Rhythm Child

music – sports – family & life

I’m happy where I am

Living in Los Angeles can be tough … for a lot of reasons.  Here we are surrounded by wealth, celebrity, shallow minds, & uncaring attitudes (just making an observation … not trying to say these things are always connected).  I’m constantly hearing words of greed and entitlement that cast such a negative light on how we live.  There are very distinct lines drawn in LA that determine a person’s reality so it’s easy to see the separation within our society and the gap that is getting bigger.

In my work alone, I come in contact with kids in preschool that have seen more places in the world than I have, already have more money in their bank accounts than I have and will undoubtedly go through life without ever knowing how any one else lives.  I also work with kids and families that have nothing … they have never actually experienced what exists outside of their neighborhood, they don’t know what a bank account is and all that they aspire towards is what they see in TV & movies.

I am certainly not here to complain or criticize, but to take note of how much variance there is in this city and how divided we are from one another. I commend those wealthy parents who take the time to teach their kids about compassion and giving back.  I honor those parents that instill hope and hard work in their kids who are constantly surrounded by others looking for an easy way out.

My family, and so many others, live in the middle.  We watch the activity on both sides and feel comfortable with both.  We don’t feel inferior to the “haves” and we definitely don’t act superior to the “have-nots”. We are grateful for our blessings and try to help others that are less fortunate.

Myself, I am happy where I live, happy with what I have and happy with who I am …

The most important thing that I have learned about this is that the feeling of being OK with where I am makes it possible for me to move forward and achieve so much more in life.Image


On The Road – Sherman Oaks Lutheran

Today was HOT!!!! I picked a good day to be in the Valley.  My school today was Sherman Oaks Lutheran Children’s Center. It sits on the corner of a pretty residential street with a big apartment complex bordering one side.  I found the office (which is always a little tricky) and the director and I decide to try the drumming session out on the covered playground this time since the big room inside is being used by some of the classes.

My first group were the older kids (4-5) and their teacher had fully prepared them for the experience … including continually playing Rhythm Child music. We talked about the djembe and cuica and played our body percussion.  We had to stop at one point because the trash truck came to the school to pick up a big bin.  I don’t care how cool drums are … it’s hard to compete with a trash truck. Towards the end of out time I was notified that the neighbors had complained about the “noise” and I had to move.  We drummed and dance a little bit more and then finished with some silly statues.

The second group was waiting for me on the other side of the building where there was another patio.  These kids were younger (2-3).  Besides it being extremely hot on the cement, they were all sitting patiently under a nearby tree.  We had a good time even though I lost a few to the heat. We danced, paraded, & played very inspired drum solos.  This group also got momentarily distracted by a huge delivery truck and 2 blaring fire engines.  There was this one boy that the teachers wanted me to check out who was extraordinarily good at repeating rhythmic patterns.

Vacation without a phone

I recently got back from spending almost 2 full weeks in Lake Tahoe without my phone.

I definitely used it on the drive up for a few things, but once I got up in the mountains it seemed a bit distracting.
I would find myself looking at emails and checking for texts just out of habit. Because the cabin doesn’t have internet I did need to use my phone once to see who made the women’s gymnastics team for the the Olympics, but other than that I started to become annoyed with having contact with the outside world.  It was after a couple of days into the trip that I decided to call my brother in Cleveland and let him know that I had finally reached the point of decompression.  During our conversation I told him that I was not going to deal with my phone anymore because I didn’t need it and it was nice not to carry ti around.

Not more than an hour later I was trying to play music with Pandora on my phone and it stopped working … I mean literally stopped working.  The front screen was frozen and it would not unlock. Of course I thought this was strange, but totally fixable … nothing I did was bringing the phone back to its usual responsive state.  I’ll admit that there was a bit of a panic because I wasn’t sure how I could function without my trusty appendage.  It took another couple of days to accept the fact that I was totally out of the loop (luckily Heather had her Blackberry so we still had the ability to answer business emails), but I started to feel very free.  I no longer had the ability to communicate with family members, friends, musicians and various social networks and I realized that it was truly a blessing.  My phone represented the one thing that I really needed to let go of on my vacation … the thoughts of other people.

All of a sudden I was only thinking about me and my immediate family.  I was more focused on my boys and my wife.  I was not constantly distracted by random messages and instant notifications. I made it almost 2 weeks without a phone and the world managed to continue without me.  I did miss one call about a gig, but everything ended up working out just fine.

I’m back now and bought one of the latest and greatest smartphones moving forward, but my attachment has changed and I will be forever grateful for that simple reminder in the mountains of Lake Tahoe.

Infants & Toddlers @ School Playing Drums

This week I did 2 different schools that wanted to include their infants and toddlers in the drum workshops. Tuesday was Gateway Child Development Center in Union Station and Wednesday was the South Bay Bright Horizons.  Although I really have to change my approach drastically to accommodate the young ones, I think it’s so cool that the directors value the experience enough to spend the time and money for children that can’t even fully express their level of understanding.

I used the bongo as my instrument of choice for them because the drum can sit on the ground without falling over and they can get a good sound out of it … even with their little hands.  I talked to them about the sound of the drum and tied to give them an idea of the way it was made.  It’s so funny to gaze around the room and see so many different expressions and looks … constantly trying to figure out what’s going on inside their little brains.  We make sounds with our hands.  We make sounds with one stick and then two.  We sing songs when we stop the drumming … then we drum some more.  At the end we get up and dance to allow them to do what comes natural … moving to the rhythm of a drum.

It’s always interesting to me that if a parent is in the room the child usually doesn’t want to participate. Which is kind of funny because the parent stayed for the drumming session because they think they are going to witness something really amazing being channeled through their normally outgoing tiny drummer.

I had a great time and working with such young ones really keeps me on my toes and makes me focus on communication through music.

Cherish The Day

Single moments can be as important as an entire lifetime if we just take the opportunity to really live in that moment.  Today I had the chance to spend some time with my 86 year old Dad and talk to him about our family history.  We’ve had this conversation before, but today I was prepared with a couple of questions that sparked new family knowledge that he had never shared.  Maybe he never thought the names of his uncles and aunts were relevant to me, but that little bit of information opened the door to a discovery that he had always been looking for.  So with his childhood remembrances and my navigation of Ancestry.com we were able to uncover a document that shed some light on a question that he has held onto his whole life. Together we discovered the name of his great grandparents and the legitimacy of his father, whom he always thought was born out of wedlock because he didn’t share the same last name as his grandmother and the rest of her children.  To see the relief in his eyes as I shared this information was priceless and extremely satisfying.

I will forever cherish this day and I can now pass this story on to my boys … who will then share it with their children.  In that one moment of discovery lives a lifetime of history.

Monday Morning Sunshine

There are a number of challenges that come with living in LA; there is the constant hum of traffic, the continual threat of drought, there is also the unfortunate battle for upkeep of our public school system.  The list could go on and on, making it unbearable to live here anymore and forcing relocation to a quieter easier going city.  But with all of the negative influences and bad elements, there is joy this Monday morning because the sun is out and the hope of a new day is filled with positive energy and the reminder of our many blessings.

Sure the mortgages are outrages and the separation between the “haves” and the “have-nots” is widening as we speak, but there is something about being here that allows you to dream of new possibilities.  I watch the gardeners cut and trim, the construction workers hammer and saw, the cleaning people sweep and scrub … all of the while knowing that this place allows them the opportunity to live and provide a better way for their children.  I see friends and family go to their offices and places of business to put in their time knowing that the clock will eventually tick on an hour when life is their own.  We all realize that the cost of living is high, but the rewards of living are just as high.  We know that what we do in LA is generating much more than it would in a lot of other places.  But the ultimate gift is the sun and its glowing rays of inspiration.

Some people are working so hard that they can’t see the sun … I get it … it’s not easy to keep up with all of the demands of this city.  It doesn’t take much to fall behind and get caught in the trap of wanting more or needing more.  This place has swallowed up the best of us.  What makes it tolerable is when you can step outside and feel the warmth of the morning sun, take a deep breath and walk among the people with an appreciation of our surrounding nature.  LA is a big place and I know that it really depends on where you are as to how much joy you feel, but I am speaking from my humble existence and knowing that I acknowledge every part of my life … both good and bad.  It is how I think about LA that allows me to live the way I live … I do not let others dictate my outlook.

I have created my own lifestyle and I will teach my children to do the same.  I am aware of the fear that is all around me, but I don’t take part in it.  I connect with the earth each and every day to remind me why I live here and why it is important to be at one with nature even if I’m standing in the middle of the city.  LA is a powerful place and I am aware of it right now as I feel the power of this Monday morning sunshine.

Is sportsmanship still part of sports?

Last night I watched the NBA game between my hometown LA Clippers and their new rivals the Los Angeles Lakers.  This year their has been so much talk about which team owns this town, which team is more exciting and which team is going to make it the farthest at the end of the season.  Let me start by stating that I am not a huge fan of professional athletes in any sport and I have a really big problem with the influence they have on society.  That being said, I find pro basketball pretty entertaining and I can somehow overlook the “thug look” of most players and appreciate their incredible skill level.

I was never a basketball player as a kid (football, wresting & track from 7th grade until I graduated) so I am still learning the ins and outs of the game.  What I do know though is what it means to be part of a team and the underlying rules of fair play.  Last nights game was nothing short of intense and the players on both teams played like they had everything to prove to the other; the Clippers are desperately trying to earn respect and the Lakers are adamantly trying to demand respect.  There was fist pumping, chest pounding and lots of trash talking throughout the entire game … especially towards the end when it seemed like the Clips might pull off another win.

I think that this type of behavior is the thing that (to this day) keeps me from playing basketball. I never had that “I’m going to embarrass you” mentallity and I realize that it’s a must if you want to be successful in this particular sport.  Which brings me to my question of … “is sportsmanship still part of sports?” I don’t have an answer and I have no idea what coaches teach or preach these days, but I do know that the ethics of sport seem to be missing from professional competition and it has seeped into the lower levels of college, high school and middle school athletics.  All of our kids are imitating what they see the pros do and it has gotten out of hand.  We are watching millionaires acting like they are playing a pick-up game for money.

I talk to my kids everyday about being a good sport and respecting their opponent.  They know that if they ever act inappropriately during a game that I will pull them out right then and there.

We need to make a commitment to demand that our teachers and coaches are teaching good sportsmanship?

A great day @ Woodland Hills Community Church Nursery School

I go into hundreds of schools and I work with thousands of kids, but not all experiences are rewarding.  Today I had the good fortune of going back to a school that I first encountered last year.  Woodland Hills Community Church Nursery School is nestled in a nice neighborhood at the base of the valley side of the Santa Monica Mountains.  One of my great friends lives very close to there so I have seen the school many times over the years.

My return this year was greeted with lots of smiles and hugs from teachers and parents that remember the session from before.  Jenny, my parent coordinator, was there waiting for me at the gate with her son and together we walked into the school hall to catch up and get ready for the kids.  The first group consisted of about 40 children that were 2& 3 years old … some had their parents and siblings join them since they were still there from the morning drop-off.  The second group was also about 40 kids, but they were a little older (4 & 5).  In both sessions we talked about the drum and its tones and then moved a bit while playing body percussion.  I showed them the djembe and talking drum and we discussed the differences and similarities of the two.  Eventually I brought out the Sound Shapes and we went through a series of drum circle exercises which allowed them to express their energy and creativity.  We ended the sessions with dancing and expressive movements … the kids had a lot of fun and the teachers were very thankful.

Like I said earlier, some school experiences are great and some are not.  This was one that was perfect from beginning to end and left me with a strong feeling of satisfaction that I was able to truly connect with these kids.

Why is Dad so mean?

I love my kids and I would do anything to help them succeed in life, but I will not do everything to make them happy.

My boys (6 & 11) are great kids and it does me proud to hear other parents, coaches & teachers praise them for their positive energy and respectful nature.  The boys are becoming leaders in the community and have shown incredible confidence in their ability to understand the world around them. That is why it is so frustrating for me to have constant battles at home when trying to show them the importance of unity within the family.  I’m sure that every parent has this struggle of their child being a certain way in public and another way at home, but for me it is a situation that is unnecessary and unacceptable.

I was raised in a single parent household for most of my childhood and I watched how hard my mother worked to keep me involved and engaged with positive influences.  Her goal was to see me be successful in life and to make it as a good person.  I couldn’t imagine doing things at home that would continually aggravate her … especially while she was doing everything in her power to make me better.  I don’t expect anyone to believe that I was a perfect kid and I got into plenty of trouble, but I saved all of the mischief and bad behavior for the outside world … not the sanctity of my home.

I realize that I expect a lot from my kids and that I am looking at them and their attitudes through the filter of 47 years of life so it is not fair for me to compare who I am now with the way my boys are now.  All I want is to give them the tools to be successful in life.  With all of the other influences that they are exposed to in the world today I have made a commitment to guide them to be responsible for all of their thoughts and actions … even if it seems like I am being mean.

In honor of Etta James

It wasn’t until I saw the movie Cadillac Records that I really started researching Etta James.  I had heard her music, but never truly listened to her soul.  The way Beyonce portrayed her in the movie left me with a lot of questions and I was very intrigued by her relationship with the songs that she recorded at Chess Records.  The scene in the movie that really made me want to know who Etta was for real was when she was in the studio singing “I’d Rather Go Blind”.  I immediately came home from the theater and listened to that song and many others on iTunes.  The album that I decided was the perfect one for me was a live recording from 1963 and I felt chills when I heard that opening growl from Etta as she started “Somethings Got A Hold On Me”.  From that moment on Etta James has been my new go-to source for inspiration and soul.  I have been listening and researching original R&B music since I was a kid and you will never know the amount  of shame that I feel for not seeking out Etta James sooner in my life.  I have tried to go see as many legends as possible while they were still able to rip it up on stage, but unfortunately she was one that I let get away without experiencing her passion.

We need to embrace these icons of popular music and raise them to their proper place in history.  I am making a commitment to do my part to educate the next generation about the importance of recognizing such heroes as Etta James. May we hear her songs forever and cherish the voice of a master.

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