Thursday, December 31, 2020

Farewell to 2020: My Year in Review

On the last day of 2020, I had the thought of finding one Blogpost from each month that stood out a bit and re-print them one by one. My motivation was:


1) To look back at the year through the lens of my own writing.


2) To remember how things unfolded in this extraordinary unprecedented year. 


3) To increase the number of blogs written to average more than one a day—my 10 year record!


Well, that last is cheating, so I kept the first two and instead, just mention a title and brief description of some of the notable posts. For those faithful readers, it could be interesting to go through some of these again and remember what was going on for you at the time that you read them. 


Whether you read them or not, let me just take a moment to thank you for staying with me. Though some glitch with the comment section makes our connection less than an ongoing dialogue, the mere statistic of the number of folks who have read each entry (sometimes as low as 1, sometimes in the hundreds) makes this all more satisfying than just a personal journal read only by me. Without you, this would not exist. 


My greatest hopes are that these reflections amuse you, affirm you, challenge you, speak what you feel but have not yet found the words for, keep you company in shared thoughts and feelings, open windows into new ideas and needed information, etc. and etc. The mere fact of continuing to read them makes me feel that at least some of the above is happening. And I can’t help but wonder if any of you have stayed with it for the entire 10 years! (If you’d like to let me know, you can always send a short note to me at Most importantly, Happy New Year to you and yours. Onward!


JANUARY: The Other Side of End Times: First mention of corona virus

FEBRUARY: Dis-appointment: My last live workshops in Singapore and beginning of things cancelled.

• MARCH: The Great Time-Out: Looking for meaning at the beginning of sheltering.

• APRIL: The Modern Online Schoolteacher: My Gilbert and Sullivan parody.

MAY: Retirement Speech: The one I spoke online to the school community.

JUNE: A Chance to Savor: My nod to Black Lives Matter.

              Closing Ceremony: Another farewell to school on the last day of 45 years.

• JULY: Why We Come to Orff Workshops: Might as well include one post related to the Blog’s title!)

• AUGUST: From the 60’s to the 60’s: A funny look at aging through hit songs. 

• SEPTEMBER: Petition to the Gods: My poem about the day that stayed dark.

• OCTOBER: Letter to My 11-Year Old Self: Preparing for the election.

• NOVEMBER: A Song For Every Occasion: Parts I/ II: Election euphoria!

DECEMBER: Perfect Answer: Have to include the grandkids here!

The Urge to Be Remembered

Like many folks my age, a short trip to the bathroom in the middle of the night is a pretty regular routine. But sometimes—and who knows why?— I crawl back under the covers and know immediately that I will have trouble falling back to sleep, 3 am be damned.


And so last night, in that twilight purgatory between sleep and awakening, I was thinking about Chad and Jeremy, about Peter and Gordon. Simon and Garfunkel joined them briefly, but they didn’t quite fit, so they faded out and I was left with these two British duos from the 60’s. 


Well, I was going to ask if you knew of them, but now I’ve given it away. Both groups had just a few hits and in my suspended state, somehow I could remember them. Chad and Jeremy sang Yesterday’s Gone  and A Summer Song, Peter and Gordon A World Without Love, all songs that hit the charts in 1963 and 1964. Both groups had a soft folk-rock vibe, both disappeared into rock obscurity within a few years and I hadn’t heard their songs nor thought about them in some 55 years. Why were they in my dreams?


Naturally, upon awakening, it was off to Wikipedia and found some interesting information about all four. I was just about to sign off when I saw this:


Chad Stuart died from pneumonia on December 20, 2020.


Ten days ago! Was his appearance in my dream some sign that he wanted to be remembered? And why me? The world is mysterious, unfathomable.


Well, here is my remembrance of these folks that lightened my days with their lovely songs and my thanks for their artistic efforts. I will listen to those songs today and I recommend you do as well. Chad needs our efforts to help send him off in style. 

Rolling Down the Hill

Yesterday, I took a walk in Golden Gate Park with a  former student, his wife and two daughters, aged 3 and 5. They were not comfortable with the playground, but no matter, the kids were as kids have always been and always should be, climbing trees instead of human-built jungle gyms, being swung around in their father’s arms instead of swings with chains and leather, rolling down grassy hills instead of sliding on metal slides. 


I’d only met the 5-year old once, but already we were best friends and when she invited me to roll down the hill with her, how could I refuse? The excuse that I’m 69 and too old for such things would mean nothing to her. 


And so I laid my body out straight, arms over my head and rolled. Truth be told, it was dizzying and disorienting and a bit too fast for my taste. But I did it. 


And lived to tell you about it.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Beyond the Norm

As far as the tree in the park is concerned, it’s just another day. But we humans give it a name and a number and load it down with extra weight. Why should my thoughts be any different today than last week? But with two days left before the planet completes its circle around the sun since January 1stof last year, I keep feeling some need to add up each of the 363 days I’ve been privileged to live through and come up with some special meaning to the sum. 


Today I gave an online music workshop to the same folks in Iran who I taught back in June. Back then, they had a sketchy online program where I couldn’t see anyone, but now they’ve graduated to Zoom and it felt like home territory. A great pleasure to see the lovely faces of these lovely people, women still with scarves covering heads because someone decided long ago that’s that how it’s supposed to be, enough people—well, men—agreed and our propensity to keep traditions of any sorts going continues to feed the perception that this must be the norm. Until one day it isn’t. 


I watched White Christmas last night, a similar choice to Holiday Inn but easier to take because there’s no scene in blackface. Yet still, they sang a song “I’d rather see a Minstrel Show, then any other kind of show I know” complete with dance number and some jokes and patter from Mr. Bones, a stock character in the early Minstrel Shows. The bad news is that this normalized Minstrel Shows as a valid form of entertainment. The good news is that 12 years after Holiday Inn (1942),which had a number with Bing Crosby (and others) in blackface, this time (1954) he wasn’t, in spite of the Minstrel Show theme. That was a change, long overdue, but significant nonetheless. What had been the norm finally wasn’t. 


The opening scene of the movie was a World War II scene, the usual soldiers with guns and a few nights ago in the excellent Danish series Borgen, there was a scene with soldiers in Afghanistan. Looking at both of them, I was struck with the thought that it’s so weird that human beings kill people they don’t know because of an idea and because someone high up tells them too and because that’s what they’re trained to do. Just looked at this human norm throughout all of history with the eyes of an innocent child thinking,  “Really? Humans do this? Why? “


How much of our lives are run by some random cultural decision of what is considered “normal.”? The word itself comes from a geometrical source, meaning “standing at a right angle; perpendicular” and is related to a carpenter’s square. How interesting that the beatniks and jazz fans called their unenlightened peers in the 50’s “squares.” Their whole lives lived at perfectly measured right angles and unable to deal with the nuance of unexpected angles or music or life lived “offbeat.” The word evolved to mean “conforming to common standards or established order or usage.”


I appreciate common standards as much as the next person and certainly in this pandemic time, crave some sense of return to normal. But it’s always worth asking “Who established these common standards and for what purpose and who gave them the power to decide and how do they benefit?” And it’s also worth considering how much of life’s pleasures occur outside the measured norm. 


In my first sentence, I had no idea where I was going, but I seem to have landed in the meaning of the sum of my days— a life lived often outside the norm, going to Buddhist retreats in an old boy scout camp in the mountains, to Bulgaria to get a bit further along on Bulgarian bagpipe, to school each day playing on the floor with kids of all ages for 45 years (and still able to get up off the floor!). Feels fitting that this year ended with a Zoom workshop with music teachers in Iran who I would have met in Armenia this Fall and still may in the future.


That is, if we return to normal.  

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Honoring the Departed


The difficulty of holding live funerals and memorial services is one of the hidden tragedies of the pandemic. We’ve learned to adjust and adapt in so many ways, but I haven’t heard much talk on creative alternatives to honoring the recently departed. 


Yesterday, I heard a program sponsored by Terry Gross on jazz musicians who passed away this year. Many were in their 80’s and 90’s, which helped soften the blow knowing that they had left us. But still, grief is grief and knowing that the Keith Jarrett Trio can’t gather again with Gary Peacock gone is a bitter pill to swallow. Yet the beauty of the artist is all the footprints he or she leaves behind, all the bread crumbs that we still can pick up and chew on to get some directions when we’re lost in the woods. 


The program highlighted eight of our American geniuses, most of whose music I knew fairly well, five of whom I had seen live in concert and two of whom I had the pleasure to briefly speak with. In their honor and for your own pleasure, may I suggest that you take some time in the closing days of 2020 to listen to some of their music? Below is the list, with a couple of suggestions:


• Pianist Ellis Marsalis (try the two recordings he made with the Marsalis Family)

• Pianist McCoy Tyner (particularly his early work in the John Coltrane Quartet)

• Bassist Gary Peacock (the entire collection of The Keith Jarret Trio)

• Singer Annie Ross (any of her work with Lambert, Hendricks and Ross)

• Saxophonist Lee Konitz (recent albums with Brad Meldhau and Charlie Haden)

• Guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli (The Pizzarellis: Bucky and John Pizzarelli )

• Saxophonist Jimmy Heath (Statements album with Milt Jackson)

• Trumpet player Wallace Roney (Remembering Bud Powell album with Chick Corea)


Happy listening!


The Next Beautiful Question

Education as a question that leads to the next needed question. As good a definition of my educational philosophy as any. Naturally, we want some right answers along the way— the 2 + 2 = 4 variety as well as the more intricate and complex kind—but it is the questions that keeps things moving. Questions are the verbs in the grammar of life-long learning, the active agents that keeps things flowing and glowing and growing. 


And so I have been attracted to that which puts the question in the center. A Zen Buddhist practice based on koans, those unanswerable questions of the “sound-of-one-hand-clapping” variety that we nevertheless seek to answer. An Orff practice that constantly pokes me with “How else can you do this?” A jazz discipline that gives me a melody and chords and asks, “Now what are you going to do with them in your solo?” Note that all three require an effort on my part, an attempt to find my own way through to an answer that is wholly mine. And then invites me to the question that will help form the next version of myself.


And I have equally been repulsed by those fundamentalist dogmas that simply ask me to believe someone else’s answer. No effort required, no thought needed, just blind belief. And no movement, just a stagnant pond with no spring feeding it and no outlet to the larger ocean. Be it religion, politics or even a mandated (no matter how well-intentioned) political correctness, I’m invited to stop my questioning and simply accept the answers handed down. Answers on a test that could be corrected by a computer. 


The poets are certainly on my side. In his poem Start Close In, David Whyte writes:


Start with your own 


Give up on other

people’s questions.

Don’t let them

smother something



In When I Heard the Learned Astronomer, Whitman writes:


When I heard the learn’d astronomer,

When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,

When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,

When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,

How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,

Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,

In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,

Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.


Whitman’s impatience with charts and diagrams led him to the silent awe of participation in life’s mysteries. Mary Oliver’s leads her to music. 


The man who has many answers

is often found

in the theaters of information

where he offers, graciously,

his deep findings. 


While the man who has only questions, 

to comfort himself, makes music.


And finally, there’s e.e.cummings in an introduction to one of his books of poetry:


Always the beautiful answer who asks a more beautiful question. 


In short, beware of all that demands easy answers. Seek out that which invites inquiry, uncertainty, doubt. 


Any questions?


Monday, December 28, 2020

Prague Without Tourists

It’s fun to know folks from around the world and receive their Holiday Greetings. One person 

wrote from Siberia, Russia where it was -43 degrees! Celsius!! Another from Australia, where the summer sun was shining and she went to the beach. Still another from Prague, where she wrote about being sheltered in a Prague without tourists. Unimaginable!


I loved my three visits to Prague and each time, joined the throngs of tourists that made me wonder if it was the most-touristed city in the world. It’s not, but per square mile, it certainly feels like one of the densest tourist-to-inhabitant ratios, some streets so tightly packed it feels like Black Friday at Walmart. So to see the empty streets and squares in her photos was quite astounding. And must be even more so for the folks who live there. As she said, “It feels like a ghost town.”


I wonder if the buildings are feeling lonely—“Hey, nobody’s looked at me in days!” I know the street musicians are devastated and the artists with their wares on the bridge and the shops so eerily silent minus the buzz of folks looking for the souvenirs to take home. I wonder if the inhabitants pass each other by and think, “Oh, it’s you again. I need to see some fresh faces!” At the beginning of the pandemic, someone rode in a car through the old city of Salzburg (another favorite tourist destination) with the camera on and went on for some ten minutes without spotting a single human being—Salzburgian or tourist—on the street. That  was eerie. I know those streets so well and had never seen them without the hustle and bustle. 


At the same time that cities are patiently waiting for their tourist industry to kick up again, I wonder if anyone is feeling like, “Yes, we want them back, but maybe not quite so many as before.” After a year plus of caution, I suspect that indeed the return to tourism will be more a slow and steady trickle than an avalanche of people who are starved for vacation travel. Who knows?


Meanwhile, if you want to beat the crowds, now’s the time to go to Prague!


PS Interesting to get the Prague news the day after I reposted my new words to Good King Wenceslas! Wenceslas was a 10thcentury Czech Christian who was a Duke but posthumously awarded the title of King. As once person described him: 


Rising every night from his noble bed, with bare feet and only one chamberlain, he went around to God's churches and gave alms generously to widows, orphans, those in prison and afflicted by every difficulty, so much so that he was considered, not a prince, but the father of all the wretched.


If you do make it to Prague, check out his statue in Wenceslas Square. 



Saturday, December 26, 2020

And It Came to Pass

With five days left in 2020, I’m in the looking-back reflective mode. Took a peek what I wrote 

close to this time last year and found my new words to Good King Wenceslas.  And I’m happy

to report, my hopes expressed there were mostly realized. Of course, I never could have

foreseen—none of us could— what helped turned the tide and at what enormous cost. But

the plain fact is that enough of a majority indeed spoke “We won’t take it anymore” with their 

vote and there was unquestionably an enlargement of vision. May it continue.


1)               Goodkin once loved Santa Claus,

      Loved his jolly spirit.

      Pledged that this would be his cause,

            To help bring others near it. 


              Now that feels a good league hence,

              Far from generous giving.

              Living with Trump and Mike Pence,

              (If you can call that liv—ing.)


2)                Goodkin went once and looked out,

              As the year was turning.

              Looking back he heard the shouts,

              ‘Midst flooding and the burn-ing.


              “We won’t take it any more!

                The ignoring and denying. 

                Disdain for the victimed poor

                Deafness to kids cry-ing.”


3)                In the tyrant’s steps some trod

              Bringing down democracy

              Like peas sheltered in a pod

              Hiding in hypocrisy. 


              Therefore all good folks unite

              Wealth or rank possessing

              Let us join in the good fight

              Bring healing and some bless—ing.


4)                Those who now can sing this song.

              With these words can read it.

              Let’s pledge now it won’t take long

              Before we start to heed it. 


5)               May truth and love be our reward,

              And small things feel like plenty.

              May our vision be restored

              Return to 20/20. 

Out of Retirement

In the past two weeks of my “retired” life, I’ve taught kids at my school and teachers in Orff workshops and performed jazz concerts. I’ve gone to airports and either missed or almost missed flights, put on school performances and taught some of my Jazz Course. Every day without missing one. Or rather, every night. 


For all of this takes place nightly in my dreams. What’s going on? I’m perfectly content with my actual “retired” life, happy to be teaching enough Zoom workshops to keep my foot in the game, not overly yearning for the live class of either kids or teachers (though yes, I will love the moment when both can resume). But a night these past few weeks has not gone by without at least one—and often two or three—dreams where I’m back in the classroom or the workshop. Freudians, Jungians, shamans, any insight?


Meanwhile, my day life is filled with card games, jigsaw puzzles, reading out loud, storytelling and singing, hiking, swimming, hot-tubbing, cooking and more—vacation-life with the grandkids, kids, wife and son-in-law. Lots of laughter, predictable tears, shrieks and shouts, whispers and tender hugs, the high-energy and intensity of life with a 5 and 9 year old, delicious in this one-to-four-week doses and then a bit of longing for the quiet and order of the empty nest. Some of my fellow grandparents, five to ten years older than me, complain of being completely exhausted at the end of the day. I seem to do a bit better, both because I’ve spent so much of my life teaching the little ones and because I’m a bit younger. Helpful to remember that historically, grandparents where as young as 30 and more typically were in their 40’s.


At any rate, if I feel tired from it all at the end of the day, I have a large class of kids or teachers to look forward to in my dreams. So much easier!

Friday, December 25, 2020

Winter Wonderland?

We began Christmas Day in the hot tub, opened some presents and then dove into the pool. What’s wrong with this picture? To Christians in the Southern Hemisphere or southern parts of the Northern Hemisphere, nothing at all. But despite the Nativity story taking place in an ancient Palestine close to the equator, our image of Christmas is snowy landscapes, pine trees, roaring indoor fires. Though physically, the family is gathered in Palm Springs, California, we still hold the drawings from The Night Before Christmas as the norm and sing White Christmas and tread through the snow following Good King Wenceslas. It takes an effort of imagination to feel the Christmas spirit at 75 degrees swimming in a refreshing pool. 


Here is another case of the way our white colonialist history has not only physically invaded other cultures and claimed them as their own, but dominated our imaginal landscapes as well, holding England as the beacon of the “real” Christmas with its Yule logs and wassail and carolers on a frosty evening, placing Santa’s workshop in Lapland, decorating the Tannebaums of Germany, walking the northern United States’ Winter Wonderland making versions of Frosty the Snowman. Population-wise, northern Europe and North America are probably a minority of Christians worldwide, but like the small group of conquistador’s ruling over Aztec Empires, it’s more about who controls the imagery than actual numbers. Why else would a dark-skinned black-haired Jew in Palestine be imagined in so many places as a blue-eyed blonde-haired white-skinned man? 


So while some children are trying out their new sleds on their local snowy hills, I’m heading to the pool to float on a raft with a mimosa. Merry Christmas, everyone!


Thursday, December 24, 2020

Finding the Pieces

And so, my first Winter Vacation in over 40 years where I don’t go from the 150 miles an hour of the Winter School Festivities to the lazy 20 mph ramble through the countryside of vacation. Nevertheless, the extended family time (all Covid-tested and approved, of course) in a vacation home grabbed just before the further restrictions, indeed feels like a change in routine. And the pool and hot tub certainly help make it feel like vacation!


Amidst the long-list of relaxed-scheduled activities was the family hovering around the 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle we had gifted our daughter Talia on her recent birthday. How fun was that? A lot, especially that satisfying moment of putting in the last 10 pieces. 


I already have my routine of Solitaire and Acrostics, pointless, but mind-sharpening and meditative activities that nurture our linguistic and mathematical intelligences. Now thinking I could easily add jigsaw puzzles, the feeding of the visual-spatial intelligence and exercise in a different part of the brain. 


And naturally, my metaphoric mind makes yet more connections. The image that accompanies us at birth—our innate genius, our daimon twin, our Soul’s template, call it what you will— is scattered into a thousand pieces when we’re born and we spend the rest of our lives trying to re-assemble the pieces and figure out precisely where and how they fit in the big picture. Minus the box cover to give us hints (though perhaps such images appearing in our dreams, both the night and day varieties). Every experience offers the possibility of seeing whether this piece fits with that piece and some innate sense of what feels right, what shapes, images, colors clearly belong together and the good sense to put those that don’t fit aside, waiting for their eventual place. For all of them— the successes and failures, the intimacies and betrayals, the people we think we like and the people we think we don’t—all have their necessary place in the puzzle. 


As good an image as any and of course, when putting a puzzle together, one thinks nothing about any of this, obsessed as you become by simply finding the next piece. But at the end of the 4-nights of intermittent activity, I did wonder who first had the idea of the jigsaw puzzle and whether it really was made with a jigsaw (the answer to that one was “no.”). Naturally, Google and Wiki were there to scratch my curious itch. Looks like it was John Spilsbury, a London cartographer and engraver, who produced the first commercial versions made from wood around 1760. From wood to cardboard and by the 1900’s, such puzzles became a common pastime.


And then come the astounding records:


Largest Number of Pieces Commercial Puzzle:Produced by Czech company MartinPuzzle and contains 52,110 pieces showing a collage of animals.


Largest Number of Pieces Puzzle: The jigsaw with the greatest number of pieces had 551,232 pieces and measured 14.85 × 23.20 m (48 ft 8.64 in × 76 ft 1.38 in). It was assembled on 25 September 2011 at PhĂș Tho Indoor Stadium in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam by students from the University of Economics. 


Largest Puzzle in Size: The world's largest-sized jigsaw puzzle measured 5,428.8 m2 (58,435 sq ft) with 21,600 pieces, each measuring a Guinness World Records maximum size of 50 cm by 50 cm. It was assembled on 3 November 2002 by 777 people at the former Kai Tak Airport in Hong Kong. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Love Actually

… is the name of a good movie for the season that I keep meaning to watch again. But it’s also the perfect title for this piece I found buried in a folder on my desktop. It’s a survey of answers given by 4-8 year old kids to a question posed by a group of psychologists: What does Love mean?” This is why I love children.


"When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn't bend over and paint her toenails anymore. So my grandfather does it for her all the time, even when his hands got arthritis too. That's love."  

Rebecca- age 8


"When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You just know that your name is safe in their mouth."        Billy - age 4 


"Love is when a girl puts on perfume and a boy puts on shaving cologne and they go out and smell each other."     Karl - age 5


"Love is when you go out to eat and give somebody most of your French fries without making them give you any of theirs."     Chrissy - age 6


"Love is what makes you smile when you're tired."Terri - age 4


"Love is when my mommy makes coffee for my daddy and she takes a sip before giving it to him to make sure the taste is OK."   Danny - age 7


"Love is when you kiss all the time. Then when you get tired of kissing, you still want to be together and you talk more. My Mommy and Daddy are like that. They look gross when they kiss".  Emily - age 8


"Love is what's in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen."

Bobby - age 7 (Wow!)


"If you want to learn to love better, you should start with a friend who you hate."  

Nikka - age 6


"Love is when you tell a guy you like his shirt, then he wears it everyday."

Noelle - age 7


"Love is like a little old woman and a little old man who are still friends even after they know each other so well."  Tommy – age 6


"Love is when Mommy gives Daddy the best piece of chicken."    Elaine-age 5


"Love is when Mommy sees Daddy smelly and sweaty and still says he is handsomer than Robert Redford."   Chris - age 7


"Love is when your puppy licks your face even after you left him alone all day."  

Mary Ann - age 4


"I know my older sister loves me because she gives me all her old clothes and has to go out and buy new ones."  Lauren - age 4


"When you love somebody, your eyelashes go up and down and little stars come out of you."  

Karen - age 7


"Love is when Mommy sees Daddy on the toilet and she doesn't think it's gross."   Mark - age 6


"You really shouldn't say 'I love you ' unless you mean it. But if you mean it, you should say it a lot. People forget."    Jessica - age 8


And the final one -- Author and lecturer Leo Buscaglia once talked about a contest he was asked to judge. The purpose of the contest was to find the most caring child. The winner was a four year old child whose next door neighbor was an elderly gentleman who had recently lost his wife.  Upon seeing the man cry, the little boy went into the old gentleman's yard, climbed onto his lap, and just sat there. When his Mother asked what he had said to the neighbor, the little boy said, "Nothing, I just helped him cry".


Anyone have any better definitions?

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

The Saturn Cycle

 My nephew turned 28 on the 21st, the day the light began its return journey. 28 is the Saturn cycle, the time it takes Saturn to complete its full cycle and returns to the place it was at your birth. In astrology, it marks the end of an important cycle of your life, which of course, marks the beginning of the next. 28 means the transition to full adulthood and that was certainly true for me. I turned 28 on July 28 on the last day of a year-long trip around the world, an extraordinary year that set the compass for the next Saturn cycle—personally, musically and culturally. Within three months of returning from that trip, I went back to teach music at The San Francisco School, where I taught for another 41 glorious years, got married and pregnant (well, technically, my wife got pregnant), began a family, eventually bought a house—you know the routine. 

The next cycle begins around 56 years old, the first steps into elderhood. And lo and behold, that was the year my Dad died, marking the end of our long life together and inviting me into the next stage where I was the elder in the family (which including taking care of my Mom who needed help). I was in the midst of some 17 years of international Orff teaching, enlarging my life’s purpose far beyond the gates of the school where I was still teaching.  In that period, I gave courses in The Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Scotland, Madrid, Barcelona, Vittoria, Canary Islands, Salzburg, France, in Singapore, Hanoi, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, in Australia, in South Africa, in Argentina, in Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver and some 15 states in the U.S.— in short, on every continent except Antarctica! (In this sheltered time, it feels exhausting just to think about it—how did I do it?!). 


The third cycle (fates willing) will begin somewhere around 84, suggesting that I’m around the halfway point of summarizing my life’s work and (hopefully), continuing to share it as health and pandemics allow. And then begins the turn into leave-taking, the preparation for the next world and the eventual status of Ancestor. 


This the long-winding version of saying to my nephew Damion:


“Happy birthday!”


Monday, December 21, 2020

Simple Truths

Janus, the God that looks back and forward at the same time, is soon to re-make his annual appearance. Today, on the Winter Solstice, the accent is looking back. Tomorrow, the return of the light suggests a peek forward.


Perhaps this is what inspired me to open a folder of old and unfinished articles in search of a particular something I know I once wrote. And the ever-surprising-but-shouldn’t-be revelation— I’ve written a lot! Never at a loss for words and never running out of things to talk about. And sometimes getting it right. 


I never did find what I hope to, but came across an introduction to a book I’ve yet to write and may never or just may make my New Year project. The original title was Simple Truths: A Handbook for Music Teachers and Musicians. Some of it definitely made its way into my last Teach Like It’s Music book, but still it might be worth putting in this different format and context. Here’s an introduction I wrote and I kind of like it. Music teachers and musicians out there, any encouragement to put this on my To-Do list?


I imagine all teachers have a drawer filled with cards from kids that proclaim: “You are the best teacher ever!!” We keep them to remind us to persevere, to affirm that we made the right choice in our career, to help us remember that we actually have done something worthwhile with our lives. We don’t stop to think that maybe the child has given the same card to every teacher she has had or that maybe she liked us because we let her stay in one day from recess when it was hot outside and we offered to share our chocolate bar. But ours is not to question why. It is enough that she wrote it. 


This book is my hope to help you fill your drawer with such cards. Nothing I say here can easily make you a kinder teacher, a more humorous one, a more fun one with a more scintillating personality that your students will adore. But the part of teaching that is changeable, the details that make your lessons more effective, more fluid, more child-friendly and yes, a bit more fun and scintillating, is something within everyone’s reach. 

Part of it is as concrete as following a recipe in a cookbook, part as practical and scientific as pushing this button and getting that result, part as systematic and formulaic as Step 1 leading logically to Step 2 until Voila!, a finished musical work at Step 7 that makes the children happy and the parents pleased at the concert.


But far more important are the ideas behind the practice. One idea rightly understood will give birth to effective practices that make sense because the teacher’s vision is intact. When things don’t work as well as imagined, the teacher can adjust accordingly because the understanding is clear. Those merely following steps will be lost. Vision leads the dance, each step of the way.


What are the understandings that will feed your vision and fill your drawer with praise from students of all ages, the questions that never can be wholly answered that will guide you to being the best teacher you can be? What is a good first question to get things moving?


Saturday, December 19, 2020

The Rhythms of Life

I’ve often compared life well-lived to music well-played, but now I’m feeling this as something more specific. As follows: 


Teaching—the Jazz Tune: Teaching music at school, each new class in the schedule is a jazz tune, with each individual class a particular song with its own melody and chord changes.  Every day, you improvise through the changes, never playing the same notes twice. 


Travel—the Symphony: Your life at home has its opening themes which are then developed. Just before you’re about to travel somewhere, all the themes are re-capitulated, you check them off the list and wrap all themes together in a grand cadence, pack upcoming themes into your suitcase and hit the final chord of the first movement as you close the lid. An interval of silence as you drive or train or fly to the next location, then open the lid and the 2nd Movement begins. The next stop on your itinerary? The 3rd Movement. And so on.


Sheltering-in-place—the New Age composition. One chord, washy pleasant notes with no tension, just ambient sounds that don’t go anywhere. 


Sheltering-in-place with kids—Free Jazz: Listen to Pharoah Sanders' solo on John Coltrane’s Meditations album and you’ll understand immediately. 

Friday, December 18, 2020

Perfect Answer

I had a short Facetime with my 9-year old granddaughter today, who I will soon see if the stars all line up. I asked her to show me with her arms how much I love her, how much I couldn’t wait to see her. Without missing a beat, she said;


“My arms don’t stretch that far.”


And she was right.

A Little Darkness

My wife’s cousin posted a photo of our annual Christmas Carol party with the heading “The Good Ole Days.” Though my wife is relieved not to prepare the house this year (yes, I offer to help, but she has her own way of doing this), I will miss this tradition that we’ve faithfully kept since 1983. Of course, it’s just one of so much we’ve had to let go and truth be told, I’m okay with most of it for now. But such a contrast to last year!


Looking back in my journal, this was the week that my colleagues James, Sofia and I took the Interns who had studied with us for four months to The Christmas Revels, another tradition I have loyally attended each year since 1986. We rehearsed our annual Holiday Plays (each year since 1975) and the 3rd-4th-5thput on a fabulous version of The Phantom Tollbooth, a fitting swan song for this soon-to-be-retired music teacher. With the added perk that with 30 minutes to spare, my daughter Kerala and grandkids Zadie and Malik made it from the airport to see the show! The last day of school, they joined the kids for the traditional ice-skating (also since 1975), watched the 8thgraders perform St. George and the Dragon (since 1986) and participated in the always stirring final Holiday Sing, ending with the angels descending as voices lift in song in those sequences of Glorias. 


The next day, I gave a a workshop with my Pentatonics Band at SF Jazz (since 2014), went to a Posada party at a friend’s house (since 1978), the next day a matinee showing with Zadie of It’s a Wonderful Life at the beloved Castro Theater, followed by the Caroling Party that began (as always) with some 40 people warming up our house and chatting in the kitchen to singing around the piano to taking it to the streets to boarding the N-Judah streetcar (while still singing) and then doing drop-in carols at Yancey’s Bar, the Crepevine Restaurant and Pascuale’s Pizza. Next day, we all got into cars and drove down to Palm Springs. 


Quite a contrast! No Revels in Oakland, no Holiday Play at the SF School, a Zoom St. George today, no ice-skating, SF Jazz and Castro Theater closed and a neighborhood caroling party that begins and ends on the street with the 15 or so folks who have been singing together since April. Those hundreds of people I rubbed shoulders with, played music with, sang together with, reduced to 2 or 3 each day. It’s a different world indeed. 


But of course, we work with what’s in front of us and if we have the good fortune to be spared the direct assault of soldiers, racist police, landlords with eviction notices and a virus entering our body, we can use the opportunity to keep serving life. As the always-eloquent Mary Oliver says:


I know, you never intended to be in this world.

But you’re in it all the same.


So why not get started immediately.


I mean, belonging to it.

There is so much to admire, to weep over.


And to write music or poems about…


Do you need a prod?

Do you need a little darkness to get you going? … (From The Fourth Sign of the Zodiac)


Well, if so, here we are. Let’s go.