OFF-Off-off-Broadway

An arriving student seeking a welcoming kiss. Pretty much made every trip to town worth it.
An arriving student seeking a welcoming kiss. Pretty much made every trip to town worth it.

The Bridge to English 2014 Inaugural Concert has come and gone. After two months of weekly singing classes a performance for the ages was presented to friends and family of our music students. The Gypsy Carpenters learned a lot when they participated in the 3 hour holiday extravaganza of kindergarteners back in December. What they learned is 25 minutes is all you need to blow your audience away. If it’s a flop, it’s over quick and if it’s a success, there is nothing wrong with leaving the crowd hungry. We had snacks for the past show party.

Last week’s post-traumatic stress brought on by tough guy teens that failed to sing a single syllable of any songs brought divine inspiration. As directress of this revue I was wondering how best to present the material. I wanted to do a group vocal exercise with all our students and staff and family and friends but then what. Being a ploddingly predictable engineer at times, I was stuck on the idea of putting the kidlets up first and building in age until we had the oldest and most jaded amongst us taking the stage last. If the teens failed to produce we’d just fizzle out and have to skulk home. My other idea was to end it all with a grand Hokey Pokey. Hundreds in concentric circles wagging and shaking and twisting and turning on my command, but how to inspire a grand Hokey Pokey after the silent lip syncing of surly teens? There was my answer! I’d put the teens on first and get them out of their misery and not allow them to stew or conspire while the tweens and niños slayed their parents.

I told Serena my idea and she agreed it was brilliant and she added, merciful. The teens could get up and out and like a terrific vaccination it would be over before they knew what had happened. And that is exactly what happened. Serena introduced us and the Bridge to English program and then we called up the teenagers to do their bit. They never saw it coming. While Serena finished with the business of things I gave them a pep talk. You can see by the crossed arms and grim demeanors that most of them didn’t believe a word I said. Too bad for them. I was right. They were all stars. By going first the audience was warm and kind and gave them big cheers for their whispered renditions of Three Little Birds, There’s a Bad Moon Arising, and Stand By Me. They were wonderful. Wigged out by the twin goloms of peer pressure and an audience they stood up and did their best. It’s hard to breath and make much noise if you don’t want to be seen in public making a mistake. Kudos for the kids that stepped up and tried. A special shout out to Burt that gave them not a beat to rest between songs. He made it move so fast they never had to take their eyes of the lyric sheets and see who was watching.

The tweens and younger set killed us with their smiles and spot on rhythm. On Top of Spaghetti elicited some delirious moans of recognition from gringo parents. Nick Nack Paddy Whack left me gasping for breath. I’ll need to up my aerobic training for next year. Our teapots all poured hot water onto each other since I had never bothered to try and get everyone pouring in the same direction. Choreographer I am not. I could hardly keep my own handle and spout organized. And then it was time. Time for the show stopping Hokey Pokey. I called for body parts. I got eyes, shoulders, feet, legs, hair, fingers….and…cadera. Um…Cadera? We’re practicing English. English, please, and there it was, in a surreptitious, almost naughty tone from the depths of the legion of children surrounding me, Our Holy Grail of the Hokey Pokey…bottom. BOTTOM did you say? Bottom.

And so it was. I did all the parts and repeated (I know not why. Perhaps, menopause?) thee times feet. I kept searching for the missing part (leg) and said feet over and over. Ah well. Repetition is how you learn. The whole show took 25 minutes. Perfect. Snacks awaited.

How lucky are we two to have been part of this? Another facet of our musical life building community wherever we are. Thanks to Burt, Bequia, Tom, Magi and Cathie and all the Bridge to English teachers for helping me out. We couldn’t have done it without you.

The youngest kids gathering and waiting for their turn to shine.
The youngest kids gathering and waiting for their turn to shine.
I'm telling the teens that they are 'ESTRELLAS' stars. They chose not to believe me but they were anyway.
I’m telling the teens that they are ‘ESTRELLAS’ stars. They chose not to believe me but they were anyway.
Bang that tambourine (pandero).
Bang that tambourine (pandero).
Serena, Burt and I play coach, conductor, backup...whatever it takes to get the show going.
Serena, Burt and I play coach, conductor, backup…whatever it takes to get the show going.
Do the Hokey Pokey.
Do the Hokey Pokey.
On Top of Spaghetti
On Top of Spaghetti
World famous bottom shakers of Todos Santos.
World famous bottom shakers of Todos Santos.

 

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Bridge to English Show in One Week

Future music teacher.
Future music teacher.

Sometimes I feel like the lame old elk facing a pack of wolves when I teach kids. They can sniff your weakness. They have the killer instinct. Yesterday was our last class of music with the Bridge to English program at the Palapa Society. News that next week would be a joint show for family and friends was met with a range of enthusiastic jumping and disgusted eye rolling. The younger kids were predictably excited and ready to sing loud and show off their new skills picking out body parts for the Hokey Pokey, lamenting lost meatballs and playing the claves and tambourine. Teenagers wanted us to go away and sealed their mouths up tight as if they had never sung a line of Three Little Birds in their lives. Stupid Little Birds was the theme. I cajoled, I threatened the Hokey Pokey, I ignored them. Then I remembered I was bigger, older, smarter and a trained martial artist. So I laughed back and plowed on ahead with the program. Damn the eye rolls! Even if 2/3 of the group weren’t singing, 1/3 was and that’s who we were there for.

After 6 weeks Burt and I have learned this: each class is unpredictable from week to week and song to song. The kids you thought adored Bad Moon Arising’ won’t open their mouths if that other kid shows up and makes a face at them. One week nobody will make eye contact and the next week they are asking for hugs and the next week they scowl. I think the kids might be in the ‘change of life’, too. The only constant is the younger kids all want to shake their booty (or watch me shake mine) in the Hokey Pokey and the older kids do not want to do the Hokey Pokey, ever.

If you are in the neighborhood, come on down to the Palapa Society Thursday, 4/3/14, 4:30 for the show. Participation encouraged.

Best On Top of Spaghetti team.
Best On Top of Spaghetti team.
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Some of the cutest teapots I have ever seen.

 

She knows all the words to Three Little Birds and two guitar chords.
She knows all the words to Three Little Birds and two guitar chords.
She helps with my Spanish.
She helps with my Spanish. Alacrán = scorpion.
These guys laugh at me and I'm glad.
These guys laugh at me and I’m glad. Check out the rasta nation colored lego tower in honor of our reggae pick.
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When I grow Up…

uh oh, here it comes again.
uh oh, here it comes again.

I (we) survived another 3 hours of the Hokey Pokey, I’m A Little Teapot, This Old Man, yada yada yada. The Palapa Society Bridge to English Concert is drawing near. Every week with the kids we never know what to expect. Some classes are divine and others must be a circle in Dante’s Hell. The mix of mood and personalities and weather makes for unpredictable results. I ponder every week if it is worth the effort and this week was no different but among the baleful looks and sealed lips I scored two unasked for hugs from little boys, a pair of girls vying to stand by my side and one little gem of a kid that told me he wanted to be a music teacher when he grew up. How crazy is that? I have no idea what I am doing and I can barely get by with my misshapen Spanish and this kid thinks he’d like to grow up and be just like me. Something must be going right. So I guess I’ll enjoy the post teaching exhaustion and hope the kid isn’t ruined by a career in music. I’d suggest electrician, carpenter or plumber.

There’s a restaurant hidden in the dust and cacti on the road to Cerritos Beach. This year’s sign is bigger, brighter and more easily seen than last year’s advertisement. Last year there was a tiny arrow with the word ‘desayuno’ pointing into the thorns. We never went. The better sign got people curious and word finally reached us that the food was cheap, tasty and plentiful so we went in for a meal about a week ago. It was a work day and Burt and I were hungry. We plowed through our huge plates so rapidly the waitress made a comment about our appetites. I told her we were working people. When she recovered from the shock that not all gringos are carefree layabouts she asked what we did. She nearly keeled over when I told her we were carpenters. Normally Burt and I don’t tell strangers we work. We do not have work permits and so it is illegal to work. We rarely work but on this day we did and so there you have it, I blurted it out on the one day this winter we worked. After my intemperate confession an excited conversation ensued between the two women running the restaurant. They showed us a table they hated. It was the ubiquitous in Mexico plastic bar table.  White, ugly, flimsy. They wobble and spill drinks according to the women. How much for a wooden table? A stout, custom made wooden table? Burt hemmed and did a little carpet dancing. Wood alone can cost $100 around here. All wood comes from the mainland or the US or Canada. It’s very expensive. What to do, what to do? Burt told her he’d price some wood and get back to her with a figure. We fled. Visions of La Migra deporting us ensued.

Trusting to kindness and wanting to help people Burt got some wood and made a sturdy log-legged table in no time. We delivered it today. Burt charged ten meals. The clients were besides themselves with how fast he did the job and how little it cost. Don’t tell anyone. Music teacher and giver away of custom made furniture: these are not ways to make a living but a life.

Look for this sign to find the table.
Look for this sign to find the table.
Mueble Magico for some food.
Mueble Magico for some food.
Ten meals is a pretty screaming deal.
Ten meals is a pretty screaming deal.
The food is good and plentiful.
The food is good and plentiful.
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Musicology

These kids look like they are terrified of Burt and Tom. It's not true.
These kids look like they are terrified of Burt and Tom. It’s not true.

Here’s what I posted on Facebook last night: Found a Peanut is starting to look like a viable escape from On Top of my Spaghetti….And those Three Little Birds are too damn stupid to see the reality of life if you ask me. Three hours of music classes are taking its toll. Teachers deserve more pay. 

I guess I was a little worn out from eight 20 minute classes. I’m a Little Teapot and the Hokey Pokey’d right out. This teaching stuff is hard work. The hardest part for me isn’t standing there looking silly trying to speak in Spanish. It’s not hard making funny noises and dancing like a dork. What is hard is keeping track of where I am in the ‘curriculum.’ We have 3 classes to get to in one hour. That leaves us a theoretical twenty minutes to teach. With moving from room to room and getting attention and forming a circle….Maybe we have fifteen minutes a class. I start every group out the same way. We go through a variety a patently ridiculous breathing and vocalization exercises designed to get their brains and bodies engaged and to make them do silly stuff to overcome inhibitions. I do this 8 times in three hours. I think it sets the stage for my disorientation.  Did I do the left elbow or the right foot or the hip in the 7th version of the Hokey Pokey? Was it last week or last class that I discussed the inner meaning of a Bad Moon Risin’? How do you explain moss (see On Top of Spaghetti lyrics) to a group of desert dwellers? Did I just ask a group of rolly eyed, slouchy adolescents if they liked a song? Never ask a group of teenagers if they like ANYTHING. Teenagers do not admit to adults that they like anything. The dangers of traversing from 6 year old to teenaged students in such a short span of time.

Yesterday I did one cool thing that worked very well with all the age groups. Tom Moran had joined in on mandolin and I asked Tom to play us short riffs that we could sing back to him. This kind of exercise develops listening skills and reinforces the concept that you need to listen to learn. Tom chose the back and forth call and response opening sequence of dueling banjos. What a brilliant selection. It was easy for me and it was unusual for the kids. Imagine a group of Mexican kids lilting out the theme song of that 70s classic movie Deliverance. Now imagine it eight times. Anybody got a canoe?

Serena is demonstrating the sneezing that caused the meatball to roll away in On Top of Spaghetti.
Serena is demonstrating the sneezing that caused the meatball to roll away in On Top of Spaghetti.
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I’m a Little Teapot

IMG_9073
Revamped picture from a couple of weeks ago

The Gypsy Carpenters visited the Bridge to English program at the Palapa Society again yesterday. We’ve developed a syllabus of some simple tunes where we can help with English and singing  development. Over the course of three hours we visited 8 classes. The kids are grouped by age and English skills. For each class Burt plays along while I warm the kids up with a seemingly random but actually deviously effective series of vocalizations meant to reduce inhibitions and get them breathing, working their vocal chords and lips, tongues and teeth. There’s a lot you can do with sing songy vowel sounds and lip flapping raspberries. I even threw in a few forceful NOs (there’s the devious bit).  From there we did the Hokey Pokey. Doing the math it came out to 24 Hokey Pokeys over 3 hours. One slow, one faster, one with the kids naming body parts. The kids never failed to ask me to put my right hip in, put my right hip out, out my right hip in and shake it all about. I guess you’re ever too young to appreciate a good shake of the old money maker. From there it was onto whatever songs we had chosen for the particular age group. The littlest got I’m a Little Teapot. All ages got On Top of Spaghetti. The oldest and middle kids sang Three Little Birds and Bad Moon a Rising‘. It was quite a pace and I worked hard to keep moving and get in and out of each class in 20 minutes so we wouldn’t cause scheduling problems. Despite the packed agenda I never knew twenty minutes could be so long. When you’re on the 15th run through of the first verse of I’m a Little Teapot (with dance moves) time slows down. We came home utterly spent and pondered the miracle that there are people that can do this all day, every day for most of their lives. I am happy to do this once a week. The other six days I need my rest.

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