Monday, July 31, 2023

Watch Out for Yourself

Last post, in my imaginary workshop with skeptical teachers unconvinced that children might play their way to understanding, I tried to hit the nerve of their unspoken oath to help make children happy. But truth be told, many teachers never got that memo and that very idea is new to them. 


So Plan B is to have them reflect on how they feel after a day of teaching where the kids were unengaged, distracted, bored or just plain miserable. When kids are unhappy, they’re usually pretty comfortable letting you know it, one way or another. So if the altruistic notion of serving the future of humanity feels too lofty for you and beyond your skill set, consider this:


Misery begets misery. Happiness begets happiness. When you teach children like they are children, believe in their intelligence and intrinsic motivation to figure things out and understand their deep need to play around with things, be they be objects or ideas, you might notice that their awakened curiosity and joyful energy starts to come back to you. Suddenly, you’re a little less exhausted than you usually are and in some cases, mysteriously energized and maybe even—gasp!— downright happy after a long day of teaching! So it’s 100% in your interest to consider doing things differently than you have been taught— unless you’ve been taught by inspired, loving teachers. In which case, notice why you felt good in their presence when you were their student and strive to emulate it.


Make sense? Now who’s going to hire me for this workshop?

Watch the Children

I talked with a frustrated teacher the other day and felt my heart sink. She described trying to advocate for more play for the young children in her school and was told the school would form a “play committee” and she should bring in the “latest research” for the committee to consider. Even worse, the other teachers on the committee were resistant, asking the wrong questions like “How can we teach them to play?” How far we have fallen.


I suggested to the teacher that they invite me up to talk to those teachers and the admin about the importance of play. I always offer things like this, like giving a workshop to Board of Education people about grades or arts education or the mandatory sharing of the classes objectives at the beginning of each, what have you. I imagine giving a workshop where I can drive my points home forcibly enough through a hands-on experience that it might break through the armor of pedagogical dogma. That’s my fantasy,


But no one has ever, ever taken me up on it. So I keep preaching to the choir of people who sign up for my classes because they’re already pre-disposed to certain ideas of education. But I wonder what it would actually be like to try to work with those teachers who don’t understand the value, the need, the pleasure of play and whether I could actually open their minds to another point of view.


It’s clear that scientific research and quotes from any number of authors in all sorts of fields would have no effect whatsoever. I think my approach would be to bring the children into the conversation, as follows:

1) When you teach in the way you do, are the children happy?


2) Do you notice if they are or not?


3) Do you care?


4) Is it effective? Ie, do you get the results you hope for?


5) Are they motivated, engaged, curious?


If the answers to the above or no, I’d follow with “Well, there you go. Whatever you think is the right way to teach or have learned or accepted from someone else, it doesn’t count for a hill of beans if it doesn’t reach the children. 


Perhaps then I’d teach one class with them observing and ask them to honestly critique the results. Then we’d be ready for the needed conversation.


Any takers?


Sunday, July 30, 2023

The Acceleration Effect

Sunday. Not exactly a day of rest. Finished correcting some homework, played some Bach recorder/piano sonatas with our virtuoso recorder teacher, had brunch at Jeffrey’s, our ritual restaurant. From there, rented electric bikes in Carmel with my good friend Estevao and we whisked around the 17-mile Drive and back, enjoying the brisk fog-tinged air, the characteristic Monterey cyprus and pine trees, the fresh feel of the ocean. Returned late afternoon for a short swim and cornhole with one of my students, who claimed he had never played— and beat me 21 to 1 the first game! Just for the record, I beat him 21 to 3 the second game, we were tied at 17-17 the third game and then I won. But hey, I’m not competitive!:-)


A hearty lasagna dinner with six Spanish-speaking men and a pleasure to exercise both my Spanish and social muscles. Love these guys! And then showed a movie in the theater here, Bela Fleck’s Throw Down Your Heart. Interesting that after reflecting on the pacing, editing, range of emotion, variety in my own Secret Song film that I felt critical of this film’s editing. But still a good story with fabulous music.


Back to my room to gather the notes from the first week to load into Google Classroom for the students and prepare tomorrow’s classes. Before dinner, we had a faculty dinner going through the details we need to attend to in each of the remaining five days and it struck me as it always does how fast this second week will go. Some law of time that the first three days or so of a course or a vacation in a new place feel like a lifetime and then everything accelerates and before you know it, boom! it’s over. Has any scientist studied this phenomena?


Not a happy truth as often look back at something that happened that felt it was recent and was actually 12 years ago. Then I add 12 to 72 and think that these years will go yet faster and it’s not a happy math equation. I wonder if as Ram Dass aged whether he was able to stick with the practice of “Be Here Now.” I am fully here now and love both the here and the now, but am less thrilled with how quickly those nows will keep rolling into each other.


But nothing new here. The same astonishment all aging people feel— where did all those years go? Meanwhile, tomorrow’s another day. 


It’s no secret that I like to talk. Yesterday, I met many students at the laundromat and while the clothes were romping around in the dryer, someone asked me a question and off I went. It was as if they put a quarter in my mouth and round I went for 15 minutes. I then warned them that if they put in another quarter, they’d have to listen until the cycle stopped. An apt image.


But here’s a surprise confession. I also like to listen. Ask someone a question that requires them to dig into their own stories and authentic truths. And then sit back and feel their words express so eloquently both the things I already value and some I hadn’t considered yet. 


So though it might seem like a chore to read the Level III assignment asking their response to reading a chapter from my book (me talking again, but a springboard to their own eloquence), I was so moved by both their perceptions and poetic expression of them. So here, I’ll close my mouth and let their voices fill the space. They’ve come here to consider how to get closer to inspired, effective and dynamic teaching that gives children precisely what they need and want. To discard the ineffectual ways in which they were trained or schooled and do the hard work of “teaching as they have not been taught.” And as the examples below testify, they get it. And are determined to be the teacher their children deserve. Some examples:


“The most beautiful scene in my mind is the happy face on each of the students when they are hungry to show others what they have learned in music class. I can feel how much they enjoy the class and feel like my efforts are worthy.”


“In one class I taught, I led a lesson in which no part of the activity felt like learning: it was 100% play. Yet, the lesson was packed with educational nutrients— like hiding spinach in a delicious fruit smoothie.”


“When I was a Boy Scout, we usually cooked our own food and at the beginning it was awful. Burnt or not cooked enough, with too much or too little salt. We gradually got tips from more experienced cooks, asked our parents for help at home, kept trying out dishes and gradually the taste got better and better. Later I came to understand that it was precisely the mistakes we made that eventually helped us become good cooks.”


“We are not children anymore, but every summer in this course we have the chance to remember what it feels like to be surprised, hypnotized and excited by music. It’s like a summer romance, a summer love who you only can meet once a year, but with whom you spend a magic time together. It’s also interesting to notice how important prescision is to keep that romance deep and alive.”


“ Today’s teachers are often mandated to write the daily agenda on the board, followed by giving a scripted verbal summary of the day’s activities. All this before the first note is played, sung or felt. The way we do something first here and discuss it later (instead of the other way around) answers my frustrations being a teacher forced to operate in a system of onerous compliance, with little or no consideration for the children who are forced to endure it.”


“One of the goals I now have is to make a concerted effort to harness the unexpected.”


“ When I began teaching via the Orff approach, I discovered that I love to play. And that the kids love to play. We all love to play together! Music class is super fun and I love teaching. Yes!


But I also understand that play can blossom into precision and precision can serve the kids with its own form of power. Shift the attitude towards ‘Look at the wonderful things we can do!” to “See how much more we understand!” Before this course, I felt Precision and Romance as oppositional forces and now I am beginning to understand them as complementary. When Precision enters, Romance doesn’t leave—it gets a cool new dance partner!”


“Today in class, time stopped and I suddenly understood that I must walk this path with compassion at my side, accompany my students in their pain and joy, hope and solitude. …I need to make each class a happy place, an imaginative place built meticulously through the details of inspired teaching. I realized that no matter how good the music is, it will only be an ornament if I don’t hold the students in my heart, don’t observe them, listen to them, accompany them, rescue them if necessary. I need to live in polyharmony, where all tension and dissonance can resolve into a powerful major chord. “


To all the above, I add only one word. 



Saturday, July 29, 2023

Five Word Mantra

And so my 72nd birthday came and went. I spent most of it teaching these 27 beautiful souls and running out of adjectives to properly describe the splendor of it all. Without any paperwork or immigration officers, we traveled to Bulgaria, Hungary, Azerbhaijan, Renaissance Europe, China, Lithuania and unlocked yet further faculties of our soul through the beneficent genius of musical cultures present in us all. Each gifted freely to us without any fuss about cultural appropriation, because they all are co-present in each and every one of us and properly approached, remind us that we are all vehicles of a shared consciousness. 


At lunch that day, we took our annual group photo that usually grouped us by country with each holding up paper versions of flags, but decided that such flags represented a divisive message— things like the tension between Catalonia and Spain, California and Florida, Turkey and Armenia. So instead opted for a big sheet of paper with the word “Welcome” in all the different languages represented in our gathering. That felt better.


Off with the faculty that night for our annual dinner out and movie. I was hoping for “Barbie” but both the movie times and the group energy leaned more towards “Indiana Jones.” It was pretty much what we expected, somewhat “fun,” but the 25 minutes of coming attractions of horrendous bam/bam/ explode/ monster/ panic/fear crap was truly dispiriting and hard to sit through. I had some naïve notion that Hollywood would stop making these after the pandemic, understanding we needed a break from feeding our brain stems and profiting by targeting our fears. What was I thinking? The sheer volume of human resources, both our work, our thinking, our imagination, our money to pump out this garbage, is mind-boggling. Aaaarggh!!!


Meanwhile, I felt the likes and loves from the usual assortment of folks in my life— people from high school, college, my old school community, a few performing musicians, neighbors, family, of course and large group of Orff colleagues and students I’ve trained around the country and around the world. Facebook, Messenger, Whatsapp, phone texts, e-mails, a few actual phone calls and the live greetings of the 100 or so teachers gathered here. The sense of being appreciated for having been born was present and welcomed.


And by me as well! For the moment, I’m blessed with good health, an alert and still ever-probing mind, a feeling heart, a sense of passion and purpose, the surprising feeling of being at the top of my game in teaching, writing and piano playing with both the possibility of and determination to continue the upward ascent to a larger view. My hearing keeps diminishing (though the hearing aids I’m resisting will certainly help with that) and there are some disturbing features in the mirror, but hey, I’m not on the market for attracting romance with my good looks, so why care? At the end of the day (which was actually 2am when I finally got home), my feelings about the whole thing can be succinctly summed up in the title of an interested airplane movie I once saw, a useful 5-word mantra.


Happy. Thank you. More please.


Friday, July 28, 2023

Culture of Connection

 I gave my talk last night with this title, some with the help of slides and videos to drive points home. Here are some of the opening thoughts, with more to follow (or not).

Since this talk is based on what it takes to rear children who feel connection in their lives, it’s a good idea to define our terms. The root of “con-nect” is “con”— with— and necto—to bind. To connect is to bind together things that create suffering when apart and separate. Note that “bind” is closely related to “bond,” that essential non-negotiable experience all mammals require. A child who is properly bonded with the mother and nurtured by related adults in the family is a child ready to take on the adventure of life, the peaks and pitfalls alike. It’s safe to say that bonding is the foundation of all mental, emotional and physical health to come.


Here I hope to talk about the things that are in our power to control, particularly the work of schools. As much as we’d like to, it’s not up to us to guarantee that every child who eventually crosses into school is properly bonded. But if we understand the kind of connections all children (and adults) need and organize our thinking, our practice, our schedule, our decisions, around them, then we have the possibility of making a significant impact. 


Since my audience is you lovely and courageous and dedicated music teachers, I’ll mostly speak about how music and dance, properly taught (ie, with fun, love and imagination) can be one of the deepest and significant paths to a connected life. Having defined connection as the binding together of things that should not be separated, let’s look specifically at the various aspects of connection we might aspire to, both for our children and ourselves. Note that it might be difficult or even impossible to feel connected equally in all eight ways, but even one authentic point of connection can be enough to save a life from all the maladies that are running rampant in our culture— loneliness, isolation, powerlessness, marginalization— and the yet more extreme epidemics of depression, alcohol abuse, drug addiction, opoid dependence, violence, abuse, suicide and yet more. Here is a beginning list to consider:





1) With one’s own physical body. In your body. Work, sports, exercise, with dance at the height of kinesthetic intelligence. 


2) With one’s own emotions. Capacity to feel nuanced feelings and to name feelings. Music is the language of emotion, able to affirm and express and celebrate what we feel.


3) With one’s own potential to shape one’s destiny, to engage in a discipline that requires consistent effort and reaps results. Again sports, but also music and dance.


4) With the full range of one’s multiple intelligences: Kinesthetic, musical, visual-spatial, mathematical, linguistic, intrapersonal, interpersonal


5) With people. Play, play and again play. Music and dance two of the strongest connecting points, as sounds and bodies blend to create something beautiful, powerful, harmonious and larger than our small selves. 


6) With ancestors. Singing the songs, playing the pieces, dancing the dances and feeling the presence of those who came before. 


7) With descendants,sustaining what is essential in culture and nature and creating something new for the future to enjoy.


8) With the unseen world, with magic, with mystery, with wonder. Religion without dogma. Indeed, root of religion comes from ligare, to bind and re-, to connect again having lost touch with our original Buddha Nature or been expelled from the Garden of Eden.


Here where I’m witnessing so much delight in the way we have come together to play, sing and dance, I imagine you all benefitting from at least some of these multiple connections coming alive for you, having lost so many in the workaday world we all have to face. And by so doing, renew your determination to help the children you teach feel welcomed, valued, seen, connected. 

Thursday, July 27, 2023

Farewell to 71

Tonight I gave my lecture titled “The Culture of Connection.” I spoke about my experience in Ghana and the multiple lessons it had to teach about kids, culture, community and what’s really important in this life. Knowing what health looks and feels like in actual human beings and gatherings of human beings, the gap between our possibility and our day-to-day experience in an increasingly toxic-to-the-human-spirit culture, I naturally had to compare and contrast. If we don’t have a name for our disease and/or recognize its symptoms, we have no hope of an accurate diagnosis and possible healing. Not the happiest of topics, but balanced by the opening videos of happy kids in Ghana and some closing words about the happiness we’re all experiencing together in this Orff retreat. 


It was yet another glorious day, where every minute of my five hours teaching was glowing with exuberance, laughter, joy and powerful music and dance. Tomorrow I’ll spend most of my birthday doing exactly what I was born to do with people I’m happy to be doing it with. And then look forward to a night out on the town, dinner and a movie with our fab faculty.

Meanwhile, some birthday wishes on Facebook are trickling in and I was moved by one from a woman in Iran. Lovely words and sentiments to close out my 71st year. 


Doug to me symbolizes a teacher whose first word is love, a love that makes commitment and a commitment that is human-made. I learned from Doug, besides the technical issues, that love for work, commitment and teamwork is enough to nurture humans and everything else will go ahead. Happy birthday to my dear Doug 🎉


More than I deserve, but hey, who am I to say? Alongside a quote from one of my current Level III students that I used to end my talk, encouraging words to help me begin my first step of the next circle around the sun.


Sometimes, during the classes, an atmosphere is created that takes us to a common place where everyone can participate and be happy, and that's the ideal world where I want to live.


Me, too, my friend. And against all odds, it’s the world I am living in. Onward!




Wednesday, July 26, 2023

The Doug Goodkin Lecture Series

I’ve long known that I’m a preacher without a pulpit, a public speaker without a podium, a lecturer without an audience— unless I create one. So back in 1996, when the Summer Orff Training Course I’m currently teaching was in Mills College, I created a ritual time to give a talk once during the two weeks. Like this blogpost, my articles and books, it has been both a way for me to coherently gather my thoughts and make them presentable and also a way to share that which I think is worthy of sharing. The Orff Approach turned out to be a hospitable Venn diagram with education, child-raising, community, neuroscience, ritual and ceremony, psychology, anthropology, social justice, history and so much more. So each year I checked in what seemed to be of interest to me at the moment and set to work.


I should be preparing my talk tomorrow, a blend of showing slides and videos from Ghana and not only celebrating the genius of their ideas about music education, but cross-referencing with the current book I’m reading by Gabor Maté: The Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness and Healing in a Toxic Culture.  Last year’s talk was titled Trauma, Loss and Healing, but here I want to take a new slant to show what we can learn from other cultures without over-romanticizing them. Consider how to adapt their lessons into our own unique cultural situation, particularly the culture of schools. 


I should be preparing that lecture now! But when I searched for what I talked about last year, I miraculously found a list of all my talk titles since 1996. That’s enough to reveal both the depth of the Schulwerk and my own peculiar habit of non-stop reflection and trying to connect the dots between things that are usually kept separate. I’m sure I’ll share snippets of tomorrow’s talk here later, but meanwhile, enjoy these titles and see if you find any intriguing. Not that I could necessarily find the actual talk, as some were oral presentations based on little drawings I made on butcher paper (which I think I actually have in some drawer at home). Anyway, here they are:

-       Trauma, Loss and Healing— Aug. ‘22

-       Blend in; Stand Out—Aug. ‘21

-       Teach Like It’s Music— Aug. ‘19

-       Character in the Music Classroom— Aug. ‘18

-       Social Justice and Music Education— Aug. ‘17

-       Ritual, Ceremony and Orff Schulwerk— Aug. ‘16

-       The Humanitarian Musician— Aug. ‘15

-       Keeping the Wild in the Wildflower—Aug. ‘14

-       Jazz and Orff Schulwerk—Aug. ‘13

-       Motivation and School Culture—Aug. ’12

-       Brain Rules—Aug. ’11

-       Assessment in Orff Schulwerk– Aug. ‘10

-       Opening and Closing—Aug. 09

-       The Legacy of Carl Orff—Aug. 08

-     Orff Schulwerk as a Calling—Aug. ’06

-     The ABC’s of Education—Aug. ’05

-     Assessment: An Orff Schulwerk Perspective—Aug. ‘04

-    Orff Schulwerk, Colonialism and Relationship—Aug. '03

            -    Music Education in the Fast food Nation—Aug. '02

            -    The Roaring Twenties: Culture in Transition—Aug. '01

            -   Chutes and Ladders: The Chakras in Education—Aug. '00

            -   The Cycle of Learning: The Ideas of Alfred North Whitehead—Aug. '99

            -   Orality and Literacy—Aug. '98

               Multiple Intelligences and Orff Schulwerk—Aug. '97

            -   The Triune Brain and Its Educational Implications—Aug. '96


4 am

It’s no surprise that people my age (or any ages?) often get up once, twice or even three times each night to pee. I certainly do, but I always immediately get back to sleep.


Until recently. For the past eight nights or so, I awake at 4 am and can’t get back to sleep. It’s maddening. It’s not jet lag. I’m not, to my knowledge, worried about anything or anxious. Occasionally, I have a class plan or a blogpost thought that insists on getting written down before I lose it. But really, there’s no reason I can think of for this new annoying body habit.


Mostly, after jotting something down (like tonight at 4:14 am), I might read for a bit and eventually get back to sleep. And strangely, I don’t feel tired the next day or need to go to bed earlier the next night. But still, when I awake and feel, “Dang! I can tell I’m not getting back to sleep!” it’s not a happy feeling. 


I’ve known people with insomnia and have great compassion for them, thinking how difficult it is. Am I about to join them? Are you one of them, reading this at 4:14 am?


I hope not— to both questions. Good night.

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

What's Wrong With Mi

In teaching my class today about drones accompanying different pentatonic modes, I noted that in C pentatonic, Do and Sol are the drone notes, but in the Re mode it’s Re and La. When I moved up one note, I asked “What’s wrong with Mi?” One beat later, I had the presence of mind to say “Don’t answer that!!” as I could see the students mentally preparing their list of my many flaws. Ha ha!


It became a standing joke of the day, that substitution of Me for Mi and to be honest, my most truthful answer would be “Everything. And nothing.” In other words, short of the extremes of drug addiction, murder, hate speech and the like, I’ve made the usual mistakes we human beings customarily make. Not loving enough, loving the wrong thing or person too much, backing down when I should have spoken up, speaking up when I should have backed down, the usual childhood mischief, too much self-doubt, too much unwarranted self-confidence— shall I go on?


At the same time, all of it was necessary to the life that chose me to live it, all of it led me to do the work I’ve done that I occasionally got right and not only felt uplifted myself, but almost inadvertently helped someone else by seeing their promise or listening to their hurt and just letting them know even without words that I loved being in their presence when they needed that kind of assurance. One of the great gifts of aging gracefully is realizing that you are precisely who you are and that it’s beautiful and necessary, flaws and all. To forgive yourself and in so doing, start down that long difficult path of forgiving others and helping them to forgive themselves.


While my Orff colleagues and I crow from the rooftops the healing nature of this work where everyone feels blessed and emerges stronger and surer, on some level, we’re kidding ourselves. Maybe some or even most do, but not before they hit many walls and find themselves on the ground of excruciating self-doubt. A few people in the past two courses have courageously confessed their sense of suffering from imposter syndrome and let me know about that “not good enough!” voice constantly shouting in their ears. I assure them that I also have that voice (don’t we all?) and it came out last night when a student took over from me playing piano at the jam session and was killin’ it! “Damn!” I thought. “Why can’t I play like that?”

“Compare and despair” is an appropriate mantra to invoke when the voice raises the volume. Of course, hitting the walls of our limits is an important part of what motivates us to keep pushing against that solid wood until we find a crack. What’s important is a foundation of unconditional love, the kind Mr. Rogers promised us when he said “I like you just the way you are.”


The Zen teacher Suzuki Roshi said something similar: “You are perfect as you are.” And then added, “But we could all stand a little improvement.”


And so the conversation between the everything that’s wrong with me, with you, with all of us and the nothing, the hard-earned understanding that our sometimes needed and sometimes destructive self-doubts should lead to self-acceptance, self- forgiveness and the self-blessing we all deserve. We all indeed are perfect as we're meant to be and we all could stand a little improvement.


PS In case you’re wondering, there is no conventional drone in Mi pentatonic because there is no 5th. That’s what’s wrong with Mi!


Monday, July 24, 2023

Level III

Here’s a music teacher’s confession:


1) I love teaching beginners in Orff Schulwerk, opening the door to a world that could— and quite often does— change their life. Their excitement and enthusiasm and “ah-ah!” moments carry the freshness of a curious 1st grader still filled with curiosity and questions and the wonder of the world.


2) I love teaching my Jazz Course, combining my passion for the music with my knowledge of how to teach it more effectively to beginners via the Orff approach. I particularly love teaching the course in the U.S. , where this music, stitched both visibly and invisibly into our national psyche suddenly becomes more understandable and playable. I love watching people who have never improvised a jazz solo discover they can and I love those who were told they can’t discovering that their former music teacher lied to them. And though it always carries some difficult moments and some genuine grief, I love the discussions that arise about justice and the things we do in class to help heal. 


3) But here comes the confession part— I think what I love most of all is teaching Level III in our Orff Certification Course. Getting to work with the students who spent two weeks two years ago awash in the Romance of Level I, two weeks last year intrigued by the Precision of Level II and now are ready to combine the Romance and Precision in the Synthesis of Level III.


They come into the first class knowing a lot— about the Orff approach to pedagogy, elemental composition and improvisation, some rigorous music theory. They also know each other and that makes it easier for them to jump in uninhibited and improvise spontaneous crazy vocal/movement/dramatic pieces in front of the teacher and their peers. And they have skills. Can play both soprano and alto recorder, know their way around on xylophones and percussion, have internalized basic and useful dance vocabulary and can sing precisely and lustily in a variety of styles. 


So while I admire musical cultures in which the master musicians are willing to spend some time teaching people of all levels instead of reserving their genius for the supremely talented and advanced students, there’s something to be said for being able to count on such high level understanding, technical skill and still childlike-enthusiasm. All teachers—but especially music teachers—live on the immediate feedback they get from their students. While we need to be patient when we ping the ball across the net and the student often misses the pong, there’s alot to be said for the consistent return that makes the game interesting, satisfying and challenging for both parties. 


In just two 45 minutes sessions with this group of 27, we did so much today! Played so much music through all kinds of mediums, touched on key pedagogical points and even went straight to some stories of our greater purpose of learning to love our students unconditionally and help them reveal some of their deep character to us, their peers and themselves. All through the joyful medium of music. After the first two sessions, I already was feeling, “Dang! Only 18 sessions left! “


Can’t wait for tomorrow— the game is on!! 

A Gathering of Ancestors

 And so we begin. 100 beautiful souls from five continents gathered down in the valley— Hidden Valley Music Seminars in Carmel Valley, California, to be precise— ready to build our mountain of belonging and beauty, community and connection. 


Our opening ceremony begins with who’s here, a song inviting people born in January and each of the succeeding months into the center of the circle to show us who they are through dance, in company with others born the same month. From there, the lyrics invite those to the center according to their Level (I, II or III), the continent they came from (all but Australia and Antarctica), the kind of instrument they play, their age according to decade.  All the time singing, dancing, with teachers playing drums. At the end, the youngest (22) and oldest (79) come forward to ring a small and large gong in a ritual pattern to officially open the course. Pin drop silence as the resonant sounds fill the air and die away.  That’s our nod to the present company, the here and now. 


Then comes the invocations to the Ancestors. The Land Acknowledgement to the Ohlone who were the original inhabitants of the land, who never ceded it to the foreign immigrants and still caretake it. The Labor Acknowledgement to the West Africans who worked for hundred years for free in forced labor camps to bring us to the prosperity we enjoy, all without (still!) apology or reparations. Another Labor Acknowledgement to the women who gifted us life through a different kind of physical labor, who worked and still work both unpaid and underpaid, who still carry so much of the emotional labor of child-raising in the family. 


Then when the faculty introduced themselves, my colleague James had the idea of each of us acknowledging one important teacher in our life, living or dead, who brought us to the life we lead and have led as teachers ourselves. After we spoke, he invited all to turn to their neighbor and speak a bit about their own teacher to whom they’re indebted. Brilliant idea! The room was now filled with the presence of so many ancestors, near and far, the way it should be. 


Finally, James showed slides of three of some six significant Orff Schulwerk teachers who passed away this year. Barbara Grenoble, Mimi Samuelson, Carol Erion, each with some kind of connection to our course and we sang Viva La Musicain their memory. (Privately, I evoked three others who also passed this year— Arvida Steen, Marilyn Davidson and Mary Lott. It has been a year of much loss in the American Orff world.)


Finally, I spoke a bit about the other missing group in the room, the one that is actually the main reason we’ve come together— the children. Our descendants. Children who are suffering mightily from fear of their future, fear of the present, from neglect from a culture that cares more about money and guns and test scores than preserving and protecting a world worthy of our children’s promise. They joined us in the room and there we all were together, representatives from the past, present and future, ready to begin two weeks of fun and frivolity that is about as serious as you can get. We closed with the song Gonna Build Me a Mountainand the room was overflowing with Spirit. As the last note died down, I shouted:


“Let the wild rumpus start!!!”


And so it has.

Sunday, July 23, 2023

50 Years

So after a one day turnaround, I’m off again for another two weeks of teaching. This year is  the 40th Anniversary of the Orff Schulwerk Levels training that my mentor Avon Gillespie started. I was in that first Level 1 class in 1983 and then became a teacher in the course in 1991. And so tomorrow begins my  31st year (only skipped the pandemic year) passing on the Orff Schulwerk baton. Many people I trained in Orff years ago are now retired— one indicator of how long I’ve been at this!


Not to mention the 45 years of teaching at one school. Now three years “retired” from that job but still teaching kids and adults here, there and everywhere, I realized I also taught at different places before I began at The San Francisco School in 1975. Technically, my first part-time teaching jobs through the work/study program at Antioch College began in 1971, but it was 1973 at that last job that I felt I really did some significant teaching. 50 years ago!


The school was The Arthur Morgan School, a Quaker boarding school in the mountains of North Carolina. The kids were of middle school age, most only 8 to 10 years younger than me. Inspired by Jim Kweskin albums and my beginning steps into ragtime piano, I started a jug band with 17 of the 30 kids at the school and in February of ’73, alongside three other teachers, rented a big yellow school bus and arranged, without internet or cell phones and me 21 years old, a two-week tour through the South with all 17 kids. I arranged concerts and home stays at alternative schools, community centers, churches and the like and we drove from just north of Asheville to Miami, Florida and back, with stops in Hilton Head Island, John’s Island, Atlanta, select places in Florida and more. We were a rag tag bumch, the music with kazoos, washboards, spoons and the like lively and spirited, but I suspect low on musical virtuosity (we never did make a recording and it would probably have been hilarious to hear now had we done it). We had a repertoire of some 20 songs—Jug Band Music, Somebody Stole My Gal, Richland Woman, Bill Bailey and such. Some 10 years ago, we had a Jug Band Reunion at the school with about eight of the players, now in their late 50’s— and they remembered all the songs and most of the words!


How grateful I am that I lived in those times. The thought of a 21-year-old and three other teachers around that age driving 17 middle-school kids on a school bus (no seat belts) through the South — and occasionally picking up hitchhikers!— is beyond human belief in today’s day and age when teaching a few classes at a summer camp requires medical exams, live-scan FBI fingerprinting, sexual abuse training, special driver’s licences, 20 pages of signed waivers and even after all that, any administrator asked to allow a trip like the one we took would certainly say, “Are you out of your mind?”


But we did it. And it was glorious—and forever memorable. 


That Spring back at Antioch College is when I met Avon and stepped on the path that leads me to tomorrow’s classes. That Fall was when I also moved to San Francisco. A half-century as an SF resident, teacher and Orff teacher. That’s worth noting.


And I just did. 

PS And may I add that I still try to keep the spirit of joyful abandon shown in the photo in each and every class with both children and adults. That's something the lawyers can't touch.  

Saturday, July 22, 2023

Build Your Mountain

I never did see the musical Stop the World—I Want to Get Off  (a title I’ve often joked about by changing “Off” to “Orff,”)  but I love one of the songs in it that I heard on a Sammy Davis Jr. recording— Gonna Build Me a Mountain. I quickly added it to our school ceremonial songs, singing it at the beginning of the school year when the first day is like a tiny hill in the mountain of the year to come and we want to encourage the kids to get ready for the climb ahead to their next possibility and new version of themselves. 


There’s much that I love about the lyrics. A few comments after each verse:


1) Gonna build me a mountain, from a little hill.

Gonna build me a mountain, at least, I hope I will.

Gonna build me a mountain, gonna build it high.

Don’t know how I’m gonna do it, only know I’m gonna try.


• The mountain that is most meaningful is the one we build ourselves through our own efforts, with our own hands and heart, be it a skill, an understanding, a vision, a character. 


• If we’re going to go to all that trouble, might as well aim high. Too many people’s goals today are tiny or trivial or easily achieved (gonna scroll through all my Facebook posts), small little mounds instead of majestic mountaintops. Aim high!


• All our lists, mission statements, five-year plans are fine as far as they go, but if we’re honest about how our lives actually work (or don’t!), we’d have to confess that when we start a venture, we have no idea how we’re going to do it. (Think parenting here.) The only thing we can honestly vow is that we’re going to try. Intention and effort is all.


2) Gonna build me a daydream, from a little hope.

Gonna push that daydream, up the mountain slope.

Gonna build a daydream, gonna see it through.

Build a daydream and a mountain, gonna make them both come true.


• Vision is built from dream and dream is fed by hope, hope and faith the both we and the world can be at least a little bit better tomorrow than we were yesterday. 


• Hope is a muscular verb, not a wimpy noun. We have to push that daydream step by step up the slope and that’s hard, hard work. 


•  Hard work requires perseverance and determination to see it through. When we wholly commit and stick with it, the daydream and the mountain both indeed will become true. 


3) Gonna build me a heaven, from a little hell.

Gonna build a heaven, and I know darn well,

If I build my mountain with a lot of care,

Put my daydream on the mountain, heaven will be waitin’ there.


• You can’t know heaven if you haven’t known hell. No New Age tiptoeing through the tulips without spending some time trudging through the swamp. 


• Care and attention to detail are essential. That’s what education at its best offers. The long and patient trudge—and occasional dance— through the tiny details that help the big picture emerge.


• Heaven is not a place in the tour book nor an item on the shelf to be purchased through blind faith or church donations. It is the gifted moments of grace and blessing that come when we have done our work— crafted our vision and put feet with the wings. 


This song was co-written by Anthony Newly and Leslie Bricuse, who wrote other hit songs like “What Kind of Fool Am I”, “Who Can I Turn To?” and “Feeling Good.” Tony Bennet, may he rest in peace (he passed away two days ago) sang some of their songs. Anthony, Leslie and Tony all good examples of hard-working people who built their own mountains. Here I just want to thank them for their work.


Meanwhile, I wrote three new verses to the above song, none of them quite at par with the original songwriters, but perhaps of interest to those looking for songs to inspire and encourage young people to keep feeding their better selves. Enjoy!


4) Gonna grab some sunshine, from a little dark.

Gonna walk that sunshine, through the town and park,

Gonna make some sunshine, gonna shine my light,

If we do it all together, gonna make a day from night.


5) Gonna build me a smile, from a little frown.

Gonna stand up tall, when they knock me down.

Gonna keep on smilin’, they can’t take it away,

Keep my smile and my sunshine, working for a bright new day.


7) Gonna speak some truth here, from a lotta lies.

Gonna speak some truth here, so we all can rise,

Gonna speak some truth here, lay down my fear,

Gonna shout if from the mountain, for the whole wide world to hear.