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I just tried some brand new things with a subset of my students tonight. It was a ride. I had to stay in a state of calm while the kids swirled around me and took freedom to its outermost limits. I learned a lot about their personalities. The challenge was the mixed level group, and the pre-teen behavior of my oldest student. I was trying to think back to when I was her age, and the answer is, I was having violin master classes with Josef Gingold and competing in international piano competitions by the time I was her age. I was very serious. I can’t relate to what her life must be like. I am trying – desperately, it seemed today – to reach into their worlds and see what goes on when the limits are taken away.

I did a sequence of four things:

1. Listening – lie flat on the floor and listen to Bach

2. Conducting – learn how to use arms to move with the music and find the beat (we used Bach and Mozart for this)

3. Rhythm Orchestra – the kids divided into three groups and were in charge of a rhythm. I conducted them, bringing them in sequentially. We then matched these rhythms to a movement from a Beethoven symphony

These first three parts of the class worked quite well.

Then I moved onto more improvisational stuff….and the ride began.

Peril #1 – One idea, good or bad, can spread like wildfire. Read the rest of this entry »

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Tomorrow morning I start a two-day drumming and overtone workshop with Glen Velez, a Grammy-award winning percussionist. What a great start tonight was.

My ears are ringing — happily — from Cyro Baptista’s Banquet of the Spirits, a project originally named “Anthropofagia”, after a Brazilian cultural movement from the 1920s, when artists rebelled against “official” art that came from Europe and claimed that the Brazilian character was the regurgitation of all the ingested cultures from that time – Afro-Brazilian, indigenous native culture, and Portuguese/other European.

This from the program notes:

The band members consider themselves cultural cannibals — the music is a manifestation of the process of eating, swallowing, and digesting all the tendencies that are part of the sonic landscape and environment. It is the product of all the sounds that they have collectively consumed over the years; some were digested and others have been rejected. After all is said and heard, it becomes difficult to identify what belongs to what country, culture, or religion.

Love that. It’s kind of a foreshadowing perhaps of the new American culture – if we can digest all the different influences and allow individuals to regurgitate their own unique versions of all this diversity, we have the opportunity to create some truly unique art. It also reminds me of what my half-Chinese niece said when she saw a mosquito bite on my neck: “Mosquitoes like to bite my Daddy too! They must like Chinese food! You’re Chinese too, right?” Already she is digesting the concept of a mixed cultural diet. I love it.

I have to stop writing right now because words get in the way of the sounds that are filling my entire being right now.

I am basking in it. My ears feel alive. My body wants to move. And now it’s time to go to sleep!

Damn. It’s 6 o’clock on a Friday – a day I had all to myself, ALL TO MYSELF, NOTHING SCHEDULED. And here I am. Finally forcing myself to glue my butt to a chair and write out what’s happening. To tell the story, let me start with yesterday. Increasingly, my Thursdays are becoming a big energy drain on me, and I am trying to observe why. Some of it is my mental anticipation of the people I deal with on Thursdays, which is reinforced when something ridiculous happens to validate my worst fears. I do notice thoughts swimming in my head like, “WHY am I doing this? WHY am I here?” But I can’t stay distracted for more than a few seconds while I’m teaching. People have learned to become uncomfortable with silence in my lessons. Hmmm, isn’t that interesting.

But as I was slogging through my emails – it was one of those weeks where I barely had time to sit in front of the computer, hooray! – I saw an announcement about a free outdoor concert at Stanford by a Brazilian percussionist Cyro Baptista. One of my classmates from CIIS was inviting our class to join her, knowing that the likelihood would be low given the fact that only four or five of us live down here on the Peninsula. I took her up on the offer. Even picked up the phone to call her (for me, this represents unprecedented levels of effort these days!). It took two calls to resolve everything. We coordinated a meeting time. The second the musicians showed up, I knew it was going to be good. Even in the dark, I somehow knew they were the real deal. Maybe the fact that they would do a free nighttime outdoor concert for about 20 people on Stanford campus told me that they were the real deal.

They played a mixture of Afro-Brazilian traditional instruments. Then they got all of us involved, foot-stomping, clapping, saying rhythms, making the sound of rain on a river in the Amazon. Puh-chee-coo-COO, Puh-chee-coo-COO,…Plac, Plac, PLAC! Plac, Plac, PLAC, plac, PLAC!….all are still resonating in my mind and body. Read the rest of this entry »

It doesn’t rain very often here in the Bay Area. At least not in September. There are usually one to two rainy months per year – January and/or February. But these seem to pass by without much fanfare, in my experience. Yesterday morning I was woken by the flicker of lightning – I saw it as just a momentary flash of light through my eyelids – followed by a long pause, and then a deep, billowing rumble of thunder. I grew up in the Midwest, where summer thunderstorms were commonplace. At a young age, I learned to count the seconds between the lightning flash and the sound of the thunder, as a way to measure how far away the storm was. I remember standing at my front door, behind the screen of the storm door, looking at the sky with fierce concentration, and wondering whether the storm was headed toward or away from us.

Now I sit here and listen to the sound of rain falling. I’ve turned off the music I had playing in the background all day. And I notice the steady rhythm of the rain. I wonder why it is that I notice it today. Then I remember that it’s so rare to hear anything like it from my open windows in Menlo Park. I may hear a bird, or the squawk of a squirrel defending its nest, but mostly it’s just silence. I notice the visual images of sky and trees outside my window. I notice the wash of colors – like a slideshow with perfectly invisible transitions – that characterize the summer sunsets. But I never really listen.

Maybe my ears are more sensitized after yesterday’s class. It definitely was a total body experience. I wanted nothing more than to sleep in today, but I found myself getting out of bed and into my car and driving home from San Francisco, then walking to the Farmer’s Market (before the rain), preparing a homemade salsa, and making chicken curry with vegetables (okra, baby kohlrabi, watermelon radishes) before sitting down again.

Tonight I notice that the rain starts sometimes suddenly, and we notice only its constancy – like a drone. We can’t recall how it sounded at the first drop. And then, also without warning, it seems to fade – or decrescendo – into silence. I strain to hear it, but there’s only the sound of nothing. I begin to appreciate the silence, but only in my attempt to listen to something.

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