“Only humility will lead us to unity, and unity will lead to peace.” ~ Mother Theresa.
The first time I visited New Jersey was on my way to New York city on a Greyhound bus. To be honest we were just driving through it, but took an unplanned break in Newark. My father had decided to have his two youngest kids and wife travel with him my bus from state to state up the Eastern seaboard of the United States starting in Miami, driving overnight and sightseeing in the daytime. The last leg took us to New York, where we were to fly to London for our summer vacation. Unfortunately, when the driver (in his strange accent) yelled ‘Newark’, my father heard ‘New York’ and so we disembarked, early morning bleary-eyed, only to realize the mistake after the bus had departed. I hope the benches in the bus station are more comfortable now than they were then. They were as unforgiving as a church pew!
Years later I visited with family, and was taken on a tour of a nearby community which was remarkable because of the size and beauty of the homes, the landscaped gardens, and the ‘homogeneity’ of the residents. When my host used that word, I had to pause and think. For some reason I associated the word with paint – I had probably heard it in an ad. Eventually I realized he was referring to the non-diverse nature of the wealthy neighborhood, located not twenty minutes from a thriving, multi-ethnic community.
Those who know my story know that I had the benefit of being transplanted from a city in the UK to a small town in the heart of rural Jamaica as a child, and thus grew up a white girl in a predominantly black community (although the beauty of Jamaicans is the diversity within their nationality, a true melting pot with ingredients from every continent). But it ensured that I grew up with a knowledge of the history and culture of a race of people different from my own.
The soundtrack of my life has music from every genre also. My parents’ record collection (yes, children, vinyl!) included jazz, blues, African freedom songs, the classics, show tunes, and soon after we moved to Jamaica, Harry Belafonte (the soundtrack from Dr. No!) and the Merrymen. Of course we cannot forget the Welsh Male Voice Choirs with their soulful harmonizing. Another strand of my music education came courtesy of a brother-in-law, who came with my sister to teach in Christiana, and brought his own eclectic collection of classic rock and roll.
I was reminded of the beauty of diversity and variety the other night. I find PBS to be a great companion when sleep evades me. The artist performing on ‘Austin City Limits’ was not completely unknown to me. I believe I had come across him on social media, and his music was so joyful I had had to Google him. Jon Batiste is a Juilliard trained, Louisiana marinated, multitalented Oscar winning singer songwriter. During the one hour show he played the piano (including Chopin and other classic concertos, spiced up with some jazz flairs), and the saxophone. His songs were uniting and inspiring and made you want to get up and dance. He described his performance as a spiritual practice, singing songs like ‘Freedom’, ‘I need you’, and ‘Tell the truth’.
It may be that because I mostly listen to public radio when driving, I am not in touch with modern singers, modern music. But when watching, listening to, admiring his performance, I also had to wonder why I didn’t know more about him. Because he is much more than an entertainer, he is a unifier. His message is both personal and global. His music is a fusion of rap, hip-hop, gospel, jazz, blues and as previously mentioned, classical. If you (like me) had not heard of him before, please check him out.
It is important to think about messages of hope and unity in a time when the polarity seems intense. I also recently watched the documentary called Civil War (an MSNBC production), and it was difficult to watch. This was not a historical documentary like one by Ken Burns. This was a conversation with the descendants of all of the parties affected by the Civil War, and the legacy it has left which has created this polarized nation. The last few years have allowed those who feel they were the most destroyed by the Civil War to air their grievances. No, I am not talking about the enslaved who are still struggling to overcome the systemic racism that has oppressed them, it was the white Southerners who were so outspoken about the destruction of their land and property (and yes, some of that property included the aforementioned enslaved human beings).
It was interesting to watch how the show was presented. The interviewer remained off camera, and permitted people to speak. In one scene we see a group of (mostly white) schoolchildren grapple with concepts of racism and equity. We hear from young black teenagers who are growing up in Mississippi and the struggles they face. But what was interesting to me was observing that for the most part, black and white groups are talking separately, not to each other. Segregation exists in our society, through geography rather than policy now. One of those white groups, whose members sounded more progressive and willing to acknowledge the effect of the history of this country on people of color, seemed a little embarrassed when they were asked if they had ever invited any black people to their meeting. Apparently, like the New Jersey community I had driven through so many years ago, they also lived in a very homogenous area of Massachusetts. They pointed out that there was a black community not far from theirs, and that they could ‘of course’ come if they wanted to.
This world, like an orchestra, is comprised of many different sounds and looks, but we are all people. Unless we spend more time listening to someone who has a different experience from our own, we will never develop empathy and unity. Thank goodness for those who are doing something to address that and allowing us to learn and grow.
This Friday morning I hope you have the opportunity to listen to the music of Jon Batiste (and through Google I find that he is the musical director of the Stephen Colbert show – my late night TV watching days are long in the past!). His music is joyous and uplifting and unifying. And when you get together, be sure to include someone not from your tribe. Let’s keep the conversation going!
Have a wonderful weekend, Family!
Hi Beth (I presume)
My wife was playing a song on her computer. I thought it wasn’t bad. (That is the way I tend to parse the world). And when I say it isn’t “bad”, I mean I don’t mind the thing, or even on a good day, I quite like it. It turns out a friend had sent her a pasted copy of your blog in an email and my wife had googled Jon Batiste and was playing a song, or two. It turns out our friend is a friend of a friend of yours. Small world.
Rereading your post … for some reason in orchestras, the stings, tympani, brass and woodwind seem to have their own sections. And even the trombones seem to sit together. I am not suggesting this is how we should live our lives; but I am just playing with your analogy.
Keep up the good the good fight and all the best.
Hi Juris. Yes this is Beth. So happy to share friends in common! It might be interesting to see how the music would change if the musicians did get shuffled!!