“Most of us have talents and qualities that live in isolation from the world, never finding a proper outlet or focus. This can lead to a sense of aimless, endless adaptation, rather than a growing feeling of belonging and generosity.” – David Whyte
This description from an upcoming workshop with poet David Whyte captured the essence of my day yesterday. After a morning of arranging upcoming workshops in Spain and Istanbul, I biked to the school where I’m assisting the teacher working with 7th and 8th graders. Two satisfying classes with kids discovering the joy when the music locks in and grooves followed by an equally remarkable class in which the kids never quite settled into the chemistry the class required and we had to stop and have them just sit in a circle in silence.
After about five minutes, one of them spontaneously led a go-round in which each kid shared how they felt and what could have been an antagonistic 8th grade “us against the teachers” moment miraculously was a sincere “I feel disappointed in my peers.” (With a few of the more mature adding “and myself.”) I had to leave before class was over to get to my next scheduled event, but told that child how impressed I was by his leadership, acknowledged to everyone that giggling is not inherently “bad,” a natural response to doing something new and risky, but something to move through and trust the teacher, who also took an enormous risk doing something new and unfamiliar. They listened respectfully and apparently continued their sincere discussion and pledged to try again the next class. What could have been disaster was (hopefully) an increase in trust and respect and accountability.
From there, I went to the Jewish Home and the crowd listening to Javier on clarinet and me on piano seems to be growing, some 20 to 30 people. Because of my next event, I had my guitar with me and began by singing some old familiar folk songs with the group. Things like Bicycle Built for Two, Take Me Out to the Ball Game, Que Será, Skinnamarink, A You’re Adorable, Home on the Range, De Colores and more. Then on to the piano with clarinet, from the Itsy Bitsy Spider to Mozart’s Requiem and on to our growing repertoire of opera arias, Sousa Marches, Strauss Waltzes, a few jazz standards and ending with a rollicking New Orleans-style Struttin’ with Some Barbecue. No need for these folks edging ever nearer to death’s door to wonder if there’s a heaven. We were in it. And will back for more next Friday.
Rushed out to my car and drove to the park where I met the neighbors who I began to sing with out on the street during the pandemic. Many have technically moved away, but we’re staying connected with these monthly meetings and what a delight to see the 3-year olds now 5 and almost 6, with our shared song repertoire part of their growing up. Today’s theme out on the grass at the Fuschia Dell was Halloween and after my repertoire of D minor songs that gave them opportunities to sing, dance, conduct, make faces, we did a free-form version of the playparty Paw-Paw Patch (now, of course, Pumpkin Patch) where one kid skips around freely while all clap and sing and then all follow her or him. Then at the end, all the kids skip around with the adults following and then the adults with the kids. Hilarious and great exercise!
So here was my afternoon with 13 year-olds, 93 year-olds, 3 year-olds one after another and every talent and quality that I’ve developed over a long lifetime finding a place where it can be of use. Bring people together, bring the parts of each person together, offer some comfort, some happiness, some beauty. Unlike the plumber who has a recognized profession responding to recognized needs, I’ve had the good fortune and sense to create these little communities where none existed before. Began volunteering to play at The Jewish Home in 2008, starting singing with the neighbors in 2020, started mentoring a colleague at another school other than mine in 2021, began giving workshops nationwide around 1984 and worldwide in 1990. Though I recognize money as a form of legitimate recognition and am happy to receive it (though still less than a plumber’s rate!), much of the above is volunteer, an easy generosity because the happiness of being useful and singing and dancing with others is its own form of recompense.
The moral of the tale? If you can’t find an existing outlet for your creative energies, make one. If there’s no job description that matches your passion and interest, create one. If you can’t find the place and people to whom you belong in the formal institutions like church or work, make the effort to find the people who appreciate what you have to offer, introduce them to each other and begin to gather when and however you can.
And when the forces gather to support and encourage and affirm this kind of work, always, always, be grateful.