Many things in life come in twos or threes. You never have one child get a cold. You almost never sneeze just once. I even got traffic tickets in pairs; two in the first month after I turned sixteen and two in the same day after I got a BMW roadster that was too fast for my own good.
The same is true for writing columns for a newspaper. I recently wrote of the death of a childhood friend only to write the next week of an older mentor. Last week, I mentioned music as part of my column about life getting back to normal. Little did I know that a message of music would come back to me yet again.
The second post pandemic concert at the Gogue Performing Arts Center last Wednesday exceeded all expectations. I had heard of Wynton Marsalis, but honestly did not know much about him. It turns out he is an extraordinary trumpeter, composer, teacher, and artistic director of jazz and classical music at the Lincoln Center in New York.
Usually, we listen to music to hear the message. It can be in the lyrics which are easier to understand. It can be in the music itself, when we are often left to interpret what the composer was trying to tell us.
The interesting thing about the jazz concert this past week was Marsalis actually told the audience the thoughts he was trying to convey prior to playing the various pieces in the band’s hour-long performance. I found myself trying to hear his message while already knowing what he was trying to say.
The last set was the most powerful to me. It was entitled “That is when we all will see”. As Marsalis articulated prior to the audience before playing the song, it was a reflection on how the people of our nation come together during a time of crisis, like World War II or the devastating attacks on 9-11. The music was written to convey how wonderful it would be if we could join together and unite when there was no crisis. Only then would we all be able to see.
Those are powerful thoughts. Given all the differences we have in our nation today, imagine coming together when there was not a negative event driving the unity. What if we just embraced each other when everything was going well?
Ironically, a few days later I was in a completely unrelated meeting when an engineer for whom I have tremendous respect brought up the lyrics of a song by the band, Rush. The words from the song “Freedom” were “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice”.
Music sends us a message in several ways. The two most obvious are the sound or score of the song and the lyrics or words. In less that a week, I received the same message through music and lyrics from two wildly different sources.
To summarize, we cannot allow ourselves to only come together when we have a common enemy. We must seek the ways that unite us. In a nation that is so divided politically, we find ourselves having to be careful with our words with family and friends, much less strangers.
This week in separate messages in word and song, I heard music that told me that when we come together without cause then “That is when we all will see”. At the same time, I heard the words “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice”. Can we collectively choose to seek things that join us when we are so focused on that which separates us? Or will we decide not to even try?
We all seek to see. We all have a choice. If it were all just that simple.
Dan Ponder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org