Monday, January 16, 2012

community activism and american gamelan in one day

 Our Saturday was so busy this week! After a late night of card playing and movie watching on Friday, Eliza and I got up early and headed uptown to one of the churches, to gather with a couple hundred others for the annual Walk for the Homeless.  The walk is a fundraiser for the local homeless shelter, which happens to be located just down the street from us.  We learned that it is the only shelter serving the homeless in nine counties, here in southeastern Ohio, among them the poorest counties in the state.
 There were several walks happening simultaneously - one focused on mental illness issues, another on the effect of the coal industry on our region, another on employment issues.  Our walk was called "sometimes life isn't fair".  We walked through the uptown, through campus, and down to another church on the river, to have our preconceptions about homelessness challenged and warm up with some hot chocolate.
 There were a couple of effective demonstrations of the unequal distribution of wealth, and how much harder it is for someone with a family history of poverty to "make it" in terms of having better jobs and making more money. 
 Even more effective was an exercise about privilege: a line of 10 people, children and adults, is asked a series of questions like did your parents graduate from high school? (step forward) college? (step forward) do you have a computer in your home? (step forward) do you have internet access? (step forward) were your parents teenagers when they had you? (step backwards) have you spent time in the foster care system? (step backwards)...these were brave people taking part in this exercise, and at one point, when only one woman was at all "left behind" by the line of others, a young woman ran forward and said, "I need to represent here" and she put herself way at the back. The next several questions had her stepping back further and further and further (questions like do you take music lessons? do you have health care?) until she was nearly at the wall. The discrepancy between where my beautiful girl was, way at the front,  and where she stood left a huge lump in my throat.
 I heard so much that was inspiring that morning, and I'm so glad that Eliza was there hearing it all too; it's given us a lot to talk about.  The clearest message was that of not staying silent. Do something. Anything. But to stay silent (about homelessness or any injustice you are witness to) is to side with the oppressor, not the oppressed. 
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 At the end of our walk we ran over to the art center near our house to join Dan and Ani at the monthly music event that E's piano teacher hosts, called Front & Center.  It's a half hour of a guest artist, and a half hour of open mic-style, no-pressure performance for the students (or really, anybody who wants to come!).  This month's guest was Aaron Butler of  (If you follow that link you'll also see photos of mine that he's posted from Unsilent Night; he was the organizer for that awesome event.) Aaron is studying the history of music, and his focus is on turn of the century American music.  He first invited us to join him and our friend Emily in what he called a concerto for AM radio.  Our part involved tearing sheets of paper slowly and jingling car keys while he played piano and Emily played the radio.  He talked about listening for music in sounds that aren't usually thought of as musical, and playing music with things we don't think of as instruments.  (This is where I'd love to share a video or two of the event, but sadly they're apparently too big)

He had reconstructed what he referred to as an American Gamelan on stage - found objects that offered great potential as percussion instruments! -  and after talking a bit about what was going on with early American music (he talked about John Cage), he invited us up to play...

brake drums, tin cans
flower pots
After talking a bit about dividing the "instruments" along the lines of rhythm and melody, he led us in an improvisation. Wow. We could have been there all day.
Then things got crazy with polyrhythms and challenging clapping sequences and I heard one of the kids exclaim, "this is the best Front & Center ever!!"  We were all pretty jazzed up by the experience.
Not a bad weekend of offerings for a small town like ours, eh?


merry said...

Pretty darned amazing, I'd say! The group at Hospice did a similar "game"at the time they were collecting for United Way - if there are 4 in your family in a 3 bedroom home, put an X in the box.If you each eat 3 meals a day, put an X.If you have a TV and telephone, put an X. Etc. Then, your spouse loses his job and you need to downsize. Where would you save? Eat only 1 meal a day? Move to a studio apartment? Get rid of the telephone, computer, cell phone? The shocking thing was the high percentage of people living in Madison who were way at the bottom of the pile. How fortunate we are!

Stacy @ Sweet Sky said...

Wow, I would love to go to a social awareness event like that with Orlando!