(The following is the opening talk I gave at the concert we gave with kids from the SF School and Synergy School alongside Kofi Gbolonyo, my Pentatonics Jazz Band and Jackie Rago and friends. It was a benefit for the Nunya Music Academy in Kofi’s home town of Dzodze, Ghana.)
We need music every day of our lives. Music is what energizes us, calms us, consoles us, shares our joy, awakens us from our slumber, connects us to ourselves and our fellow human beings.
But some days, we need music more than anything else. This past week has been one of those times. So many of us wondering how we are going to survive what just went down, how to keep our little candle of hope lit and our courage strong. And no better place to turn to than the people who have been down this path so many times and for so long and always, always managed to rise up singing. All music is necessary and powerful and beautiful, but the music of the African diaspora gives us that something extra, that story of people struggling against impossible odds and kept alive and vibrant through music. Getting these pieces ready for today, I felt the ancestors in every note reminding me that they are there with us, they got our back, they’re there to catch us when we fall down and lift us back into the dancing ring.
And I felt the children ahead of us, inspiring us with their beautiful spirit, reminding us what kind of future we're working so hard for, delighting us as they played, sang and danced their way through this life-affirming material. The steps the old ones used to do now in their young feet, the songs they used to sing in their young voices, the notes they used to play in their young hands. I imagine some of the ancestors must have looked on with wonder as American kids of all origins and ethnicities awakened the music of Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Zimbabwe, Venezuela, Cuba, the American South and Harlem in their bodies, hands and voices and felt it like a home territory. That's the antidote to all the divisiveness, distrust, fear and hatred.
The ancestors are behind, the children ahead—that’s a happy combination. And all of us here in this room come together, brought together by the unstoppable power of music. Here we have two schools dedicated to decades of quality music education coming together to support yet another such place across the sea in the village of Dzodze, Ghana. So few in education really understand what music can mean to kids and community and culture. Schools either neglect it entirely or are content with a narrow version of bands of kids reading notes on paper to play at the football game. But those of us who have dedicated our lives to this work know better. And so did Confucius some 2500 years ago.
The superior man tries to create harmony in the human heart by a rediscovery of human nature, and tries to promote music as a means to the perfection of human culture. When such music prevails and the people’s mind are led toward the right ideals and aspirations, we may see the appearance of a great nation.
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