Friday, August 7, 2009

A Global Perspective

Imagine if you can, opening your email and finding something that inspires you to share it with others. No, it's not a prayer that you have to send to ten of your best friends RIGHT NOW, but an account of a recent trip to Equador. Jazz trumpet player Jesse Neuman of Brooklyn Qawwali Party, spent the month of July in Equador teaching music to children. What he shared with them, and with me in this story, is incredibly moving.
By the way, you can catch Jesse and the Brooklyn Qawwali Party at the Out of Doors program at Lincoln Center next Wednesday, April 12th at 7:30 pm.


An amazing day today. We went to play a concert at the Miraflores community within their central park (apparently they 'owned' the land before the city built the park, so now they live in a sort of
'reservation' and work...for very little...for the park). These people are so poor---I mean, shacks and chickens and dirty faces, like in the commercials, but they are so warm and beautiful. I got there early in a cab, and a little boy literally ran up to me, touched my scruffy face, and asked me why my hair was blonde! They rang this siren that is a signal for them to all gather by the community house, which is like a broken down barn, with one outlet dangling from the ceiling and zero furnishings save for a bench or two, and lots of people gathered. They were all a little shy but as soon as the truck with the instruments arrived they all wanted to help unload it. We sat in a circle on the floor and talked and played for the better part of an hour (amidst kids who were 3 and 4 up through 12 and 13). I showed them the instruments and how they work, we pretended to use all
of our limbs to play the drums and then 4 kids came up to try them for real. We tried the electric bass too, and at the end I had 9 girls up playing percussion. It was really fun, and felt pretty amazing to give the kids an experience that have never had and probably won't for a while if at all in the future.

Later in the afternoon, all of the students gathered at the school for a final concert featuring the various jazz ensembles. The kids were all standing in a big circle with drums and bass in the back. We played along with techno-tango in a trio, "Unravel" in a quartet, "What Reason" as a quintet, with two 'mujeres' for a popular spanish power ballad, and then with the bigger bands (Hottentot, Your Pleasure..., Batman, Watermelon Man, Canteloupe Island, and Too Kareemi). The kids took solos and were basically awesome. This 11 year old cornet player was amazing, and even the littlest kids were able to play with confidence. Afterwards I got to give Pedro Morales (who lives with his 5 brothers and sisters and parents in one room) a new silver trombone. He looked like he was walking on air, and must have thanked me a dozen times! When we were finished playing I felt like a celebrity/santa claus posing for pictures and hugs and pictures of hugs. Lila (whose undone braid revealed hair down to her knees) was almost in tears, and Joel begged his mother for a sixth posed photograph. I got so many hugs and thanks, but the best came from Maria Jose. This is a girl with no parents, no money, living with her aging grandparents and wearing the same clothes to school every day. She gave me a stuffed animal dog that says, "Un regalo con amor" (A gift with love)---the likes of which she probably hasn't in her own home. Wow.

I'm here for 4 more days, but finishing classes today somehow brought a palpable closure to this experience. So many of these kids have so little, and yet are more motivated, more positive, and more loving than others I have met with considerably "more" of everything. Life here is sometimes clumsy, spread a little thin, and certainly involves less 'stuff', but it has a warm and caring quality based on family and camaraderie that is dwarfs the richer and more developed ways I have known. I'll be sad to go and already thinking of my return.

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