Thursday, August 31, 2023


Yesterday, I had a delightful walk and talk with Samantha Campbell, the filmmaker who made The Secret Song film about my last year of teaching at a school. Our conversations are always interesting and provoking and yesterday when I started to talk about something, I felt like I was in some zone where my sentences were more articulate than usual. I suggested she record my answers to her questions and then asked her later to send the recording to me. So she did, using the transcribing function on her i-Phone. 


Despite all our monumental efforts to make our machines smarter than ourselves, the transcription shows how far we are from that—and thank goodness! Indeed, in my way of thinking, the machine has no independent soul or beating heart and will forever fall short of the full capacity of human intelligence. But meanwhile, it was quite entertaining to read the transcription. A few phrases I can remember what I actually said that the machine got wrong, but many leave me completely baffled.


And so I here I submit before the court the evidence that we should not depend upon machines as substitutes for human intelligence. Read these excerpts from our transcribed talk:


• Be an ego apparently panther kid


Chief Mason decision he console semester drummer


• Check out the proposal with the people who song a DNCE event 


• Come back to the jeepbathroom music to proverbs Edward M. Yep 


• I hope the one thing that you came away with his head anytime you talk to call Koch


• Yeah meaning of this in person until you know how bill by Chesebrough you you have to know so much to understand the deepest deepest layer San Jacinto


• That’s not a threat right so that’s like that’s like a pony 


• Interesting part let’s talk about and they miss you got room on this


• Do you know it’s it’s is is church without necessarily guard interfering too much to do it I hate you


• I don’t like Bill Walker. (For the record, I don't know anyone named Bill Walker.)


• By the way river jacket you know they were racist black that don’t carry that but repeatable that’s correct


• Suddenly important because her kids are not so good at hello


• So instead of hiring somebody who knows how to count the beans from yesterday‘s job we need somebody who can imagine the new app for Jamarco


• How did Dr. Risa Crescent Cheese


• I haven’t found one quite as DS as the god of wine words

Why Music Matters

After my short TV interview last week, I had another short radio interview in which I was challenged to describe why music education is important in 30 seconds or so. Kind of like John Coltrane being given just 8 bars of music to express everything he has to say in his solo. I did what I could and the feedback from fellow music teachers has been positive. But with a little bit more lead time as to the question, I could have written something out that would have been a bit more articulate. Though truth be told, probably too dense for the audience’s expectation of a casual sound-byte. Nevertheless, it might have gone something like this:


Why does music matter? Amongst a thousand reasons, here are a few:


• When wholly attentive and immersed in music, the chaos of the world is brought into a comprehensible clarity. Musical forms sing of a world that makes sense and gives us a moment’s release from the confusion and commotion and messy unruliness that is much of our daily life. They unscramble the mind’s jumble and bring it into an intelligible lucidity.


• Musical rhythms enervate our muscles and invite them into the ordered response of foot taps, finger snaps, hand claps and dance moves. 


• Musical melodies soothe our nervous systems and vibrate the inner strings that create the inner motions that evoke e-motion. 


• Musical harmonies create the tensions and releases that tell the stories we are built to hear. 


• All of it together spins out threads of connection— with our fellow players, with a listening audience, with the ancestors who played, sang and dance the same or similar music, with the descendants who will continue to play it, with the full measure of our whole self- yearning to say that which is unsayable in the only language that comes close. And at the end of all these threads of connection woven together is that rare and beautiful garment we call Community. 


If you haven’t yet heard the interview or seen the TV news clip, here they are. Enjoy!


• Radio interview:


• T.V. interview:


Wednesday, August 30, 2023

The Children Are Waiting

“Everything within us, no matter how distressing, exists for a purpose; there is nothing that shouldn’t be there, troublesome and even debilitating though it may be.”

Now there’s a sentence to ponder, one of many gems from the book The Myth of Normal by Gabor Maté. Made yet more clear by the next sentence:

“The question thus shifts from ‘How do I get rid of this?’ to “What is this for? Why is this here?’”

Both ancient and contemporary wisdom tells us that our gifts are always connected to our wounds. That considered from the right perspective, our traumas, big and small, are our teachers. That what happened or happens to us is less important than the stories we tell ourselves about our experience. 

For example, children in an emotionally stressful environment— including the children we all have been— often believe that (quoting Maté here) “when bad things happen—when life hurts them, when the environment is stressed, the parents unhappy or ill— it is because they are culpable, unworthy, defective.”

Did that happen for you? Mom and Dad are fighting and you think it’s your fault? Why would this be? Again, Maté offers profound insight:

“…this belief has a protective function. When a young person’s universe is in turmoil, there are two working theories the child could adopt. One is that her little world is terribly awry and misshapen, her parents incapable or unwilling to love and care. In other words, she is unsafe.

The other, which wins out virtually every time, is that she—the child— is flawed. …Acknowledging that those on whom she depends are incapable of meeting her needs would be a devastating blow to a young person. Thus self-blame, like guilting, is an unflagging protector. Believing that the deficiency is ours gives us at least a modicum of agency and hope; maybe if we just work hard enough, we can earn the love and care we need.”

A brilliant insight into the working of this necessary short-term strategy. But in the end, it cripples us as we take on blame, shame and guilt that accompanies us into our adult life, none of which was actually our doing. I think of that scene in Good Will Hunting where the therapist tells Will, “It’s not your fault,” releasing him from the burden he carried. 

The healing antidote for children is that when they feel sad, angry, unhappy, confused, bewildered, lonely, bullied, they need an adult to talk to. An actual adult, not another whimpering, repressed, or angry child in a big body, but an adult who can listen and reassure the child that though sometimes those we love have trouble taking care of us the way we deserve, there are still others who, to quote Mr. Rogers, “love you just the way you are.” And the healing antidote for us adults is to talk to (Maté again) “our all-star team of inner friends—Guilt, Self-Hatred, Suppression, Denial and the rest who came aboard to keep us (temporarily) safe” and thank them for their service and send them on their way. They are no longer needed.

There is a lot to unpack here. I think of all the children in schools feeling that the adults on who they depend are incapable of keeping them safe— safe from shaming, from bullying, from machine addiction, all the way to mass shooting. How does this dynamic impact them? Are they feeling that it’s their fault? When they see the models of politicians in office pledged to care for the common good insulting their citizens and each other, cheating to win, shamelessly flaunting the laws that they’re hired to uphold, how does this affect their tender little psyches? When even kids in the most progressive schools find adults who pander to their most infantile impulses in the name of “understanding,” might they be terrified to think that they’re in charge and the adults have no clue?

This is a lot to take in on a beautiful Wednesday morning in San Francisco. But with the kids back in school, we adults need to take this seriously and re-commit to being the kind of adults worthy of protecting, nurturing and loving our children. Where we fall short, it’s not entirely our fault (see all of the above). But that is not an excuse, it’s an invitation. As adults, it is our choice to claim our power to heal, to use our agency to do the work of becoming who we are meant to be. Refuse it at the world’s peril.

The children are waiting. 

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Monkfruit Sweetener

I’ve not only resisted climbing aboard the politically correct bandwagon, but feel like I’m daily being trampled by it. The list of what both the left and the right declare is inappropriate, unacceptable, damaging to children is simply staggering.

So I give up. I’ve decided to join them. So when my colleague James told me he was going to begin the 8th grade jazz study with his usual choice of Stanley Turrentine’s Sugar, I suggested he re-think it. Or at least change the title. As Gabor Maté notes in his book The Myth of Normal:

“Rob Lustif calls the United States ‘the drug capital of the world’ and he isn’t talking about cocaine, heroin, or methamphetamine, nor even mass-marketed opioids like OxyContin. He is referring to sugar, a substance that, in 2013, the chief health officer of the Netherlands declared to be ‘addictive and the most dangerous drug of all times.’”

And so I ask, “Is this an appropriate song to share with children?’ I think not.

However, it is a good tune. It just needs an appropriate upgraded title. 

I suggest Monkfruit Sweetener. Doesn’t quite roll off the tongue as easily, but at least no children will be damaged. (And it does hint to Thelonious Monk.)

Your thoughts?

The Gospel of Snow White

And my next book report is:  Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus. Only halfway through it, but it’s fulfilling almost all the criteria I laid out yesterday— memorable characters, a plot that entices me back, good writing and for the humanistic touch, this gem of a couple of paragraphs (slightly revised here) offering an alternative to religion:

“Why do so many people believe in texts written thousands of years ago? And why does it seem the more supernatural, unprovable, improbable and ancient the source of these texts, the more people believe them? And then have the audacity to insist others believe them too. 

What’s wrong with believing in ourselves? And if stories must be used, why not rely on a fable or a fairy tale? Aren’t they just as valid a vehicle for teaching morality? Except maybe better? Because no one has to pretend that they’re true. No one has to pray to Snow White or fear the wrath of Rumpelstiltskin to understand the message. The stories are short, memorable and cover all the bases of love, pride, folly and forgiveness. The rules are bite-sized: Don’t be a jerk. Don’t hurt other people or animals. Share what you have with others less fortunate. In other words, be nice.”

To which I say, “Amen!” Or rather “And they lived happily ever after.”

Book Report

Do school kids still give book reports? I remember it as a big part of my upper elementary schooling. Everyone always ended with, “If you like _____________, I suggest you read this book.”

So today I arrived early in Bend, Oregon and went out walking along the river in 90- degree heat. Accompanied by my Audible reading (by Meryl Streep!) of Ann Patchett’s Tom Lake

I was in the last 40 minutes of some 11 hours of reading and lay down in the grass in the shade of a spreading pine tree and let the story wrap me in its arms. A perfect way to spend the afternoon. 

Like Barbara Kingsolver, I’ve enjoyed all of Ann Patchett’s books and when a new one comes out, I feel reasonably certain that I can trust her capacity to draw me into her world of fiction, regardless of the particular plot, theme, place or cast of characters.

Tom Lake did not disappoint and in fact, exceeded my expectations. What do I look for in a book? Thinking about this, I made a list:

• Plot:  I like a good story, one that like a good piece of music, gradually unfolds and twists and turns and leads to a satisfying conclusion. A story that I look forward to re-entering each night, eager to see what will happen next. I haven’t always felt satisfied with some of Ms Patchett’s previous book endings, but this one was pitch perfect. All threads clearly converging and concluding. 

 • Characters:  I not only want to meet characters that are interesting, colorful, authentic and intriguing, but I want many of them to be people I actually want to spend time with each day or night in my imagination. Life is too short to hang out with jerks, be they real or fictional. If there have to be some in the story— and there usually are— I at least want them to either get their just desserts or have some epiphany and make a breakthrough. I indeed enjoyed hanging out with Lara, Sebastian, Palace, Joe, Emily, Mazie, Nell and yes, even Peter Duke. 

• Writing Style: I like writers who are in control of their craft, who occasionally can dazzle me with a perfectly constructed sentence, carry me somewhere with their imagery, take me along for a ride with a certain rhythmic swing. Ms. Patchett indeed embodies all these qualities, never letting her craft dazzle for the sake of showing off and interrupting the story, but bringing it out when the occasion calls for it. 

• Humanity: There are plenty of writers who are good storytellers— particularly the thriller and mystery types— but it takes a certain quality to get over the hump of fiction into the land of literature. A feeling for some universal joys and sorrows, a plumbing of the depths of the human psyche, a sense of aiming for kindness, connection, redemption. The people in Tom Lake are as flawed as all of us struggling humans, but within a manageable proportion, a smaller range of disappointments and betrayals and unwise choices than the more dramatic drug addicts/ abusers/ murderers. 

• Location: Often when I travel, I try to read a book that takes place in the place I’m going to. Or I think about a place I would like to go to and skip the visa/ passport/ plane flight arrangements and just open a book. This book was a double winner because it takes place in Northern Michigan near the city I actually flew into (Traverse City) and though it’s the more inland cherry orchard country than the lakeside cottage experience I have there, I know the places she’s talking about. (Ironically, while walking through Traverse City I saw that Ms. Patchett was reading/ speaking at a small bookstore there! By the time I found that out, tickets were long ago sold out— too bad! That would have been sweet.)

• Weather:  This may seem like an odd criteria, but I had brought Fredrik Backman’s book Beartown with me, but just couldn’t see myself reading about ice hockey while lying on the beach. I’m saving it for the winter. 

 In conclusion, Tom Lake delivers in each of the above criteria. If you like to read for the same things, I suggest you read this book. 

-       Doug Goodkin: 66th Grade Book Report

Saturday, August 26, 2023

Haiku Lectures

Throughout my long career, I often was grouchy that the news— print, radio, TV, later streaming— never thought to come visit the music classes at The San Francisco School. My colleagues James, Sofia and I set the stage for, witnessed and publicly praised a steady stream of miracles as children discovered parts of their extraordinarily expressive selves through song, dance, drama and music-making. Naturally, “if it bleeds, it leads” was then, now and forever the guiding North Star of the news and so I gradually came to accept that the lower chakras—food, sex, power— is the domain of the media. The upper ones of love, eloquence, wisdom are mostly not invited into the house and if they are, given a corner of the attic or basement. 


Not only because the public loves sensation, but because the very nature of the sound-byte culture, amplified geometrically with the coming of 24 hour news, makes it impossible to settle into the rhythm and pacing that genuine intelligence, emotion and spirituality require. Shows like 60 Minutes tried to offer a deeper dive into any topic, but who has the patience for that anymore?


So in a “be careful what you wish for moment,” I’ve had two live interviews in the past two days, jumpstarted by the screening of The Secret Song film at Cinequest Festival. One was CBS TV Morning News at 7:15 am Thursday and the other CBS Radio at 3:20 on Saturday. With questions only vaguely prepared ahead of time (and they changed), I had some 45 seconds to answer each question and the whole segment lasted some 2 to 3 minutes. Live. No retracing the sentence that jumped out. And trying to capture the essence of a message in a haiku-like form to get across some level of meaning beyond the expected clichés. 


Well, I did what I could. Got to see the TV one afterwards and it seemed okay. Just finished the radio one and nervous about hearing it, as I think I could have trimmed it a bit more. But in either case, my overall reaction is:


1) Just a micro-drop in the roaring stream of media that will hardly cause a ripple. 


2) That said, you never know who’s listening and it’s possible it might catch the right person’s ear to dive a bit deeper. (Oprah, did you hear it?) But I’m not waiting by the phone.


3) If my answers were less pithy and eloquent than they’d be with the option of editing, at least they were real. “I said it, I meant it, I’m here to represent it.”


4) Hopefully, at least a few people will be intrigued enough to go see the film and those 90 minutes are indeed enough to get the message. 


5) Dipping my toe into the media waters confirms what I already knew— our entire culture is ADD, leaping mindlessly from one sound-byte to another and absorbing virtually nothing of any value. 


And so my 30 seconds of fame as meaningless and shallow as I should have known it would be. Now back to the real work as I go off to teach 15 music teachers for one day to jumpstart their year into their own miracles to come. 


And that concludes our story… Back to you, Bob!


Friday, August 25, 2023

The Place Just Right


"When we find ourselves in the place just right, it will be in the valley of love and delight." 


Singing "Simple Gifts" at my old school yesterday with six old students-now-teachers, another eight or so kids who are the grandchildren of teachers I taught with, sitting on my old pink chair in the music room where I first gave a workshop in 1974, almost 50 (!!) years ago that got me hired— well, it was indeed the place just right and there was a lot of love and delight in attendance. Likewise, in the kindergarten, 6th and 8th grade classes I taught as I’m subbing for my colleague James yesterday and today. Just jump right in and how quickly and fearlessly and expertly these kids can make music. Within 10 minutes in their first class of the year, the 8th grade was playing a killer blues and every single student played a great solo. Love and delight, indeed!


The day began with a live interview for a morning news show —see — which prompted a radio show to schedule another interview on Saturday. My Jazz, Joy & Justice book is scheduled to finally be printed in two weeks, I'll be performing in October for another SF Jazz Family Jazz concert, the film accepted to three more festivals, a book publisher seems enthusiastic about a new proposal— a flurry of affirmation from the world that of course I heartily welcome.


At the same time, driving back from school, I felt a dizziness overcome me similar to the episode I had in Ghana, minus the vomiting. A bit better this morning, but still light-headed and not quite myself. Thinking about going to Kaiser, but don't even know what question to ask or who to ask it to. I've been blessed with such good health overall and all digits crossed that something doesn't knock me down just at the moment when I'm finally able to enjoy it all. Having finally arrived at the “valley of love and delight,” I’m in no hurry to leave it.


Wish me luck!

Wednesday, August 23, 2023


(Part 2 of yesterday’s post)


By the time I entered Antioch College in 1969, my mythological territories continued to expand, my felt intuitions and values given some language, my growing vision of who we are and who we might be began to settle into some unified philosophy that helped me make sense of and navigate through my daily experiences. I was ripe for some sort of practices and disciplines that would give feet to it all.


That time came in 1973, my last year at school and first year of my post-college adult life.

Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall— each of these three-month little lifetimes introduced me to practices that would define my life, echoing 50 years into the future— and still resonating. 


WINTER: Beginning Jazz and Progressive Education

Antioch had a rotating study/work program— 3 months in the Ivory Tower and 3 months thrust out into the world, placed by a college department working a job somewhere, often in the role of assistant or apprentice. All my jobs had been teaching jobs and the last one was particularly wonderful. In the Fall of ’72, I worked at The Arthur Morgan School in the North Carolina Black Mountains. It was a Quaker boarding school for some 30 Middle School students in the midst of a place called Celo, a Quaker land-sharing community. I loved everything about it— the location, the kids, the Thoreauvian country living combined with the Summerhill community (though more structured than Neal’s naïve vision). I had just discovered Scott Joplin, the blues and Jim Kweskin’s Jug Band and taught a music class combining all three to 17 of the 30 students whacking away with spoons and washboards and singing with kazoos. 


I was scheduled to return to Antioch the next quarter, but was so enthralled with the experience that I asked for an extension. So in the winter of 1973, at 21 years young, before e-mail and cell-phones, I single-handedly (well, assisted by three other young teachers in the Jug Band) organized a two-week Jug Band tour of the South, driving a rented yellow school bus with those three teachers and the 17 kids. We visited and performed at schools, community centers,  churches,  in John’s Island and Hilton Head in South Carolina, schools in Atlanta and northern Florida, a club in Miami and then back again. The whole tale is a matter for another novelette, but suffice it to say that it opened up three significant parts of my life to come:


1) Working in a progressive school and helping build community through music.

2) Traveling and performing with kids and adults

3) Delving into the world of jazz


SPRING: Orff Schulwerk Music Education

Spring semesterbrought me back to my final three months at the college and there I took a class about something called Orff Schulwerk. For ten Saturdays, we met with a dynamic young black teacher named Avon Gillespie and made music in ways I never had before— games, clapping plays, movement activities, folk dance, learning basic recorder, improvisation on percussion instruments and the xylophones, metallophones and glockenspiels known collectively as Orff instruments. Little did I know where this would lead me, but it turned out to be the defining feature of my life to come and Avon the mentor I would meet again. 


SUMMER: Travel, Music and Writing

Summer semester, my last at Antioch, was a memorable trip to Europe with a chorus singing the sacred Masses of Renaissance composers Johannes Ockeghem and Guillame Dufay. It was my first trip abroad and I was properly enchanted by the immersion in cultures so markedly different from my New Jersey upbringing. The Netherlands, Belgium, France, Spain, Italy and England, each a world unto itself, in company with 30 ragged college companions, an inspired teacher and conductor, exquisite music and my own thoughts and impressions set down in a spiral notebook with a Bic pen. This was the first journal of some 30 more to come, a practice I continue to this day. Some 40 years later, I began a Blog (still going) titled Confessions of a Traveling Music Teacher, bringing together the three things that were born on that trip—writing, music and travel. 


Ockeghem proved to have another major impact on my life. When I moved to San Francisco in the Fall, a friend and I started a small grassroots Ockeghem Choir and it was there that I met my wife Karen, who also led me to The San Francisco School where I taught for 45 years. 


FALL: Zen Practice

That Fall,after the summer trip, I hitchhiked to California and moved in with my sister Ginny and brother-in-law Jim to begin my life in San Francisco. I had no clear plan and just got through day-to-day accompanying my sister’s modern dance classes on piano, teaching a little jazz piano at The Community Music Center and just following Ram Dass’s advice to “be here now,” wandering around the city, reading, exploring more jazz on piano and such.


Jim had once picked up my book The Three Pillars of Zenwhile visiting my old New Jersey home and that led him to some meditation retreats at Princeton with a teacher named Joshu Sasaki Roshi. So Ginny and I began sitting zazen meditation with Jim in their little apartment, went once to The San Francisco Zen Center and then made the giant leap to go to a Rohatsu Sesshin (7-day meditation retreat) at Mt. Baldy Zen Center in the San Gabriel Mountains near L.A.  with Sasaki Roshi. I was ill-prepared, both physically and mentally, to sit with pained legs from 3am to midnight in December snows and meet the Roshi four times a day for a sanzen interview that was completely baffling, not the slightest idea of how to respond to my koan question and no guidance or help from anyone. But I soldiered through and in the midst of the pain and cold and confusion, had some lucid moments of feeling more fully alive and present than I ever had. Enough so that I continued the practice and returned for more sesshins over the years that followed.


And so 1973 was the pivot point, launching me into an adult life exploring these distinct but related disciplines of Orff, Jazz, Zen, with writing, travel and progressive education close companions. 50 years later, all of them still by my side, it felt like time to gather them together in one room and speak out loud the ways in which they overlap and how those commonalities not only thoroughly enriched my personal journey, but might have something to say about the collective healing we all so desperately need. 


For despite my conviction held since childhood that the world is a benevolent place, that people are essentially good at heart, that we are here for a purpose and that love, justice, beauty and a sense of deep belonging are part of the plan, a quick look at the morning news reveals that for all the many, many ways we’ve evolved—no more witch-burnings, chattel slavery, rampant colonialism, insane asylums, leeching, child labor, caning in schools and more—there’s ample evidence that we’re getting worse. Again, the morning news. And the stakes are so much higher. 


As practices in and of themselves, Orff, Zen and Jazz have all proven to be useful in nourishing the best of ourselves, bringing life-affirming focus to its practitioners and some measure of comfort and healing to its recipients. I can certainly testify to their impact on my own life. But the point is not to convert anyone to any of them, but to examine their shared qualities that can serve as a blueprint for a happier future for us all. 

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

The Three Pillars

When thinking about my next book to write, the question I ask is “What can I write that no one else can?” Nothing to do with talent and style, but looking at the unique configurations of my life that are wholly distinct from others. And I think I can say with some confidence that the  blend of three disciplines—Orff, Jazz and Zen— that has characterized my life is pretty much one-of-a-kind. I haven’t met any Orff teachers that play jazz and practice Zen, no Zen monks that teach Orff and play jazz, no jazz musicians that teach Orff and practice Zen. They may be out there, but even so, each of us would have our own unique blend and our own take on what it means to our life and what it might mean to all lives. 


And so the idea of looking at all three as a Venn diagram and seeing how they overlap and how they share certain values, practices, disciplines and ideals that could refresh our troubled world. I set off to write a prologue to a possible book  and though writers concerned about plagiarism would think I’m crazy to make it public so early in the process, I’m not particularly worried. So here is a first-draft beginning, part 1 of a longer story that really kicks off around 1973.


If anyone asks me if I had a happy childhood, I surprise them with my answer. “Yes, I believe I did.” Of course, I had my share of skinned knees and bruised elbows, times when I was bullied or (please forgive me) bullied others and I always, always got in trouble at school. I envied my friends whose parents let them drink Coke and eat white bread and wondered if my bi-polar Mom was two different people, either lying in bed for days on end with her migraines or manically embarrassing me by being the over-the-top life of the party. I wished my Dad would play catch with me more and stop telling me I did a lousy job mowing the lawn. 


But all in all, I was quite happy inside the house rigging up ways to open doors with ropes, conducting Beethoven played on my folks 78’s record collection from the staircase, mastering Trudy Treble and Bobby Bass on my way to Bach on our Hammond organ. And outside the house, joy of all joys, was a 200 acre park and a parenting ethos (it was the 1950’s and 60’s) that amounted to “Get out of the house and play! Just be home for supper. Alive.” And so my friends and I wandered endlessly, making up hide-and-seek games, playing football and baseball without an adult in sight, skipping stones on the lake, catching Fall leaves whirling down into the field. My experience of the world was one of safety, food, shelter and endless delight as we kids played our way slowly to adulthood. 


While the actual landscape of the park lifted me up into some sense of adventure, security and happiness, I also was held in a mythological landscape. While kids halfway around the world in India were growing up with the stories of Rama and Sita and Krishna and more in the great Hindu Epics, kids in Europe walked the storied landscape of the Bible in company with Lazarus and Noah and Moses and a kind and benevolent Jesus (so different from the one who unleashed the Inquisition and beyond), Aboriginal children in Australia learned their ABC’s of the Dreamtime, my mythological countryside was peopled with folks like Beaver Cleaver, Andy Griffith, Donna Reed, Dick Van Dyke and Laura. A homogeneous white-populated land where no ism ever popped up its head— except through the back door of perpetuating the Tonto, Tarzan, Amos and Andy, Jose Jimenez stereotypes. 


These images streaming in through our small living room TV set depicted a world  where all problems were bite-size, usually solved by a sincere talk with Aunt Bee, Ward and June or Ozzie and Harriet. Kids went fishing, spit off of bridges, played baseball and respected their school teachers. Chewing gum in class was the big transgression and the meanest kid they might ever meet was Eddie Haskell, so benign by today’s standards. And all of this accompanied by a jazz-influenced soundtrack. Life was sweet. 


But then the real world started to leak in. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, when I was 11-years-old, I remember a friend shouting to me down the street, “Hey, World War III is about to start!” The next year, I was in school when someone entered the class and announced, “The President has been shot.” And so it continued, as Walter Cronkite’s calm voice wasn’t quite enough to soothe us as images of the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights, Movement, the Democratic Convention of ’68 and more came into our living rooms. The sense of the world as secure and the future as something to count on was slowly eroding. 


How was a 16-year-old to make sense of this all? It turns out that “ a little help from my friends” was just the ticket. But not my buddies Bruce or Billie or Ricky. My friends were the authors of the books—Henry, Claude, Malcolm, Alan and more— that opened my narrow world just a little bit wider to reveal something quite different from the Leave It to Beaver suburbs. Thoreau revealed an alternative to “lives of quiet desperation” and beckoned me to a real landscape (Walden Pond) where one could fall in love with a shrub oak and live in constant awe of a benevolent natural world. My park-wandering intuitions were given a voice and a beckoning invitation to walk further down that path.


At the other end of the real world were the ghettoes of Harlem, revealed through Claude Brown’s Manchild in a Promised Landand Malcolm X’s autobiography. After 12 years of never venturing 12 blocks away in my working class New Jersey suburb, a friendship with Bill “Lump” Blackshear founded on basketball got me into the 98% black neighborhood of my town and the beginning of understanding why it existed and, with the help of Claude and Malcolm and later countless more, why it never should have. 


Worlds revealed through words brought me into another territory as A.S. Neal, John Holt, Jonathan Kozol and more helped me understand why I never loved school and gave me the beginning tools to re-imagine new ones. And then there was stumbling into D.T. Suzuki, Alan Watts and Phillip Kapleau’s books on Zen Buddhism  giving a home for my spiritual impulse that never felt welcomed in the Christian or Jewish theologies. 


Alongside worlds uncovered through reading were yet more made known through music, both the sounds coming from the radio and record players and those my own fingers could make on organs and pianos. Bach, Beethoven and later Debussy were my childhood companions and as the teen years began, there was the Beatles, Beach Boys and James Brown, the Temptations, the Four Seasons, the Coasters. And then Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell and Simon and Garfunkel and Led Zeppelin and… well, it was a rich, rich time in popular music and the list is simply too long. And side-by-side was Dave Brubeck leading me to another long list of extraordinary artists— Louis, Duke, Ella, Billie, Miles, Monk, Trane and on and on. 


By the time I entered Antioch College in 1969, my mythological territories continued to expand, spoken through poetry by Walt Whitman, e.e.cummings, Gary Snyder, through music by The Incredible String Band, the Nonesuch Series of Music from Around the World, Scott Joplin and Cecil Taylor (who later taught at Antioch), through the grand literature of the time— Kurt Vonnegut, Joseph Heller, Ken Kesey and more. I was ripe for some way to begin to join them into a unified vision and discipline.


That time came in 1973, my last year at school and first year of my post-college adult life.

Four (and more) serendipitous events that would echo 50 years into the future— and are still resonating. 

Monday, August 21, 2023

Swimming Together


The lake is calm this morning. The house likewise calm and quiet, the horizon lined with fishing boats and the promise of sunshine ahead. One more full day before returning to yet another Fall in San Francisco. The fourth year in a row in which it means something different from putting my shoulder to the wheel of the school year to get it started. Imagine that. How quickly time passes. 


Fall in San Francisco. Always one of my favorite times of year, marked by a succession of ritual events. The SF Mime Troupe play in Dolores Park. Opera in the Park (Golden Gate, that is). Comedy in the Park. Hardly Strictly Bluegrass. On it goes up to Halloween and Day of the Dead and the annual National Orff Conference (not in San Francisco), Thanksgiving and then all the Winter Holidays hoopla. The best weather of the year, neither wind nor fog nor rain and usually a few days of a “heat wave,” which for my city means late 80’s and occasionally low 90’s, one of the only times one dares dip into the Pacific Ocean. 


Again, for 45 years this included the excitement of starting the school adventure yet again and between 2013 and 2019, the added bonus of sharing both the school and the city with four to six music teacher Interns. All of the above events and more given an extra flavor and shine when shared with fun folks from Canada, Colombia, Brazil, China, Thailand, Iran, Turkey, Germany, Spain, Italy, Finland, Czech Republic, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines and throughout the U.S. Wasn’t that a time. 


I’ve always said that September 1st was my true New Year and so like two-headed  Janus, I look back to what has been and forward to what will be. This extraordinary year of re-opened travel and teaching in every continent except South America, the film festival run, the mentoring of Orff teachers and guest teaching of children, a new book in the pipeline, the blessings of good health and much more. This Fall with its promise of another new book, continued work with Orff teachers and kids, an unusual return to this Michigan cottage in September for my nephew’s wedding and yet more. Sometimes I pause and wonder, with all proper gratitude and humility, what did I do to deserve such a life?


Not that it has been free of the trials and tribulations any human incarnation guarantees. The usual blend of dancing on the mountaintop and soldiering through the vale of tears. Disappointments (in myself and others), betrayals, small t traumas, loss, grief, sadness, doubt, outrage, peppered throughout the joys and blessed moments. And certainly more to come. 


But meanwhile, here I am, a bald eagle soaring past the beckoning lake, the day mine to fill as I wish, probably with walking, biking, swimming. Another 1,972 readers who read yesterday’s post and might be reading these words. Of course, I wonder if the words are worthy of their—your—time and attention and only hope that they help turn you to your own story of grace and redemption, trials and triumphs, the sense the we—none of us— are in this alone and we need each other to both affirm and challenge, to share our stories and to help each other fully embrace it all. May you each find your own refreshing Lake Michigan waters to swim in today and each and every day. The water is delicious and there’s room for us all.

Sunday, August 20, 2023

Best Work

I confess that I regularly check the stats on these Posts. If the readership of any one post is 75-100, as it often is, I’m content. If it’s 1 or 5, I smile and am not particularly upset, knowing that it will change. But occasionally, it makes big leaps, like today’s 2,532 (!) and I wonder what the heck is going on. Is this a Bot gathering, a random accidental confluence of readers, a reaction to what I wrote and people quickly spreading the word, “You’ve got to check this out!”


Maybe there’s a way to find out, but I have not the skills, time or energy to investigate. But it does make me think, “While the numbers are up, I should write something extra special!! I need to share my best work. Which is a surefire way to shoot myself in the writing foot and limp into the next Post. What to do?


Should I use this opportunity to advertise my new book on Jazz and Joy and Justice, due to be printed mid-September? Steer people toward the latest Film Festival showing of The Secret Songfilm? (Aug. 28, in Mt. View). Mention my upcoming Family Jazz Concert at SF Jazz in October? That would be the American way— shamelessly promote while the numbers are high. But of course, I wouldn’t do that. (Even though I just did).


I could open to just about any page in the extraordinary The Myth of Normal book I’m reading and marking with the margins with  “YES!!”  “x 1,000!” “You got that right!” “Eloquent summary!” Things like: 


“All in all, the system works with cyclic elegance: a culture founded on mistaken beliefs regarding who and what we are creates conditions that frustrate our basic needs, breeding a populace in pain, disconnecting from self, others, and meaning…”


That could make for an interesting family dinner conversation. Or staff meeting topic. 


Or I could mention someone’s Facebook post about how we create the conditions in schools that don’t serve children, then blame the children (or teachers) for their problems and try to “fix” them with strategies that won’t work because they ignore the very conditions that created the problems. When someone asked, “How?” I responded with:


“We addict kids to machines that are purposefully designed for addiction and hyper-speed, then label them with ADHD and drug them. We fail to give them work worthy of their genius, cutting out arts programs that foster needed self-expression and then wonder why they’re bored and not motivated. We fail to model an inclusive and loving community, set kids against each other with grades and then blame them for not being socially attuned to the group. We create high-stakes pressure to “succeed” and fuel anxiety and then try to solve it with paint-by-number SEL programs. Etc, etc, and again, etc.…”


Or I can get off the big picture social critique and level down to the writer’s best topics—the details of the here and now. Like the way the fruit flies have suddenly invaded the kitchen and are landing on our food. The way the big lake’s waters have warmed up a bit, but still bring this swimmer’s body alive with its cool caress. Or simply share a photo of my farewell toast to summer. 

Meanwhile, let’s see if whatever I have written attracts another 2,532 readers. Come aboard!

Empty Nest

I love being around my grandchildren. Who else would spend time with me throwing a frisbee or football on the beach, playing paddleball or cornhole or wiffleball if not my grandson Malik? Who else would wrap her arms around me from behind to greet me as I play my morning solitaire and then proceed to beat me soundly in Rummy 500 or King’s Corner if not my granddaughter Zadie? Where else can I feel the active buzz of kids in the house or on the deck or walking to the back lake?


But then they fly again out of the nest and there’s a moment of quiet and silence and yes, I miss them, but part of my body and mind relaxes and thinks, “Yeah!” No more having to intervene in their sibling squabbles or entice them to get out of the house to join me at the beach or to feel the overflow of 12-year-old-hormones telling me to “Shh!” if she thinks I’m talking too loud in public and embarrassing her. No more reminding them to clean up or cleaning up after them, and so now, the very space has a quality of order and silence that this old man with thinning nerves can savor and enjoy. 


And so the Michigan vacation winds to its end, two more days with just my wife Karen and brother-in-law John and then the drive down to Ann Arbor with the carrot of going to the movie that I keep not getting to see —Barbie! Once because my movie friends chose another one and once because Karen, John and I drove 45 minutes only to find it was sold out! It better be good!


And so I’ve managed to write these four paragraphs without the grandkids telling me to “get off the computer!!!” Which is correct, it should be limited in times like this and mostly has been. Even now, the beach is reprimanding me, but in a gentler manner. And so out into the air I go again, back to the sea, sand, sky and silence. 

Saturday, August 19, 2023


My home routine is pretty settled— my little refreshment  routines, followed by writing—these posts, e-mails, whatever’s on my mind, perhaps some piano and such until lunchtime. After lunch is when I finally step out the door, that moment when I feel the welcome contrast between indoors and outdoors. Off for an afternoon walking or biking or doing errands. It works. Makes sense for my energies at different times of day.


But sometimes I wonder if I should reverse it. Get out in the early morning first. Like Henry Thoreau or Mary Oliver or Zen monks (well, not quite that early!). Today, I had the good sense to do just that. Not as early as the folks above, but still at 9:00 am, after zazen/breakfast, King’s Crown game with Malik,  the air was charged with that early morning freshness alive with promise. 


“Love of the morning is a measure of health,” said Thoreau and I know what he means. Morning is the song of the earth’s daily renewal, carried by the birds and breezes and felt in the scent of the air. When we march into the day or drive on the crowded freeway to begin chipping away at the hours, we carry the burden of our driven selves and miss the moment. Just getting out into the morning air, walking, biking or sitting on the porch, gives us the possibility of awakening with the day, aligning ourselves with the earth’s natural rhythm and letting it carry us slowly out of the dim light and shadows into the full brightness of the day. Morning is the Springtime of the day, all birth and restoration and revitalization. Last night’s sins and errors are washed away in sleep and new promise begins with the dawn. 

Of course, work schedules don’t honor these possibilities and most of us are already rushing before the day barely begins. If we make the mistake of checking the news, our hope for new beginnings is already trampled underfoot. Some have the option of walking or biking to work and believe me, that makes a difference. And of course, many now work at home, hopefully with the good sense to at least stroll around the block before settling in on Zoom. No matter what you’re situation, hey, there’s always the weekend.


Hail to morning!