Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Joy of Falling Short

Life is too short, my friends. Today I lived a day so full, so rich, but all it did was show me how little I know and how much there is to be learned and enjoyed and mastered.

It began with a Ghanaian dance class, continued into a xylophone class, went on to our local Bay Area treasure, Jackie Rago, teaching a class about Afro-Venezuelan music. Jackie was emphasizing the Festival of San Juan and here’s where my appetite for devouring large bits of life much larger than my time and talent grew yet larger.

When I traveled around the world in 1978-79, I counted myself fortunate to witness so many stunning festivals— Pooram in Kerala, India, a cremation ceremony in Bali, Gion Masturi in Kyoto, Japan, for starters. But if I had my way, I would not only witness some few thousand extraordinary festivals and celebrations worldwide, but participate in them. And not only participate in them, but play, sing and dance in them and that would mean not only mastering the basics of certain instruments, but getting the flair of the language and the cultural sense of the body and knowing and hearing all the parts in the music and all the dance steps and understanding the variations between this village and that. Well, let’s face it—that ain’t gonna happen.

I think it’s cool that I have some 300 jazz songs memorized and at my piano fingertips, some 200 folk songs to sing on guitar with kids, some 40 poems memorized and some 10 stories ready to be told at any campfire. But how little that is compared to what I’d like it to be. I’d love to know a few full gamelan pieces, a few full Ghanaian pieces (the song, dance and all drum parts), 10 Bulgarian bagpipe songs that I can actually both play (at tempo with ornaments) and dance. I’d like to master a roll on a snare drum, a slap on the conga, circular breathe on the didgeridoo. It kills me that I can’t do accents and I wouldn’t mind speaking another couple of languages. Like I said, life is too short and my talent is too small. Many lifetimes are too short!

After that rich day of classes, the kids—from 7 to 17 years old— of Kofi’s Nunya Academy performed several traditional dances with live drumming and singing. The energy, style, complexity, sophistication, choreography, joyful spirit and mastery of these performances was not to be believed. I’m happy if I can get my music students to keep a beat, sing relatively in tune, play a few modest pieces on xylophone and improvise for 4 beats. These kids raised the bar over the roof and inflamed further my regret at all the things I can’t do or will ever probably learn to do.

Oh, well. The appetite for more brings a zest to life and a constant forward motion. It’s a good antidote for complacency and a good reminder not to waste too much time being entertained. And if I seem grouchy that I can’t do so many things, believe me, I’m very happy that they are being done, and expertly, by others.

I can’t wait to find out what I can’t do tomorrow!

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