Monday, June 29, 2020

Invocation Before the Jazz Course

PAST: We are here by the grace of those who came before. In any form of significant community gathering, we not only thank them for the efforts they made to bring us here, but we bring them into the gathering as both participants and witnesses. We invite them to partake. As they have no bodies, we dance on their behalf. As they have no voices, we sing (and speak) on their behalf. We feel their presence in the present. As Bessie Jones tells it in her book For the Ancestors: 

       “When I’m singing something that my old fore-parents knew, if their spirits came around 
        me, I believe they’d be rejoicing. They would say, ‘That’s the song that we used to sing.’ 
      What we have to understand is that they’re here all the time. Not yesterday or tomorrow,     
       but all the time. And as long as they’re around me, I believe they’d be happy.”

Here is one of many ancestors whose presence I feel daily in my teaching, Mr. Avon Gillespie.


PRESENT: (Kofi Gbolonyo and family sing the welcome song Miawoezon).The present is the effort the people in the here and now are making to carry on the best the ancestors offered, to reach for the places they couldn’t reach and to clean up any mess they left behind. When the garbage is on your front stoop, you don’t ignore it thinking, “Well, I didn’t put it there!” You take care of it.
That’s what we’re here to do through the commitment implied by your presence here. We dedicate our time and energy and effort to putting the mess we inherited in the compost bin and growing some new hearty and healthy plants from the new soil. Specifically, we are here to consider how to bring jazz into our students’ lives in a way that’s understandable, engaging and doable,  to uplift them through great music and to begin to tell the neglected stories they need to know.
Here is one of many inspiring colleagues joining us in this moment, a man who I have learned so much from, whose wisdom, musicality and love come not only from his shining self, but is born from a culture of great beauty who has so much to teach us materially rich overprivileged American but spiritually poor underprivileged Americans. May I present Dr. Kofi Gbolonyo.


FUTURE:  To complete any gathering, we turn toward the future and begin to take the next needed step down the beckoning path. And so we invite the children into the gathering, feel their presence physically or imaginatively and dedicate our efforts to give them what they so deeply need and richly deserved. We give them the tools to be more kind, more caring, more intelligent, the things they need to become more fulfilled human beings and responsible functioning citizens of the future. We send them off as messengers to a future we won’t see, equipped with the kind of flexible mind and artistic soul that will help them improvise through the changes.

And so here are two of the thousands of children I’ve taught who inspire me to keep going and dig deeper and reach higher—my grandchildren Zadie and Malik—wearing the sacred crowns of flowers with smiling faces filled with hope and promise. 

Here we join as one body our honored Ancestors, spirited colleagues and hopeful descendants, bring the past, present and future together into the dancing ring. Ashay!

PS This past month, I've had an issue bringing photo images into the blog. This is so much less powerful without those photos! I'll try to contact Blogspot, but if anyone knows how to fix this, please post a comment!

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