Friday, February 5, 2016

On Its Own Terms: Part III


(This is the final section of my talk for Music Advocacy in Brisbane, Australia)

I’m well aware that I’m preaching to the choir here, but hopefully giving you some tools to talk with your parents, your administrators, your school boards and in different language, to the kids. I’m encouraging you to come from a position of strength, to not accept the notion that we need to defend something so essential to our humanity, to stop begging for a place at the table of education and offer to wash the dishes if they’ll let you sit down. To make skillful aikido moves that turn the questions around and ask the people listening to talk about their own relationship to music and how it might have changed their life to have been expertly led to their own musicality—or how it may already have changed their life if they’ve been so fortunate as to have had an inspired and caring music teacher.

I also highly recommend taking time to ask the kids to write down or speak about why music is important to them and keep them on file. If you’re doing good work (see number 1 at the beginning of my talk), the kids—of all ages—will amaze you with what they understand about their own love for music and say it in their own inspired kid-talk that penetrates deeper than mere scientific or sociological facts and statistics.

I have many such testimonies tucked away, but none more remarkable, articulate, poetic and moving than one I received from an alum who came to the San Diego concert the kids gave. She is around 40 years old, left school at ten to move to Iowa, had never come back to visit the school and I hadn’t seen her for some thirty years. It was a great joy to briefly touch base after the concert and swap stories, but nothing could have prepared me for her eloquence, heart and soul in the letter she later sent. I’ll close with her extraordinary words.

Doug, I write to you from Mexico under a sky the color of faded bedsheets.  At some point the stars will come out shivering, and the waning moon in all of her steadiness, will rise. I will be sitting here, watching the fire I built in my chimney, listening to music: Herbie Mann, At the Village Gate, playing "Comin' Home Baby.' It's a piece I can listen to over and over again, and never quite in the same way, which I guess - just like with a good poem - is one of the most beautiful things about music. You know, for some time - maybe years - I have been wanting to write you. In part, to share moments where I've been so deeply moved by a piece of music...those moments like when I heard Beethoven's violin concertos for the first time in an old bookstore, and had to sit down because it was too much for me...or when I first heard Ben Webster and the visceral, almost choking moan of the sax...or how driving home one night and hearing a stream of Stefan Grappelli on the radio I realized he must have died - and so I stayed up into the early morning, drinking tea, listening to that violin across the airwaves playing tribute, and to Django with his distorted hand moving sound.

Doug, I want to thank you. I want to thank you for body music, for having to be barefoot, for the wooden floors of the music room, for samba, for the surprise I felt first listening to the bellow of the conga, for song...for songs that Jasmine and I, when I see her, still sing together. I want to thank you for that moment at the end of music class of "absolute control," where we lay on our backs, eyes closed, chests pulsing from the heat of dance, catching our breaths. I want to thank you for that anticipated moment of release to recess, figured in the touch of a toe. As this year ends, the most devastating year of my life, I play "Comin' Home Baby" for a few reasons. I play it for the slow build...not so dissimilar from another of my favorites, but my Charles Mingus - Better Git it in Your Soul. I play it for the throb of bass, for the playfulness of the flute.

I play this piece for my mom, who came to visit me in California this May to celebrate my birthday. She had moved to Mexico, which is where her family is from. I remember her asking me where I considered home...Mexico? San Francisco? Iowa? I've lived so many places, in different countries in between. I remember telling her that I didn't know....that I guess it was where she is. Home, not being fixed to place. During her visit, my mom died. And for a moment there, I had no notion anymore of home...

I write to you tonight, Doug, to share this. When I heard students from the SF school in San Diego playing songs like those that I once played, I felt a wonderful curiosity, joy, rhythm, and a deep connection transmitted through sound, and energy, and love. It was for me, an utterly poignant moment of reconnection to a past self, to a present and future self. It was a re/connection that transcended space, and place, and time in this exquisitely beautiful moment, where I felt like I was coming home.

Where I felt - if only for a moment - that I was home.

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