Thursday, February 4, 2021

Call to the Universe

Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too.    – Goethe


It was in college that I first started learning something both about playing and listening to jazz (including classes with artist-in-residence Cecil Taylor!).  It was in college that I got interested in alternative education and worked at various progressive schools as part of my school’s Work/ Study program. It was in college that my Man and Nature class went on a backpack trip, my first. It was in college that I met Nippo, my first Japanese Zen teacher. It was in college that I toured Europe with a chorus singing Renaissance Masses. And it was in college that I took a semester-long class in Orff Schulwerk and met my first and most influential Orff teacher, Avon Gillespie.  


And look at where my life went in the half-century that followed. A lifelong Zen student, jazz piano player, Orff Schulwerk teacher working at a progressive alternative school and traveling throughout Europe (and every other continent) teaching Orff courses. And camping and backpacking with my wife and children and the kids at school. In short, the seeds may have been sown in my childhood, but it was in college that the roots took hold, inspired by the classes I took and teachers I met. 


And what’s the one age I’ve taught the least? College students. And yet as my story testifies, how ripe they are for influence! I did teach one semester a year for six-years at the SF Conservatory until some new Dean decided I was expendable (in spite of rave review from the students). And without a Masters or a PhD, I’m not exactly on the track to teach college. I’ve been holding out for the Honorary Doctorate (none that I can see on the horizon) or a college who would hire someone like me to teach music ed the way they’d hire a famous jazz musician to teach jazz. But my phone is definitely not ringing off the hook.


In the light of the pandemic, there are three Orff teachers I’ve trained who are teaching online college classes and for each, knowing no travel expenses were involved, I offered to teach one unpaid class. And they all took me up on it! One was in the Fall, another one to come in March and another a week or so ago. The teacher of that class has shared with me some responses from her students, two of which I’ll share below. Keep in mind that each class was only one hour long, but it seems to have made a significant impact on these two  students:


 1) The Zoom meeting with Doug Goodkin was very inspirational and full of information worth knowing for our future jobs. I was not familiar with the Orff philosophy but intrigued by all that he explained in such detail. The idea that people learn how to speak first and read second caught me by surprise when I compared it to music education. Of course! Music is not in note values and staff paper. Instead, music lives in the imagination and the human body. This opens the efficient and fun method of teaching music to students in my future classroom. Thank you for this.


2) I really liked how kind and funny he was throughout the meeting, making it a very enjoyable session. Especially if I compare it to the other Zoom classes I had these last two semesters. It was like a wave of fresh air! The one thing I really took out of this lesson was that I really shouldn’t be over-thinking how I go about teaching students and not offer something too grandiose that would more than likely get lost on them. I should just keep the activities simple and fun. That would be more effective. And then it could expand into something more complex, as he showed us in that rhythmic activity we did.


I think that being kind and patient is what makes someone a good teacher. It helps to develop trust with students which would lead to them being more attentive during class time. I’m sure that everyone has had the experience of teachers that didn’t really care how the class went as long as the work got done in time and how we don’t remember anything valuable from those kinds of classes. Because this teacher cared and gave us fun things to do, I suspect I will remember this class for a long time. 


You see how intelligent these students are! They're at the beginning of understanding what is truly important. All it took was for me to lead them out of the dizzying maze of educational jargon and give them permission to play, to explore, to have fun—and also think about how to go from that starting point to ever-more complex and challenging music. 


So without any undue hubris, I believe these college students need me. And I need them to continue this work with a population ripe and ready to receive it and carry it forward. But I don’t think I'm willing to jump through the hoops of getting a Masters and Doctorate. For one thing, I do believe some of that work would be interesting, but I suspect I would be impatient with much of it. For another, I still buy green bananas, but am too old to commit to a 4 or 5 year program that allows me to begin this new career.


And so I call to the Universe as Goethe recommends and ask Providence to begin moving. For example, if you happen to be a University music ed teacher reading this (or any education teacher! I have a book about education in general and have a lot to say on that subject) and you want to take a sabbatical and need a replacement for a semester or a year, I’m your man! Zoom or live! Or at the very least, a series of guest classes which for now, I’ll do for free. Is the message clear!


Let’s see if Goethe got it right.  

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