Apparently I would rather sing than eat. After all, I’m planning to put out three children’s CDs, always a hard sell, at a time when nobody’s buying anything. At a time when federal aid to education is not a big enough part of the recovery package, and what little there is will probably be spent on computers, not on music. Not to mention the trend to buy downloads of individual songs, rather than carefully selected and sequenced songs on a theme. And a theme like empowerment for children! What am I thinking?
Back  in 1990 when Candy and I made our first tape, we eschewed electronic fake instruments, making it more expensive to us than a children’s album should sensibly be. I have never made rational decisions about my business. This is partly because I have the cushion of my mother’s royalties coming in, irregular though they may be, but it’s partly because I would rather spend time in the studio with good musicians than take, say, a trip to Europe. It’s my way of having fun.
Speaking of which, the Music EdVentures conference last weekend in Portland was fun and good and exhausting. My favorite quote: "Remember to use your voice when you sing." It’s what you can say when you notice kids that aren't singing during a singing game—because of course to play the game they are singing in their heads, and this recognizes their silent participation. What makes this conference more fun than most is that we are playing the games as well as talking about how they help children learn all sorts of subjects, so there’s much less sitting around than at your normal conference. My only complaint: the chocolate chip cookies at break time were too good, and I got the sugar jitters. At the banquet the last night there were four tables set but some folks didn’t stay (Judy, for instance, was worried about snow in the mountains so left early) so we squeezed into three tables. Someone at my table started “Move Over (and make room for Marty),” one of my mother’s songs. My mother’s third children’s song book, There’s Music in the Air, is dedicated to Mary Helen Richards, the teacher whose work is the basis of Music EdVentures, and the folks in Music EdVentures know and use Malvina’s songs. In an interview, my mother said:
People don't realize that many of these lovely, clever, funny children's songs that have come down to us are not transmitted from parent to child, but from one generation of children to another. The younger ones hear the older ones sing the songs, play the games, and make up the instruments, and then they carry it on to the next generation. And it's a whole world of its own.
A great many songs now are created for children by grown-ups, but I try myself to get into a purer frame of mind when I'm singing for them, in the sense that I'm trying to speak directly and not let a whole lot of overcivilizing, overperfecting, or mechanical influences get between me and the listener. So perhaps some of my songs will someday get to be part of that kind of tradition, which I would love to see happen.
The song I always thought would become part of the tradition was “Magic Penny,” and indeed a woman just wrote to say that she had learned the song from a music book which had the composer listed as “anonymous.” She will get that corrected, but it will happen again. It’s that sort of song.
On Friday night Judy Fjell (she got me going to the Music EdVenture conferences) did a house concert at the friends we stayed with about 15 years earlier when we’d done a little Oregon tour (Portland and Corvallis) of our Malvina show. Great audience, and “The Dog’s Questions” was a hit.
I almost forgot to mention the barista competition and the robot people. There we were, in a hotel in Portland for the Music EdVentures conference, about forty women and three men, mostly teachers and looking it, and in the lobby were these young people with red spiky hair, obviously not us. One of our folks said the spiky-hairs were at some robotics gathering. We were in the lobby talking about something-or-other while we waited for some more of our people to join us in search of Thai food. A young man working on his laptop asked our pardon for interrupting and joined the conversation. Turned out he was there for a national barista competition happening across the street in the convention center. He invited us to come, showing us the website on his laptop. I went  over on Saturday afternoon and watched another young man compete, telling us about the blend of coffees he was making his espresso from, then making a cappucino with a little picture on top made from the foam (the baristas at the French Hotel in Berkeley do this when they’re not too busy), then making a flavored coffee drink of his own invention. Four judges tested for smell and taste and looks, and another two who didn’t drink the coffee were rating his moves. Each contestant had to make three such drinks and neaten up the work area in a specified amount of time. At the back was a free coffee bar, but there was a line and I didn’t want to get to the front and find out they had no decaf, so I went back to the hotel. Also at the convention center there was a gathering of scrapbookers, and they had a little display outside their exhibit hall of the latest in scrapbook pages, including one with a background of the handwritten US Constitution, and a foreground of Pres. Obama’s face.
I am writing this at my friend Kris’ house, where she is recovering from a back operation so can’t meet me at Jimmy Bean’s to write as she usually does. She is lying on the couch, writing longhand. I am typing in an easy chair, from time to time glancing out the window at trees and trunks against a pale blue sky. I love the tree-house feel of looking out into trees and not seeing the ground.
The weekend of my birthday Holly Near was giving an illustrated talk Friday night at La Peña about being a cultural worker, and a workshop on “Inspired Expression” Saturday afternoon. This included letters to the editor and conversations in the elevator as well as songwriting. Saturday night one of my favorite storytellers, Elizabeth Ellis, was giving a concert in Oakland. Sunday afternoon Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn were giving a talk at a middle school auditorium in Berkeley. Clearly, I would have no time or energy for a birthday party, so I just emailed a bunch of people about the four events and asked them to celebrate my birthday by showing up at one or more of them. Which a lot of them did. I liked Holly Near’s talk better than a concert, because she was putting the songs she sang in the context of why and how she had written them. I re-wrote my song about Rosa Parks based on her critique at the workshop. When I told Holly after the workshop that I was celebrating my birthday by going to it, she led the remaining participants in “Happy Birthday.” The Ayers/Dohrn event was just the kind I like, brief talks and lots of time for questions. I bought their book, Race Course: Against White Supremacy (which I have been reading and recommending ever since). They use a lot of their personal experience in their book, so I got to know a little of their histories as well. I was standing in line to get the book signed and to thank Bill for talking about the importance of singing in the movement and how we seem to have lost that tradition lately, when I overheard that they had a couple of grandchildren. So I ran out to the car and got a copy of my mom’s Magical Songs and my Sun, Sun Shine to give to them. They said Malvina was one of their heroes. And they are now two of mine. (Of course they have FBI files.)
I learned from their book that John Brown (one of my father’s heroes) had been a conductor on the Underground Railroad in upstate New York—on the last run to the Canadian border and freedom—before he went to Kansas to try to keep it a free state. So slavery had a personal face to him, and undoubtedly personal stories as well.
1. The San Francisco Chronicle ran an Associated Press story on March 10 about a seventy-five-year-old widow in Saudi Arabia being “sentenced to forty lashes and four months in jail for mingling with two young men who are not close relatives.” Her case is on appeal. The twenty-four-year-old men were also sentenced to whippings and jail after delivering five loaves of bread to her home. One was the woman’s dead husband’s nephew, the other his friend and business associate. Women are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia. All this is not so different from the treatment of women under the Taliban, which our government has decried. But of course the Saudis are our staunch allies. And source of oil. I hope I will think of Khamisa Sawadi the next time I’m tempted to jump in the car instead of walking to the supermarket or wherever.
A few years ago I read a good children’s book about life in Afghanistan under the Taliban. It’s The Breadwinner, by Deborah Ellis (Douglas & McIntyre, 2001). An eleven-year-old girl disguises herself as a boy so she can go out and earn food for her family after her father’s arrest leaves a family with no men or boys in it.
How foresighted our country’s founders were to write separation of church and state into the constitution. Of course just because it’s in the constitution doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed. Eternal vigilance is the price. Should we maybe separate church and state in the matter of marriages? Civil unions for all and let the churches regulate “marriage”? Of course I can’t see a “God Hates Fags” sign without thinking of the student who stood with Phelps’ group when they showed up at UC Berkeley. The student’s sign said “God Hates Stanford.”
2. OK, the Van Jones that Obama just appointed to a White House post? He’s the one I wrote this about four months ago:
Van Jones is a great speaker—funny and inspiring, well-researched and down-home, and handsome as all get-out. He’s a journalist turned lawyer turned community organizer, and when Obama is termed out, I want Jones for president! He’s locally famous, but I can see him going national. He said the good news is that Obama won, the bad news is that now we’ve really got to get to work. Yes, there are and will be technological solutions to global warming, but right now Van Jones is promoting the lowest of tech—a caulking gun—to weatherize buildings against energy loss, and we have thousands of construction workers out of jobs right now who would be happy to caulk and instal insulation, solar panels, and double-paned windows. His organization is Green for All. His book is The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems.
And not only that, but if you go to their site, you can make yourself into a cool icon like this:
or this:
the idea being that we do it ourselves, we don’t depend on Obama to do it for us. We can all be icons of the struggle.
©2009 by Nancy Schimmel
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
A little fun from Pundit Kitchen, a branch of lolcats, my daily laugh.