Posted by: MC | June 8, 2012

Rose Festival, Jubilee and Jazz

My friend, Mark, is teaching himself to play the piano.  He’s reading a book by David Sudnow called Ways of the HandSudnow’s book sounds daunting (at its easiest).  It’s a phenomenological inquiry into the intersection of physical forms (hands and all their linked physiology), consciousness and the music of jazz piano.  Or at least that’s the closest I can come to a description.

Mark says, “Music lives in the hands.  Every touch of a finger on the keyboard involves enormous complexity.”  As I listen, it sounds like in jazz the hand is the conduit of everything – the point of contact that sparks the relational act of music.

Being something of a metaphor junky, I find all sorts of links but follow my mind toward the the vitality of the individual to the community and the community to the individual.

You may have heard that, throughout the British Commonwealth folks are celebrating Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee.  At the very same time, it’s Rose Festival here in Portland, OR.  Both of these phenomena involve people and fanfare and color.  They involve rivers and tradition and community.

The Jubilee happens only in the 60th year of a British monarch’s reign.  That’s not very often, so YAY, Queen Elizabeth.  I know from my daughter who lives in Oxford, UK that the Jubilee celebration has been a lovely community event.  Everybody is off from work for four days and registered street parties number in the 100 thousands.  According to my daughter, this is all some big fun.

The Rose Festival is less unique, comparatively, but no less beloved of its community.  It’s an annual stretch of two weeks (drawn out to three, maybe four depending on how close you are to, say the Rose Queen – a high schooler chosen from among peers – and her court – the peers).

So here’s the metaphor.  Playing even the simplest piano piece, or generating flamboyant social symphonies like the Portland Rose Festival or the Diamond Jubilee start with the touch of a finger, the point of contact that sparks the relational act.

Yesterday, I got this photo of the flowers in Portland’s Pioneer Courthouse Square (Yes, we’re getting Rose Festival weather – rain all day, sun breaks in the evenings, low-60’s at best – a lot like along the River Thames as it turns out).  Each year, the flowers are arranged differently.  Their seeding and growth, their placement by design, the conceptualization of the design in the first place and their enjoyment by the community all begin with a single initial act (placing the first flower, planting the first seed, putting the first mark on paper, saying, “Hey, wanna go see how the flowers in the Square look this year?”).

We do this with each another all the time.  We cooperate knowingly and not to create these vastly complex compositions of community expression – much as the hand activates fingers and synchronizes neurons to draw forward the entire physiology of the pianist – the pianist’s touch then activating white and black keys tied to strings contained and protected in the body of the instrument.

What would be different in the way we move through these lives if we were to notice the reliable expression of cooperation?  What if we slowed down enough to see and appreciate the way our getting along shows up in the awesome complexity of its final expression and to notice the way the finale is sparked with the simplicity of a first act?  A seed becomes a flower, a flower becomes a design – and in Portland, that flower can become part of a display filling an entire city square that with its completion becomes one in a contagion of events known together as a Festival.

There’s something to be said for hitting pause in our otherwise busy brains to check out what’s working.  There’s something more in being curious about how what’s working works.  What idea shared, hand shaken, hello said, note played served to set our often unnoticed and unremarked successes in motion?

There’s awe in that kind of pause.  There’s a subtle comfort, too – a comfort that can become very large in the vast and mysterious field where singularity and interconnection mix.  A hand moves to release soaring riffs of jazz music.  And each of us walks into today forming and formed by what that we live here together.

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