Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Full Disclosure

Who would have guessed that a husband and wife who kept an old clunky TV in the closet and rolled it down the hall once a week for the first twenty years of their marriage? On the occasion of her 73rdbirthday (today), I wrote a birthday card to my wife based on the various TV shows we’ve watched, most from the pandemic onward, but some from the earlier years.


I could blame it on being retired— no classes to plan at night or report cards. My upstairs neighbors piano curfew (9:00 pm). Busy days doing a wide variety of involved activities and just needed some veg out time. Or attribute it to the deliciously addictive nature of high quality TV serials that hook you in and leave you wanting more, the way good books do. Whatever the reason, it appears we’ve watched a lot of shows together! So I wrote a card based on their titles, having to leave out some 10 to 20 chows that simply wouldn’t translate (Seinfeld, Downton Abbey, Broadchurch, Mare of Eastown, Deadwind, Foyle’s War etc.).


Happy birthday to my wife Karen and hope the readers enjoy the card. (Or discover some shows they didn’t know about that they now will enjoy!). 


A birthday message to my Good Wife:


Cheers to you on your 73rd birthday!. For 41 years on 2nd Avenue, this is still Our Place to Call Home. 49 years walking The Streets of San Francisco together, enjoying restaurants like Narai, Elisa’s, Alice’s, fighting TheGood Fight in various marches and rallies, walking through the park enjoying All Creatures Great and Small, crossing The Bridge to Marin. We never had to go to the Office with school as our Family Business, our Family Affair. 


We got out of the Chair and traveled far and wide, listening to Mozart in the Jungle, enjoying an Atlantic CrossingOccupied with our work studying, observing and collecting art and music. When we need complicated flight arrangements, you reminded me to Call My AgentThe Marvelous Ms Connie. We never visited the Durells in Corfu, nor have been to Shetland nor danced a Last Tango in Halifax, but still we’ve Endeavored to see much of the world. 


Every summer, we’ve gone off to our own Seaside Hotel and am happy to report that there have been no Murders at the Lake, nor Murders in the Building and we’ve never had to call in Inspector Morse, Scott and Bailey or Lupin nor needed the services of The Extraordinary Attorney Woo or the Lincoln Lawyer.


Of course, alongside the pleasures and joys, there have been DamagesCollateral and otherwise. We’ve sometimes been up Schitt’s Creek, had to put out Little Fires Everywhere to avoid the Split or the complexity of a Bonus Family, when I get too loud, you tell me “Curb Your Enthusiasm”and after all these years, there are still moments when we each could say to each other “You Don’t Know Me.” But out of the swamp, the White Lotus has always bloomed. I hope that our tenacity and faithfulness will be forever Unforgotten


It’s a Different World than when we began, but on the occasion of your birthday, I hereby put  The Crown on your head and wish you many glorious years to come.


Sunday, February 26, 2023

Carpe Diem

Mortality— or rather, awareness of mortality— has been a constant companion for much of my life and responsible for me taking time seriously. It has steered me more toward Bach than Pop pablum, to poetry more than CNN, to hanging out with worthy human beings like children and elders and adults with functioning brain cells and beating hearts. It enticed me to say yes to some risk and adventure, from hiking Machu Picchu to giving an Orff workshop in South Africa to a fabulous choir to performing a family Jazz Concert at SF Jazz Center to teaching a demonstration class with 40 Taiwanese preschool kids in front of 150 teachers and parents for an hour— with a translator!


The awareness, that life is short, opportunity often just knocks once and disaster can be a single virus germ away has reared up again, this time from watched a video interview of Keith Jarrett. I have listened to this musician more than any other, attended more of his concerts (at least ten) than any other, bought more of his recordings than any other. While I haven’t been happy to hear stories of his dubious social skills, I’ve felt a depth and tenderness and ability to evoke emotion and feel beauty in the first three notes of a piece that resigns me to the fact that genius and niceness don’t always live side-by-side, to relax my judgement of character and be grateful for the artist as a conduit of divine grace. 


In 1998, he was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and left the performing world for two years, but did recover and came back full strength. His extraordinary trio disbanded in 2014, after 30 years of extraordinary interpretations of jazz standards. In 2018, Keith suffered two strokes that paralyzed his left hand and rendered him incapable of performing. His remarkable career, including the best-selling jazz piano album and solo piano album of all time—the Kohn Concert— could not protect him from life’s random assaults. And indeed, for those who believe in a beneficent All-Mighty, what kind of cruelty is this to take away a piano players functioning hand? Yes, the right hand would have been worse, but still.


So when a friend sent me a video of a recent interview with Keith Jarrett, I was curious to see it but immediately taken aback by seeing his left hand in a sling, his face changed and his whole demeanor different. And yet. Still he demonstrated some things with his right hand and in a weird way, he was more sociable than his earlier self. 


The most moving part was watching him watch and listen to an earlier recording of him performing a tour-de-force version of the jazz tune Solar.That performance alone is a lesson in how to play music with your whole body and soul and it was thrilling to see him react to some of his own high moments in the solo. (For those curious, fast forward to 31 minutes in on this video:)




And so, my friends, Carpe Diem. While we can still walk, walk! While we can still talk, say something needed and interesting. While we can still sing and play music, please do. Seize the day, say yes to opportunity, be kind, be humble, don’t let fear run your life. Play your song with the whole of your body (see video), voice, heart and soul.  Carpe diem.


Saturday, February 25, 2023

Traveling Troubadour

As mentioned earlier, I sang with my granddaughter Zadie’s 5th grade class the other day, joined by my grandson Malik’s 1st grade class and a 3rd grade class as well. Guitar in hand and a Powerpoint slide show with the lyrics to eight iconic protest songs of the 60’s and accompanying relevant photos, we sang with great gusto for some 30 minutes. Some 50 kids huddled together in the class of Ms. Murphy, who had already had her old art teacher (my wife Karen) give a drawing lesson and her old music teacher (me) bring her back to the SF School Singing Times of her childhood. 


Remember granddaughter Zadie’s insistence that neither Karen and I could come as guest teachers to her school because as a big, bad 5th grader, it would “embarrass her SO MUCH!!” There are times when you really need to listen to what kids feel and change your plans accordingly and times when you don’t. At the end of the singing,  Zadie and her friends rushed up and gathered around me and Zadie hugged me and said, “That was awesome!” Case closed.


The next day, I went back to Malik’s class to sing more. We reviewed a couple of the songs from the day before and then I sang the story/song “The Foolish Frog.” Perfect for first graders —they were in heaven! And so was I.


Yesterday, I did my usual piano play at The Jewish Home for the Aged and then went to visit the former custodian at The SF School at another similar place. He left some 20 years ago and hadn’t really seen him in a while, but decided to visit him and his daughter and after chatting about the “good old days” and laughing at all the things that happened that would get us fired in today’s educational atmosphere, I went to the piano to play some Monk tunes for him. He is an old jazzer and he often would hang out in the mornings while I warmed up the music room playing some jazz. After a couple of tunes, I switched to Bach and then Scott Joplin and when I turned around, there were suddenly some 20 residents gathered listening with such a look on their faces— like hungry people being offered hearty and delicious food. They requested a few tunes which I knew and then invited them to sing with me and after some 20 minutes, asked them if they’d like me to come back some time. Without missing a beat, there was an enthusiastic “Yes!!!” 


I always wondered which doors would open once I closed the SF School one and it seems clear that “Traveling Troubadour” is my new vocation, with special emphasis on kids and elders. I’m a dubious guitar player, low-level singer and moderately accomplished piano player, but there’s something about the spirit of the songs and the music that I’m able to transmit that goes far beyond talent or virtuosity, something about my understanding of how music creates instant community that feels different to the participants. 


Who woulda thunk? Life’s beckoning paths are unpredictable, sometimes surprising, but for this old guy, delightfully happy. Onward!


Friday, February 24, 2023

Attitude and Plan

An Orff colleague shared her idea on Facebook for an upcoming music class with kids and used this brilliant phrase: “I have a new attitude and a PLAN!”


Ka-ching!! So many times, we vow to have a new attitude, but don’t come up with a plan. And thus, find ourselves powerless to create the change we hope for.


On the other side, so many times we keep sticking to the same-old plan without a needed shift in attitude and nothing changes. More often than not, we keep doing the same thing that never worked that well in the first place. 


So a new attitude and a plan. Brilliant!


As poet Bill Holm also suggested when he beckoned us to get out of our 4/4 box and consider Bulgaria. (Both of which I have done!)




Someone dancing inside us

learned only a few steps;

the “Do-Your-Work” in 4/4 time,

the “What-Do-You-Expect” waltz.

He hasn’t noticed yet the woman

standing away from the lamp,

the one with black eyes

who knows the rhumba,

and strange steps in jumpy rhythms

from the mountains in Bulgaria.

If they dance together,

something unexpected will happen.

If they don’t, the next world

will be a lot like this one.

Thursday, February 23, 2023

The Price of Beauty

A sweet goodbye to the grandkids, farewell lunch with our daughter and off to the airport 

amidst the swirling white flakes. Effortless glide through security, pleasant wait at the gate, boarded the plane at 2:45. 


Eight hours later, we took off. Two trips to the runway and back to the gate. Dinner of two little bags of pretzels. Roads closed in Portland, so if the third time was not to be the charm, but “batter out!”, we had a night ahead of sleeping at the airport with no guarantee that it would be better to fly out tomorrow. So after my ode to winter’s wonder, my only thought was:


“Damned snow!!!”


PS: We did take off at 10:45 amidst cheers from the passengers, arrived in snowless San Francisco at midnight and gratefully returned to our house unheated for five days, everything cold to the touch. But so grateful to be home! 

Wednesday, February 22, 2023


This morning, I crossed an unexpected bridge to my childhood. Walked out of the Vestal School, the public elementary school that my grandchildren attend, after my second day of guest singing classes— and it was snowing! A long-buried muscle memory of the magic of the first snow  in my New Jersey childhood. I thought of Rachel Carson’s wish that all children retain their sense of wonder. There are few things more wondrous than this gift from the heavens, these thick white flakes dancing down from the sky, light and fluffy and filling the air with beauty. They landed on the asphalt and dissolved, spotted a crow’s back and caressed my face. 


I grew up with snow and like most kids, loved the beauty, the snowball fights, the sledding, the snowmen (it was the 50’s— no snow people yet), the snow angels. At least in December. By February, it had turned to dirty, grey slush and waking up to snow in March was just a bummer when the spirit was craving the bloom of Spring. But when next December rolled around, that was forgotten and the wonder kicked in again.


An entire adult life in San Francisco meant farewell to snow— mostly. There was a period of some 10 to 15 years when we went each year up to the snow in the Sierras for 5 or 6 days each December break. Skiing wat the attraction for some, but not me— though a little snowshoeing, sledding and snowball fights were enough to keep me in touch with my wintry roots. 


But truth be told, I loved returning to San Francisco to magnolia trees blooming in January and plum trees in February. Now the family goes to Palm Springs in December where swimming pools and hot tubs await and that’s just fine with me. I loved tasting summer in January in my recent trip to Australia.


But this morning I remembered. (Though in fact, I couldn’t remember the last time I actually saw snow come down. It might have been a March in Salzburg some 10 years ago.) Yes, I like warmth and sun and sand and water, but there is a different kind of beauty in the sweep of those downy flakes and a land blanketed in white, untrodden snow, the crackling of the fire and the warmth of hot beverages and the cozy indoor time spent with family and neighbors. San Francisco is actually a four season affair— sun, rain, wind, fog—but not like my childhood falling leaves, snow, flowers and sun with water. 


So maybe I’m not done with winter after all. As the old Chinese poet Wu-Men suggests:


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.

Tuesday, February 21, 2023


Language matters. So I’m generally a fan of changing words that carry a hurtful history or present-day charge. Things like “enslaved person” rather than “slave,” “developmentally disabled” over “mental retard,” “elder” instead of “geezer.” Sometimes it feels like it goes too far— “vertically challenged” instead of “short,” for example. 


So yesterday when I boarded the bus in Portland, I gratefully received the Senior Citizen discount. Then noticed the letter H on the transfer and in small print, “Honored Citizen.”

Well, wouldn’t that be nice. That our culture actually honored the elders as keepers of a kind of wisdom impossible to access when you’re younger and simply haven’t lived enough. 

Of course, such wisdom doesn’t come for free merely from the turning of calendars. It is earned through a lifetime of attention, reflection, work well done and well considered. But in a youth-oriented culture, that equates intelligence with tech savvy and value with buff sexy bodies, the value of an elder’s wisdom is poorly understood.


With some exceptions. In this jazz world, for example. There is enormous respect for those who have paid their dues over decades and often, informal classes backstage where the young guys listen to the stories and heed musical advice. In my own small field of Orff Schulwerk, I helped organize a “Council of Elders” that met on Zoom to respond to various changes in the mother organization and offered some unsolicited advice that was actually well-received. And I’m happy to report that at the ripe old age of 71, the invitations to give workshops and write articles keep coming in. Since I feel at the top of my game teaching both kids and adults, this is a happy circumstance.


When I look back at things I wrote, even in my first couple of years of teaching, I find that I talked about the same things I do now. The vision and convictions and values were already in place. But what was missing was the next 45 years of experience and the stories that illuminate and confirm the ideas. And as a human being, I needed to go through life’s curriculum of disappointments, betrayals, unwise choices, thwarted ambitions, loss and grief before I could become more fully human. I had to care about the things that would break my heart and then realize, slowly, that my heart was never wholly broken and healed enough to keep caring and loving. 


So thank you, Portland, I think that such experiences qualifies my peers and I to be Honored Citizens, indeed. Not just the seats on the bus or reduced prices, but the deep appreciation of having come through so many of life’s storms intact and the hope to pass on some worthy advice to the younger ones. H it is. 

Monday, February 20, 2023

Back Up North

We have had a lot of time with the grandkids this past year or so, but we realized that almost all of it was in San Francisco. We think that the last time we visited them in their home town of Portland was for Zadie’s 10th birthday in November, 2021, when we organized a scavenger hunt for her birthday party. 


So it felt like we were overdue for visit to their home town and what better excuse than to see Zadie play basketball on a team she’s been with these past few months. Sitting in the bleachers was yet another trip down the road of her mother’s childhood and mostly delightfully so. Especially since Zadie had her best game of the season, scoring 6 points, assisting other shooters, getting rebounds, blocking shots, stealing the ball— all of which helped lead to the team’s second victory of the season. She hugged us afterwards and confided, “You brought me luck!”


If any readers remember my last interaction with Zadie at the end of our Palm Springs vacation in December, it was a low point in our relationship. A full-scale battle between the innocent (mostly) happy girl gleefully playing and loving time in the natural word and the emerging Eminem-fan/ Mortal Kombat playing/ eye-rolling version created by a far-too young puberty. It was a Jekyll and Hyde tour-de-force and thought there were some truly wonderful connections during that visit, it ended on a sour note. So I didn’t know what to expect and will confess that I was nervous headed up this way. While inwardly reminding myself to not take anything personally or react with outrage and to try to understand what was raging inside her too-rapidly-changing body-mind. 


When I told her I wanted to come visit her class and sing some songs, as I have done every visit since preschool, she replied, “Oh, my God!! You can’t!! That would embarrass me SO MUCH!!!!” So I had reason to be concerned, while still holding steady to my determination to sing with her class. For three reasons:


1) These are the kids I sang with online every week during her 3rd grade COVID year. They knew me, they learned a certain repertoire of songs and of course, I wanted to sing with them again. 


2) Her teacher went to the SF School and both my wife Karen and I taught her for many years. So of course, we wanted to visit HER class. (And she is excited about that!)


3) The school is marked as a Social Justice School and the kids deserve to learn the songs that they’re not learning that framed the struggles of the 60’s. And learn the stories behind them. I have at least eight songs ready to go, with a Powerpoint and relevant images. 


So… Zadie and I have had a lovely three days, no unexpected explosions or meltdowns, an easy return to our go-to Rummy 500 games and tonight, her fourth Hitchcock film. The first night had a lovely visit with my nephew Ian, yesterday a wonderful brunch with my college friends Gabe and Steve and their three grandchildren, followed by a hike up to the Pittock Mansion and a fun dinner discussing the pluses and minuses of an 11-year old starting to drink coffee. 

Today was basketball with her and her brother Malik, a bus ride and walk to Hawthorne Street, a lunch out at Cha Cha Cha, a visit to Powell’s bookstore and buying books for both her and Malik and a delicious quiet time reading and drawing that just now ended. 


When the school visit comes up, there’s a little squeak of protest, but I believe she has accepted it. I’ll let you know tomorrow. 


As for Portland, it’s cold (40’s) and grey and we passed a disturbing apartment building with a big sign: “ARMED TENANTS. STEAL GAS-GET SHOT” and equally disturbing tent-city of homeless folks downtown. And yet lovely parks (Laurelhurst!), wonderful people (lots of friends here) and when the sun comes out, it’s glorious. 


The kids are released from their quiet time and the “STOPS!” have begun. And so I will.  

Hit the Damn Ball!!!

I often think of a W.C. Fields short I saw in college. He’s pretending to know something about golf and teach a young lady and steps up to the ball preparing to tee off. For some ten minutes, all these little things interfere just as he’s about to hit it. As a viewer, you’re waiting for him to hit the damn ball, each minute that passes adding to your building frustration— and he never does! 


Such a simple premise. When you expect an action to be completed —even something as simple as hitting a golf ball— and it never does, it is maddening. And each time it gets close and then turns away, your exasperation increases. Take ten minutes to watch this clip and you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. (The whole thing is 20 minutes, but you can fast forward through the first ten or so and begin at the golf lesson):  




This is the perfect metaphor for the snail-like grinding wheels of justice for the criminal acts of the Teflon ex-President. From Stormy Daniels to the Muller Report to the first impeachment to the second impeachment to the January 6thcall for insurrection to the call to Georgia to New York back taxes and yet more and yet more, why is this guy still walking around outside of a jail cell? Each time the club swings back and is about to finally hit the ball, something else impedes its completion. Not only is the guy still walking freely, but he gets to announce his return bid for the 2024 election. While thousands of black men are incarcerated for the skimpiest of offenses and dubious proofs and sentences far beyond the seriousness of their crimes, this one and his cronies evade the deserved swing of the club.


This, of course, is not an accident, but the logical outcome of our twisted history of privilege and white supremacy. And yet embedded in the system is the potential of actual justice, the thwarted laws that say out loud that all are accountable, despite the clear fact that so many are not. This is a step above “Yep. We’re allowed to do whatever we want, so no point even trying to bring us down.” 


Still though, after all the hopes that the investigations would actually lead to right action deferred time and time again, it is exhausting and dispiriting. Yet still, I keep watching W.C. Fields about to hit the ball, in hopes that someday he will.

Sunday, February 19, 2023

The Music Education of the Future

Four years ago, before the world had changed forever, I wrote this on a Facebook Post. It holds up.


Walked through the streets of Singapore on Sunday hearing Hindu chants, Muslim calls to prayer, Christian church choirs, Buddhist intonations. Inside the synagogue, the Jewish cantors were singing, in another building, a Balinese gamelan was rehearsing and the next day, my class of teachers were joyfully playing Step Back Baby on their way to the blues. All the many facets of our common Divine Spirit were alive and vibrant and not a single vibration was claiming itself as the only true and worthy one. Amidst all the shameful shouting and posturing and toddler-tantrum demanding of taxpayers money to fuel yet more division with the Wall, we need to realize that the wall has already been built, in the sense that Duke Ellington said long ago:


"Of all the walls, the tallest, most invisible, and most insidious… is the wall of prejudice."


The mandate of our times is to fight the battle of Jericho, play the trumpets—and sitars and djembes and Bulgarian bagpipes—that will make those walls come tumblin’ down. Let that be the mandate of the music education of the future!


Friday, February 17, 2023


Having written three posts with the word “True,” it seems like a good idea to define the term. Especially in these days of “If I believe it, it’s true.”


The Latin root is ver and we can find it in words like “verdict, veracity, verify, verity and verdad” (in Spanish). One definition includes the word “very,” saying that when something is very good, it’s “truly” good. “True” is also a verb, as in “bringing an object or wheel into the exact shape, alignment or position required.” And isn’t that a lovely notion of the importance of truth, bringing things into alignment with what’s needed. 


Where else does “true” turn up? I discovered this:


True color is an RGB color model standard that specifies 256 shades for red, green and blue spaces, totaling 16 million colors, much more than what the human eye can distinguish, which is only 10 million colors.


Not clear what this means and neither does my art teacher/ artist wife, but I like the idea that truth is never a single color, but a nuanced version of reality with many shades. 16 million, according to the above!


But my wife reminded me of the term “true blue” and its apparent origin in 1636 dates it long before the rise of the Democratic Party (without any details that I can find). This meaning of “unswerving loyalty to a political party” is much less appealing. We have had far too much of that!


True also means being faithful, as in not cheating on your lover or holding fast to an ideal. 


Finally, true in its most basic definition means aligned with actual fact, something that is currently too far out of fashion. And this fact is true— I have three classes ahead of me today and no more time to investigate truth further. Happy Friday!

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

True Character

Lessons sometimes come from unusual places. Like the words of the fictional Inspector Gamache in Louise Penny’s various mystery novels like Still Life and A Fatal Grace. At one point in the former, he shares the four most important phrases that lead us to wisdom:


1) I don’t know.

2) I need help.

3) I’m sorry.

4) I was wrong.


Brief commentary:

1) I don’t know: And I know I don’t know it. And I feel no shame about it, unless it’s something I should have known and refused to do the work. And since I don’t know it, that leads me to number 2.


2) I need help: That’s what plumbers, computer technicians, car mechanics, therapists, friends, etc. are for. If I know what I don’t know and what I need to know, I’ll either learn it or will look for someone who does. If someone asks me to write the definitive article on movement in Orff Schulwerk, I could fake it, but why? Simply pass it on to brilliant Orff Schulwerk dance teachers I know. The follow-up question to “I need help,” is “from whom?” And then ask. 


3) I’m sorry. We all cast a shadow in this life and end up hurting, disappointing, insulting, betraying at least some of the many people who cross our paths. (Or all the people at least some of the time?) Whether it be from ignorant remarks, self-defense or purposeful malice, “I’m sorry” is the courageous response that let’s folks know that perhaps we’ve learned something, eaten some of the blame and asked for forgiveness.


4) I was wrong. Winston Churchill famously said “ I have had to eat my own words many times and I find it a very nourishing diet.” This is the more muscular version of “I’m sorry” and can lead to the same kind of self-forgiveness and healing of shame that we all could use more of. Gamache also mentions a variant, “I might be wrong, but…” and I love the way that this doesn’t negate one’s firm convictions in the truth you feel you’re telling, but leaves just enough of a sliver of doubt that another’s contrary truth can enter the conversation. It takes the talk one step down from the arrogance that halts discussion. 


As any reader of my own words well knows, I often feel compelled to carry these brilliant thoughts beyond just one’s own growth into the discourse of our time. If I mention names and their corresponding political party, that can be a conversation-stopper, but why beat around the bush? Or better yet, see the movie Where’s My Roy Cohn? about the man who wrote the modern-day Machiavellian playbook that defines some of our current national character. His anti-Gamache advice?  


1) Think you know it all. Act as if you know something about the things you know absolutely nothing about. Never, ever, admit you don’t know something. That’s weak.


2) Never ask for help. It’s weak.


3) Never, ever say you’re sorry. It’s weak to admit that you made a mistake or hurt somebody. 


4) Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever say you’re wrong. It’s weak and it will be used against you in court.


Connect the dots, my friends. The true divide in this country is not Right against Left but two contrary opinions on what constitutes strength and courage and what shows cowardice and weakness. In my world, vulnerability is strength and all of Gamache’s four pillars require courage. They are the things that bring us to our true character. 

In the other world, I see nothing but weak cowards hiding behind denial, lies, refusal to face both the flaws and the potential goodness in their character. How can we hold a meaningful conversation across that divide?


I’m sorry I don’t know how to say this better. Though I might be wrong, I could use some help.  

Monday, February 13, 2023

True Democracy

Today Facebook shared back to me a post from this day six years ago. Having just written 

a post about true teaching, seems serendipitous to re-post something about true democracy. And so here it is.



© 2017 Doug Goodkin


A Spring day in February in Golden Gate Park. 


The sun emerged after five days of constant rain without

a single person voting for it.


The Congress of trees met and the plums, a clear minority,

spoke their piece in pink fragrant blossoms without the others shutting them down.


No dam Cabinet leader blocked the flow of the gurgling stream nor shouted to drown out its merry burbling song. 


No one insulted the pink bulbs beginning to open or foreclosed the homes of the nesting birds or banned the bees from entering the flower. 


No one claimed that Spring didn’t really exist or built a wall to keep out the migrating winged creatures. 


On a Spring day in February in Golden Gate Park,

True democracy prevailed. 

Sunday, February 12, 2023

True Teaching

“Do as I say, not as I do” was one of the more stupid aphorisms adults in my childhood liked to say. Even as a kid, I could feel the hypocrisy of them trying to excuse their dubious behavior while demanding something better from me. 


And yet, as teachers, don’t we sometimes carry on a version of this? Be honest here. How many times do we tell the kids, “Behave!/ Do a better job! / Sing better! / Feel the beat!” without giving them a single clue as to how to actually do those things? How many times has someone told us, “Relax!” or “Calm down!” and how many times did that actually help us to relax or calm down?


So the true teacher has to think deeper about how to lead the students to the desired result. We have to give them an embodied experience that gives them both the tools and the pleasure of doing something well or better. If we want them to relax, some stretching and breathing exercises can help. If we want to sing better, it’s our job to understand how to do that. To do some echo singing, for example, and when a kid sings back too low, to sing it again starting at the kid’s pitch and then raising it up one half-step at a time. If they’re having trouble internalizing beat, why, there are a hundred strategies of patting the beat, walking the beat, gently tapping the beat on their back, always with a song to tie it together. And then the many beat-passing games where getting off the beat means getting out (temporarily) from the game and upping the motivation. 


One of the talks I give to kids (elaborated in Chapter 7 of my Teach Like It’s Music book) is about music class as the place to learn two essential things: How to Blend In/ How to Stand Out. The kids quickly perceive that these are apparent opposites, but the punchline is to learn which of the two an activity calls for. I then demonstrate with a concrete example of everyone singing Twinkle Little Starand me singing with them, but off key. Then in a different tempo. Then with different words. Then louder than everyone else. In each case, I show how just one person singing poorly can destroy the beauty of 25 kids singing perfectly in tune and in time. 

So singing is the time to blend in and if you’re singing badly on purpose, we need to have a little private talk about your obligation to both the group and yourself. If you’re singing poorly because you have trouble with pitch or beat, then it’s our job together to get better at both through all the efforts and strategies available. And then when you’re really singing well, why, perhaps you can sing a solo— the perfect moment to stand out!


So even though my colleague/mentee and I gave that talk to one of the four 5th/6thgrade groups we’re teaching, even with that example, he reported back that they’re having trouble achieving a harmonious group energy. As a teacher, I can sigh and complain about kids today, the horrible models of human beings they see in the news, the confusion parents show in child-raising, the addiction to video-games and social media, the canary-in-the-mine ways in which kids are reflecting a world in chaos. All of which may be true. But so what? The kids still are walking into the classroom. How can we help them?


As reported recently, I had a success story with one child where the activity broke through the wall that my words kept bouncing off of and we both left the class refreshed. So the challenge tomorrow is to choose fun, relevant activities that can help create a joyful working group energy while still holding the disrupters accountable, hopefully convincing them that it will be more fun and satisfying to do things well than foolish. That’s what I signed up for when I stumbled into this worthy and glorious and supremely difficult endeavor called teaching. That’s what a true teacher does. 


I’ll let you know how it goes.