Sunday, September 18, 2022

Flowers and Pianos

It is September 18th and it’s raining. This is only worthy of comment in San Francisco, where rain never comes until November. The twelve pianos in the Arboretum are not happy about this, nor are the people who hoped to enjoy a stroll through the gardens listening to music in the annual Flower Piano event. For all our ability to seemingly control the world so that it fits with our plans, we are still at the mercy of the weather. 


Yesterday was the first live local Orff workshop in two and a half years and what a pleasure to gather again and meet some of the folks who have been singing, dancing and playing like this, some for 40+ years (!!) and some there for the first time. It was lovely until I started talking to an elder colleague about her nightmare at her school where all her 20 years of celebrating diverse cultures through music and dance was being shut down by the Diversity Police under their misguided rubric of cultural appropriation. Not that appropriation isn’t real and worthy of attention— I’ve spent a lifetime on that subject. But it is not a simplistic set of mandated Do’s and Don’ts minus the needed conversation about what is appropriate to share and with whom and how. The trend seems to be moving toward tribalism, calling into question my right to sit Zen meditation, chant in ancient Sino-Japanese, play my Ghana xylophone or Bulgarian bagpipe, go to San Francisco’s Chinese New Year’s celebration. Just at a time when we need the confluences of the beauty, power and intelligence of each culture, invite each other in and figure out how we’re going to move forward together sharing life on this planet, these disturbing stories seem to be aiming to putting everyone in their own corner with a “Not Welcome”: sign on the door. Just as we’re fighting the very real battles of the Right’s exclusion, we’re coming up with our new versions from the Left. Aarrgh!!


The way that I am, I felt the need to write a long article about it all, not in a white mansplaining privileged voice, but as a person grappling for a lifetime with these issues who might have a valuable perspective to offer. I know it would take me a few hours to wrestle that complex, tangled web into coherence and by the end, how many would read it? How many would care? What effect would it have? And after all, it’s Sunday and in some traditions (not mine), it should be a day of rest.


The rain suggests beginning a new jigsaw puzzle. Or perhaps call my grandchildren as I missed their call yesterday. Chick Corea playing in the background his mix of Mozart and Gershwin, Scarlatti and Jerome Kern, Chopin and Antonio Carlos Jobim, Scriabin and Monk (Hmm. Does he have the right to play all that music, not being Austrian, Jewish, Italian, Polish, Brazilian, Russian or African American? How dare he!) suggests I continue my own new idea of playing each Bach Prelude followed by a jazz tune in the same key. These are worlds that bring me pleasure, that find me assembling pattern, bringing meaning and order to a chaotic world in ways that I can control. If it stops raining and I can play some of the above at Flower Piano, it might brighten someone else’s day. Ranting and raving sometimes has its place, but maybe not today. Rain and pianos are more appealing, with their capacity to refresh a thirsty world. 

And both are wholly free for the taking. 



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