Sunday, October 31, 2021

Clap-Clap-Clap

I’m picturing a time (hopefully in the further rather than nearer future) when some loved ones are gathering around my deathbed, searching for the perfect exit music. Since I’m no Bach, they won’t be singing an excerpt from the Mass in B Minor nor reciting my poetry as if I were Yeats or playing me a recording of my finest jazz piano solo. Instead, they might sing:

 

“You should know it’s the time of year…” — and I’ll rise up on my bed, clap my hands three times and expire with a smile on my face. 

 

For alongside my composed Earth Day Rap and Intery Mintery, my versions of Criss-Cross Applesauce or One Mud Pie or Old King Glory, this song is one of the signature pieces in my repertoire. There is something at once powerful and satisfying and hilarious about knowing that I could sing that opening line to any alum from school between 15 and 55 years old and without a moment’s hesitation, without pausing to think about it, they would clap their hands three times. Indeed, the power of call and response songs is the comfort and security and sense of connection and belonging that occurs when one knows precisely how to answer the call with the proper response. 

 

This is a Halloween song that I found early on in my teaching career in a California music textbook. It was written by Lynne Ohlsen (this by memory— I’ll check next time I visit the school) and the text is as follows: 

 

You should know it's the time of year (clap-clap-clap)
When the witches and ghosts appear 
(clap-clap-clap)
They come at night when there's no more light
Halloween is almost here. 
(clap-clap-clap)

If you look very carefully 
(clap-clap-clap)
There's a goblin behind that tree 
(clap-clap-clap)
But I must say, don't you run away
'Cuz it might be me. 
 (BOO!!!)

 

Music teachers, take note. It’s a great song for exploring contrast. Sing the first two lines of each stanza staccato, the next two legato, hold out “away” in a dramatic fermata, then decrescendo down to pp on the last line, followed by the explosive “BOO!!!” It takes some practice to sing artfully. 

 

Someday in a future blog, I’ll invoke that first line again. Perhaps you’ll be sitting in a Starbucks or sneaking a read in a boring office meeting and you’ll spontaneously erupt into the “Clap-clap-clap!” And then have to explain to the people around you what happened.

 

Well, heck, why not teach them the song?! Happy Halloween!

 

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Living Up to Your Name

Last night, I cooked the comfort food of my young adulthood— short-grain brown rice, carrots, zucchini, scallions, tofu and tamari sauce. Ate by 7 pm October candelight, the pumpkins carved earlier that day lit on the front porch, a Fall feeling in the air that was tangible and touchable and heartwarmingly familiar, a sense of belonging that the news couldn’t touch, the gods in their heavens and all right with the world. All the decades of my blessedly long life converged in that moment, each wholly present and each wholly embraced in a sense of kinship with the 10,000 things of this beautiful world. 

 

When my grandparents arrived at Ellis Island more than a century ago, they might have carried the name Goodkinsky, shortened to Goodkin or perhaps, Goodkind (the version adopted by my Aunt Flo). I’ve never loved saying my name, the harsh consonants of the  paired d and k in the middle like sharp stones interrupting some melodic flow. But last night, I thought about “good kin” and extending my sense of connection far beyond my relatives, felt a certain destiny in my inherited name. My Uncle Harold always told me that family and loyalty to family was everything, but failed to mention that our job is to extend that sense of family to include all people and yet further into all animal and plants and even rivers and stones and stars. And indeed, when putting together my 70th birthday slide show and revisiting the photos of so many people I’ve met in my teaching and travels, I felt that satisfaction of feeling akin to such a rich mix of people. All the diverse nationalities, races, religions, economic status, genders, sexual preferences, languages, the whole nine yards of things that people use as an excuse to exclude and dismiss becoming the very fabric of the sense of kinship I cultivated with all of humanity (minus those with the content of character that harms and hurts, though even those somehow having to be included). I now can see my life as my attempt to live up to my name, to see the goodness in my kin and to feel an ever-expanding kinship with all of creation. And then further, taking my Aunt Flo’s version, to myself try to be always one inch more good and one inch more kind until the inches add up to a worthy length. 

 

Had I been named Hill, my life may have been an upbeat battle. Green and either an eco-warrior or a greedy tycoon or jealous lover. White might have left my content with my unearned and harmful privilege, Moore might have found me perpetually dissatisfied, Walker got me into the Himalayas to trek, Baker landing me a job at Tartinnes. And so on. I think I’ll stick with Goodkin.

 

And your name? And your life?  

Friday, October 29, 2021

The Right Words

Few things are more satisfying to hear as a writer than “You said something I have always felt, but couldn’t find the words for.” I have gratefully received that comment many times and equally gratefully expressed that to other writers.

 

But there is also a variation. “You are saying exactly what I have said, but in different words that both affirm my viewpoint, expand it  and reinforce it.” I am feeling that a lot in this book Sacred Instructions by Sherri Mitchell and particularly with these choice quotes about education: 

 

“Instead of teaching respect for the rich biodiversity that ensures a healthy balance, our present colonial education system teaches homogeneity. It teachers students to seek the right answer according to social norms, rather than instilling critical thinking skills that would lead them to right action. It teaches allegiance and obedience to our existing structures, without allowing our young people to consider if those structures actually serve the fundamental needs of life.  It teaches us to seek ways to continue taking, without any commitment toward reciprocity and leaves us dependent on the trappings of our addicted society. … It is a system that impedes the individual’s ability to be helpful, by tying them up in rules that ensure their obedience rather than promoting their humanity. …

 

We need to take responsibility for instructing the children in the ways of compassion, kindness and generosity toward others. We need to ensure that every child has a solid sense of belonging and kinship, developed through close contact and meaningful engagement with loving adults.”

 

Ms. Mitchell is speaking as a member of the Penobscot Nation, representing an indigenous culture that has lived, sustained and passed down these values of belonging and kinship, compassion, kindness and generosity toward others. I am a polygot mixture of Russian-Jew-Unitarian-Buddhist-jazz-playing- grandfather- of-two-mixed-race-children- middle-class-American from New Jersey brought up on “Leave It to Beaver,”  Tarzan, cowboys and Indians movies who took a sharp left turn away from Wall Street, joined the late 60’s hippy movement and worked 45 years in a progressive school hoping to “be the change we wished to see in the world.” That last paragraph above could have been our Mission Statement and certainly describes eloquently just about everything I hoped to accomplish as a teacher.

 

It’s a great pleasure to find the right words to frame our actions and decisions.  Now all we have to do is live them.  

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Opposite Ends of the House

 

“Hey!” my wife said seated at the kitchen table paying some bills, “Today is 10/21/21! That’s a cool date.”

 

“No,” I replied, “it’s actually 10/ 28.”

 

We both paused a moment wondering why that date sounded familiar. And then at the same moment exclaimed, “It’s our anniversary!”

 

Well, after 42 years and diminishing memories, it’s understandable we might both forget. If we make it that long, I can imagine making a big deal of the 50th, but after a moment’s pause and a brief hug, we both went back to our separate chores. We have had some unusual experiences as a couple— working together for over four decades at the same school, traveling together to some 40 countries around the world, her studying art and me studying music. And we’ve had the common experience of raising kids, caring for parents, visiting the grandkids, creating some common community with neighbors, colleagues, siblings. We have season passes to the usual roller-coaster of relationship, the extraordinary expectation that you wake up each morning (some 15,000 mornings, to be exact) with 

champagne bubbles of love matched by the reality of sometimes looking over at your spouse and thinking, “Oh, you’re still here?” 

 

So here we are, both retired and still quasi-pandemic-sheltered, her at the back of the house, me at the front, each pursuing our separate interests. We come together for lunch and watch the previous night’s Stephen Colbert and I go off to walk one direction out in the world and her often another, though once or twice a week we’ll walk together. We both think about dinner and somehow balance that off nicely, not officially taking turns cooking with a given schedule, but it tends to work out that way. And then we settle in for the next chapter of whichever night TV series we’re watching (at the moment, Deadwind.) I do the shopping, she does the laundry— after all these years, we’ve figured out a good division of labor and it works. The geometry of our relationship is more compatible parallel lines and intersecting circles than intensive braided ropes and I think we’ve come to accept that it’s just the way we work, even if it doesn’t follow the plot of the romance novels. 

 

And so on our 42nd  anniversary (47 counting the five years we lived together before marriage),  we’ve spent the morning at opposite ends of the house and now it’s time for lunch. Maybe this afternoon we’ll walk together and treat ourselves to an ice cream. No big fireworks, but a pleasant sunny day passed together. 

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Any Questions?

One of the least enjoyable moments of any workshop I give, be it Zoom or live, is when we go through some experience I consider dynamic, fun, engaging and occasionally profound— or show videos of my kids performing with such joy, connection and musicianship— and then ask, “Any questions?” And am met with stony silence.

 

I needn’t take it personally. I think that one of three things is happening:

 

1) When you’re playing, singing and dancing, you’re out of your head and into your body and heart. You release yourself to the visceral experience and the analytic mind gets a time-out. So when the experience is over, the transition from the full body/mind to the mind that formulates a question is a slow one, a kind of small shock to the system. 

 

2) It might be that the particular kind of experience and the way it was taught was so different from what the participant has previously experienced that they don’t know how to think about, never mind ask a relevant and penetrating question. 

 

3) The least happy reason is that people are afraid to look foolish in front of their peers, or don’t have the habit of reflection, or are conditioned not to speak out. Having taught a Zoom college class, I especially worried about this, a silence that is genuinely uncomfortable when I’m looking for engagement and dialogue and further investigation. When I teach, I’m putting out a call and if there’s no response, there ain’t no music.

 

Sometimes I feel that in this blog. Putting out all these reflections, ideas, stories, to stimulate thought, discussion, conversation, all of which I never get to be a part of. There is some kind of comment bar that mostly has been strangers advertising over-the-counter drugs. I think, frankly, that there’s something off about it, but I haven’t been inspired to fix it because if people really commented, I wouldn’t have the time to properly respond. But a few pithy responses that stimulate further thought and reflection would certainly be welcome!

 

Any questions?

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

To Young Readers

 (© 2021 Doug Goodkin)

I’m sure I’m being foolishly na├»ve to freely share writings that I intend to publish that I haven’t yet. (Hence the copyright above) But it was exciting to try to talk directly to 10-14 year olds in print and so I share it here. Read it to anyone you know that age and see if it entices them!

 

Welcome to this book! I have taught young people like you my whole life and have loved every minute of it. I’ve loved teaching you, talking with you, listening to you, watching what you can do and how you can sometimes surprise yourself and everyone around you. When the news in the paper is difficult—and isn’t it always?— the adults around me wonder how I can be so optimistic. And I tell them that it’s because of you. Young people who care about so much, who want their own world and the big world outside to be more fair. You know what it’s like to feel left out when the party invitations don't come, what it’s like to be misunderstood when your parents or teachers don’t know you the way you think they should or even try to get to know you. You understand in a personal way what many people in our country feel in a big way when they sing “I wish I knew how it would feel to be free.” And that means you’re ripe and ready to consider how to help make the world more fair, more kind, more understanding. 

 

I have written nine books for grown-ups, but this is the first one written directly to you. I hope it doesn’t feel either too easy or too hard to read—and I hope you’ll forgive me if it does! This is a book that tries to share with you the music, people and stories that I care so much about that I hope will entice you to enjoy them as well. Though the stories will be difficult, I hope you feel both the sorrow and the joy and the inspiration from the people who triumphed over their suffering with their art. I hope you are fascinated by the stories and uplifted by the music. 

 

But don’t stop there! At the end of each lesson, I ask you to think about what you can do with this information. “Saving the world” is a big weight to put on any one’s shoulders, but especially you busy young people who probably have a math test to study for and a school dance to get ready for. The kinds of things you can do once you know these stories is simply to share them with others—friends, cousins, parents. To think about them when you read the news and see a similar pattern. To remember them when something comes up in your own life that asks you to step forward courageously, to speak out even when it's uncomfortable. All these little things can make big differences if enough of us do them and you can get in the habit of a lifetime of caring for others and standing up for what’s right. 

 

As the title suggests, jazz, joy and justice are all wonderful things that can make your life—and all our lives—richer, more meaningful, more beautiful and more fun. Enjoy the journey!

Monday, October 25, 2021

The Most Boring Story Never Told

 

Sometimes we should listen to our children. At the beginning of my Oklahoma journey, I defied my daughter’s advice that airport mishap stories are surefire ways to make your friends at dinner suddenly realize they had a prior engagement and tried to make my trip to Oklahoma interesting in my post “The Seventh Deadly Sin.”

 

Last night I returned to rain-ravished San Francisco at 1:30 in the morning after 15 hours of travel, only 3 ½ of those actually flying on a plane. But today is your lucky day.

 

That’s all I’m going to say about it.  

  

Sunday, October 24, 2021

One Fainting Robin

 The world sits heavily on our small shoulders, so when Emily Dickinson speaks and suggests that we needn’t take on the full burden, it’s a nice thought to consider. So in a change of venue, here’s the score to the poem I composed, with an additional verse of my own. 

                            If I can help one heart from breaking,

                                I shall not live in vain. 

                                If I can ease one life the aching

                                Or cool one pain.


                                Or help one fainting robin

                                Unto its nest again,

                                I shall not live in vain,

                                I shall not live in vain.





Thanks to Oklahoma

A lovely ending to a lovely four days. Gathered one more time this morning to prepare our 5-minute closing performance, our rousing version of Peter Piper with speech canon and body percussion(yes, I get paid for this), a group photo, a short “name that quote Jeopardy game (see below), my choral arrangement of an Emily Dickinson poem and a closing circle with people naming their “takeaways” and appreciations. Amongst many moving testimonies was a teacher who said that she had gone to many workshops and come away with good ideas, but they never changed her teaching that much. She felt like this workshop will not only radically changed her as a teacher, but has changed her as a person. As a teacher, there are not more welcome words than that to hear!

 

And so I write from the Denver Airport, wondering if the plane will indeed go to San Francisco, but a good time to take one more look back at this marvelous gathering in Oklahoma. And so I thought it appropriate to share here the quotes from my little game, each one from a notable Oklahoman (and don’t forget to listen to the Charlie Christian story and hear his music). 

 

Thanks to the Oklahoma Arts Institute for their stellar work and to these marvelous human beings below.

 

• Will Rogers:“Schools ain’t like they used to be and never was.”

 

• Woody Guthrie:  “I hate a song that makes you think that you are not any good. I hate a song that makes you think that you are just born to lose. Bound to lose. No good to nobody. No good for nothing. Because you are too old or too young or too fat or too slim or too ugly or too this or too that. Songs that run you down or poke fun at you on account of your bad luck or hard traveling.

I am out to fight those songs to my very last breath of air and my last drop of blood. I am out to sing songs that will prove to you that this is your world no matter what color, what size you are, how you are built. I am out to sing the songs that make you take pride in yourself and in your work. 

 

Ralph Ellison: “Education is all a matter of building bridges.”

 

“I am an invisible man. No I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allen Poe: Nor am I one of your Hollywood movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids, and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, simply because people refuse to see me.”

 

• Charlie Christian:1916-1942 (25 years old)

Seven Come Eleven: https://youtu.be/syfDk5W5PrM

• Short Youtube bio: https://youtu.be/zcC18U5HoY8

 

 

 

 

It's Us

“We have met the enemy and he is us.”  - Walt Kelly’s comic character Pogo, in celebration of the first Earth Day in 1970.

 

I’ve spent a lifetime with all of humanity on the psychologist’s couch trying to understand the patterns that led us to where we are. And then eventually get on the couch myself, as I am most certainly a part of the “us.” We all are in different degrees. 

 

And so I was a struck by some passages in a mystery novel I just finished, Louise Penny’s Still Life. Food for thought on a Sunday morning, where some may be hoping Jesus will save them, some putting that heavy burden on their partner or a drug or some alcohol or a psychopathic narcissist who they once helped elect. Anything to avoid that needed look in the mirror. 

 

But note the hope in these quotes, the possible of grace and the choice of kindness. 

 

“I think many people love their problems. Gives them all sorts of excuses for not growing up and getting on with life.

 

Life is change. If you aren’t growing and evolving you’re standing still, and the rest of the world is surging ahead. Most of these people are very immature. They lead ‘still’ lives, waiting. Waiting for someone to save them. Expecting someone to save them or at least protect them from the big, bad world. The thing is no one else can save them because the problem is theirs and so is the solution. Only they can get out of it.”

 

The fault lies with us, and only us. It’s not fate, it’s not genetics, and it’s definitely not Mom and Dad. It’s us and our choices. Most unhappy people blame others. But it’s us. 

 

But the most powerful spectacular thing is that the solution rests with us as well. We’re the only ones who can change our lives, turn them around. So all those years waiting for someone else to do it are wasted. The vast majority of troubled people don’t get it. The fault is here, but so is the solution. That’s the grace.”

 

And later in the book, as the detective tells a gay couple why he didn’t suspect them:

 

“ I think you’ve both been hurt too much in your lives by the cruelty of others to ever be cruel yourselves. In my experience people who have been hurt either pass it on and become abusive themselves or they develop a great kindness. “

 

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Back to Work

I can’t remember when I’ve enjoyed a workshop setting and group of people more. I’m spending my days on an outdoor deck shaded by a tree looking out at the rocky outcropping of Quartz Mountain in perfect temperature and delicious air. Sitting in a circle with 18 lovely souls playing all sorts of music, sharing stories, laughing, dancing, singing (with masks off outdoors!). All of us blessed to be together in a temporary community that offers the “compassion, safety, equality, justice, mutual respect and appreciation, beauty and fun” that we all deserve and that drives my 80% lifelong commitment as noted in the last post. 

 

I confess that I came to Oklahoma with some trepidation, knowing its conservative history and a bit anxious about encountering first-hand the things I’ve read in the news. And starting with the two delightful dance teachers who picked me up at the airport and told me of their wonderful work and continuing on through every moment of this retreat sponsored by the Oklahoma Arts Institute in a most beautiful setting, I was prepared to report that I had been duped by the news and that Oklahoma was the most delightful place filled with friendly, good-hearted and aware people. And based on my personal experience these past three days, I can faithfully report that good news. 

 

But of course I know that teachers and artists are far from the whole picture and at breakfast today, found out about some of the 10% news that looms large in my awareness and deeply troubles my glad heart. Back in April, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt signed a bill granting immunity to drivers who “unintentionally” injure or kill protesters while attempting to flee. House Bill 1674 directly states the drivers cannot be held criminally or civilly liable for killing or injuring a protester if they are “fleeing from a riot” and there is “reasonable belief” that they are in danger. All those quotation marks means that it will be up to the white-run justice system as to whether the murder was indeed “fleeing from a riot” and had a “reasonable belief” that they were in danger and “unintentionally” ran over the protestors. You know how that's going to go.

 

Alongside the recent Texas law of penalties for any connection with an abortion (like happening to drive the taxi to the clinic) and the Georgia law punishing people who give food to people in line waiting 10 hours because of the change in voting procedure, this is a new low in our legal system, the last refuge of scoundrels who don’t even pretend to hide the evil of their actions and the hatred in their hearts. These are the wild vicious dogs purposefully unleashed in public places to do their damage with no consequence. 

 

Oklahoma lawmakers (to be distinguished from all Oklahoma citizens) continued their campaign against hope and reconciliation and restorative justice with another law banning the teaching of anything related to “critical race theory,” an examination of how racism functions in our country. Teachers are afraid to discuss issues that bear discussion, because if one parent complains or one student feels uncomfortable, they could be fired. Similar bills are in place or pending in North Carolina, Tennessee, Idaho and Texas. And so purposefully perpetrated ignorance is becoming a legal requirement and an education that teaches actual history and tells the truth is now grounds for dismissal, fines or imprisonment. 

 

None of this cancels the lovely interactions I’m having with the teachers here and in fact, inspires me to think more about how to support them. But to be brutally honest and real, I can only say, “This is some sad shit.”

 

Back to work.

Friday, October 22, 2021

80-10-10

 

“I know the world’s being shaven by a drunken barber. I don’t have to read about it!”

-      From the movie Meet John Doe

 

That has been my philosophy explaining why I’ve rarely habitually read newspapers my whole adult life. Instead I used the time to read poetry or history or great literature or other such things that give a much greater pleasure and a much deeper insight. But I finally came to realize that this was a luxury and privilege the world can’t afford. As a responsible citizen, I need to know “what’s going on” and respond accordingly.

 

I put “what’s going on” in quotes because what the newspaper reports is a small fraction of what is really going on and one with a skewed perspective. It leans heavily towards the violent (“if it bleeds, it leads”), the sensational, the catastrophic. If the music teacher helps a child make a breakthrough to a new level of expressive beauty, the news will not notice. If the music teacher loses his cool and throws his student’s trumpet out the window, the news is there in a flash. Especially if the trumpet lands on the car of a visiting politician visiting the school and breaks the windshield. 

 

Such power the media has! It inflates, it exaggerates, it stokes the fires of fear and division, it simplifies complexities into soundbytes that flash or bludgeon or threaten, not necessarily out of ill will, but from the business bottom line of selling papers or attracting viewers. The lower chakras and the brain stem, programmed to be alert to sex and violence and necessarily uninterested in nuanced discussion and subtle emotion, will always attract our attention—evolution demands it. But that brain and bodily systems formed long ago was made to survive the sudden appearance of a tiger or a dangerous lightning storm or a stampeding herd. It was never intended to be the brain we live in, the one that contemporary life presents, amplified by a media having us imagine tsunamis even when the weather outside our window is pleasant and the flowers are blooming. 

 

So how do we stay alert to important issues that the news does bring to us without getting beaten down, defeated, discouraged, even cynical, without cowering in the corner of our flight, fight or freeze brain stem? How can we cope with the constant onslaught of news about climate change, systemic racism, drug addiction, attempts to dismantle democracy and more? What is the proper proportion of news delivered and the news we actually experience in our day-to-day life? 

 

Sherri Mitchell, author of Sacred Instructions, has an answer. She writes: 

 

 We can’t create change if we are unwilling to look poverty, pain, injustice, environmental destruction,  and all forms of hatred and bigotry squarely in the eye. As we do so, we must learn to limit the mental, emotional, and energetic investment that we make in those images. (boldface mine). This is what I call the 80-10-10 rule. We invest 10 percent of our energy looking at what needs to be changed, another 10 percent holding back the tide of harm that has been created by our previous investments and the final 80 percent creating a reality that offers compassion, safety, equality, justice and sustainability for all life. “

 

Brilliant! It means that yes, I’m responsible to read enough of the news to know what the issues are and what’s happening and my sense of outrage (or occasionally, happiness) about the news I hear is what helps lead me to articulate what needs to be changed. But I don’t need to furnish that sense of outrage and make it my swelling place. Just 10% is enough and then on to the next 10%. Writing letters, signing petitions, marching on the streets, donating to good causes and so on. Now with phone texts added to e-mail threads, I could give away my entire life’s savings in a month or so if I responded to every plea that came my way. But instead of deleting them all, choose my 10% wisely.


And that leaves 80% for doing precisely what I’m doing at the moment and love doing at all moments—through the vehicle of the Orff workshop, “creating a reality that offers compassion, safety, equality, justice and sustainability for all life. “ And I would add “beauty” and “fun” to Ms. Mitchell’s list. 

 

Thanks to Sherri Mitchell for addressing what so few have—knowing how much is to be done and our tiny contribution so small, how much is enough? Or rather, can we begin to understand that each of these percentages is a way to contribute (note the 80% does not say “after paying your dues with the other 20%, go to Club med and party, party, party!”) I believe it is wise to not venture too far down the rabbit hole of the news junkie, to not simply respond to the outrage and defend, but to actively create the world we want and need and deserve in the unique ways that each of us can do so.

 

And so back to an afternoon of music classes with these beautiful people from Oklahoma, people the news suggests are on the other side of an uncrossable divide. But they are not. 

Not even close. More on this later.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Atlas Dancing

I don’t know what made me think, early on and continuing my whole life, that I need to take the world on my shoulders like Atlas, to help carry its weight and someday—or each day—set it down safely in the place it should be. But so it is and has been and more so than ever these days, where every moment that can be a teaching moment is, trying to illuminate what has stayed hidden and move forward what has been stuck. And so I dip into the separate but related fields of mythology, poetry, psychology, child development, history, spirituality, search for the common threads connecting them that reveal the stories lived over centuries that got us here and the ones yet to be lived that can lead us out. It appears that through a lifetime of reading, writing and thinking, I can sometimes articulate what needs to be said far beyond my narrow little field of music teacher.

 

And yet, the field of music teaching is indeed my home base where I am most effective and real and authentic. It is in the Orff workshop that the coat of many colors fits best and within minutes, can bring strangers together as if longtime friends, instantly knit together the cloth of community, find the right words at the right time to make the right connections to the ideas far within, behind and beyond each joyful activity. Words that sometimes create a deep listening space and when they feel like they’ve reached their limit, the needed song or dance or body percussion music is at our fingertips to transpose it all from ideas to the alive presence in the blood, bones and nervous system. It’s the place where 45 years and tens of thousands of classes with kids and adults of all ages have created an integrity and clarity unlike anything else in my little life. I certainly can’t cook or play piano or discuss politics with that level of confidence, but standing in a circle in a room large enough to hold us with people come to make music and improve their teaching is exactly the world I hope us all to live in. In each and every workshop, more so in this ripened maturity and yet more so with this year and a half of screened reduction, I am left with the certainty that “this is what I was born for.”

 

And here in Oklahoma, I get two more days of heaven on earth. May such future opportunities thrive and prosper.

The Return of the Traveling Music Teacher

To paraphrase Joni Mitchell:

 

“Don’t it only go to show, you don’t know what you miss ‘till it’s back…”

 

Yesterday’s airport fiascos notwithstanding, I find myself so happy to resume a life that has been gone for over a year and a half. Back to the title theme of the traveling music teacher and while content to be hunkered down in the five rooms of my house inside the 7 by 7 square miles of San Francisco seeing no one but my wife some days and in a social circle of some ten friends and family I see live occasionally, I didn’t realize how much I missed this other life I’ve known for the past 30 to 40 years. The solitude of a hotel room is different from that in my home, the companionship of meeting, talking with, teaching, making music with some 30 to 50 strangers who quickly become friends of sorts is a different kind of pleasure from meeting a friend for tea, the freshness of exploring new territory and seeing new landscapes offers a gratification distinct from daily walking the same paths through Golden Gate Park. The spirit awakens, the eyes take delight, the conversation with two modern dancers in the two hour car-trip from the airport feels fresh and invigorating. Home is home, but so is this and while I’ve made do just fine in the new pandemic life-style, I’ve missed this. I want more. 

 

I often speak about the brain’s twin needs and pleasures of repetition and variation as the key to a good music lesson and the same is true for a good life. In the music class, the repetition is what gives depth and understanding and muscle memory, the variation is what opens the door to new possibilities through improvisation, composition, transposing artistic expression to other mediums. The repetition generally outweighs the variation, but both are necessary to each other. Same in our greater life.

 

And so the monk and the wanderer the siblings of the soul. The monk in us perfects a daily routine that tunes our attention and allows us to savor the little miracles always close at hand. And whether tied to a spiritual practice or not, we are all creatures of habit that have our markers each day that we look forward to and enjoy— our morning cup of coffee, jog or exercise routine, our work schedule, our daily podcast, our afternoon walk, our evening dinner and nighttime TV series. And then the weekend for the variations— off to the jazz club or out to dinner or bike ride with friends or take a trip out of town. 

 

And then the larger cycles of week-long vacations from work and the glories of the summer, the chance to immerse oneself in new sights, new sounds, new foods, new routines, new cultures, to enlarge one’s parameters and partake of a world larger than the one we know, sometimes to be folded back into the life we resume. 

 

My particular form of pleasure has been to take my work with me giving workshops here, there and everywhere, to travel with what is comfortably familiar in the presence of that which is new and intriguing and offering new perspectives and experiences. Teaching here, there and everywhere on Zoom has been a blessing of sorts, but I didn’t realize how different it feels to share my work from my own house, to go from the familiar to the familiar and back to the familiar. I’ve missed the conversation with two Oklahoma artists traveling through flat land past deer and beavers and new billboards. 

 

And today— and for the next three days— I get to teach live, with whole 3-dimensional bodies rather than tiny-screen-squared heads, getting to look at them instead of my own face, singing in canon, playing instruments in parts, dancing! How I love it! Let’s go America, keep masking and vaxing and get this damn virus out of our lives! 

 

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

The Seventh Deadly Sin

As my daughter often reminds me, few stories are so boring as airport mishaps. They are at the top of the “you just had to be there “ list, always with the inevitable punch line, “And you’re so lucky you weren’t!”

 

And yet, don’t we feel the need to tell them, to follow that universal human compulsion to share one’s misery, whether to elicit some compassion, amuse our fellow diners or simply get it off our chest? Yes, we do. But my job, dear reader, is to make it a bit more interesting than simply what happened. And that brings me to the Seven Deadly Sins. (Were you expecting that?)

 

I’m no Christian scholar, but thanks to my Wiki sources, these were first enumerated by Pope Gregory the Ist (who I believe may have been the same Pope Gregory who codified the plainchants being sung in the church and thus, later renamed Gregorian Chant). Some seven centuries later (one sin per century!), St. Thomas Aquinas elaborated on them and though the order varies in the different sites I looked on, they go more or less like this:

 

1. Greed

2. Lust

3. Envy

4. Gluttony

5. Wrath

6. Sloth

7. Pride

 

(Oh dear reader, how tempting to take a sharp left turn and enumerate the accomplishments of our former Toddler-In-Chief who scored seven out of seven! I can think of at least five examples from each deadly sin and I imagine you could too! But back to the main road.)

 

So I ask myself,  “How do I measure up?” and at first glance, pretty well. I’ve never cared that much about money and though I like having a comfortable safety net in the bank, I’m certainly not greedy to take more than my share. Lust is no more or no less than what Nature gave to me to help propagate the species and though to be honest, it still accompanies me on my walks passing lovely women, it’s a mere passing fancy in the mind and a shadowy remembrance in this aging body. Yes, I’ve envied the pianists at the SF Jazz Center for the clarity of their improvisational ideas and command of technique, but only enough to kick my butt and get practicing a little more. And I like my life enough that it would be a hard sell to get me to trade for another’s. Gluttony? Well, yes, sometimes I get seconds of a delicious meal when one serving would have sufficed. This word in the list is also associated with drunkenness, which weirdly, I have never been and stick with my half-a-beer a day ration. Sloth? I don’t think so. I don’t see myself as an addicted workaholic, but I am always busy working on something and as the last Blogpost indicated, often many things at once. 

 

And that brings us to pride. One entry labels this as an “excessive view of oneself without regard for others” and testimonies from my students from the young to the old affirm my sense that while I can certainly tip a bit too far toward self-absorption, I’m also capable of seeing them and knowing them and caring about them and praising them and blessing them. I do regard them and mostly favorably.

 

But you may have caught a faint odor of excessive pride in my last entry, feeling impressed by myself that I could juggle so many balls in the air without dropping them (or take care of all the farm chores, the metaphor I used). And that sense of self-congratulation continued as I packed my suitcase so neatly and efficiently, making sure that everything I needed could fit economically into one carry-on suitcase. The next morning, I awoke before the 6:00 am alarm, packed a lunch, set off with my wife in the car to drop myself off at the airport and was thrilled with the good traffic, still riding on my pride-high. And then it happened. 

 

One minute before stopping at the gate, I had a sickening feeling in my stomach and asked, “Is my backpack back there?” The one with the computer and books and other paraphernalia pretty important to have in the five days to come? And you can guess the answer. “No, it is not.”

 

“8!@(#*#$(%*@#)$*$#)^*#@)$*#)$^*@)#*($@)(^!!!!!!!!!!!” I shouted, looked at the clock and started high-tailing it back home. If the traffic allowed for yet another 20-minute each way drive on the freeway, I might have just barely made it. But of course, we’re talking about San Francisco traffic. So on my wife’s speaker phone, I yelled at the United machine “Agent! Agent!” until it finally relented, listened to Gershwin for 10 minutes and finally talked to a helpful person who was able to get me on another flight 40 minutes later. For an additional $93. 

 

I took it, got home, grabbed the backpack, drove to the BART Station to take the train this time to the airport (much to my wife’s relief) and still barely made it in time. But lines were unusually short and I got into my middle seat and off we went. First calling the person assigned to pick me up in Oklahoma City to make sure she could still drive me the 3 hours to the workshop retreat site. Still awake here?

 

Got off the plane in Houston, sat down to check e-mail thinking I had two hours before the connecting flight, walked leisurely to the gate and oops! Somehow this million-mile-club member forgot to notice the time change. My plane had left. “8!@(#*#$(%*@#)$*$#)^*#@*($@)(^!!!!!!!!!!!

 

Found Customer Service and “No problem. There's another one in two hours. " Called my ride and she was still on to pick me up. I’m writing this waiting for that next flight and who knows if I’ll have it together to get on it? And so the Deadly Sin of Pride is like the serpent who bit me to remind me of the old saying:

 

Pride goes before the fall. Which is further defined:

 

“If you are too confident in your abilities, something bad will happen that shows that you are not as good as you think you are.”

 

Yep! A needed lesson from the Universe? Don’t write blog posts with any hint of self-praise? A reminder to pay closer attention? First signs of dementia? All of the above?

 

Time will tell. 

 

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

A Day in the Life

Well, I woke up, fell out of bed, but didn’t drag a comb across my head, having no hair on top.  But for a 70-year old “retired” guy, it was quite a day and there’s no reason to document it here other than to remind myself (if I ever have the interest and the capacity to read through all these blogposts again years later) that that I once lived an active life that brought me a great deal of pleasure, but also was relentless hard work. And so today, before it turned noon, I buckled myself in at the computer and checked off my list:

 

1) Sent off my notes from last night’s Jazz, Joy & Justice class.

2) Convinced an Orff dealer who didn’t have my nine Pentatonic Press books in his 

      catalogue to carry them and sent him the order information.

3) Updated the SF Orff Course Website to announce next summer’s classes.

4) Confirmed with Dominican University that the course numbers and prices for credit for 

       the above were correct.

5) Joined Docu-sign and signed my contract with Austin Macauley  to publish 

       my Jazz, Joy & Justice book.

6) Sent the manuscript for the ninth Pentatonic Pressbook (4thby another author) to the 

      lay-out person to begin getting it ready to print. 

7) Bought flight tickets to Portland to visit the grandkids in November.

8) Checked in with my host of the 4-day workshop I’ll be teaching in Oklahoma starting 

     tomorrow.

9) Began negotiating a future concert with my band in the Carmel Valley. 


Around noon, I unbuckled from the computer, had lunch and took a walk with my wife in San Francisco and returned 8.5 miles later. Now dinner, then packing.    


None of this is worthy of excessive pride, it’s more like a description of the farm I’ve created. No farmer brags about feeding the chickens, stacking the hay, milking the cow, and then going out to tend the fields or mend the fence. He or she is simply caretaking the land and doing the necessary chores to keep it going. She doesn’t need to track her miles on her phone ap like us city dwellers or make a special point to get out into the fresh air. He doesn’t need to make a list of which chickens he fed or cows he milked—or if he does, doesn’t pat himself on the back for checking them off. 

 

So my life isn’t so different, except that my cows and chickens are words on a screen or musical notes in the air or photos on a Website to entice people to do the real farm work in the active, live workshop. My fellow farmers are folks far away who all have the specialty of graphics or lay-out or proofreading or concert scheduling or printing paper books or distributing such books and so on. Somehow these interwoven activities produce a life-sustaining milk and eggs that hatch into future sustenance. 

 

So at the end of this “day in the life,” I can simply sing the song that sums it up:

 

“Who fed the chickens? (I did!)

Who stacked the hay? (I did!)

Who milked the cow? (I did!)

On this fine day. 

 

PS And don’t forget that the above song is featured on my CD Boom Chick a Boom: Doug Goodkin & the Pentatonics, available for sale at CD Baby or i-Tunes. (Don’t forget the farmer also has to sell the produce!)