Here’s a musical memory from nearly a decade ago (oh wow). Enjoy!
Immediately after I graduated with my Bachelor’s in Music Performance, I found myself in a musically shiftless situation. I no longer had the benefit of ensembles to play with, and I also didn’t have the advantage of knowing people in town to jam with or having connections at any local institutions (my parents had moved to a different city when I was a freshman in college, so I was a little rootless).
While I found a few impromptu opportunities to play here and there, I wanted, nay, needed, something more substantial than playing with drum circles and at open mic nights. I turned to my friend, the internet, to help me look for something to satisfy my needs. I had taken a liking to jazz sometime during my last year-and-a-half of college, and I thought it would be good to continue along those lines. After a fairly quick search, I found a jazz orchestra.
I called the number and told the man who answered that I was a clarinetist looking for an opportunity to play. He welcomed me to their weekly practice. Excited, I took down the info and looked forward to the first rehearsal. We would be meeting at a middle school in such-and-such area.
Now, since I was in a new city, I was, for the most part, blissfully ignorant of any distinctions between neighborhoods. I knew generally which areas not to drive into due to massive amounts of crime, and I knew the stereotypes about the different regions, but beyond that, I didn’t know the nitty gritty of exactly “who” lived “where.”
On the night of the first rehearsal, I was running late (typically, I had gotten lost), so rehearsal had already started by the time I set foot in the building. Happily, this made it easier to find the rehearsal room since I just had to follow the sound of music. I made my entrance as unobtrusively as possible for a late arrival to my first time in a new group.
The door shut behind me. Before me was a group composed nearly entirely of black men in their forties. They looked at me. I looked at them. We paused.
I started, “Hi, I’m the clarinetist. I’m here to play?”
The band leader replied, “Does your Daddy know you’re here?”
I laughed. They laughed.
He showed me to my seat where I assembled my clarinet. I received a music stand and some music, and then rehearsal resumed. The tenor sax player I was sitting next to must have been in his seventies. I found out later that he had played with some of the big names in jazz. I was on music cloud nine.
The guys were fabulous to work with. They were seasoned enough to rehearse efficiently, yet in a laid-back manner. I felt totally welcomed and included by everyone there. They were a wonderfully warm and down-to-earth group.
After a few weeks of playing with them, they lent me a tenor sax to play in addition to my clarinet (no, not at the same time). Oh, how I loved playing that instrument. When I blew into it, my whole face would vibrate and feel tingly.
At some rehearsals we would do a warm-up where the ensemble played some basic blues chords, and each member took a turn to improvise for 8 bars or so. One day, when it got to my turn, I closed my eyes and let myself just play what came to me. I tried not to be nervous, but to channel that energy into my music, and to just go with whatever came to my fingers.
When I was nearly done, I heard the band leader and some other members saying,
“Mmm hmmm, yes ma’am.”
I felt like I’d arrived.
I only played with the group for a little over six months, but it left a strong imprint on me. We played a number of gigs around town, and I was always wonderful.
I’m not sure if this is necessarily a new phenomenon, but today it’s very easy to surround ourselves with people who are similar to us, both in demographic and opinion. There is incredibly fragmentation within the media, so it’s possible to only receive news from a source which is in agreement with our views. Online, it’s possible to only interact with people who agree with us, and won’t be critical of any decision we make. It is definitely easier to interact with people with whom we have much in common, but it is not necessarily better.
Without interacting with people who differ from us, we lose an oh-so necessary opportunity to think critically of our own views and opinions. If we never have to defend our own opinions (even if that defense is only to ourselves), we lose an opportunity to strengthen our own beliefs. Disagreement doesn’t have to be unpleasant. It can be civil. It can be healthy.
The memory of playing with that jazz orchestra reminds me of how wonderful it can be to interact with people who are coming from a different place. When we do it, we may just remember how much we all have in common.