notes from the observatory

Wisdom Generation

It’s been years since I posted anything on my blog, but that’s not because I haven’t been learning, studying, and living. I guess the blog bug wasn’t biting. No. That’s not the whole picture. I haven’t posted partially out of fear of having nothing worth saying – no insight rich enough, or deep enough, or worthy enough.

Recently I’ve been learning a new software platform, DaVinci Resolve, to create videos, and have really enjoyed the learning curve and what can be done. It’s a refreshing change from music practice, but it has actually helped to focus the practice I make time for. You can see some of my work here and here.

Last week was the week of the Texas winter storm. No power for a while, boiling our drinking water. We are fortunate. It was harder, more desperate for many. During it and right as things started to thaw out, I was struck by the thought “don’t return to business as usual” but also in opposition to that thought was “move forward.” Since then, less than a week ago, I’ve been struggling to find the balance between them.

As a teacher, I feel it’s imperative that I’m honest and candid with my students that what happened is an example of what, in my opinion, was the result of decades, generations of, “business as usual.” I’m culpable myself. I haven’t educated myself on power grids, how they work, what the financial models are that prop them up, and how vulnerable we all are to their collapse. But, that’s not to say I haven’t had a sense for much of my life how vulnerable I am, we all are, in the midst of nature’s grip. Getting a 1st-person experience in it was powerful.

Classes resume (online) tomorrow for students and I’m still a bit unsure what I want to say, what kind of space I want to create for my students. So this blog entry is basically a place for me to work it out.

What I want to convey is that life isn’t going to get less complex or easier. Life is going to continue getting more and more complex. I want my students to understand, to be prepared for the coming challenges we all face. As a music teacher, in the year 2021, I often have doubts that what I’m teaching (and especially how I teach it) isn’t adequately preparing students for life after high school. My own “business as usual” isn’t cutting it. I need to re-frame and re-presence what the value, meaning, and purpose of music and being a musician is.

In Forrest Landry’s Immanent Metaphysics, he says…

“The totality of the relationship between self and reality is understood in terms of six subjects, six paths. These may be known as spirituality, religion, science, technology, mysticism, and magic.”

Art is the combination of technology, religion, and the working of magic. Philosophy is the combination of science, spirituality, and mysticism. Metaphysics is the integration (unifying basis) of all six paths into a common whole.”

So, my takeaway here is that the relationship between self and reality is expressed through art and perceived through philosophy. Now, that’s actually three things: art, philosophy, plus relationships. So, what I want to do a better (more complete) job of teaching my students is helping them understand that what they are doing when they play and study music is they are expressing and perceiving. They are expressing their perceptions, and those perceptions in turn inform their expressions, and back and forth they go. And the relationships they have between those two things, plus the relationships they have with others is the essence of “wisdom generation.”

To make sense of the world, to give meaning to the world, requires participation in the world, the relationships we have within ourselves, with our family, friends, and peers, and with the physical world itself.

For instance, when we talk about DYNAMICS in music, we’re pointing to the RELATIONSHIP between people, groups, and things. How do they interact? How SHOULD they interact? The world IS dynamic, in that it’s constantly changing. When we talk about TIME and TEMPO, we’re pointing to the understanding that EVERYTHING happens in TIME. Sometimes the music stays steady, sometimes it speeds up, and sometimes it slows down. And, importantly, even when the notes end, TIME keeps GOING. When we talk about ARTICULATION, we’re DEFINING and CREATING meaning. When we talk about MELODY, PHRASING, and LYRICISM, we’re pointing to the STORY being told, the character of (in) the piece. When we discuss HOW TO PRACTICE we’re pointing to HOW TO GROW ON PURPOSE. When we PLAY, we PLAY! And, what it FEELS like to PLAY is a critical aspect of growing up, BECAUSE playing is essential to DISCOVERY, ADAPTATION, and IMPROVISATION. When we teach how to COMPOSE, we’re teaching HOW to DESIGN, ENGINEER, and ARCHITECT things of value and purpose.

All of these elements of learning music, and many more, are essential parts of wisdom generation. And of course there at least two ways to read wisdom generation.

First, it’s in the verb sense. We must generate wisdom to have meaningful lives. The capacity to BE wise is directly proportional to the meaningfulness of life.

Second, wisdom generation is also the noun sense. This generation could become, could take up the mantel of the “Wisdom Generation.” Their relationship to and cultivation of wisdom will need to be transformed far beyond historic uses of the word (by an exponential factor), but also sourced deeply in those lineages which have taken us this far.

There’s so much more to say, but for now, I’ll end with this – Learning to play music is training for playing life. And that’s the most important play we do.

-Ponder, Feb. 23, 2021 – “your life is your greatest work of art”

For those who are interested, my current favorite podcasts are those produced by Rebel Wisdom (David Fuller), The Stoa (Peter Limberg), and Integral Life (Corey deVos). Some of my current favorite authors, speakers, and researchers are:

  • Zak Stein
  • Daniel Schmachtenberger
  • Jordan Hall
  • Nora Bateson
  • Forrest Landry
  • Rob Smith
  • Jamie Wheal
  • John Vervaeke
  • Gregg Henriques
  • Greg Thomas
  • Steve McIntosh

playing, practicing, persuading, or performing?

in tonight’s blog i’d like to share my opinions about four words…


i use this word to identify the feeling i get when i’m…well…truly playing my instrument! it’s fun, i enjoy it, it’s just the right amount of challenging, and my self-expression is at a high point. playing and fun go hand in hand: the more fun i’m having, the more i want to play, and the more i play the more fun i have….easiest win-win ever!!


i use this word to identify the way i’m behaving and acting when i play. i’m noticing things like tone, intonation, rhythmic integrity, dynamics, articulation, phrasing, style, and more. this is the realm of being objective about my music. [on a personal note, this area often gets way too much of my attention! anyone else?]


i use this word to identify the way i feel when i’m playing with or for other people. if someone else is there, i’m now in a relationship, and relationships require communication. and communication that persuades is generally better than that which dissuades! now, i’m taking the feeling, self-expression, personal experience in the moment and sharing it with the other person. a new we is developing. [if that other person also happens to be playing music with me in the moment that now allows for a whole new level of artistry and creativity to emerge…more on this in a later post.] for now, the idea is that there should be some sort of inter-subjective feeling that you and i, we are having, together, as a result of making music. without you and me, there’s no we!


finally, i use this word to identify the other big picture objectives

  • where am i? (practice room, band hall, my bedroom, a small coffee shop stage, a football field at halftime, a large theater stage, recording studio, etc.)
  • what time of day is it? when does it start and end? how long will it take to get there?
  • who is involved in making everything happen at the venue?
  • what basic needs and technological aspects are there? (water, food, parking, electricity, sound system, internet, Wi-Fi, lighting, props, etc.)
  • what’s the purpose of this performance?
  • who’s the audience?
  • what institutions or parts of society am i representing or which may have some influence over this performance? (TMEA, UIL, my class, my school, band boosters, my community, big or small businesses, donors, etc.)

all of these elements have some effect over the music. the more tied into, aware, and appreciative i am of these big picture elements the more likely the music will be rewarding, empowering, successful, and fun! [forget or neglect one or more, and things aren’t as sweet]

putting it all together

when it’s all going well, all four words are occurring in a healthy balance. i’m playing me, i’m putting all my skills in practice,  we are sharing and persuading in the moment, and the performance is happening as part of an inter-connected big picture.

so…the next time you pick up your instrument, or sit down at the drums or piano, take a moment to remind yourself to PLAY, PRACTICE, PERSUADE, AND PERFORM!

the importance of beauty in education

Beauty ~ Truth ~ Goodness

Teaching is an art form, according to many. And in the art of teaching, there is a balance between discovering beauty, truth and goodness. We all make our own way through life, and along the road we can find examples of beauty that encourage us to stop and pay attention, just for beauty’s sake. Perhaps most would agree that schools often find themselves in the position of teaching truth (mathematics, science, grammar, geography, social studies, history, engineering, physics, biology, chemistry) and goodness (behavior, etiquette, morality, kindness, fairness, justice, relationship building.)

But Can Beauty Be Taught?

Can a person teach someone else ‘what’ is beautiful? I say no. But, perhaps we can teach someone what beauty ‘is.’ This may at first glance appear to be the realm of art, music, theater, and dance, and certainly we should start there, but hopefully we begin to see parallels in other areas too.

What makes a piece of art visually beautiful? What makes a particular performance of music beautiful? What makes great choreography, movement and dramatic acting beautiful? Everyone has a favorite piece of art or music or dance or film that inspires them. Most students by the age of 7 can point to certain things that they claim as beautiful, or pretty, or special. And in fact, as part of our personal development and growth, we identify with the people, places and things around us in some way and to some degree. The developing sense of ego and self make us stronger people and allow us to better interact with those around us, contributing more and more to society and culture as we mature.

But identity is not what we’re after here exactly. What we’re looking for is beauty and how to teach it, if that’s even possible.

The Eye of the Beholder

Self-identification with our internal, external and eternal self.

We all identify with certain thoughts, feelings, visions, imaginations, dreams, desires, hopes, fears and loves. All of these are internal or intangible. No one else can see them, hold them, taste them, experience them like I do.

We also all share certain external (both interior and exterior) biology, chemistry and behaviors. On our insides (interiors) we have our organs, bones, muscles all the way down to blood chemistry, neurological pathways, synapses, and beyond to cells, molecules, and atoms. On our outsides (exteriors), we have our skin, unique facial features, hair, and voice. These are all things we can point to in physical space or find under a microscope or hear with our ears.

And all these things behave in similar ways across the planet. Watch a football game on TV and notice how when people all stand up in the stands together there’s a unique set of motions that all people are going through to rise from a seated position. There’s a specific rhythm and kinesthetic motion we all share. And our bodies are constantly behaving in similar ways from eating, digesting, peeing and pooping, to running, walking, climbing and swimming. – And NONE of these things are internal, they are all external.

Beauty Lives Within Us, Not Outside Us

We could even say, ‘Beauty lives within us, and not without us.’ (That’s a fun one to sit with for a moment or a day or more…..) While we point to a piece of art or piece of architecture out there, what we’re actually doing, in my opinion, is recognizing something within us.

It Takes One to Know One

Any young child from my generation remembers this witty comeback to an insult. Beauty is like this. It takes beauty to recognize beauty. And in my experience everyone has infinite beauty within them, but learning to see it is a lesson of an entire lifetime.

The Statue of David 

Nothing could have prepared me for the moment, in summer 2002, when I saw the Statue of David by Michelangelo in Florence, Italy. It wasn’t just that I didn’t know which room I was walking into, it was that the experience of this magnificent work of stunning beauty is beyond words, and therefore, no one could have prepared me for what I would see and experience. However, I recognized it then, and recognize it now as surely one of the single most beautiful works of humankind ever. It is transcendent, inspiring, awesome – a true wonder to behold. It is rightly regarded as beautiful by most because it is a statue of a human. —“It Takes One to Know One”— And humans have access to all three realms: Beauty, Truth, and Goodness.

I recommend that you see it before you die. In all the 40 days through 7 countries, and 12 major cities, countless geographies, landscapes and ecosystems, this one moment, this one work of beauty, dwarfs all others, literally and figuratively.

There are art critiques and histories galore, but what I was overtaken with was just the one word: beauty.

John Coltrane “A Love Supreme”

A Love SupremeThe tenor saxophone players who make my top five are John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Dexter Gordon, Stan Getz and Stanley Turrentine. When John Coltrane recorded “A Love Supreme” he left a musical treasure of profound beauty. He moved past conventional musical boundaries to co-create with Jimmy Garrison, bass, McCoy Tyner, piano, and Elvin Jones, drums. Perhaps it’s his greatest album of all time. For sure he left the conventional behind for ever after. While this album pushes the boundaries of then-current limits, the music was/is still accessible to most jazz fans and probably most lovers of beautiful music. It touches on the roots of jazz: blues and spirituals and it moves through four different movements: Acknowledgment, Resolution, Pursuance, Psalm; tying it, at least loosely, with the symphonic form of Western classical music.

The ‘lyrics’ of the album are a prayer Coltrane wrote. And at the beginning of the album, near the end of Acknowledgment, the band chants “a Love Supreme” 19 times before moving into Resolution, the 2nd movement. Listening to the entire album from beginning to end is highly recommended. Words cannot convey the feelings and impressions I get while listening to it. Please enjoy and share with others.

A Love Supreme by John Coltrane (1964)

Beauty Can Be Taught

Yes. Yes it can. It is taught through introspection, meditation, contemplation and reflection. It is taught every time someone asks another ‘how are you?’ In the sharing of our emotions, feelings, thoughts, dreams, imagination and entire internal world, we are drawing up from the well our internal and eternal self, bringing that beauty into the external world for another to experience. And the profound experience of sitting in nature, seeing the objective external world in all it’s ugly messy beauty can influence our internal and eternal selves as well.

It is taught each time we have an awareness of the timeless and eternal within us and around us. Even a fleeting glimpse of these states of awareness has an immediate and lasting impact on the psyche and soul. And it’s this that can be taught and must be taught if our world has any chance of continued growth into further states and stages of health, wealth and happiness.

Love and Light

In closing, the classic ‘Big Three’ of Beauty, Truth, and Goodness are all manifestations of Love. In all the philosophies, religions, spiritual paths, schools of thought and action, Love truly is the driving force underneath, behind, and surrounding all of us.

In each moment this English language maxim holds true: “No Love, know fear. Know Love, no fear.”

To bring us back to Love instead of fear, the ancient Eskimo shaman Najagnek brings us this simple medicine:

“Be not afraid of the Universe.”

Until next time……Love and Light…………….

the difference between nice and kind, plus truth and trustworthiness

I realized again, more than ever before, the difference between being nice and being kind.

For the past few weeks, a man sought me out at my school to inquire about the possibility of working with our students on the topic of jazz improvisation. He talked the talk, as the saying goes. He said several things that sounded very accurate in their relationship to jazz pedagogy and improvisational theory and practice. However, there were also several things that did not ring true.

His mention of several famous jazz musicians was so frequent as to be simple name-dropping, as if I needed to be reminded that Miles Davis and Charlie Parker were important historic figures in the jazz world, was borderline insulting.  He can scat with convincing rhythm and melodic content, talk about dominant chords, substitutions, and chord alterations with the best of them, but he didn’t have the social skill awareness to relate to others in a grounded, real way. In my opinion, he spent too much time in his head, and not enough in the world.


Why I invited him in to work with our students came down to this: being nice. I thought the guy deserved a shot. I wanted to be nice to a guy, who was old enough to be my dad, and could talk a good game. Out of respect for his age and talk, I gave him a shot. It didn’t work out.

Count Basie being nice is not like me being nice

When I was 24 years old, I read Stephen Covey’s ‘7 Habits of Highly Successful People.’ I came up with my own personal mission statement. As part of the suggestions Covey makes to his readers, he recommends thinking about what I would want people to say about me at my own funeral. I remembered reading what Count Basie said about himself, that he just wanted people to think he was a nice guy. Well, admiring Count Basie as much as I did and still do, I took that on in a very real way. I went out of my way in all my interactions in my professional and personal life to be nice. Not that it was hard to come by since I have a very sweet mother and father and all my family can be described as nice, at least most of the time.

Count Basie lived in a very different world than I do. He lived within a very segregated America, filled with racism and outright hatred. He worked around pimps, hustlers, and criminals, as well as drug users and dealers. He also managed to lead a band for almost 50 years that left one of the largest impacts on American music and dance, right up there with Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman. My admiration for Count Basie isn’t the problem. My taking on ‘being nice’ as a personally relevant and culturally appropriate habit was just out of line with who I know myself to be.

For Count Basie, being nice was actually a very high and lofty goal, that many people in that time, era and circumstances just couldn’t aspire to. The fact that he had so many famous musicians, then and later, come through his employ is a testament to this simple philosophy held by one of the greatest band leaders and musicians American has ever produced.

But I’m no Count Basie, and I need to be kind, not nice. [And I’m certainly NOT implying that Count Basie would particularly agree with my characterization of him in this way. I’m just pointing out that my admiration of the man and his music was con-fused with my understanding of what being nice actually looks like.]

I digress….


If I had been kind, I would have asked him tougher questions and gotten a better feel for his personal trustworthiness, not just the truth of the ‘system’ he purported to have developed. Once he actually stood in front of the kids, his truth didn’t match up with his trustworthiness.

Truth and Trustworthiness

No matter what he said, there was no escaping the gap between his truth, i.e. the system, the vocabulary, the chord/scale relationship and his trustworthiness, i.e. his way of being with others, his name-dropping, and his inability to ask questions and listen to other people. He seemed compelled to share everything he had ‘figured out’ and very uninterested in what anyone else had to share. If he was as certain of his system as he claimed to have been, his ability to demonstrate it on his instrument and relate it to others in a simple, straight-forward way would have  been more apparent, even in just one 70-minute session. When the session was over, the students were left with very little practical application. They had received very little instruction, just lots of talking to.

Lesson Learned

What I learned from this experience is to be kind, not nice. Being kind, as one of my students later shared with me, is something that’s on the inside, while being nice is something that’s mostly on the outside. Wow, huh?! Being kind might look like telling the truth, rather than being nice about that truth. The saying isn’t ‘Being nice shall set you free.’ The truth shall set you free and it’s kind to be truthful. It’s kind to ask tough questions. It’s kind to say no to someone that isn’t being trustworthy, no matter how nice I want to be.

a call went out

oh great expanse
ever still and ever moving
stretching far, small as dust
hear my call
to be one with the silence
to be one with the shape
and the color
to be reminded of the size
of nothing and everything
holding tight to the infinity
giving up the finite
is an aim, is an aim
can the receiver tune me in
or am i the receiver
the sound or the silence
to be trapped by the mind is ludicrous
to be victimized by the mind, prejudice
forever capitalizing on my own fears
never to forgive my past
freedom, beauty, life
come from the mind that is unchained
unbent by the weight of time
and terror
hear my call, but where
where will the call be heard
in the mind that sent it out
the mind that picks it up
is such a mind disturbed by these thoughts
where does the time stop
the infinity begin, the silence begin
the action without movement, the journey without motion
the love without fear
if i sent out my own call
am i the only one to hear it
if i merely send it out
who but me can know to tune in
who is translating, translating
how to decipher the sounds
do i trust in my small receiver
or the Big Receiver
is it a ‘babblefish’ that I seek
or simple listening, hearing
—ponder east, circa 2005

the shores of now





and there came to be a man living in a child’s body, full of potential and without direction. blown as the wind would blow, thrown as the spray of surf ‘gainst the rocks of Time. the desire was hidden; concealed. without it, he would have died, this man-child, but know of it he did not. as the dawn broke, blue and red and cool a spark lept up. and where the wind had once blown him without thought, now it gave life to the spark. flaming, burning hot. to consume him and all that he knew. drowned in the sea of suffering, burned in the fires of hell, the child began to fall behind, ash-covered, smelling of the salty sea. without this child for once, the man looked behind him; saw no past. looked to his sides and saw only the shores of Now. looked ahead and saw the most magnificent Nothing. and in that moment he became clear. transparent. how had it been? what was to be? all forms moved away and apart, came close and together and over and over they danced. circles became necklaces of hope and promise. broken they weaved themselves into clothes of trust and virtue. worn out they fell to the sky and raised themselves one last time to the fertile soil. dead he seemed to himself. littering his own ground floor. and in the earth the reflection of his true greatness emerged. slowly, painfully, at first, then with something like ease the momentum carried him on and up and out of himself. out of himself he became greater than the wind and lighter than the surf-spray. mindless, beautiful to behold, the man walked on. clothed now in his greatness, all thoughts were actions. these led only to other thoughts which were actions as well. resting and toiling no longer opposites, felt as sure as the ebb and flow of the tides.

—ponder east, 2003