Monday, April 11, 2022

Not Just a Job: Part 4— Outside the Gates

The San Francisco School was the place I was blessed beyond any expectation to spend my life in. A place that gave me the freedom to create a music class that was the change I wanted to see in the world. That allowed me to job share for my last twenty years with James and Sofia, allowing me to travel to some 50 different countries doing this work with music teachers around the world. It gave me the foundation to play piano for 12 years (and still going) at the Jewish Home for the Aged, to give kid workshops at SF Jazz Center and perform a family concert there with my group The Pentatonics (and include three SFS students). Everywhere I went, everything I did, carried the school and its vision with me, not only in sharing the ideas, material and stories from my classes here, but physically carrying the articles, books, CD’s, videos and occasionally, the children themselves to further spread the good news about how music can change a person and change a community. Not only did I bring the school with me, but I brought back the songs, pieces, dances, ideas that I learned in my travels. 


Besides the traveling, the time off allowed me to write nine books, publish a book by Sofia and a book by James. It helped me keep expanding my musicianship, time to work on jazz piano, Bulgarian bagpipe, banjo, accordion, guitar, Philippine kulintang, Balinese gamelan, Ghanaian xylophone, Brazilian samba, Irish tinwhistle, all of which found its way back into the music class and the ceremonies and celebrations. 


Not just a job. Whatever it takes. I was hired as the music teacher, but given the freedom and invitation to contribute beyond that narrow identity. As has been noted, I started the music program, developed and carried on the Singing Time, created the Holiday Show tradition, began the quirky traditions like the Opening Ceremony gongs and water-pouring, the Intery Mintery Halloween ritual, the St. George and the Dragon play, the Cookie Jar Contest, the Samba Contest, the Earth Day Rap and Mud Pie song and Graduation song and Hug Line,  helped shape the Martin Luther King ceremonies, helped lead the Calaveras Camping trip complete with bagpipe wakeup, square dance, campfire songs and stories and the Wandering Nostrils lullabies. I began the recording project that ended with 14 cassette tapes and 12 CD’s, created the unique Middle School music curriculum of World Music, Classical Music, Jazz. I taught 3 Saturday workshops a year in the music room to Bay Area teachers, starting in 1976 and a Jazz Course there each summer for some twenty years. I brought the SF Orff Levels Certification Course to the school in the summer of 2005 – 2011. I hired James Harding and later Sofia Lopez-Ibor and on we went together, continuing to shape, refine and enlarge the school traditions, perform with our kids in San Francisco, San Diego, San Jose, Salt Lake City, Salzburg and Las Vegas, create an Intern Program and bring our summer Orff course here for many years. Not your normal job.


And not just a music teacher. In my time at school, I’ve been on the Board twice, on two finance committees, was the first P.E. teacher, helped hire Maggie Weis, was the megaphone encourager for the Walkathon and once the Mystery Runner, the auctioneer along with Terry for over 10 years and on and on and on. Not just a job. Whatever it takes.


In my last ten years, I bid farewell to so many colleagues who grew up together in the school, helping to host their retirement party and asking them what was the tipping point that made them decide to leave. I always said that mine would be one of three things:


• I was tired of teaching and wasn’t enjoying the children anymore.

• I couldn’t get up from the floor one day.

• I got a better offer— like touring with the Pentatonics Jazz Band.


Turns out that my tipping point was none of these three. I loved my last classes as much as my first—and indeed, much more because I knew more about what I was doing. I could still get up from the floor, though certainly more slowly and I was finding it hard to hear what kids were saying to me, especially with the tinkle of xylophones at the same time (I was 69 years old when I finally left!). And certainly no better offers came my way.


Mostly, it was simply a sense that no other door would open if I didn’t close this one, that James and Sofia would carry things on, that while I still had my health and energy, it would be good to have more time to travel, teach, write, finally learn that Chopin waltz or Mozart sonata or new jazz voicings on piano. As well as more freedom in visiting the grandkids. 


So I announced it a year ahead of time and looked forward to savoring each “last” of the year to come. And I did. Loved the last of each ceremony in the Fall, the last Martin Luther King Day and was eagerly anticipating the last Spring concert, Samba Contest and closing ceremonies. And then… 

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