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!