Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Where's the Border?

I've missed writing in ye old blog, but hey, I’ve been too busy traveling. With an entourage of the most wonderful folks from Jamaica, Australia, Spain, Thailand, Poland, Finland and Korea. Yesterday we went to Bulgaria, Nicaragua, Azerbhaijan, Ghana, Algeria, the day before to China, the Philippines, Bolivia, Serbia and the Virgin Islands. Our preferred travel mode was entering each country on notes from a xylophone, recorder or the sounded breath and unique phonemes of each place. No passports were required, no narrow-minded Immigration Officials demanding papers. Just an open heart and mind and willing hands and voices. Today will be Greece, Zimbabwe, Trinidad and U.S.A.

I have often envied people with a strong ethnic identity, a sense of home and belonging that is given, not chosen. This old Russian Jew raised Unitarian practicing Zen Buddhism and worshipping at the church of jazz and it’s African diasporic roots has never known precisely who he is in that sense. But living at the crossroads of so many confluent cultures became his (i.e., my) freely chosen and portable home and believe me, it has its own grace and sense of blessing and feeling of belonging to a wider congregation.

Here at the Orff Institut in Salzburg, working with 13 people in the Special Course, I’m the tour guide on this instant world tour, having studied just enough of these diverse musics to get us over the border and savor the unique flavor of each, pluck the dormant strings lying in our chests, everyone’s inner promise to awaken a new faculty of soul through the way gamelan or samba or Ghanaian xylophone music organizes one’s feelings and emotions. It’s not exactly a “music is a universal language” cliché, we have to learn something of the particular tensions and releases, grammars and syntaxes, for the music to really sound those strings. And that’s where my small, but large enough, knowledge of the basic structures of the various musical languages proves helpful.

If I had to choose one identity, I would place myself in the Great American Songbook, that repertoire mostly composed by first generation Jewish immigrants like my parents (well, children of the immigrants, my grandparents) who composed the songs, brought to greater heights by the African-American jazz musicians who sang and played them (Ella, Billie, Louis, Miles, Trane etc. etc.), part of the fabric of Hollywood movies, all stamped with a unique and particular American character that this fellow growing up watching “Leave It to Beaver” wholly recognizes and embraces. I may love visiting with my Spanish-German friend to eat at a Japanese restaurant in Salzburg and then go back to the Youth Hostel filed with Italian teens (as I did last night), but three notes of Embraceable You and I’m home in a different sense.

And so off I go into the Salzburg day to arrive at my 8:30 class in Nicaragua. It’s a weird, wild and wonderful world.

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