For a project I’m involved in, I was asked to write a short autobiography. And so I did.
I didn’t love school as a child, but was enchanted by the world’s wonders and always curious about how the world worked— or didn’t work. And so in a mixture of revenge and vision, I became a lifelong teacher. Throughout my adult life, I followed my passion for multiple fields of study— jazz, world music, body percussion, children’s games, improvisation, ritual and ceremony, community-building, poetry, storytelling, mythology, human health and culture, brain research, history, social justice and more— and was thrilled to discover that each found a voice within the practice of Orff Schulwerk, a dynamic and wholistic approach to music education.
In the course of almost half-a century of working with children and adults of all ages, I found myself not only releasing each person’s childlike love of play, but also articulating the deep thinking behind the fun games and activities, stretching if all far beyond simply teaching music well to offering a healing tonic to a deeply troubled world. I created contemporary rituals and ceremonies in both my school and my workshops, consistently spoke out on behalf of children’s deepest needs and told the stories of the music we made that often had their roots in suffering and oppression and rose toward justice and triumph. Constantly asking “how else can we do this?,” I treated each class like a musical composition or improvisation seeking to meet the needs of the moment, to help the students play far beyond what they imagined they could and to reveal the unique gift and gifts each brought to the class. As described by one student commenting on my teaching:
“His work is a long, earnest and continuing struggle to present music of integrity in a way that affirms our collective humanity.“
In my life outside of schools, I move from one pleasure to the next. A lifetime of reading, a daily writing practice, a daily Zen practice, an ongoing piano practice still trying to weave my way through the intricacies of Bach or jazz chord changes without anyone getting hurt. I keep my mind sharp with Crostics, solitaire and jigsaw puzzles, my body toned with daily long walks or bike rides, my palette pleased with home cooking and my spirit uplifted by poetry, tree hugging and grandchildren. I am not a gardener or a handyman or a mechanic, so don’t count on my help in those areas. But I sow seeds in the garden of human possibility, water those tender plants and weed and harvest. I do look at systems that are broken and see what needs adjustment or replacement. I offer music that can tune up and keep the engine of the human spirit running.
Oh, and travel. A lifetime of it, seeking, searching, considering, “There must be a better way to do this” and finding hundreds of inspired ways to organize a human community more harmonized with the natural community, multiple ways to gather and celebrate through ritual, art, ceremony and a rich festival life. Alongside good healthcare and the wisdom to pause and savor. In the villages of Ghana, South India, Bali, on the beaches of Brazil and Buenos Aires, in the bustling streets of Bangkok and Barcelona, amidst the high-tech high-rises of Singapore, Sydney and Shanghai and in scores of other countries live many beautiful, intelligent and fun people that I am honored to call my students, my teachers, my friends.
In short, as a Jewish man by birth, Unitarian by upbringing, Buddhist by choice with mixed-race grandchildren, as a musician blending bagpipes, banjos and balaphones winding through the folk musics of the world, the European classical tradition and jazz, a writer and reader equally at home with Dickens, Rumi, Basho and Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie, I live at the cross-roads of multiple disciplines and multiple identities.
My personal pronoun is “we.”