Showing posts from July, 2018

Lingua Franca

A late night conversation, diagrammed. When you stop to think about it, I really should've had a much harder time communicating. Instead, I never had a problem, whether I was in Scotland, Belgium, Holland, Dubai, or Ghana. Everywhere I went, people spoke not just English, but American English. And yes, that includes Great Britain, ostensible birthplace of the language that, thanks to the outsized influence of American culture, has become the global lingua franca. So in Scottish pubs and shops where we sometimes had to ask people to repeat themselves so we could understand what they were saying, we never had a problem ordering food or drinks, asking where the restroom was, getting directions to a landmark, or anything else. In Belgium, even a gruff waiter whose ability to speak English was so limited he could only point to items on the menu still had no trouble understanding what I was asking him. In Amsterdam, I encountered a bartender whose English was so perfectly


This is not a young man's face. "There's a simple explanation for it," said the hand doctor, "and you're not going to like it." I didn't brace myself, because I knew what he was going to say next. I've been hearing it a lot lately, in fact. "You're getting old." Yup. Exactly what I was expecting. This chapter in the "getting old" volume of my memoir began a year ago. That's when I noticed an odd growth on the first knuckle of my right middle finger. It resembled a blister, though I'd done nothing to cause one. My first thought was that perhaps I'd been bitten by a spider or some other insect, and developed some kind of infection. I had a doctor look at it. She inserted a needle into it, drew out some fluid (this was not a pleasant experience), and concluded I had a ganglion cyst: fluid was leaking out of the joint, causing this strange growth. She told me to keep an eye on it, and come in

Dispatches from Ghana VII: We're in Frickin' Africa!

Our time at Dzodze was drawing to a close. There were just two days of workshops and performances remaining before we would board the bus to Accra. For one of my final workshops, I chose a Level I presented by a musician from Colombia who performed under his first name: Tupac. (I never had the chance to ask him if he was intentionally associating himself with the late rapper, but I assume he was aware of the feelings that name evokes for Americans steeped in hip hop.) Tupac’s performance style is suave, sophisticated, and occasionally employs a wry sense of humor, but not of the clowning variety. Instead, watching his featured performance several days earlier, I was immediately reminded me of the Jets choreography in West Side Story . He’s very cool and smooth in what he does, incorporating elements of Latin American dance. He’s also an excellent teacher, precisely hitting the sweet spot between challenge and simplicity that I consider “Level Me.” He knew wh

Dispatches from Ghana VI: Level I, Level II, Level Me

Turns out I’m not as advanced as I like to think I am. Teaching elementary music, it’s easy to forget that the main reason I appear to be so good at the skills I teach is that I’m a grown-assed adult who’s studied these things, while my students are children experiencing them for the first time. When I teach my body music unit, it usually only lasts for one or two classes before I run out of material, but that’s plenty of time for children to marvel at the speed and complexity of the rhythms I can play on my body. Similarly, as we drum and learn about African musical culture, I’m the expert in the room: I spent two weeks in Ghana four years ago, after all, so I know some stuff. That’s the confidence I brought to the International Body Music Festival, which ended yesterday (for me—I’m midway through the 36-hour odyssey of my journey home, so what day it is is a relative thing). It took just two workshops to put me in my place, and remind me that some people h