A couple of stories to make a point…
Mrs. Blogmeister and I were sitting on the lanai at Buzz’s Original Steakhouse (best Mai Tai on the planet) just hours after we had signed the papers to buy a house and move to Hawaii. Yeah, we were a little excited. We shared the space with a woman who was commenting to her husband about how she’d had enough of Hawaii and couldn’t wait to get on the plane the next day. After we got chatting for a minute I asked what it was about Hawaii that didn’t appeal to her and her (stunning) reply was, “This place has no culture”. As you might imagine, I bit my tongue REALLY hard. They were from New Jersey and her version of culture was the opera and the symphony. Period. Apparently the whole this-culture-is-about-ten-times-older-than-your-form-of-government thing had blown on by her and the beauty of hula and Hawaiian music missed the mark. Good on ya’, have a nice flight home.
Roll back the clock to my first (only) semester of college and the curmudgeon who ran the music department. If I’d had a clue about him I’d have gone elsewhere but tuition was free (my mom worked in the college system) and my girlfriend was going there, yada yada. Day one he dumped my two years’ worth of AP credits (college learning is done at college young man), day two was the beginning of classses I could have taught. Luckily, before the boredom completely crushed me, I managed to score the lead in the fall musical (don’t be too impressed, it was a small school) and discovered at the END of the semester that there was a cap to ALL of my music grades because of it (bear in mind that these were all the “101” theory courses and I aced them in my sleep). Musical theater wasn’t “music”, classical music was music and everything else was a waste of time and I’d learn my lesson now and stick to his definition of what music was and if I didn’t I’d never get a decent grade. Needless to say, I was out of there and soon began a stint in the military (where I conducted a choir…so there, you old battleax).
The thing that these two stories have in common is a set of blinders that would make a plow horse’s field of vision look panoramic. Not only were they both set in their definitions of music and culture but they had no clue or desire to discover that any alternatives existed, it was simply “how things are in the world, period”. It reminds me of a great line from a John Cleese speech, “The problem with people who have no idea is that they have no idea that they have no idea”. My response to both of these plow horses was a bit of sadness (eventually…the lanai lady made me amazed at first and the professer just pissed me off). There was an entire world of music and culture out there and they not only didn’t know it existed, they didn’t WANT to know. That’s beyond sad, really.
Imagine these two dinosaurs being invited to our holiday concert. They’d be lulled into the oh-it’s-just-another-Christmas-show mode with “Call to Advent” and then there would be a Christmas carol (how quaint) and then their worlds would come unhinged (note: they would be velcroed to their seats and NOT allowed to LEAVE). The current batting order for the show?
- Iesu Ka Hō‘ola
- Ocho Kandelikas
- Hanerot Halalu
- Pengyou, Ting
- O Nata Lux
Yeah…Hawaiian, Ladino, Hebrew, Mandarin and Latin. So there. Good luck closing your ears to THAT. And then gospel music. And then African music! (I can just hear the lanai lady say, “Africa? They’ve got no culture”.) News flash: the world is filled with the joy of music. You’re surrounded with it if you only take a moment to let it in. Let it fill you, it’s okay, you’ll like it. I’d like to think that our two plow horses would understand but I suspect they’re already too far gone.
The newest members of our audience, however…that’s a whole different kettle of reindeer stew. They’re going to a holiday concert and they think they know what’s coming. And they’re wrong. And that is AWESOME. Try this: at the end of a piece of music (okay…EVERY piece of music), before you start to turn the page to the next song, look out and make eye contact with your audience and smile. Look for someone who has that wide-eyed look and a big grin (especially after “O Sifuni Mungu”). THAT is one of the new kids on our block and they just found something 1) they did NOT expect to hear, 2) they liked and 3) that changed what the phrase “Christmas music” means in their minds.
There’s no goin’ back from it as long as you listen. To re-phrase Mr. Cleese, “The problem with people who have no idea is that they haven’t heard the idea yet…and if they pay attention then they’ll have the idea”.
Make eye contact. Smile. Watch the cool stuff happening.