Wednesday, November 30, 2022

The Retired Life

“How’s retirement?” people ask. My answer? 


“I love my schedule. I love my boss.”


Truly. Wonderful to be answerable to the decisions I make rather than those someone else in power makes. Of course, we’re never wholly free— from Supreme Court Justices to the person organizing my next workshop, I’m always entangled with some people making decisions that affect me. But certainly not as much.


And likewise, I’m never wholly free from schedule. Said workshops, teaching/mentoring at schools, meeting a friend for lunch— I still need to answer to the skills of preparing things so I arrive on time. But nowhere near the daily commute beholden to traffic, failed alarm clocks and such.


Except today. My hosts agreed to drive me to the subway to get to the bus station downtown. But we left a bit on the late side, the subway token machine didn’t take my credit card, I waited in line at Tim Horton’s for a muffin to get change and got on the subway 45 minutes before my bus was to leave. And that was the estimated time to get through the 23 stops. The train sat for a maddening 10 minutes and finally off we went. It was not looking good.


Arrived at the station at 11:43, ran to find the bus station and got there at 11:48. Out of breath, I asked the man at the window, “Did I miss the 11:45 bus to Rochester?” and he casually said, “Oh, that was cancelled. Next bus is at 1:45." I was so happy to hear it that I didn’t question why no one from the bus company contacted me! On that subway ride, I was imagining renting a car or just hoping that there was another bus, because now I had a serious deadline. Had to arrive to teach my workshop tomorrow at a State Music Conference.


So after a few years of a more relaxed schedule and not the kind of stress to arrive somewhere that has you cursing in traffic, here it was again. No fun, but makes for a (possibly) entertaining story. Especially when it turns out well.


In Buffalo now awaiting the next bus. Hope I keep track of the time!


The Wonders of Progress

Have you ever stopped to consider how we ever lived without our Smartphones? Imagine. I used to go for a walk without ever knowing how many steps I took or flights I ascended. I might have walked the 4.4 miles I did yesterday without ever knowing that I expended 304 calories of active energy and 1,390 calories of resting energy. I wouldn’t have had the slightest clue that my walking speed was 1.5 miles per hour, my step length was 20.5 inches and my double support time (the percentage of time during a walk that both feet were on the ground) was 31.1%.  I certainly wouldn’t have been aware that my walking asymmetry, the percent of time that one foot is faster or slower than the other foot, was 6.4 %.  I mean really, how did we do it?


And if I called a cab, like I did yesterday, I wouldn’t have gotten the ping that the cab was on its way and another ping that it’s still on its way, but getting closer and soon, descriptions of the driver and the notification that he just took a left turn and then hit a red light that will last 1 minute and 15 seconds, perhaps delaying the estimated 10 minute arrival time. 


I can also check out my sleep cycles in my Health Ap, spend more minutes on screen finding out how much screen time I’m using and I’m sure there’s an Ap somewhere measuring my biorhythms and telling me how I’m actually feeling. 


Isn’t progress wonderful? 

The Angels in the Details

Over the years, these writings have paid testimony to the joys and challenges, the delights and doubts, the successes and failures of the art of teaching. I’ve kept one foot in the world of children, them teaching me every step of the way what works and what doesn’t, and another foot in the world of teaching teachers, trying to find the language to help my fellow comrades be better versions of their teaching selves. 


In that spirit, today’s lesson reminds us that the whole enterprise begins and ends in love, a love that cannot be learned from the outside, but blossoms forth from within as we share our love for our subject, our craft and the children we teach. Without it, none of the details of effective and dynamic teaching mean much. 


And yet in the middle of the matter, we indeed need to attend to those details with our whole attention and a fine-toothed comb by our side. “The devil is in the details” is a reminder how difficult this work can be and can’t be nudged to the side with a simple “Get thee behind me, Satan.” For example, in teaching a new piece of music, as I did yesterday to four different classes of kids, you need to thoroughly analyze the elements, separate them out, decide the order of teaching them and the method and the pace, always watching with a careful eye where the group is at and what needs to be adjusted— shorten the phrase, slow the tempo, sing then play the part, clarify the sticking technique, etc. etc. and yet again etc. This requires a depth of thought far beyond sticking a notated score in front of a kid and years of experience before you become adept at taking it apart and putting it together. But you can never rest easy. You’re not reassembling a radio, but dealing with living children at all different musical and social-emotional levels. 


But when it works—and it did magnificently yesterday— the music hits its stride, finds its groove, settles into its swing and everyone is refreshed. The children are not only amazed by what they’ve accomplished in bringing the music out, but they feel in the marrow of the bones the rewards of their efforts as the music washes over us all and cleanses the dirt of the everyday world. None of this happens from a teacher who just loves the children, who tells them they are amazing, who lets them express themselves however they want. It needs a teacher willing to confront the devil in the details in order to reveal the angel.


Thanks to the children at the Havergal College School who made my last two days—and hopefully, theirs— so satisfying, fulfilling and fun. On a rainy Toronto morning, I get ready to ride the Greyhound Bus to Rochester for two more days of working with teachers and hopes to encourage them to call forth the angels in the details. 


Monday, November 28, 2022

Doug vs. Dogs

Today was yet another reminder of a powerful personal truth— I have to keep teaching kids. For my sake as much as theirs. Having just spent a day at a school in Toronto with 4th-6thgraders, I had only one complaint— each hour long class was too short!!


As I do, I feel like I’m best friends with each of the 22 kids within the first two minutes and it gets better from there. They like my jokes and stories, I like theirs. I love their expressive movement and speech and they eventually love that I give them permission to move and speak as themselves. 100% kids through and through. While this kid/adult leads them step by step one millimeter closer to the adults I hope they become— competent, hard-working, intellectually sound, caring while never abandoning their vibrant kid energy. When they thanked me at the end of class, it was not from adult-mandated etiquette. It was a sincere expression of gratitude that I gave them an opportunity to show themselves, to grow themselves, to have an hour of sheer musical pleasure amidst all the other demands of the day. 


Outside the school was a sign that read “ALL OF YOU ARE AMAZING!” And while I appreciate that this is a step up from the old school “All of you are horrible!” I would wish that schools organize themselves around the kinds of activities that ask kids to prove it. Yes, all are worthy of unconditional love just for their very existence, but not necessarily worthy of unending praise without having to do anything to earn it. I’m not talking about big-time prize-winning accomplishments, just a steady stream of small but significant moments— one person’s exuberant energy playing the Cookie Jar, another’s startling composition when finding her “secret song,” another’s expressive movement singing “Soup, Soup,” and yet another’s swingin’ xylophone jazz solo on Blues Legacy. Chance after chance to let their little light shine and when each of the 22 rise to the challenge, the light shines bright indeed. 


After the last class, all headed to an assembly to witness the accomplishments of two robot dogs. I’m sure they found them amazing and intriguing, but I wonder if they appreciated them more that the class we had together, if they would go home and tell their parents about the dogs, but not Doug. Or vice-versa. Or both. Who knows?


You can guess what I’m going to say. Yes, those robot dogs represent a long chain of fervent brain power to create a machine of this level of intelligence that is indeed impressive. Good for them. But are we going to continue to place our hope for the “good life” on machines, give over our personal power to the extensions of our inner power, feel amazed by a robot dog but inattentive to the field daisy? Just asking.


Meanwhile, ain’t no robot dog or machine can give the kids what I can and certainly none that can give me what the kids do. On to tomorrow’s class.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Apocalypse Now

Language matters. When you find the words that perfectly frame, illuminate, capture an experience, it gives more depth, clarity and meaning to that experience. Listening to a podcast by that wise old bard Michael Meade, I rushed for my pen when I heard him say:


We are here to witness the collapse and participate in the renewal.


Ka-ching! Meade is well attuned to the daily news, but sees it all through the larger lens of a timeless mythological perspective. Where others misinterpret the “Apocalypse” as the end of the world, he returns us to its original definition as a dynamic of both collapse and renewal. The workings of Nature’s cycles and culture’s cycles, where the collapse of one thing ushers in through renewal the birth of the next, like Winter into Spring. In the midst of collapse, it’s hard to see the seeds of renewal and easy to succumb to despair. But one definition you’ll find online is as follows:


The word apocalypse means revelation. That which is uncovered. It comes from the Greek word which literally means to pull the lid off something.


That invites multiple interpretations, but one can be to reveal that which is hidden. 
Two images:


• Pandora’s Box: When she opens it, out flies wrath and greed and gluttony and lust, disease, war, vice— in short, all the stuff of the daily news that is always with us, but seems to have had a field day since 2016. (You might also imagine unleashed wild dogs rampaging through the town to the tune of “Who Let the Dogs Out?”) But what’s hard to see is the Hope that stayed hidden at the bottom of the box when the lid was closed. And now we can see it starting to peek out. The midterms. Republicans and Fox News finally starting to distance themselves from “He who shall not be named”, who himself is starting to unravel as he screams at another wild dog. The rise of women's power even as the old guard tries to keep them down.


• The African Queen: Many times I’ve found comfort in that powerful scene in the Bogart/Hepburn film where they’ve seemed to reach the dead-end of a leech-filled river that turns into a bog and they go to sleep convinced that they will perish. The camera pans out and with that overview, you can see the large lake they were hoping to reach a few hundred yards away. During the night, the rains come and the boat drifts on its own to reach the lake. 


Yesterday I gave a 4-hour workshop outside of Toronto, my personal path of constant renewal, and tried to connect the usual fun and frivolity of playing, singing and dancing together with the deeper purpose of personal and collective healing. I affirmed what I’m hearing from many teachers— that teaching feels harder than ever, that kids are acting out, that parents are more anxious, that administrators are more distant from creating an inclusive community that honors its teachers (except for the ex-principal friend of mine who came to the workshop and noted that I insulted her profession!). All symptoms of the collapse of old notions of education that cared more about test scores than creative projects, more about right answers to questions most kids don’t actually care about than the vibrant questions they come up with, more about obedience and outer control than community and inner control. I noted that my hope coming out of Nature’s pandemic time-out in our room would be to emerge with new determination not to reduce education to screens (especially with almost two years of online classes!)—and yet, there are signs that screen time in classes is worse than ever and music, that soothing healing bath of possibility, is still seen as on the edge of the matter as kids struggle to “catch up” on their math skills. 


So part of the job of today’s teacher is to be a witness to the collapse, to testify as to the destructive systems, to undo the folded lie of ignorant decision-making, to speak out on behalf of the children’s deeper needs. All necessary and important and hard to do when we have to plan tomorrow’s classes. 


But simply naming what’s wrong is impotent to make real change if we’re not creating what’s right. As Vaclav Havel said, “Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.” Hope is not a passive noun, but a muscular verb activated by that conviction. So as I share both material and ways of realizing it that welcomes the children, helps them feel seen, heard, known and valued, allows them to express their extravagance within the container of art, gives them the techniques and understands to help control that expression, I’m trying to give the teacher the tools to “participate in the renewal.” To actively create the change we want (and need) to see in the world.


So there you have it. My personal Mission Statement given new language, our collective Mission Statement reminding us all to witness and participate how we can, when we can and with whom we can. 


Witness the collapse. Participate in the renewal. 


Friday, November 25, 2022

62 Thanksgivings

 Holidays often serve as markers of time. A reason to look back and remember where we’ve been, who we’ve been with, who we were in all those previous incarnations of ourselves. Thanksgiving is no exception and yesterday, I celebrated it with my wife Karen, my sister Ginny and my brother-in-law Jim. No kids or grandkids. 


The last time this happened was in 1979. None of us had kids then and Karen and I been married for three weeks and the four of us decided to treat ourselves to a dinner out at a nearby restaurant. In the 43 years that followed, we mostly alternated houses and shared the festivities with the five kids that followed, occasionally our parents or a friend needing a place to go and later the grandkids. There were memorable stories— early ones with macrobiotic meals, one eating Greek salad in Athens, one with Ginny beginning labor on the couch as we sat down to turkey, the next when Karen’s water broke and we rushed back from Calistoga, one where daughter Kerala snuck back from Brown University and completely surprised us— and on and on. The kind of family lore that keeps getting passed down—with new stories coming up with the grandkids— with that warm feeling of “There we all were and here we all are and isn’t that something?”


Truth be told, the four of us yesterday had a marvelous time without an ounce of regret that there were no kids or grandkids. Of course, they would have been most welcome, but wasn’t it a pleasure to have some time together walking the new JFK, talking about Charles Mingus and Art Tatum and Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata, bumping into students Karen and I had taught who are now 50 years old, re-visiting three houses in the Haight where we had lived when rent was in the low hundreds. We opted for a modest (but delicious) brined-prepared chicken over the larger turkey, sipped egg nog with brandy, played a game of 5 Crowns and in the 9 hours spent together, the conversation never flagged and the topics were either intellectually intriguing or sweetly nostalgic. We all easily walked the six plus miles, are in blessed good health and in my opinion, looked pretty darn good for folks in their 70’s. (You can judge for yourself in the photo!) And aren’t I grateful that none of us are on the opposite side of the political line and find each other both fun and interesting? Yes, I am.


It struck me that my sister and I have passed some 62 Thanksgivings together. Some gaps in college and occasionally other things coming up, but that felt like a remarkable run— and hopefully, many more to come! Witnessing all the various versions of ourselves, much of them intertwined in our shared lives. And of course, the same with Karen and Jim, give or take those first 20 years or so. 


A lovely short breakfast together the next morning and off I go for a week of workshops in Toronto and Rochester. Past midnight in Toronto now and still some prep to do, but just wanted to note my gratitude for it all, the opportunity to spend 62 Thanksgivings with my wonderful sister. May it continue!

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Gratitude and Grace

Today is Thanksgiving and on one level, like everything that we once held dear and accepted unquestionably, this also is a day tainted by the true history of its origin and the real story of Squanto. We should learn that story and consider it and learn from it. 


But none of that need cancel the deeper spirit behind a day of thanks nor diminish a lifetime of pleasure in gathering around the table with family, with all the joy and dysfunction surrounding us. Understanding history’s horrors need not throw us down into cynical despair, but rather lift us up to the future that heals and walks toward fulfillment of our extraordinary promise and possibility of living together with grace and gratitude.


In sharing today’s reflection on that very theme, I think about the three rules of right speech I wrote about earlier this month.


1. Does it need to be said?

Yes, indeed, as we are starved for reminders that the bounty of life is within our reach and the proper response is always humble thanks.


2. Does it need to be said now?

Well, really every day, but especially on Thanksgiving!


3. Does it need to be said by me?

Only if I can’t find someone who says it better. And I have. So I’ll step to the side and borrow Michael Meade’s essay on Gratitude and Grace. Happy Thanksgiving!


Gratitude, once known as “the parent of all virtues,” is essentially connected to the natural nobility of the human soul. The word gratitude comes from the old root “gratia,” that also gives us grace. Like grace, gratitude cannot be measured; such things exist in the human heart and soul as part of all that remains immeasurable in this world.
Gratitude involves a stirring in our souls in which we feel and can express being thankful for the gift of life in its many forms. When we forget that life is a gift and that each person arrives here already gifted and worthy of our respect; then the world becomes a darker, more isolating and unforgiving place.
Gratitude and grace are each connected to the hidden abundance of life. Grace reminds us of the divine realm that is always nearby; while feeling gratitude reconnects us to the living pulse of the natural world and the underlying wholeness of life. Even a small sense of gratefulness can generate a feeling of inner abundance and wholeness. Yet, finding a true sense of grace requires that we be open and vulnerable.
We are most human and most alive when we allow ourselves to be touched by both the beauty and the suffering of the world. We need to feel that life, despite all the current divisions and acts of hate and violence, remains holy and that healing remains possible.
In times of trouble and uncertainty we need occasions of grace and gratitude, however small they might be, in order to rekindle our spirits and ease our souls. Becoming grateful, even if only for a moment, can make us feel whole again and bring a little more grace to the world.


Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Women Rising

Barbara Kingsolver, Ann Patchett, Kristin Hannah, Emma Straub, Elin Hildebrand, Jo Jo Moyes, Laura Lippman, Tracey Wood, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Lisa See, Shanti Sekeran, Laura Morelli,  Kelly Rimmer, Sue Grafton, Delia Owens, Madeline Miller, Anne Lamott, Emily Henry, Elif Shafak. Yaa Gyasi, Gail Tsukiyami, Britt Bennett, Jeanine Cummins. These are some of the authors I’ve either read or listened to on Audible the past few years. Notice anything?


The proliferation of woman authors here is worth noticing. Not only that I seem to enjoy reading them, but there are so many these days doing such fine, fine work. For those who wonder whether indeed there has been any progress in women’s liberation, whether more voices are finally allowed at the table (including representation above by Turkish, Ghanaian, Nigerian, African American, Chinese/Japanese American, Indian American), here is tangible proof that things have changed and are continuing to change. 


Consider. In my incomplete education, the number of women authors I’ve known about before 1800 are limited to Sappho in ancient Greece (around 600 BCE), Lady Murasaki in Japan (around 1000 CE) and Mirabai in India (around 1600 CE). In the 1800’s, things begin to move with novelists Jane Austen, George Eliot, Charlotte Bronte, Emily Bronte, Mary Shelley, Louisa May Alcott, Elizabeth Gaskell, Harriet Beecher Stowe and poets Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth Barrrett Browning and Christine Rossetti.  By the early 1900’s, the list multiplies exponentially (think Virginia Woolf, Edith Wharton, Gertrude Stein, Zora Neale Hurston, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Agatha Christie, Willa Cather, Eudora Welty, etc.) and yet another generation (Pearl Buck, Flannery O’Connor, Harper Lee, Maya Angelou, Doris Lessing, Toni Morrison, etc. etc. and again etc.) before arriving at the explosive list of women authors in the last 30 or 40 years. 


Note. The above names that make it into Wikipedia are authors whose works found their way into the publishing stream. I’m pretty certain that there are likely genius women writers from all centuries and places whose work lay hidden in a desk drawer somewhere. Likewise, women who may have published in other countries whose works never reached these shores. 


But all of that is changing— and thankfully so. In looking up a few things to write this, I discovered some early writers I didn’t know about (look forward to reading A Vindication of the Rights of Womanby Mary Wollstonecraft published in 1792 and the poetry of Phyliss Wheatley) and some current women authors from other countries (Anita Heiss—Indigenous Australian, Nawal el Saadawi — Egypt, Trang Ha—Vietnam, Noviolet Bulawayo—Zimbabwe and more.) 


But the woman author I most look forward to reading is Kerala Goodkin Taylor. Publishers, can you please add her to the list?


Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Children's Games

There are many aspects to the Orff approach that both inform and stamp my work, but if I had to choose one, it would be hard to pick between the integration of jazz, of world music, of ritual and ceremony, of body percussion—and children’s games. Since the last is included in all the others, it is a worthy contender for the thing that makes the most difference in both my classes with kids and adults. Having just re-read an article on the subject that I’m contributing as an article to a book with many authors, I’m struck by the way this aspect of the work can so powerfully change the teaching of children. I share the opening below (please note that this ©2022 Doug Goodkin) as food for thought, not just for music teachers, but all teachers—and parents too!


“Musical instruction for a child does not begin in the music lesson. Playtime is the starting point. One should not come to music— it should arise of itself. What is important is that the child be allowed to play, undisturbed, expressing the internal externally. Word and sound must arise simultaneously from improvisatory, rhythmic play.”  -  Carl Orff


The child at play and the artist at work share much in common. From the depths of the magical and mysterious dream-world, from the grand sweep of the unbounded imagination, the formless takes form, the shapeless takes shape, the unseen is revealed. The creative instinct that lies sleeping at the bottom of the well of each human consciousness is drawn up by the ropes and buckets of the child at play, the artist at work —and the thirsty world is refreshed. 


The kind of play Carl Orff refers to here is that instinct in its pure form, the way children animate the world with their imagination. They engage with the things that surround them using the full range of their senses—exploring, experimenting, poking and prodding as their minds roam free. unfettered by adult rules and boundaries. They find the secret song hidden inside things, coax it forward into some kind of pattern and form, expressing their “internal world externally.”


One of the forms that emerges from the child’s play instinct is children’s games. The wide world of structured  games created by and carried forth by children follow the blueprint of Nature’s curriculum. They are intuitively designed to coordinate the rhythmic energies of the body, to develop the mind’s quest to understand pattern, to serve the heart’s need to learn how to play well with others. Clapping games that cross the midline to help knit together the two hemispheres of the brain, quick reaction games that spring from ancient hunter’s skills of awareness and alertness necessary for survival, counting out and numerical games that codify mathematical intuitions, movement games that artfully focus the body’s impulses, drama games that allow children to try on different personas— all of this and more are Nature’s schooling, unencumbered by adult teachers and scheduled classes. The texts of the song range from sheer nonsense to deep metaphor, the child’s way of trying to make sense out of a chaotic, confusing and sometimes terrifying world. 


Though the games themselves naturally differ in terms of the language and the musical styles of each distinct culture, their presence and function is universal. The common types of games found everywhere include:


• Partner clapping games. 

• Stone-passing games (or other objects, including just passing claps around the circle).

• Quick -reaction games.

• Ring plays.

• Rock, paper, scissors games.

• Counting-out games to determine who is “it.”

• Elimination games

• Jump rope rhymes

• Fingerplays

• Body Awareness games

• Making-up motions games. 

• Games that name professions and invite motions common to each.

• Games that tell a story and invite the children to play act the characters.


Why play these games in the music classroom? What is their role in a dynamic music and movement education? How can use them effectively? 


I feel a book coming on.


Monday, November 21, 2022

Homeostasis in Honolulu

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn,
a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter.
If your mind isn’t clouded by unnecessary things,
this is the best season of your life.

-      Wu-men


In a recent talk, poet David Whyte talked about the seasonality of life and how we lean heavily toward the new life of Spring and the effulgence of Summer, lean away from the cold and darkness of Fall and Winter and thus, embrace only 50% of our full seasonal splendor. To which I say, “Guilty as charged!”


Well, growing up in New Jersey, I actually thoroughly loved the Fall and still do, though it’s not even close to the same in San Francisco. And the first snows of Winter were always magical— it was the February sludge and relentless cold that I was so happy to be away from when I moved West. But still, I understand his point. Not only do we resist the dark months physically and literally, but also psychologically, as we are trained to think that “Have a nice day!” and the laughter of the Pepsi moment are the default.


Though I will never move to Florida, thank you very much, I understand the urge to stop fighting the cold, all the effort it takes to protect oneself from the assault of freezing temperatures. Here in San Francisco that means temperatures in the 40’s, as they are now in the early morning and evening and while true Winter dwellers will scoff and call that a Winter heat wave, still I go out on the deck in the morning and feel the cold on my face and tend to scurry back inside to stand at the heater for the moment. 


Yet I remember going to Zen meditation retreats in December up at Mt. Baldy and walking to the dining hall amidst snow wearing flip-flops and thin cotton robes (with a thermal undershirt on). I cultivated the art of breathing into the cold, accepting it rather than resisting it, welcoming the way it woke me up and kept me alert and to some extent, that worked. (Though I still lived for the 2 seconds when I walked past the big heater in the dining hall and felt the blast of its welcome warmth). 

Back here in San Francisco, I bundle up with three or four layers to walk in the Park and pass these young people in shorts and T-shirts and wonder how they do it. Even more incredible, I sometimes walk by the Dolphin Club Members near Fisherman’s Wharf swimming in the freezing waters of the Bay and think, “These people are certifiably insane.” But perhaps they are simply well-practiced in the art of accepting and welcoming cold, that discipline I experienced in my Mt. Baldy days. 


And yet. My version of paradise is waking up in a Honolulu hotel room with the outer air temperature the exact same temperature as what I felt inside. Skin was neither a border guard to resist the cold invasion nor a swinging gate struggling to sweat out the attack of extreme heat. It is the perfect homeostatic balance. 


Remember homeostasis from high school biology? It’s defined as the tendency toward a relatively stable equilibrium between interdependent elements, especially as maintained by physiological processes. That constant adjusting to achieve balance and equilibrium is why we heat our houses or turn on the air-conditioning, why we choose the right clothes for the occasion. It might also apply to the daily cycles of eating and digestion, sleeping and awakening, exercise and rest— that constant juggling act to achieve (if only briefly) that sense of equilibrium. 


As physically, so psychologically. We can’t control the outer elements— like weather— but we can choose whether to resist them or flow with them, to refuse them or welcome them. There’s a marvelous folk tale from Greece called The Month Brothers that I put on as a ply with the kids many times during my decades of teaching. A hungry step-child goes into the woods in winter to find food and stumbles into 12 men  gathered around a fire. She discovers that they are the Month Brothers and they agree to help her if she tells them her feelings about the seasons. She talks poetically about the beauty of leaves falling and apples ripening in the Fall, the musical silence of the snow and the cozy indoor fires of Winter, the exuberance of the flowered Spring and the beautiful long nights and refreshing lake swims of the Summer. They wave their wands and give her strawberries and other sumptuous foods to take home.


The evil step-mother finds out and makes the child tell her where to find the Month Brothers. She shows up and demands strawberries and when they insist she share her feelings about the seasons, she complains bitterly about raking leaves in the Fall, shoveling snow in the freezing Winter, sneezing from allergies in the Spring and sweating profusely in the too-hot Summer. Needless to say, it doesn’t go well for her.


And so I decide to take the old Chinese poet Wu-Men’s advice, to embrace and welcome whatever November and fast-approaching December have to offer. This will be soon put to the test as I fly off to Toronto this weekend into 30 degree temperatures. It ain’t gonna be Honolulu! But still, homeostasis awaits.


Sunday, November 20, 2022

Field of Dreams

“If you build it, they will come” continues to resonate as I now make it a daily habit to play one of the two pianos out on JFK drive in Golden Gate Park. I played one this morning and though I am happy to do so regardless of who is listening, it becomes a game of sorts to see if either the particular piece I’m playing or my interpretation of it is intriguing enough to make the people walking, skating, running or biking by stop for a moment to listen. Often they do, some to the end of one piece, some hanging about for several more. And as happens, the more people who stop, the more it attracts attention of others passing by. 


This afternoon, I played again, but this time it was the monthly gathering of the Neighborhood Sing that I started during the pandemic that happily is now in its third year. I always play guitar with them, so this was the first time I got to expand the repertoire to pieces I’m more comfortable playing on piano. Lo and behold, people began gathering, especially (but not only) those with young kids, including our ex-upstairs neighbor with her new baby who we hadn’t met yet! I immediately included the newcomers, encouraging them to sing along or dance—and they did! Combining the repertoire of “happy songs,” jazz standards from the 20’s through 60’s like Side by Side, Sunnyside of the Street, Skinnamarink, A You’re Adorable, Pennies from Heaven, My Favorite Things etc. with the classic children’s songs (Itsy Bity Spider, Bingo, Twinkle Little Star, Old Macdonald, some with a jazz twist), we went on for over an hour without a moment’s pause, with the crowd sometimes as many as 25 or 30 people. 


I’m so grateful for my 45 years at The San Francisco School singing every day with the children and gathering a large, large repertoire that is at my fingertips and available at a moment’s notice. No cumbersome pieces of paper, no scrolling through the i-Phone for lyrics, no long pauses wondering “what should we sing next?” Just seamlessly moving from one to another with a repertoire that invites participation with a chorus that all can sing or motions they can do or simple words that they might already know.


I’ve taken this love for community singing to The Jewish Home for 14 years now and now am moving it further down the road with the Neighborhood Sing, amplified yet more by this new Field of Dreams on JFK drive, this opportunity for Drive-By-Singing. 


Come on by!

The Good News Ding

This morning during meditation, I heard my phone ding and thought, “When the depth of my presence in this moment far outweighs even the best news that ding might deliver, then I will have made some spiritual progress.” 


Truth be told, starting in the early days with the sounds of letters dropped through the mail slot, I’ve always had this sense of waiting for some wonderful news to unexpectedly come my way. Naturally, it was— and still is— most bills and advertisements, but occasionally, there was a surprising hand-written letter from an old friend and once, a genuine welcomed shock that had I had been awarded the Pro Merito Award, a deep honor given by the Orff Foundation in Munich that I would later receive publicly from Carl Orff’s widow Lisolotte. 


Good news in snail mail is long gone, now delivered in small doses in e-mail, Facebook and select phone dings— though all of it more and more buried under the avalanche of political outreach, advertisements and scams. But sitting on my cushion, I wondered what would be the nature of any good news the phone ding delivered? What would give me that dopamime rush of happiness? Even as I knew that true happiness was not dependent on any outside news, but manufactured breath by breath in a habitual practice of gratitude and wonder, what would be welcome news indeed?


Well, on the political front and not too far-fetched if our political/judicial system was working as it should, here are some started fantasies:


• That Trump and his cronies finally get their asses thrown in jail where they belong. And not a cushy, white collar prison with privileges.

• That all Congressional election deniers be thrown out of Congress and the House and Senate become Democratic by a large margin. Opening the doorway to:

-      Dismantling the Electoral College.

-      Re-configuring the Supreme Court

-      Creating aggressive gun-control laws

-      Restoring rights to women

-      Taxing the rich

-      Dismantling Corporations as “persons”

-      Creating aggressive climate-change action

-      Creating affordable higher education 

-      Etc.

•  That Putin and other international despots be deposed. 

• That Stacey Abrams declare her candidacy for President in 2024— and win!


You get the idea. 


On a personal level, there is much news my various family members could announce, things they deserve and should get, that would make me so, so happy. I’ll keep it private here, but the things I’m thinking of would be worthy of getting off the meditation cushion to answer the phone’s ding. 


As for me, I’m always happy to receive invitations to teach, speak or perform somewhere and these all are still within reach. But as Browning once said, “a person’s grasp should exceed his grasp or what’s Heaven for?” So if the ding delivered the news that my Boom chick a Boom CD was nominated for a children’s music Grammy, the Secret Song film was accepted at ten more film festivals, my Jazz, Joy & Justice book was finally published and became a best-seller in its field, why, I wouldn’t object. If suddenly five thousand people started reading these posts and the number of followers multiplied by ten, well, that would be a nice surprise. If my group The Pentatonics was invited to perform and teach at various jazz festivals, I’d start making plane reservations now. And yes, thank you to __________ for the Honorary Doctarate and Terry Gross, I believe I can fit that interview in you requested sometime in my busy schedule. 


Are you listening, World? But I’m not sitting around waiting— I’m sitting around meditating. And then getting up to teach the next class, play piano in the park or the Jewish Home, write my next blogpost that ten people will read. It’s all good.



Saturday, November 19, 2022

True Confessions

 In my Dad’s last months of life, struggling to recover from a heart operation at 89 years old and then finally giving up, our visits consisted of conversation (he was lucid to the end), some Solitaire games, watching old movies— and listening to music. I played various CD’s on the boom box in his room and he began to request some particular pieces. He especially loved Beethoven symphonies. So I bought a box set and listen we did to our favorites.


Today, on the occasion of his birthday, I decided to listen to some again, on his behalf. I started with the 3rd, one that I listened to often as a kid and all these years later, can still anticipate every note. The CD then went on to Symphony No. 4 and that’s when it struck me (this is the True Confession part): Though I can recognize every note of the 3rd, 5th, 6th, 7thand 9th, I don’t know a single note of the 1st, 2nd, 4thor 8th. And I mean not a single note. 


I feel a retirement project coming up.