Sunday, July 25, 2021

Opening Talk: SFIOC Summer Orff Course

“We never know how high we are, 

Till we are called to rise
And then, if we are true to plan,

Our statures touch the skies—


The Heroism we recite,

Would be a daily thing.

Did not ourselves the Cubits warp,

For fear to be a King.”    -Emily Dickinson


It has been quite a year and a half.. We have been called to rise to parts of ourselves we didn’t know we could reach. And equally, we have been called to descend to some murky depths we have refused to visit. And here we are, finally on the cusp of return to normality.

But should we return to the old normal? Arundhati Roy suggests not.


 “Nothing could be worse than a return to normality. Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew, to enter a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”


How tragic if the passing of the virus put it all back to sleep again. Here we are, with Nature rattling and Culture unravelling and  both calling us to rise higher than the previous mark, to be yet larger versions of ourselves. As the song says, “We don’t know what’s coming tomorrow, maybe it’s trouble and sorrow” and we’re all feeling that more deeply than ever. In the new world we’re entering, we will need an extra dose of courage to speak out about the things we have been silent about, an increased capacity to feel the things we've been afraid to fully feel, an enlarged ability to listen— really listen. All of which music can help nourish and fortify. 


This is the time of our singing. This is the time to dance that moral arc towards justice. This is the time to improvise through the staggering accelerated changes like a disciplined jazz musician. This is the time to work on our downward dog and then come up barking ferociously at the robbers trying to steal the treasures of our humanity, the shameless profiteers coming to steal the souls of our children.  This is the time to connect the mindfulness of our breath with the denial of some of us to breathe while the knees of centuries old and government sanctioned brutality are on their neck.


And that means the children need to learn the songs. They need to know how to sing. And right now, in this moment, they need more than ever the comfort of a soothing lullaby, the caress of a violin string or the healing breath of the saxophone.. They need to create something from sounds, images, colors and motions to stave off the chaos of the world, to bring order to the pandemic’s pandemonium, the cultural confusion. They need to understand that beauty is powerful, a flowering plant pushing up through the concrete or singing even through the screen. This they need and this they deserve. We all do.


And as teachers, this is the time to teach beyond music, from the core of our humanity to the seed of our fullest humanistic flowering We need to tell the children the stories we have been silent about, vaccinate them against the epidemic of purposeful ignorance that protects unearned privilege and power, tell them the truth of who we have been and lead them toward who we yet might be. 


My friends, that’s why we are gathered here. To help each other rise to the call, so we may emerge from the winter of our sheltering into the beautiful blossoming that has waited patiently for its moment. And that moment is now.

You Just Had to Be There

I simply don’t know what to say. But I will try to say it.


Tonight was the opening ceremony in our 38thInternational Summer Orff Course. I was a student in the first class in 1983, in the first graduating class in 1985 and have been teaching in it since 1990. These two weeks became an indelible part of my identity, as it was here (as well as in my annual Jazz Course) that I got to share so much of what I knew and cared about with people eager to learn. So when the course, like all other similar courses, closed with the pandemic in the summer of 2020, it meant two years would pass before it could open again (2019-2021).


As noted in these blog posts, I compensated, as did we all, with online courses and convinced myself that they were still fun and satisfying. And they were. But tonight as I stepped into the beautiful Hidden Valley space where so many miracles have come to pass, I knew that this was a moment to savor and pay closer attention to. My last live workshop was in Singapore in February 2019, so now I was about to break a 2-year fast from face-to-face, live voices raised in song, live bodies dancing together. 


And so we began.


I silently gestured the people onto the floor to make a circle and made some mimed gestures about reaching for their neighbors’ hand and then deciding against it, nervous after all those months without human hand-to-hand contact. And then… we joined hands.


We stood silently for a minute just feeling the simple beauty of a connected circle. And then I spoke:


“I have been waiting for this moment for 18 months. Dreaming of it. Longing for it. Wondering if it would ever happen again. I think we all have. And now…here we are.”


I went on to say, “I’m so glad you’re here” and burst into the old Georgia Sea Island song of the same title and they joined in and started clapping and then started swaying and then started moving around the room and then started joyfully dancing while one student took out his tenor sax, I went to the piano, another to the drums— and my, how those rafters rang with the relief of live sentient beings, playing, singing and dancing — together! Later I invoked various Ancestors, but I believe they were already out on the floor with us. 


My colleague Sofia then took over with an energetic Spanish greeting song and pulled the group, as she does, into her orbit of joy. And then James shared his charming “a little nervous” canon in the way that he does and bam! the first tuneful canon singing I’ve heard in a long time. On to the business part of the two weeks of living together as a podded vaccinated cohort and then ending with a short piece I had written, to be shared in the next post. We were back! And my oh my, didn’t that feel fine!


I know I have failed miserably here to invoke the poetry necessary to capture even a drop of full epiphany, but if there was any occasion that merited the cliché “you just had to be there,” this was it. You really just had to be there. 


And I was. 

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Three-Ring Circus

For most of my life, I’ve been a juggler, trying to keep the balls or clubs or fire sticks of teaching kids, giving workshops for adults, arranging workshops for adults, writing, my own musical life, family life and more up in the air without crashing on my head. It was an ongoing Three-Ring Circus! 


But with retirement, the tent came down, the elephants in the room went back to their proper cages and there was the leisure to sit under a tree and chew on a grass stalk while contemplating the next step in the tour. Until this week. 


Suddenly, it was back in the Big Top! Finishing my 5-day Toronto online class, helping get my daughter off to Europe, preparing to host three guests coming for two days and then giving them the Doug Tour of SF, packing for the live Orff course down in the Carmel Valley and preparing for my birthday party next week—the show was on! A few more balls got thrown into the air— the emergency meetings about the student from abroad who was about to arrive with the wrong non-CDC-approved vaccine (we held firm to our promise not to let her in, but it broke all our hearts), the question about which instruments/ supplies we can pick up from school and so on. 


It struck me that I rarely had to juggle so much with deadlines and time pressures during the last 18 months and like the return of rush-hour traffic, one of the less attractive sides of post-pandemic life. But just as I can choose whether it’s worth it to get on the freeway, whether I need that trip or not or should consider biking or walking, so is it my choice whether to teach this class or that. I’m scheduled to present at a Conference in Australia in January and they’re still unclear whether it will work for me amidst Covid restrictions. If it has to be online, the thought of avoiding 24-hour plane travel and arranging other courses while I’m there to justify the time is somewhat attractive. 


Okay, my guest have awakened, I have to pack and then take them on Part II of the Doug Tour. The circus is back in town! 

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Points to Ponder 3

• Teaching as an act of revelation. 

Alongside  leading students to discover the key elements of a given discipline, you also are leading them to discover what they can do and think or imagine that they didn’t yet know they could. Each activity is a stepping stone to who they are and who they might yet be. 


• “Each object rightly seen unlocks another faculty of soul.”– Coleridge

Art is the key to unlocking the soul’s closed doors, inviting us to see deeper into things, to listen deeper into things, to move like a dance in the world. The case for wide exposure to all kinds of literature, art, poetry, music, dance, etc. is a path to growing larger souls. No one composer, artist, musical style can speak all of the multitude of selves within us— we need  Debussy to reach the places Bach can’t, jazz to touch the parts of ourselves that European classical music can’t reach, Indian music or gamelan or Ghanaian drum choirs to sing selves we didn’t even know we had. Amidst the social reasons to enlarge our repertoire beyond the Western canon are the deeper reasons to awaken large selves lying dormant within us.


Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Points to Ponder 2

Each thing you learn is not the end, but the beginning of the next possibility. 

Art —and life— is a verb, a constantly evolving and changing expression. The act of creation is what moves things forward and keeps them perpetually fresh and rejuvenated.  Whether learning a piece of music or considering how to plan a class, developing the habit of asking “How else can we do this?” leads to the excitement and surprise of the creative act. 


 The job of the teacher is to lead the children to the edge of discovery.

 Rather than simply explain an idea or show a technique, consider how to structure a class so that the kids discover the main points of the lesson. "How many different ways can you make sound on this drum?" can be a good lead-in to introducing tried and true effective drumming techniques. , "Choose two bars to take off the xylophone and create a little piece in your scale" can make a good introduction to different forms of the pentatonic scale. "Find three notes that sound the most like blues to you" might make for a more involved and more exciting way to begin to learn about the blues scale." And yes, sometimes its simpler, more effective and even necessary simply to show a technique or explain a concept, but by beginning with hands-on exploration and problem-solving, you set the foundation for the student's interest. Try it and see. 

Points to Ponder 1

Still loving my online class and particularly, the way that being in a community of teachers, even online, stimulates both thought and occasional surprising eloquence that I sometimes try to remember after class and set down. Today, I came up with six, nothing that I haven’t said before, but some new ways to articulate them. In the spirit of narrowing the focus instead of the constant side trips, I’m putting them out here two as a time. Whether or not you’re a teacher, hope they seem interesting. 


Do it first. Some teachers in the U.S. are required to begin class by telling the children the learning objectives of the class. Telling the kids what they’re going to learn might be a useful beginning occasionally, but takes away intrigue, mystery, surprise. It’s not an enticing beginning. It’s more of an adult notion not always friendly to kids’ mindset. But immediately doing something, setting up a riddle or a problem to be solved, beginning with humor, etc. is the best teaching, meeting kids where they are and from there, leading them to where they haven’t yet been.

Watch the children. Criteria for evaluating an educational strategy is not its credentials coming from an “educational expert.” Simply watch the children and their response. If they’re engaged, happy, connected, making progress, you’re on the right track. If not, throw out any notion of your “perfect class.”


Monday, July 19, 2021

By the Way

Have I mentioned that I love to teach? Any age, any time, any subject. It’s not exactly like the craving I had for basketball in 8th grade, feeling my fingers itch to bounce the ball and shoot the basket and feeling restless until I did. (I used to shovel the snow off the court in the inter just to satisfy that obsession!) If I go through a long period without teaching, I’m fine doing other things. But when I return to it, it’s always a homecoming.


And so off I went this morning with yet another 5-day/ 15 hour Zoom class on the theme of my last book “Teach Like It’s Music.” Most people are so Zoomed out and can’t believe that I would want to do it and that anyone would want to sign up (19 have). But once engaged, I come to life in my whole self, share the things I considered valuable in almost a half-century of working on it, feeling the palpable pleasure of sharing ideas and material and the enthusiastic response from the folks in the little squares, with smiles, gestures, comments and questions. And soon, in just one week—oh, joy of all joys—I get to do this live!

In today’s class as in all my classes, I did have a clear plan, a marked trail that I laid out and intended to walk with the folks, but there are parts of yourself that you will never change and for me, it’s my fascination with all the side trails, all the beckoning off-trail wildflowers that beg to be admired and occasionally picked. Because of my lifetime of reading and writing and thinking about diverse fields, all it takes is a tiny impulse and off I go talking about the myelination of the synapses in the brain or the modern culture’s hyper-pace of change like a song that changes keys, rhythms and styles every few bars and never allows you to sink into one sustained feeling or how the Orff teacher’s “How else can I do this?” mantra is also good advice for Congress. I fervently believe that the marked trail is a worthy one and it feels good to be led from point to point in a straightforward way, but truth be told, the most interesting part of any class, whether it be with adults or children, often are the side excursions. My most common little phrase that I insert when I teach is “by the way,” which turns out to be the perfect expression of what’s off to the side that I think is important to note. Either that’s true or it’s my way of spinning my serious learning disability into something positive. 

I'm sure it's a little of both. Don't want to pave the road and put up "keep off the grass" signs, but also recognize that one good point artfully developed that resists the side trips, be in a musical thought, a philosophical thought, an image or a story plot,  has a power worth pursuing. Wish me luck!



Sunday, July 18, 2021

The Return of the Lilliputians

I have been naïve and gullible here and there, but generally think of myself as a pretty level-headed person able to distinguish truth from fantasy. Until recently. 


Remember my daughter’s piece about Marriage Counseling yesterday? I was shaking my head in disbelief that someone would charge so much money and that people would pay so much money just to think that they were right and their spouse was wrong. I passed it on to a friend complaining about the state of the world and she gently tugged my sleeve and alerted me: “Um, I think it was a satire.” Which my daughter confirmed. 


But hey, given the news these days, it certainly could have been true. I mean someone just sold an invisible sculpture for $18,000, a visual art equivalent of John Cage’s “4’33”, that piece where the pianist sits for 4 minutes and 33 seconds without touching the piano and whatever sounds are in the auditorium are the music. With the difference that this would just be one piece in the concert and the ticket probably didn’t cost more than $50. The invisible sculpture is simply a pedestal and wherever you put it, well, the view over the pedestal is the sculpture. Had I bought it, I would have written the number $18,000 on a piece of paper and told the artist, “Now imagine the check.”


In these days of Jewish space lasers and satanic Democrat child-devourers, the satirical, unimaginable and just plain insane has become the norm. Today there is no difference between Fox News and the satirical Onion newspaper. What to believe?


PS: By the way, have you heard that the Republican Party is worried about dwindling numbers and has recruited an army of Lilliputians to cross the border from Mexico to join forces? Be prepared.


Saturday, July 17, 2021

The Latest in Marriage Counseling

My daughter Kerala, whose writing often (always?) outshines mine, has been publishing pieces on the online format This one was a bit out of character and baffled me. Stay tuned tomorrow to find out why. 

Marriage Counselor Makes Millions By Telling Couples Who’s Right and Who’s Wrong

Dr. Woodburn‘s new therapeutic model hits the sweet spot between profitability and consumer demand

Dr. Amber Woodburn, LMFT, LP, has surpassed Esther Perel as the country’s highest earning marriage counselor, with a reported net worth of over 100 million dollars. Based in Tampa, Florida, Woodburn charges up to $25,000 for a single 45-minute session. She is currently booked 18 months out.

“When I started my practice, I tried everything I was taught in school,” said Woodburn. “You know, like giving couples tools to improve their communication skills and validating each other’s feelings and practicing active listening and all that jazz. But at the end of the day, I realized most couples really just wanted to know one thing: who is right and who is wrong.”

Like many entrepreneurs, Woodburn realized that she would need to pivot to meet consumer demand.

When asked how she determines who is right and wrong, Woodburn smiled. “If you learn one thing in my line of work,” she said, “it’s that in 99% of troubled marriages, one partner is consistently being more of an asshole.”

Despite the hefty price tag and long waiting list, couples flock from all over the country to meet with Woodburn, typically after exhausting more traditional counseling methods.

Alicia Paz of Tuscon, Arizona, a former client of Woodburn’s, had nothing but glowing reviews. “I had to cash out my retirement savings, and now I’m a single mom, but it was all worth it just to see the look on Daniel’s face when Dr. Woodburn told him he’d been wrong all these years.”

Paz’s former spouse could not be reached for comment.

Kevin Johnson of Reston, Virginia, who is currently #10 on Woodburn’s extensive waitlist, is, in his words, “absolutely sure” he’s right. “I just can’t wait to throw it in my wife’s face,” he said, rubbing his hands together with a look of maniacal glee. Johnson has no plans to divorce his wife, as he would like to continue throwing it in her face until death do them part.

“My partner and I tried many traditional counseling methods,” said Laurie Greer of Needham, Massachusetts. “But all the ‘I’ statements in the world didn’t change the fact that she is pretty much wrong about everything. Maybe I should have left her sooner, but I toughed it out for an extra year and a half while on Dr. Woodburn’s waitlist just for the satisfaction of being able to say, ‘I told you so.’ ”

When asked if she now shuns more traditional counseling methods, Woodburn said, “I think more traditional methods can work wonders if both parties come to the table with humility, empathy, and an open mind.”

Unfortunately, according to Woodburn, “most people kind of suck. They’re egotistical, insensitive, and close-minded. If I can’t change that, at least I can ensure that one person will walk away from each session happy.”

Mandy Bowman, a spokesperson for The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT), admitted that Dr. Woodburn’s methods are “a little unorthodox.” But, she said, “considering the social forces that have led to significant increases in people sucking, this might be a direction that more marriage and family counselors will need to explore moving forward.”



Friday, July 16, 2021

Dream Light

Sometimes my dreams seem to dictate something profound and meaningful. I actually had one the other night about being one of a small group of survivors after the world ended and looking for my CD’s to pass on the right music to re-build civilization. And then there was the “Bingo” dream that put me back on my teaching track of “How else can we do this?”


And last night’s dream? Bachelor Father. An old TV show I hadn’t thought about in 50 or so years and not even sure I watched it. But I did remember that John Forsythe was the main character. And so my duty for the morning was to think about other TV shows in the 50’s and 60’s that featured single fathers and without too much effort, I came up with: 


• My Three Sons.

• The Andy Griffith Show.

• Bonanza.

Then with a little help from you-know-what, I added: My Little Margie, The Rifleman,  The Beverly Hillbillies and Flipper. 


In the world of Ozzie and Harriet, the Donna Reed Show, Leave It to Beaver, The Dick Van Dyke Show and countless more showing the father, mother, kids as the norm, isn’t that interesting that there were come eight shows featuring single Dads? What was that about?


Of course, it got me curious about shows from that time featuring single Moms and came up with— well, nothing! In the real world outside the TV studios, I imagine there were a lot more single Moms than Dads, but on TV it somehow was a taboo subject. Looks the first was One Day at a Time in 1970 and then in the 80’s, Alice. Isn’t that interesting?



As to what it all means, who knows? I suspect the dream voices were just teasing me, or giving me a break from the end-of-the-world scenario. But I have to say it makes me curious about seeing a few episodes of Bachelor Father. Anyone know where to find it?

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Woodstock Meets Summer of Soul

“Hey, let’s go to Woodstock!” I was 18 and my friend Mike Spirito called me with this invitation around dinnertime and an hour later, we were on the New Jersey parkway entrance hitchhiking to the Festival. Got dropped off some 10 miles from the main site around midnight and starting walking the road, along with many other fellow hippies. It had the feel of some ancient pilgrimage and when we arrived within earshot of the music (though in the middle of the night, none was playing),  I believe we just lay down and slept. We awoke late morning and though I hoped to get closer to the stage, Mike had to get back to work. And so we turned around to hitchhike back, never really having caught sight of  nor heard the music of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead, Joan Baez, Jefferson Airplane, the Who or any other of the  30 plus bands who performed at this watershed event. These were the folks singing my emerging identity as a fledgling hippy, the soundtrack of the times, the bards announcing the new world. As the story tells, I wasn’t exactly wholly there, but yes, I was there. And can tell my grandchildren about it.


But there was another watershed event that same summer and I’m sad to say I wasn’t there. In fact, didn’t even know it happened until I recently saw the movie Summer of Soul.  Hmm, mostly white folks performing and gathering at Woodstock and a media blitz that echoes down to this day. All black folks performing in Harlem’s Summer of Soul concerts and the media goes silent. Until this year. Gee, I wonder why that is. 


But such a loss for me and the world (and thanks to the folks who took the footage and brought it out 50 years later!!). After you watch the movie, you can’t help but reflect on the beauty and power of that gathering. Young performers like Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight and the Pips, David Ruffin (of the Temptations), Sly and the Family Stone (who also performed at Woodstock). Seasoned veterans like Nina Simone, B.B. King,, the Staples Singers, Mahalia Jackson. Gospel music, blues, soul, jazz, Latin jazz, West African music, South African music, funk— the variety was astounding, but all styles unified by the unmistakable presence of the African soul in its many different voices. The mostly black performers (some white supporting musicians) looking out at a sea of mostly black audience members (I spotted about five white folks amongst thousands). 


Comparing the two festivals, I couldn’t help but feel Woodstock as indulgent and wimpy compared to the Soul Force and power of the Harlem one. A few points to consider:


• I do think the music from the white bands of that time was authentic, necessary, prophetic and with its own quality of Soul and Spirit. But it all was drawn from the well of the African diaspora and white folks had only really been playing it for some 15 years, compared to the 75 plus year history of Blues and Gospel and Jazz. 


• The ages of the people both attending and performing at Woodstock probably fit into a ten year span, say between 18 and 28. By contrast, Nina Simone was in her 30’s, B.B. King in his 40’s, Mahalia Jackson in her 50’s, the Staples Singers a father and daughters band and the audience included all generations. 


• The music at Woodstock was helping to form a beginning identity, while the music in Harlem was affirming an ancient identity. 


• The call for radical political change was present in both (as in Country Joe and the Fish anti-Vietnam protest song, the presence of the Black Panthers in the Harlem Festival and Reverend Jesse Jackson’s speech as part of it), but for the white kids, political activism was an optional item due to their privilege being raised in white suburbs while for the black people, it was a matter of survival. And it’s worth noting that the media frenzy around Woodstock and inattention to the Summer of Soul is yet another of 10,000 examples of how white privilege works in this country. 


But the good news is that the movie is out and you can go see it. Do try to go beyond the entertainment value into the deeper levels of the lessons it teaches about the extraordinary beauty, power and durability of the African musical soul and use it to renew your own commitment to end white supremacy in this country. Stevie, Nina and Mahalia are all carrying the same message and generously offering it up to all of us. Let’s listen to it.





Wednesday, July 14, 2021


When your night dreams align with your day dreams, pay attention! It’s a sure sign that your unique purpose on the planet is being broadcast to you. Not that I need any more convincing, but it always astonishes me to feel the many levels through which this work proceeds. 


For example, the other night I dreamt I was giving an Orff workshops to a large crowd of adults using the children’s song Bingo.  You know it, the B -  I-  N-G-O one. But instead of just sitting and singing, the crowd was marching to the first part and freezing in different shapes on the letters. Fun! Then we increased the tempo. Challenging! Then we did the slow-motion underwater version. Lovely! As usual, the adults were so happy to get to play as children again, to get to move, to get to create something personally expressive—and to get to do it together. Beyond the utilitarian professional development of an Orff workshop, the simple opportunity to shed the serious adult working and re-awaken the mirthful child playing is enough reason for everyone and anyone to get themselves to the nearest Orff gathering. But the added perk of getting to play with people, to be seen and welcomed and valued, to see and welcome and value others is worth ten times the admission price. Which, by the way, is pretty darn cheap compared to your local therapist. 


“Search for that which joins us; understand that which separates us” is a gem of a quote by Carl Orff that few know about. But Bingo!, he hit the proverbial nail on the head, for playing together is certainly that which joins us. And confining ourselves to a corner of our adult thought and belief system and dogmas is certainly part of that which separates us. I believe that up until my last breath, I will announce my hope to give a workshop to members of Congress before they vote on an important issue. Begin by playing and creating together, then sitting down and discussing the issue at hand with the person you just played with, voting and then ending with a song and a dance. What a game-changer that would be! 


Meanwhile, I have my first live Orff teaching in two weeks after a year and a half and thanks to the gods who visit me in dreams, I have my first class planned. B  -   I   -  N-G-O…

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Radical Hollywood

Having finished the book, I decided to watch the old movie The Grapes of Wrath. According to Wiki, it has been called one of the 25 greatest films of all time. I agree. Yet though it was remarkably faithful to the book in both plot and actual lines, it had to leave out so much. I definitely would not recommend foregoing the book and just being content with the film. 


Released in 1940, it gives a courageously true view of what happened between labor and bosses in the Dust Bowl years, though you could feel it pulling away from accenting too much of capitalism’s worst features and trying to accent instead the durability and survival of the family against all odds. Of course, the human struggle and triumph is always a worthy theme, but great art and literature can also provoke deeper thinking, reveal what is purposefully hidden and not discussed, give insight into the forces at work that create suffering that are preventable. 


And so this made me think about all the films in the 30’s through 50’s that made some kind of first attempt to shed light on issues long shoved to the back of the closet. In the midst of movies as entertainment and distraction, as furthering propaganda and hurtful stereotypes, there has always been a strand attempting to dig deeper. Without looking anything up, I came up with a list of classics for the Film and American Politics: Part I class that I probably will never teach (Part II would be from 1960 to the present). In the way we do these days, we could dismiss them all as hopelessly naïve and caught in the assumptions of the time. But we need to remember that we wouldn’t know what we now know or be where we are without these beginning attempts to deal with the undealt-with issues. Amongst them: 


• Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936)  A Frank Capra film about a simple and honest tuba-playing fellow who inherits 20 million dollars and by the end, uses it to provide fully equipped 10 acre farms free to thousands of homeless families if they will work the land for three years. (The next three films are all directed by Frank Capra). 


• Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939): Honesty amidst political corruption.


• You Can’t Take It With You (1938):  An eccentric family in which everyone just does what’s fun for them instead of trying to be successful and rich is offered big money to sell their house to make way for a factory. They’re doing experiments in the basement, dancing around in tutus, playing the harmonica while the son of the corporate bad guy dates their daughter. They refuse to sell their house. The most radical tenet of all! With the title as reminder to all those who have bought the American dream.


• It’s a Wonderful Life (1946):  The Capra film that we associate with feel-good Christmas, but Potter is a cold-hearted cheating capitalist who values profit over people and George Bailey is the dreamer who also cares about community. Guess who wins in the end. 


• Gentlemen’s Agreement (1947): A film about anti-Semitism, released the same year as Crossfire, another film on the same subject that originally as about anti-homosexuality. But it was too early for Hollywood to handle that hot topic, so they changed to anti-Semitism. 


• The Defiant Ones (1958): One of the early attempts to look at racism and reconciliation. 


• To Kill a Mockingbird (1962): Though now it would be criticized for its “white savior” theme, it was daring in its time to reveal systemic injustice against blacks in the South. 


• Adam’s Rib (1949):Along with Woman of the Year, a lighthearted look at the shifting roles between men and women with Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy as two married lawyers finding themselves on opposite sides of a case. Early feminism.


• Inherit the Wind (1960): The topic of free speech and separation of church and state is treated in this court case of the right to teach Darwinism. 


• The Grapes of Wrath (1940): See above.


Well, there’s a start. And leaning on Google, I found some other classic films that I hadn’t heard of before (A Face in the Crowd, Born Yesterday, Imitation of Life, Intruder in the Dust, The Jackie Robinson Story) and those I had seen, but hadn’t necessarily thought about related to the theme of social justice (All the King’s Men, High Noon, Citizen Kane, All About Eve). So now I have given myself some delightful homework and I’ll report back in a month or so.


Feel free to share any films I’ve missed! (For now, up to around 1960). 



Monday, July 12, 2021

Kings and Queens

Having just finished The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, here are a few “take-aways.”


1. Men and money are a bad combination. 


2. The same strategies to put down, oppress and foment hatred against people of color was used against the Okies coming to California in the 30’s, the IWW workers movement at the turn of the century (read Cold Millions by Jess Walter), the British against the Irish, etc. Proving my suspicion that you can’t separate the purposeful perpetration of the “isms” from economics and greed. That’s the next big conversation we need to have. 


3. The police are there “to serve and protect.” The rich folks, that is. Always have been and still mostly are. Along with the corrupt bosses, they changed or bent the law at will giving those they threaten, beat, jail, kill, no resource for complaint or justice. (This deserves its own post.)


4. Compared to the lives of so many Americans a mere 100 years ago, the average citizen today is living like a King or Queen in terms of comfort, leisure, food on the table, shelter, climate-controlled environments and more. Just reading about the sheer amount of grueling physical labor, the horrible working environments, the hunger and privation, the battle against the elements, the sanitary (or rather unsanitary) conditions, all of that on top of the brutality of the bosses, helps me realize that we often have no idea how trivial our complaints are in the face of our supreme luxuries. (That damn toilet is running again! Oh, life is so unfair!) 


I left the book with a similar feeling to finishing What Is the What by Dave Eggers. That I simply have no right to complain about anything. Nothing. Except, of course, the big things like injustice and the forces that keep it running. But those little daily annoyances? “The restaurant won’t seat me until 8:00? That’s too late for my bedtime!” “What? There isn’t a kosher macrobiotic carb-free vegan option?! How dare they!” “Dang! I can’t find that movie on Netflix.” You get the idea. 

So next time you find yourself complaining about things like that, start reading some of the books above. But first set your thermostat to the desired temperature, take a bath or shower with the perfect temperature water and one of 50 kinds of soap while listening to your favorite music from 10,000 choices on Spotify, Pandora or your CD collection, settle into your cushioned royal throne with drink in hand kept cold in the refrigerator (choose from 65 different kind of beer or wine or kombucha or flavored sparkling water) and assorted chocolates from 25 different makers,  put the glass and plate in the dishwasher and if the book is too hard for you, see if you can find the movie on Netflix.


And get outraged if you can’t find it there!!! 

Sunday, July 11, 2021

My Home of Homes

I’m far from a great singer and my guitar skills are rudimentary, but I never feel more at home than leading a Singing Time with a group of people. Any age. Any size. Any situation.

From the daily Singing Time in my beloved music room at The San Francisco School to the gathering in the park today with 20 alum kids and teachers from all different eras to the Jewish Home last Friday (though that sadly still is “singing” without singing—piano playing only), I simply love to lead singing with a group of people. There are moments in our life when we are most wholly ourselves, when all the community of selves we carry within us join and merge into one unmistakable wholly authentic self that is ours and ours alone. And thus, becomes everybody’s. 


Of course, re-singing the songs that joined the school alums that came together today has a special resonance, evoking that more innocent time when we all were forging a safe and joyful haven of childhood and the songs became the soundtrack to a yet larger sense of welcome and belonging. There were kids who graduated three years ago up to those that graduated thirty years ago and some songs one group knew and not the other and vice-versa. But many that they all knew in common because I was the common thread. 


We sang for over two hours on a cold, foggy SF day and ending with a contra dance. Interesting to me that some of the most fun songs to do are the ones I do with preschool with motions and challenging canonic sequences. Some of the alum “kids” were there with their kids and it was fun to see the repertoire being passed on. Many had come on either regularly or occasionally to the online Alum Sing I led once a month throughout the year, but what a pleasure to actually hear the songs being sung! And in canon! One of the kids who I had just met asked me at the end, “Are we going to do this again?” His Mom happened to be visiting from New Mexico, so it wouldn’t be easy to arrange, but the bigger point was—well, he liked it enough to ask that question. The kind of comment from a kid that reminds you why you do what you do. 


I keep telling myself that my interests are broad and my projects are many. Unlike the monoculture farmer, the diversity in my garden protects me from irreparable loss. I can go without playing piano, without writing a blogpost, without teaching a music class to kids, without teaching an Orff workshop and still enjoy the day. And yes, without group singing as well. But today was a reminder that some part of me—perhaps the best part—needs to continually renew this kind of joyful sharing. 


Want to organize such a gathering? Give me a call—I’m in!


Saturday, July 10, 2021

Birthday Card for Carl Orff

Dear Mr. Orff,


Happy birthday! 126 years since that lucky day that you were born. Of course, you haven’t been on the planet with us for the last 39 of those years, but in the realm of Art and Spirit, you are perpetually present in your legacy. Not only delighting the ears and eyes of all those who have sung and danced and acted in—and continue to do so—Carmina Burana, but uplifting the hearts and souls of probably a million plus children whose childhoods were made just a bit happier by going to music classes inspired by your vision. And the teachers as well! You made their work harder than just turning the page to the next piece or exercise that they had done year after year with kids struggling with tone and technique— Orff teachers have to continually create and re-create, think of 50 different ways to teach the same lesson, listen and attend to the kids’ responses and fold their ideas into the spontaneously emerging class that has been meticulously planned. But in effort there is joy and when done well, there simply is no burn out in the inspired Orff classroom, as the life-giving spirit of constant creation feeds the whole venture like an underground stream bringing fresh cool water to the lake. 


Whole communities have been created based on people gathering who inherited your legacy, shared your vision and worked and played together to try to keep it moving forward. How many marriages have happened that got their start in Orff workshops! And lifelong friendships! Such an ongoing echo from your initial call, such an expansive response that keeps responding. I’m about to publish a book of articles from some 25 countries testifying how this work has refreshed their school cultures and brought such joy and enthusiasm to the children and adults of all ages. And another 20 countries could testify as well. That must feel good. 


So on behalf of all these children and all these teachers and all these audiences, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. You have gifted me with a life that never would have existed without you and your work— and it has been a blessed one. Here’s a photo from 10 years ago of kids my colleagues and I brought to the Orff Symposium to perform. I believe you would have been both deeply pleased and astounded by their musicianship, their expansive repertoire and their joy in performing. I know your wife Liselotte was! 


Happy birthday and may the echoes keep sounding!




Doug Goodkin