Monday, March 15, 2021

Confessions of an American Music Teacher

                                        Green Sally up, green Sally down

                                        Green Sally baked her possum brown…


It was Green Sally who accompanied me to my first two presentations at National Music Conferences in 1984—NAJE (National Association of Jazz Educators) in Columbus, Ohio and AOSA (American Orff Schulwerk Association) in Laz Vegas, Nevada. I had arranged this African-American clapping play on Orff instruments for my 4thgrade students and it became the memorable first date that blossomed into a beautiful marriage between Orff Schulwerk and Jazz. 


At the invitation of esteemed Orff teacher Jane Frazee, I taught my first 5-day Orff-Jazz course at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1988. When enrollment was small, we both agreed to hold the course anyway at a reduced salary and at the end, the class gifted me with a Lake Wobegon T-shirt on which they embroidered, “The first six.” It was a prophecy that there would be more to come and indeed, that was precisely the case. 


Besides teaching the course every year in San Francisco from 1990 to 2018, the Canadians were interested and I taught it some ten times in Toronto and also in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Montreal and Halifax. International interest grew and I traveled with the course to Brazil, Columbia and Argentina, to Thailand, Taiwan, Singapore and Australia, to Iceland, Finland, Germany, Greece , Portugal and many, many times in Spain. The height of the course was the two-week version I taught in New Orleans in the summer of 2019, a non-stop education where we left class after six hours to go downtown and be further educated and rubbed shoulders with fabulous local musicians. 


Additionally, I presented Jazz Sessions at many conferences worldwide and national and international one-day workshops, taught five different times at NJPAC (New Jersey Center for Performing Arts), did Family Jazz Children’s Workshops at SF Jazz. I published two ground-breaking books on the Orff/Jazz connection—Now’s the Time: Teaching Jazz to All Ages and All Blues: Jazz for the Orff Ensemble—and recorded the CD Boom Chick a Boom with my jazz band, Doug Goodkin & the Pentatonics. 


The intention of all of this was to fill in some missing gaps in Jazz Education: 


   1. To make jazz accessible, understandable and playable for young children.


   2. To do so by coming into it all through play rather than instrumental study reading 

        charts—with games, speech exploration, songs, body percussion, movement, Orff 

        ensemble, recorder, improvisation every step of the way. 


   3. To keep it tied with culture and history every step of the way, tell the stories of 

        the black creators who suffered and triumphed to bring beauty to the world. 


This is not a job interview resume. This is confessions of an American music teacher. 

I am deeply grateful for the interest of the couple of thousand teachers who came to these courses and classes over these past 37 years. Not only have we had great fun and made great music and met great artists through their stories and recordings, but I’d like to imagine another fifty or hundred thousand children who received the gifts of our work and had their day brightened by feeling that this dynamic jazz spirit was in their heart and body, who surprised themselves to feel it pouring out of their small hands, fingers and voice. 


At the same time, I must honestly admit—this is a confession— that I have been disappointed by how few American Orff teachers who are teaching workshops and summer training courses have bothered to take my Jazz Course and consider bringing one of the mountain peaks of America’s musical contributions both into the class with their kids and into their training courses for other teachers. How few have considered it a duty or an obligation (and such a joyful duty!) to train themselves to integrate jazz into music education for the young ones, to consider this music every bit as important (if not more so for American children) as the Music for Children Orff and Keetman composed.


And now I have a new perspective about that choice and buckle your seat belts, for it is so much stronger than my mild disappointment. It suddenly struck me that the very fact of getting to choose whether or not to incorporate jazz as an essential component of all American music education is white privilege at work, is a silent complicity with the narrative of white supremacy and an unconscious vote to keep it going. 


While you’re chewing that over, let me anticipate some defensive reactions:


1) Yes, jazz is wildly successful in being included in Middle School band programs, high school bands, college bands. But these are all electives dependent upon interest in an instrument. And within that, there is no agreement to include jazz history. 


2) Yes, Orff conferences often have a session or two on jazz, but it’s like Black History Month, a thing apart, a dessert to the main course of the menu, rather than an essential ingredient. And again, often a cute arrangement with little or no reference to history, cultural or even understanding of jazz style and aesthetic. 


3) AOSA now has a strong diversity statement and a committee, but nowhere have I seen an insistence that the Level Trainings consciously incorporate jazz and other black American music and dance and that all teachers be required to train themselves in such. Again, keeping it all as an option is the essence of what white privilege means. 


This is new territory for us all. It is only through the work of the black folks leading with books like How to Be an Anti-Racist, Me and White Supremacy, So You Want to Talk About Race, Why I Stopped Talking to White People About Race,  Caste and many others that white folks are beginning to understand the work ahead of us. This is me looking with new eyes at the work I’ve been doing for almost four decades that is still largely neglected in my Orff circles. And calling it out for consideration. 

Let’s talk.

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