Friday, March 31, 2023

Switching Lanes

And welcome to Hong Kong.  I’m back in blue jeans and jacket and Spanish gorra, the buildings are tall, tall, tall, the energy even more urban than bustling Bangkok and the dim sum a change from pad thai (but equally good). My last night in Thailand, I sat in at a jazz club and should have been nervous because the piano player I briefly replaced had monster chops! But I just played Route 66 as I felt it, both accompanying a good singer and the sax player who was my Orff student and soloing myself and managed to leave the stage without embarrassment. Part of my “keep moving” commitment to seek out a jam session in each new city and so far, have done pretty well in Hobart, Christchurch and Bangkok. 

Now I’m with two teachers I know through Orff workshops who invited me to join them and a violinist to give a concert for children using some of the repertoire on my Boom Chick a Boom CD. We rehearsed today, stitched all the pieces together with a little story about Grandpa’s Farm and dressed in plaid checkered shirts (mine they bought for me), are all set to entertain three-year-olds and their parents with tunes ranging from Kitten on the Keys to The Alley Cat to Who Fed the Chickens, Skinnamarink, One Potato and a Cantonese version of Soup Soup. Tomorrow I begin another two-day workshop with a mixture of beginning and experienced Orff teachers, with a theme of Children’s Games. 

And so the mix of teaching children, playing piano for elders, dipping my toe into the grown-up Jazz Jam world and a lifetime of teaching Orff workshops for adults keeps paying its dividends and reaping its harvest. I joyfully head down the highway switching lanes as needed and sometimes getting off the road all together. Two hour-long concerts just ahead, a ferry to Macau and up bright and early to get some 50 adults back into their child selves, remembering life before the strict rules of always staying in one lane. 

Thursday, March 30, 2023

Keep Moving

Steve Arkin was an alum parent from my school who used to live in my neighborhood. For years, I would run into him jogging here and there, rain or shine. As he got into his 70’s, his pace was slower, but he was relentless in his commitment. One time I asked him about it and he said, “My father gave me two word of advice that have sustained me my whole life: 'Keep moving.' "

And so, as I’m about to board the plane from Bangkok to Macau, I feel the resonance of those words. They can be used in the literal physical sense— and after four days of neither walking nor swimming, I feel the absence of movement. Exercise matters! They can be used in a larger literal context, like “Bangkok was glorious, but let’s see what Macau has to offer."  And when I get home, teaching a new Jazz History Course in a new venue to a new group of people awaits me. And while I'm at it, why not go to another poetry retreat and then rush home to take a trip to Yosemite with my  wife and daughter? And then take a flight to Moscow for the first Jazz Festival I’ve been invited to teach in. (And yes, Russia would be quite a switch, playing Boom Chick a Boom with Putin to convince him to stop the other kind of booming and bombing. But this Moscow is in Idaho). Just keep moving.

And then there’s the more profound metaphorical meaning, of moving while sitting still, be it in meditation or reading a book or learning a new piece on the piano or having a courageous conversation with a friend or acquaintance. I’ve never been a big fan of Sin, but for me, the biggest sin is getting stuck, being frozen in one’s self-created hells or purgatories, of refusing the invitation to think larger or feel deeper and instead, just keep swirling around in the same-old nightmare (think Nashville and blaming it all on side-doors in schools). 

I miss Steve Arkin jogging around the hood, as he moved on to another astral plane a couple of years back, far too young for those who knew and enjoyed and loved him. But his words, passed on by his Dad, continue to resonate. Keep moving. Keep moving.

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Deep Bows

I’ve lived my entire life under the assumption that I will never receive unearned respect. Nobody that I’m aware of  has paid me respect for my titled position nor my status as an elder nor my standing as a teacher of children. And I’m okay with that. Indeed, I have done my share to dismantle the notion of commanding respect when you haven’t necessarily done anything worthy of respect. 

I’ve been just fine that the kids at school called me Doug for over four decades. Except for the playful game where the 8th graders address me once at the beginning of each class as “Mr. Goodkin,” nobody has actually called me Mr. Goodkin my entire adult life. When my daughter’s East Coast college friends met me and called me Mr. Goodkin, I was so shocked that I immediately made a joke of it and ask them to call me Lord Douglas. Which they did the rest of the visit.

And yet. I’m also painfully aware of the many times that the things I’ve done that are worthy of respect goes unnoticed by school administrators 20 or 30 years my junior. That younger colleagues in my profession feel free to ignore their debt to me as their teacher in a number of different ways. That my own granddaughter once told me to Shut-up in a fit of anger (and yes, I did remind her where the line was that she crossed). On one hand, I can say, “Well, isn’t that good that they’re asserting themselves and pushing back against authority?”  but when I think about the relationship between kids and adults in Ghana, reflect on the dynamic between younger and older jazz musicians, notice what's going on here in Thailand, I’m wondering if I’ve missed out on something important. Or worse yet, contributed to the culture of dubious respect.

Each day in Thailand is filled with bows— bows of greeting, bows of farewell, bows of gratitude— and isn’t that a lovely thing. Going out to dinner with my hosts here— all of whom have been my Orff students and tend to be 20 to 40 years younger—one of them has her 4-year old daughter with her. Such a delightful presence and smile in that little one and there is some serious flirting going on between us, though we’re both frustrated that we can’t speak each other’s language. She needed help getting out of the big van and I offered my hand to help her down. Without a second’s hesitation, she reached the ground and gave me a bow of thanks. Given the me-centered socially-clueless vibe of so many 4-year olds I have known, this was simply stunning and beautiful. At dinner, one of my host students spontaneously presented me with a jasmine flower wreath (see photo below) and explained that this is an offering to those revered in their culture— elders, parents, teachers. I gratefully and humbly accepted it.

And most powerful of all was finishing the first day with 42 Thai teachers yesterday and one of my hosts explaining that they had a little ritual to honor me. There was a short incantation and then 42 lovely people prostrated themselves on the floor in a deep bow to express the ultimate appreciation for what I had given and what they received. One could get spoiled!

But trust me here. This is not about ego-stroking. It’s a combination of a deep cultural “unearned” respect for simply being both an elder and a teacher joined with a deep earned respect for having passed on something of value with my own praises and blessings for who they are and who they yet might become. I made the terrible mistake of watching a little footage of Trump’s Waco hate-fest and just couldn’t stomach looking at those brainwashed people attending with their lowest form of human gratitude and appreciation for fellow human beings. The contrast was staggering. But the toxins are also present in the progressive school world and in leftist rhetoric and of course, in my own psyche in (hopefully) small doses. 

Thailand is not paradise—no place is— and closer investigation would certainly reveal the shadow side of non-stop surface respect. But hey, I’m here to testify that such respect feels pretty damn good and my growing cohort of Thai friends are among the most intelligent, humorous, good-spirited, happy people I know. Something is working here and I like it. Might we educate our children to this?

Monday, March 27, 2023

Miang Kum

Many years back, I was asked to give a lecture on Orff Schulwerk at a Thai University in Bangkok. This is always a daunting task for people unfamiliar with the approach, but I hit on an idea which all these years later, seems to hold up. I gave a shorter version of the talk yesterday at the end of my workshop for the Thai Orff Association, to the delight of the participants, many taking an Orff workshop for the first time. Here’s a version of the talk.  

Recent brain research confirms what we all know—when we encounter something new, we try to understand it in terms of something we already know, to fit into an existing memory pattern.


I understand my job here is to try to give you an idea of what Orff Schulwerk is, something that is very difficult to explain. It takes at least ten years of studying and working with children in this way to begin to get an idea of what it is, how to do it well, and why it is so important. So how to give you a taste of it in just a short time?


The answer struck me yesterday when I was served my favorite dish at — Miang Kum. Since this is something you all have experienced and clearly understand, it might be a good way to describe Orff Schulwerk. 

The first thing I notice about this dish is that it is absolutely unique. I’ve never encountered anything like it in the whole world. And that is true of Orff as well.


When this dish is set on the table, all these ingredients set side by side, we cannot imagine how they are going to go together. But we understand them one at a time and if we think about good diet— food for the body— and good education— food for the brain— we see that they share certain things.


• SHRIMP: In one little dish, we find the shrimp. It is a little salty, a little chewy and it gives us the protein. So in good education, we need something substantial like shrimp, something meaty that gives us the protein we need. Without the shrimp, the meal would be frivolous. Maybe tasty, but not enough substance to make our minds strong. In the classroom, that means selecting the highest quality material, the tried and true classics of the culture rather than the latest pop fad. 


• PEANUTS: Then we have protein here also, but now with a hard texture, something with a crunch, that gives our jaw exercise and keeps our teeth strong. In good education, each student really needs to work and exercise, not have everything like a blended drink that’s easy to swallow. We need to crunch our way through learning and hear the sound of the jaw working. So the peanuts are the students’ effort. 


• ONIONS: Then we have the onions, a thoroughly useless vegetable—not many vitamins or protein, but used in so many dishes to give a pungent flavor. 


• GINGER: Good education needs some spice and heat, some excitement and energy. This is the teacher’s job, to understand how to make the class enticing, with some dramatic flair, more like a good story than a boring lecture. 


• LIME: Learning has its sour side as well. When we find out in history class how poorly human beings have treated each other, when our fellow classmates are mean to us, when we ourselves struggle with the things that are hard for us to do, we sometimes make a sour face like we just ate a lime. But this is just part of life and we have to learn how to live with the sourness of living and learning. So when we sing a song about the old gray goose who died and the 5 year old starts crying, we should take a moment in the class to feel the sadness and not try to hide it under the rug. The lime also has a splashy burst of flavor, like the moments when we suddenly understand something. 


• COCONUT: The coconut flakes are a new texture all together, with a subtle natural sweetness. Here are all the little details of learning, each flake essential to the overall taste and texture.


• SAUCE: Then there is the sauce, a thick, sweet liquid. If living and learning and loving has its sour side, it certainly has its sweet side and all of us who love dessert know how much pleasure it gives us to have some sweetness in our life. The teacher who truly loves his or her children brings some sweetness into their life and into the classroom.


• BETEL LEAF: Finally, there is the leaf that holds it all together. It functions more like the container, not a lot of taste by itself, but necessary to hold it all together.  The leaf is the connective vision that Carl Orff had that still holds all that is effective, fun and true about the Schulwerk’s pedagogy. 


Whoever invented Miang Kum must have thought about it as carefully as Carl Orff thought about elemental music and movement. It really is impressive how distinct these ingredients are. Here we have something from four different food groups—seafood, vegetables, legumes, fruit. We have different textures—chewy, hard, splashy, liquidy, rough, smooth. We have opposite flavors—salty, sour, sweet, spicy. 


Likewise, Orff Schulwerk draws from the major food groups of artistic disciplines—

music, poetry, dance, drama. Elemental music draws from the textures of drones, ostinato, color parts and melodies on up through shifting triads and functional harmony. Its pentatonic, modal, diatonic and chromatic scales evoke a wide variety of moods and flavors, alongside diverse movement expressions.


Why is this important? Teaching like this…

• Uses the full range of human potential and intelligence. The whole tongue.

• Allows students to understand in multiple ways instead of single ways.

• Brings joy and pleasure to the enterprise. The more joyful we are, the more open we are to learning. 


Perhaps the most remarkable feature of Miang Kum is not simply the different contrasting ingredients, but that you put them all together on one leaf and they work!! You don’t taste just the sour lime or the salty shrimp or the spicy ginger, but all the flavors dance together on the tongue and make such a marvelous, unexpected and thoroughly remarkable taste! 


And that is an Orff Schulwerk class. You don’t know where the math ends and the music begins, where the line is between poetry and song, whether the dancer is the musician or the musician is the dancer. 


The metaphor of Orff Schulwerk and Miang Kum is nearly perfect, but falls short on one count—Miang Kum is an appetizer, a prelude to the main course of reading, writing and arithmetic. It is clear that schools certainly think of the arts as either an appetizer, a dessert or to be struck from the menu altogether, my experience has been decidedly main course. 


And so the table is set, the ingredients set out, the drinks poured— all that’s left is to assemble them in your own way on your own leaf and enjoy!


Sunday, March 26, 2023

A Story for My Grandchildren



Last Saturday night, Mima drove Pop-pop to BART. He took the train to the airport and at midnight, got on the plane to go to Bangkok, Thailand. It was a looooooonnngggg plane ride. But when he arrived at his friend’s house, this was waiting for him.


Every day after teaching at a school, Pop-Pop swam lots of laps. He even went down the slides! And every time he thought to himself, “I wish Zadie and Malik were here!!! They would love this so much!!!” And it made him think that maybe they should all take a trip to Bangkok some day.


After one day to rest, Pop-Pop taught kids at a school— songs, dances, music on xylophones. It was hard to tell who was having more fun— the kids or Pop-Pop!


During the next two days, Pop-Pop taught teachers who worked at a lot of different schools in Bangkok. The teachers came from many different places on every continent. Can you find each of these places on a map? In Africa,Uganda. In North America,Dominican Republic and Idaho. In Europe,Germany, England and Russia. InAsia,Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Korea, Philippines. In Australia, well, Australia. There wasn’t anyone from South America or Antarctica.


Many times, Pop-Pop went out to dinner in beautiful restaurants overlooking a river and ate amazing food like this! Yummy!


On Saturday, Pop-Pop had a “day off” and went with his friends on a little boat trip on the river that goes through the city. We passed many houses where people lived, stores, restaurants and people selling food from their boats in an area called “The Floating Market.

Just as we were lazily floating down the river, the tour guide shouted excitedly, “Look!!” There was an enormous creature that looked like a snake swimming right beside us! It’s called the monitor lizard and this was about 8 feet long! (Pop-Pop could only get a picture of his head). Later on we saw a smaller one. It was a little scary! But apparently they’re harmless.


Thailand is a Buddhist country and we stopped at a big temple and got off to visit some famous Buddha statues so Pop-Pop could say hi to his friend (Buddha). J


Pop-Pop enjoyed the river tour so much that he thought he would like to be a tour guide someday. 



Pop-Pop loved every day of his trip— and seven more to go! But he kept wishing that Zadie and Malik were with him to see the sights and smell the smells and eat the food and meet the wonderful Thai people he knows. And of course, to swim in the pool and go on the river to see the lizard!! 


Hopefully someday. The world is a big, beautiful and surprising place. Pop-Pop is so grateful that he and Mima got to see so much of it and then see more with Kerala and Tita and now hoping to see yet more with Zadie and Malik and Ronnie too!  


                                -THE END (or THE BEGINNING!)

Saturday, March 25, 2023

E= MC 2

Let me confess. I’ve never wholly understood Einstein’s equation as he meant it, but I thoroughly understand my own version. Sometimes at the end of a long day teaching seven classes of kids or six hours teaching one group of adults, people say to me afterward, “You must be exhausted!” And my frank reply is, “Not at all! And why?”

Because E= MC 2.  Energy= Music times Community Squared. 

Music is the gift that keeps on giving. When you teach people music and you teach it well and they therefore play it well, the music comes back to you and does what music does— refreshes you, rejuvenates you, reawakens you. Malvina Reynolds could have also been writing about music when she sang, “Love is something if you give it away… you end up having more.”

And if you teach via the Orff approach and know how to make a group of strangers feel like friends within the first five minutes of the workshop— and more and more with each passing minute in the six hours per day— then another kind of energy sustains you. That rare feeling of being held up by a human community, there to amplify your joy, share your sorrow, deepen your sense of belonging, all by the simple acts of playing, singing, dancing, creating together. A glorious banquet filled with laughter, exuberance, tender silences and occasional tears, food for the soul all.

And so even with jet-lag and three non-stop days of being front and center teaching as a man in his 70’s, I’m here to testify that E= MC 2.

And I believe that Einstein would agree.

Thursday, March 23, 2023

No Apology for Splendor

A while back, I noticed the phenomena of people often saying “Sorry!” if they begin to cry in front of others. Why? Why do we apologize for grief, a natural response to the loss inevitable in the human incarnation, to the distressing daily news and to the unfathomable ways we treat each other? Why ask to be excused from a mere choke in our voice when talking about what matters? Why not just let the tears gush forward and ride the rapids in the embrace of a fellow listener? After all, they’ve suffered too and would be happy to have the same invitation to express sorrow without asking to be forgiven for showing emotion.

Lately, I’m noticing a similar tendency in myself having written about the wholehearted joy of my last few days. And yet another day today worthy of being gift wrapped and remembered as I taught some 30 Bangkok music teachers, many of whom I know from previous courses I've taught, many completely new, but eyes widening at the peek inside the house of music via the Orff approach. They’re tasting the delights at the banquet table and then observing me sharing the meal with 20 eight-year olds who just had me smiling from bottom to top for the too-short 50 minutes we were together. 

Looking back at the titles of my last four posts— “Enough/ Glorious/ Tropical Splendor/ Small Miracles”— I had the weird sensation of doubting whether I should publicly share my joy like this. Would the readers be annoyed, would I appear to be boasting, do people really care about hearing about other’s happiness? Knowing how much more people relate to our admissions of frailty, of vulnerability, of bad luck, of feeling betrayed or unjustly accused or wronged, should I apologize for noting this brief window of unabashed gladness in getting to keep doing what I love so much? 

Perhaps yes if it comes across at gloating. But knowing that I’ve paid many dues down in the swamp of human misery and more awaits me, why not simply appreciate the gifted glory of the moment? And share with others? I would hope that readers would feel more uplifted than annoyed, more encouraged to remember their own tiny delights, more content to know that it is possible to do what one was put on earth to do, with both proper humility and firm ownership of one’s joy. A gentle reminder that love is possible, that children can radiant their lovely selves yet brighter when an adult notices them and gives them worthy work and praises them for their efforts and their genius, that a single gust of a cool afternoon breeze after a day well spent is enough to shout “Hallelujah! We are here and we are splendid.”

No apology needed.

Wednesday, March 22, 2023


I awaken to the butterfly of happiness perched on my shoulder, the delicate beating of its wings the breeze from the ceiling fan above. The music of rooster crows and cooing morning birds stirs the strings of the heart and the lightening dawn opens it arms to embrace me and whisper, “Come. The day awaits. “  

All that I think I need— shedding five pounds, reading the news story I’ve waited seven years for, answering opportunity’s knock on the door — drops away. This moment, this life, this body and mind— it is enough. 


Yet another glorious day working with children. This one at St. Andrew’s school in Bangkok. Games, songs, dances, Orff instrument ensemble  with classes ranging from pre-k to grade 8, each one without exception fulfilling my standard for success— both the students and the teacher left the class happier than when they walked in. 

But that was just the warm-up. The happiness quotient increased exponentially when I did an hour long class for the staff of the school. I was mightily impressed by their willingness to sing, to dance, to make letter shapes with their whole bodies, to spell words with their whole bodies in groups of four, to create little performances based on rhyming opposites, to play the marvelous Stations game in which  they come up with words from one letter— like “Tina Turner teaching Tai-Chi to turtles”— and silently act it out to my piano music. The room was a-buzz with laughter, delight, appreciation of each other’s notable creativity and not a second passed where people itched to look at their phones or wondered how many more slides in the Powerpoint. In short, it was so much damn fun! 

And as if that weren’t enough (it is!), all activities were things they could translate to their classroom and do with their kids, all of them are proven to increase kids understanding, motivation, self-confidence,. And yet more perks— teachers working together, playing together, discovering things about each other that they never have learned nor could learning sitting around the oh-so-tedious agenda. 

I could not praise them enough. That spirit of adults in a living, loving, trusting, imaginative and creative community together has receded further and further away in the current “gotach” climate, the endless national standards, the well-meaning but so ineffective trainings about what’s acceptable that has everyone tiptoeing around on eggshells, that increasingly top-down management from a bulky administration. People, people, people! Can’t we just have fun together? Relax a bit? And when serious trespasses occur, not consult a script, but actually sit down and talk. And combine it with singing and dancing to put it all into the larger context of shared humanity. 

I know it’s possible. I lived a community like that for some 30 of my 45 years teaching and lived

 it again today. And believe you me, it was glorious. 

Monday, March 20, 2023

Tropical Splendor

 I leave my house in San Francisco and drive 15 minutes to the BART train. Wait ten, travel 20 to the airport, some two and a half hours for check in, security, waiting at the gate and another hour plus sitting on the plane, delayed as usual. Off we go for the 14 hour flight to Hong Kong, then five hour layover, some of it spent sleeping on the airport floor. Another four hours to Bangkok, 30 minutes Customs and luggage, picked up at the airport for the hour plus drive to the home where I will be staying. From door to door, some 27 hours total. The things we will do for the privilege of getting to play, sing and dance with stellar human beings.

So  here I am, back in familiar territory and the heart rousing despite a sore too-long-sitting body, uninspired food , little sleep and jet lag. Back in the land of little Buddhist shrines, the Muslim call to prayer, evening rooster calls and tropical bird songs. Heat and humidity tempered by ceiling fans and breezes, a snack of tropical fruits, a swim in a large empty pool. The 8th floor apartment with a 180 degree view of the city, the muddy river below, distant large buildings, small food stalls, the sounds of motorbikes. 

It is a home of sorts, one of many that I’ve known and loved in over a half-century of travel. It could be Bali or Ghana or Costa Rica or Rio de Janeiro, but it’s not. It’s Bangkok, a place my wife and I first visited on a year-long trip around the world in 1979, Driving on the freeway from the airport into the city, I vividly recall that same drive 44 years ago. Coming from five months in India, it was a bit of a culture shock re-entering the world of freeways, liquor stores, televisions and bathtubs in hotel rooms and streets choked with traffic. A life we had left behind in India and now seemed briefly strange and alien.

It would be another twenty plus years before I returned, this time teaching Orff workshops at International School Conferences, International Schools and the local Thai Orff Association. Some 30 to 40 Thai music teachers have come to our Orff training in California and it has been such a delight to be hosted by them and toured through their home territory, visiting temples, museums, parks, festivals and of course, Thai restaurants! 

Bangkok is a big, bustling city and not on any ocean, but the delight of waking up without having to huddle against the cold, hearing the sounds, smelling the smells, tasting the extraordinary foods brings me into a euphoric state of tropical splendor. While I will never, ever, retire in Florida, a state hosting two of the worst human beings on the planet doing their best to kill our last hopes of knowing our history and defiling our humanity, I feel a sense of belonging to a culture dressed in shorts and relaxed temperatures. A day ahead to recover before four different short Orff courses here in Bangkok and then another one in Macau. Returning to this blog's title, a traveling music teacher still alive and well singing a version of the old jazz standard, “I’m Confessin’ That I Love It.”


Saturday, March 18, 2023

Small Miracles

I am not impressed with the Virgin birth, the Maccabees oil or the latest sighting of Elvis. But I am constantly amazed by those small, serendipitous congruities that seem wholly accidental, but suggest some hidden guiding hands. For example:

1) In planning what piece to play with the colleague I’m mentoring, I suggested a piece from another country that introduced a style, meter and musical concept that the 6thgraders had yet to experience. The perfect song popped into my head and I remembered it simply as Bolivian Folk Song. Off we went.

2) When my colleague asked for the score, I couldn’t find it in my Sibelius file with that title. I dug back into my files to find a little book I made in 1984 to go with the first cassette tape recording I made of my students title Music from Five Continents.There it was— Bolivian Folk Song. But it was a different tune!

3) Digging back in the dusty archives of my musical memory, I could hear it being played by a group I knew from the 80’s named Sukay. Looked all through Youtube and Spotify and couldn’t find the song. Steeled myself to go down to the basement with my 1000 LP records, but first checked out the 10 I had upstairs sitting on the turntable. And the first? That very Sukay album!! With the real name of the song we were playing: Flor de Santa Cruz. (The first little hint of a guiding hand.)

4) I thought a little more about that other Bolivian song I recorded, trying to remember where I learned it and there was some out-of-focus distant memory of visiting a man and a woman in their apartment while they taught it to me. And that was that. Until…

4.) Yesterday, about a month after these little events, I walked out of the Arboretum and bumped into my wife’s friend Marcia who I had biked with in Italy. She introduced me to her friend Francine and told me that she was a musician also who played flute. We exchanged pleasantries and as I walked away, I said, “Nice to meet you!” 10 seconds later, Marcia said, “Actually, Francine just asked me your last name and said she already met you a long time ago at Cazadero Music Camp.” I walked back and tried to identify the year and the people we knew in common. Off I went again and then stopped, “Did Marcia say earlier that you played music from the Andes?” “Yes.” “Did you used to play with a man as your musical partner?” “Yes.” “Okay, this is bizarre, but do you recognize this song?” And I sang her the one from the Music from Five Continents tape. She said she recognized it, but didn’t remember the name. And I told her I think she taught it to me!

5) They were in a hurry, so we said goodbye, I went home, got out that cassette tape and read the liner notes. Nothing in the song description about who I learned it from. And then finally, in a little paragraph of thanks, there it was:” Thanks to Franzy and Lorenzo.” (see below)

Bingo!! Move over, Elvis!!

Go back over this little story— the initial impulse to choose a song for 6th grade, the confusion with another Bolivian folk song, the dim, dim memory of how I learned it, happening to bump into Marcia who happened to be with Franzy who just happened to be her friend who just happened to recognizes me from Cazadero (almost 40 years ago!) who I happened to associate with this song to finding that little thanks on the tape liner notes that of course I saved instead of throwing it out as my wife would like me to do! 

These are the small little miracles that astound me. And now, of course, I have to teach that second Bolivian folk song to the other 6th grade.


Friday, March 17, 2023

Move to Germany

March 17, USA Today: West Palm Beach, Fla. — A Florida English professor whose lessons about racial justice put him at odds with his university's administrators has been fired. 

“Racism is a thing of the past.” How I wish that this was true. Amongst the people I know, I would say we’ve made tremendous progress in my lifetime and if you look at the surface signs— people of color more thoroughly represented and included in TV ads, the Oscars, the bookstores, children’s dolls, emojis, Diversity trainings abounding, TV shows and movies from even 15 years ago making us feel uncomfortable, a black reparations proposal in San Francisco in yesterday’s news—you might agree.


But the country as a whole is so far from healing, mostly because of the refusal of a large portion of the country to want to heal. Healing begins by admitting the atrocity of Native American genocide and African slavery and taking the collective steps to acknowledge it, apologize for it, educate the next generation and begin to repair it. Precisely what so many Americans would rather not do because it takes effort, is painful and challenges our unearned privilege. Precisely what Germany has done in the face of its Nazi past. Here are some comparisons from Isabel Wilkerson’s book Caste (pp. 346-47):


In Germany, displaying the swastika is a crime punishable by up to three years in prison.

In the United States, the rebel flag is incorporated into the official state flag of Mississippi and hung outside courthouses and legislative buildings up until recently. It is displayed on the backs of pick-up trucks throughout the north and south.


• In Germany, few people will proudly admit to having been related to Nazis or will openly defend the Nazi cause. In America, at Civil War reenactments throughout the country, more people typically sign up to fight on the side of the Confederates than for the Union.


• In Germany, some of the Nazis who did not kill themselves were tracked down and forced to stand trial for crimes against humanity. In America, slaveholders and Confederate generals like Robert E. Lee became an esteemed college president and Jefferson Davis  wrote his memoirs from his plantation in Mississippi. Both were granted state funerals with military honors and were revered with statues and monuments.


• In Germany, restitution has rightly been paid and continues to be paid, to survivors of the Holocaust. In America, it was the slaveholders who got restitution, not the people whose lives and wages were stolen from them for twelve generations. Those who instilled terror on black Americans over the following century after the formal end of slavery, those who tortured and killed humans before thousands of onlookers in lynchings, not only went free but rose to become leading figures—southern governors, senators, sheriffs, businessmen, mayors.


• Germany has no monuments that celebrate the Nazi armed forces. America has well over 1700 and to this day, there is backlash every time one is removed.


• In Germany, it is a mandatory part of every school curriculum, even for grade school students, to learn about the horrors of the Holocaust and visit the death camps. In America, visits to plantations (ie forced labor camps) are mostly about landscape and architecture (black-run Whitney Plantation the one exception) and school children not only are not required to learn about the horrors of slavery, but now at least 36 states have adopted or introduced laws or policies that restrict teaching about race and racism. (Boldface mineWith 2022 state legislative sessions underway, new legislation is in the pipeline.


Add to the mix above the Charlottesville riot with Confederate and Nazi flags proudly displayed and the American president publicly commenting “There were good people on both sides,” the Alabama bill making it illegal to remove any monument that has been in place for twenty years or more (ie, all Confederate monuments), the new laws restricting voting rights, the tidal wave move to ban books, today’s news of the Florida professor fired for teaching about racial justice in a University (boldface mine, to accent the mission of higher education to foster free thought and critical thinking) and you get a bleak picture and clear summary of why we are still so stuck in the racism quagmire. 


Which leaves us with two choices:

1) Get to work.

2) Move to Germany.


Thursday, March 16, 2023

What's the Difference?


“The question is not what you look at, but what you see.”  -Thoreau


There is a difference between looking and seeing. 


There is a difference between listening and hearing.


There is a difference between eating and tasting. 


There is a difference between information and knowledge.


There is a difference between knowledge and wisdom.


There is a difference between instructing and teaching.


Etc. (Add your own here.)


Today’s pop quiz: What’s the difference? 

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Death and Taxes

Years back, I started to make a list for a Day of the Dead ceremony. I realized that in order to honor the departed, I needed to remember exactly who I had known who passed on. I divided the list into categories—family, friends, neighbors, people from school, people from the Orff world and so on. I didn’t include public figures who I admired and who influenced me (R.I.P. Wayne Shorter) unless I had some personal contact with them.


One of the great sorrows of aging is the lengthening of that list of loss. (And one of the great gratitudes is that I am not yet on that list.) Just yesterday, I added four more people— a school alum parent, a sibling of a dear friend and two people from the Orff world. I’m sure I’ve missed some people, but as of now, there’s 185 people on the list and each time I add one, I read through it all and remember each of them. It’s always bittersweet to realize how much I miss some of them while also being grateful that I knew them. If you haven’t made such lists yourself, I highly recommend it. I know deep in my bones that the departed like being remembered, as I imagine we will be and it’s a simple way to honor their memory.


Then there’s the second of life’s sureties— taxes. They’re due soon and as always, I’m resisting digging up the numbers. It’s on my list today and every word I write here helps me procrastinate. But that doesn’t make it go away. When I pass over to the other world, there’s a few things I won’t miss— news about Republicans, visits to the dentist and… taxes. Wish me luck!

PS I heard a rumor that the April 15th date in California is extended until October and my tax accountant confirmed it's true! 7 months more to procrastinate! Now I wonder if I can ask for an extension for whatever date the Grim Reaper has marked. 

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Windy Weather


Windy weather, windy weather

When the wind blows, we all come back together.”


This little children’s game ended up being a central piece of my story. It was taught by a man giving an Orff workshop at The San Francisco School who was fired for incompetence and I volunteered to take over. After one class, they decided to hire me as their first music teacher— and I stayed on for 45 years. I’m eternally grateful to that man, whose name I don’t remember and never met again. And that little game is kind of fun!


It is a seriously windy day out, so much so that I cancelled my planned walk to visit yet another school and consult with the Orff teacher and am waiting for my wife to come home with the car. Gusts between 25 and 30 miles an hour and trees using their mycorrhizal network to warn each other to hold fast. Feeling trapped indoors, I decided to finish Isabel Wilkerson’s superb book Casteand just closed it having read her vision of a world without caste. So simple, so close at hand, yet so elusive as we keep letting the winds of the past blow us around and knock us off any track that considers our shared humanity. The winds that blow send multiple messages, but the one we could choose— and so often refuse— is the simple reminder that we’re all in this together and that when we claim privilege, consciously or unconsciously, we not only hurt those we place beneath us, but we hurt each ourselves, our families, our friends, our neighbors. “When the wind blows, we all come back together.” Yes, we could and yes, we can and yes, some of us do much of the time and yes, many of us do some of the time, but what’s missing is the clear and shared commitment. 


All these children’s games I’ve played for so many years carry multiple layers of meaning for me. Old Man Mosie, Old King Glory, The Mulberry Bush, Lemonade Crunch Ice. Thinking about writing a new book, kind of like The Tao According to Pooh, a look at deep principles of Right Living through the lens of children’s games. A good project for rainy/windy days.


Any encouragement?

Monday, March 13, 2023

Fairy Dust

Right and wrong. Ah, there’s a conversation. The path to discovering what’s right in this world walks hand-in-hand with our sense of what’s wrong. The talk between the two is constant and always shifting and we need to be careful about which gets more floor time. It doesn’t take much before the litany of what’s wrong turns into whining and constant complaint and the sense from others that it’s a drag to be around the negative Nancy in the crowd. Likewise, the sunny Pollyanna who thinks everything is awesome and amazing might just be ignoring some of the shadows that keep evil and injustice in business. 


After my posts about Religious Trauma, I read the next chapter in Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste and felt compelled to share yet another of her deep insights—the stark contrast between how Germany deals with its Nazi past and how the U.S. deals with its legacy of slavery. This is important information and the kind of muddy path of Wrongs we need to slog through before reaching any path leading to Right.  I believe this is worth posting and worth reading and worthy of reflection. Stay tuned.


Meanwhile, I just returned from singing with some 60 k-2nd graders at yet another school (my 6th school in the past month) and that was about as Right as you can get. My only complaint? The allotted 35 minutes whizzed by too fast and we only got to sing six of the twelve songs I hoped we would. I suggested that I come back again and there was a palpable YES!! from kids and teachers alike. A group of kids, a guitar and me is enough for a quick trip to heaven on earth and this was especially poignant because the parent who invited me was a former student of mine at The San Francisco School who wanted her kindergarten son to experience what she did. She got off work to attend, testified that she knew every song I sang and sat so happily with her son on her lap singing them. Like I said, heaven on earth.


On writing these words, I recall many years back singing with some 100 plus kids in a lovely room in Scotland and that one lasted over an hour. When I reluctantly ended, I began to pack up and five minutes later, one of the teachers told me that one of the kids said to her in a hushed reverent tone:


“That man was magical.”


I suspected he felt the beauty and energy of people gathered to sing together and it opened his heart in a way that singing can do. But there was more to the story. The teacher asked:


“Why do you think that?”


“Because while he was singing, I saw some fairy dust around his head.”


It turned out that a shaft of light came into the room illuminating dust the way it does. This little boy noticed it and connected it to the energy in the room and came to the inevitable conclusion— there was magic in the air.


Today I go off to another school to sing to two more classes. Let’s see if the fairy dust appears.