Thursday, October 21, 2021

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! 


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