusing Ourselves to Death

This the title of Neil Postman’s extraordinary book, first published in 1985. The sub-title is: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business and the quote on the front cover by Jonathan Kozol warns us: “We must confront the challenge of his prophetic vision.”

Truer words were never spoken. He predicted it all. Last night, the Daily Show showed clips from Fox News and other right-wing blowhards complaining that the Impeachment Hearings were too boring and not sexy enough to attract the public and be taken seriously. In short, they complained that it didn’t make for good television entertainment and thus, should be dismissed. Had there been an earthquake in San Francisco, I’m sure it would have been Neil Postman rolling over in his grave. Perhaps even he couldn’t imagine how far low we’ve sunk. 

Back in 1997, I already felt Postman’s prophecy ringing true. When Mother Theresa died a month after Princess Diana, no one paid much attention to it and the TV coverage was minimal compared to the Di media-fest. One was sexy and tragic, the other boring by television standards and the public reacted accordingly. But even that was mild compared to this. To have these college-educated grown adults knuckleheads suggest that a President who has done more than any other to bring down the most basic tenets of our Constitution and attempt to destroy the very foundation of our democracy should not be impeached because it makes for boring television— and, by the way, the stupid American public doesn’t even know where Ukraine is, so why should they care— well, every day I wonder how much lower we can go and every day, the answer seems to be—just a little bit more. And holding public discourse to the standard of media attractiveness is a large part of this sad state of affairs. 

Postman’s book reveals that the danger we face is not Orwell’s 1984 where we are controlled by a totalitarian Big Brother. The real story is Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World where we are complicit in and wholly unaware of our own agreement to stop thinking. As he describes it:

Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacity to think.

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared that the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, captive to our almost infinite appetite for distraction. In Orwell’s world, people are controlled by inflicting pain, in Huxley’s by inflicting pleasure. Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us. This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right. 

That possibility is now irrefutable truth. Watch those Fox News clips and run it through the words above. Listen to the Republican’s questions at the Impeachment Hearings that tap dance around facts, make truth irrelevant and try to entertain us by questioning reality. After all, Devin Nunes sued an imaginary cow!!!!! How far removed can we get from facts and intelligent discourse than that?!!! And the bottom line is brazenly trumpeted out: “If it’s boring television, the crime of selling democracy to Putin or Ukraine is not worthy of our attention.” Postman says (p. 111) that “the public has adjusted to incoherence (TRUMP’S TWEETS!) and amused into indifference (IMPEACHMENT IS BORING).” 

Friends, this is hard to swallow, because the television-ication of public discourse and rational thought is not a partisan issue where it’s easy to blame the bad guys. We’re all perpetrators and victims and it’s so invisible we’re like fish in polluted waters. Written 34 years ago, Postman’s book still astounds with the depth of its insight and the importance of its message. But who has actually read it? Who understands its implications? The man was indeed a prophet and deserves deification and a television series about his life…oh, wait, maybe that’s not the best idea. How about just read the book and think about its message and see it at work in the daily news. And in your spare time, read his other vitally important works: “The Disappearance of Childhood.” “Technopoly” and many, many more. 

And then check out Huxley’s “Brave New World.”