Saturday, February 29, 2020

Leaping Through the Numbers

My wife turned 70 yesterday. I repeat: 70. The cliched reaction held true: 


My gift was a card of 70 memories and what was yet more sobering was remembering things that happened ten years ago that seemed like yesterday. Which means the next ten years can pass just as quickly. And then suddenly it’s 80. Ugh. The mathematics of mortality—my least favorite subject in the school of life. 

But still— she’s crazily active and we’re celebrating by biking 70 miles in Marin over the next two days with our daughters. After she hiked 12 miles a couple of days ago. She looks great, feels good, is in good health (except for a bothersome toe), is busy each day sketching, writing postcards to Congress, gardening a bit, reading, knitting, cooking, all with different groups of friends. That’s a lot to be grateful for. 

My daughters added 40 memories to my 70 and it was fun to look back over the landscape we all had traveled together and laugh at those small and big moments— her bumping into a sea turtle when we went to Hawaii, drinking too many Long Island iced teas at a comedy show we went too, making a hamster costume for the one kids’ Halloween, building a patio with the other, trying really strong marijuana gummies at a big family reunion (5 years ago!) and so on. 

After first doing my list chronologically, I switched to grouping my category. The various facets of our life in San Francisco— our homes we lived in, movie theaters and restaurants we liked, theaters and jazz clubs we went to, various memorable plays, speakers, events, tourist sites, so many that have closed, a few still going strong. I went through various machines (rotary phones! Slide projector! Popcorn popper!), cars we drove (Saab, Toyotas, Prius) , pets we had (hamsters and a cat), cookbooks we used (Diet for a Small Planet!), dinners we cooked (Easy and Eloquent Cheese Souffle), TV Shows (from Alice to Cheers to Seinfeld to The Good Wife to Stephen Colbert), favorite videos (all of Hitchcock!), weekly radio shows (Prairie Home Companion, This American Life), memorable movies (the first Star Wars! Sing-a-long Sound of Music!). On it went into neighborhood traditions (Pumpkin carving! Christmas caroling! Easter egg hunts!), retreats with friends (Winter snow trip! New Year’s Walk! Calistoga Spring trip!), the kids’ birthday parties (the 5thgrade cocktail party and limousine ride! 8thgrade re-filming of Vertigo around San Francisco!) There were our travels with and without kids to some 50 countries, visits to our parents, friends and families visiting us in San Francisco. And then the 42 shared years at The San Francisco School—that could have been 70 (and more) memories alone. Quite a list. 

So here we are at Point Reyes Station, first time our little nuclear family has been together since forever—no grandchildren or friends or other family. A strong wind is predicted today, but at least it’s not raining. My older daughter (who will turn 40 this September!!) is fighting a cold, but in these days of viruses/ fires/ floods/ political turmoil, all small human-size challenges that we can weather. A lot to be grateful for—and we are.

Like today, a once-every-four-year gift of an extra day spent outdoors keeping the old body moving and re-kindling the family we used to be until the kids moved out. The numbers may be tumbling in an unwanted direction, but we get to choose what happens within each gifted number and sometimes it’s glorious. 

Happy Leap Day to all!

Friday, February 28, 2020

The 4H Club

       Remember those narrow music classes? Chances are you played without understanding or tried to understand without playing or played without truly hearing or feeling the music. Teach Like It’s Music” means using all of you. We are made to dowith the hand, to think with the head, to feel with the heart and to engage the world through the senses; in this case, hearing and to get all four dancing together. Music demands such a high level of intelligence because it needs a smart hand, an intelligent head, an alert hearing and a soulful heart. That puts it up there with brain surgery. And even a little beyond.


        Celebrate Extravagance. Yes, let’s. Children are different from adults—they’re so much more interesting! More energetic, more spontaneous, more uninhibited, more curious, more extravagant, more fun! While school tells them to sit down and tone it down, art invites them to turn up the heat and let it out! Not randomly or indulgently, but artistically and expressively. Work hard, discipline yourself and then let ‘er rip!!

Proclaim Yourself!

        Proclaim yourself! At all ages! Just when Middle School suggests hiding yourself in front of peers and others, art says, “No way! Here you are! Announce yourself! If they like it and applaud, fine. (And if you’re honest and have worked your craft, they will.) If not, no worry. You’ve taken the most important risk one can take. Keep going!”

At All Ages

                             "It's never too late to have a happy childhood." —Tom Robbins

       Wouldn't you like to be in this workshop? Get a chance to be silly and playful again? 
       It indeed is never too late to have a happy childhood. All we need is an invitation to let the inner child out to play. Not our childish selves, adults acting like toddlers, tweens or teens—goodness knows, we’re seeing far too much of that— but our childlike selves, the ones that were promised long ago the keys to heaven. Which is right here every time we truly play music. Jump in and have fun!

Together in Love

       And at the end, here we are: together in love. People who work together, play together, sing together, dance together, create together, celebrate together and sorrow together are people who feed our greatest human faculty—our capacity to love. What if each session of Congress began with music and ended like this? Imagine that. Then “Teach Like It’s Music” can lead to “Live Like It’s Music.” And it begins with tomorrow’s class.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Teaching Music Musically

      Teaching music musically means composing a class as if it’s a piece of music with an enticing beginning, connected middle and satisfying end. Music’s great gift is to immerse you in its uninterrupted flow, take you out of clock time into a world where everything makes sense, everything is connected, there is a shape and design that leads toward a satisfying climax—and then sets you back into clock time refreshed by the journey. Why not create a music class that flows like an actual piece of music?


Playing in a band means being part of a team working toward the same goal. Like in sports, but with one big difference. Here the goal is not to beat the other team, but to create together something of beauty, something that brings happiness to the player and audience alike. Human beings are made to work together, to play together, both for survival and pleasure. Music is the practice room for one of the high points of human connection. How can school be without it?


       Look at these kids. What teacher wouldn’t want to see their class, in any subject, in such a deep zone of concentration? Musicians connect with each other,  but they also connect with some deep part of themselves. They dig down into the marrow of the musical bone, the place where music awakens deep feeling and opens the heart. Each has a private conversation with the music and their own soul that is instantly joined with the group conversation.


One definition of community is a group of people that know the same songs. Here we are at the end of the school year singing the song that we also sing at the beginning. Two notes of Side By Side and the kids join arms and start swaying as they belt out, 

      “Oh we ain’t got a barrel of money, maybe we’re ragged and funny, 
       but we’ll travel along, singing a song, side by side.” 

      There's scary storms on the horizon, both literal and metaphorical, and we'll need to weather them together. Nothing brings people together faster than a song. Look at these kids. Can you feel the love here?

Humor/ Drama


          Kids are funny. Life is funny. Why not enjoy? If you’re going to play a great musical arrangement of a poem like “1-2-3, Mother caught a flea, Flea died, mother cried, 1-2-3,” don’t just play, sing and dance it. Tell the story. Call in the doctor to examine the flea. 

      “Oops!” says the mother, “I think I killed it.” 

      “Yes,” says the doctor, “I think you did.”

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Teach Like It's Music


     “Elemental music is never music alone but forms a unity with movement, dance and speech. It is music that one makes oneself, in which one takes part not as a listener, but as a participant.” -Carl Orff

      How many of you love music? How many of you hated music class or music lessons? It might not have been your fault. You didn’t have the words for it, but you probably felt that the class was so anti-musical. The idea of what music is and how to teach it was too narrow. The approach I work in called Orff Schulwerk begins from the radical premise that Carl Orff described in this quote. Music is playing, singing AND dancing.


       Most people think playing an instrument means long, hard hours of often boring practice. It can be that. But the Orff instruments are a brilliant way to play music that sounds great with a good quality sound, simple technique and simple elemental concepts that blend together to make some compelling music. You’re only 6 years old and you’re playing in an orchestra! And you even get to improvise and compose your own music! 


       If you can talk, you can sing. And we do every day at my school, 100 students from 1stto 5thgrade gather to sing for 20 minutes. That means that the kids know 150 songs—folk songs, jazz songs, songs from diverse cultures—that immerse them in history, geography, vocabulary, poetic form, human relations, politics, mathematical structures and more. And in such a fun way! They get to hear their small voice join the large choir to feel part of something beautiful that is larger than themselves.