Thursday, June 14, 2007

Zoukfest, Day 04

When a music camp is really going well, people begin to experience things together: great music, challenging (and/or hilarious) conversations, fantastic performances, overwhelming experiences, great joy.

And, sometimes: exhaustion, frustration, emotional overload, and so on. It's six days of massive input, in which (most) participants are completely out of their familiar environments, activities, behaviors, and experiences. This is a good thing--it reminds us that becoming attached to environments, activities, behaviors, or experiences (attached in the sense of "This is what I always do and the time I always do it and the way I always do it") is a recipe for frustration. Because all things end: good times and bad times, joy and sorrow, great performances, deep friendships, and life itself. All things will end, and if we attach to them--if we kid ourselves that they will be permanent, we are setting up ourselves, and those people around us, for even bigger pain when those things we most cherish also, inevitably, end.

We're now in the downward slope of ZF: it's Thursday, we're past the fulcrum day of Wednesday, and the end of this aspect of the experience is actually in sight. Some percentage of staff and students are thinking "There's today, and tonight's concert, and tomorrow, and tomorrow's concert, and then the last breakfast, and then the last jam sessions, but then some people will leave, and then (for some) John Carty and Roger Landes's concert, and then some other people will leave, but maybe we'll stay over Saturday, but then on Sunday the last people will leave, and this is all going to be over." If they're honest with each other, most people will admit that the prospect of it ending is a little bit of a relief ("I can go home and see my family and sleep and rest my brain") but, a lot more, it's a heartbreak. For those who've been to a camp (or a backpacking trip or a Buddhist retreat; see yesterday's post), the experience isn't entirely new, and they can prepare for it.

But in the case of those for this is a first camp, or even more, a first ZF, the prospect on this downhill slope day is also overwhelming: "how am I ever going to retain the musical insights I've been exposed to this week?" Or, even more deeply and honestly, "how can I let go of how this environment feels, and how I feel as a person when I'm here? How can I let go of the color-saturated hyper-realist intensity of this experience?"

In fact, we can't. But what we can do is allow ourselves to be changed: to Accept that our lives after ZF will not be ZF, but at the same time that (if we're prepared for it), our lives after ZF will also be forever changed. ZF ends; experiences end; relationships end; lives end. But the transformational power of such experiences can endure, particularly if we make the commitment to share that transformation. The Buddhist metaphor of the Net of Indra, in which all elements of the existing world are Jewels connected by invisible connections, and thus impact upon one reverberates upon all, is a true metaphor for what ZF's transformative experience can be. We are all, inevitably, going to be affected by it--the world is best served if we acknowledge that and work with the positive energy that such a realization makes possible.

Concerts last night brought that home. Stanley Greenthal is a magnificent musician, and, joined by spouse and musical partner Kip, and old friends Polly Tapia Ferber (frame drums) and Paul Brown (bass), he makes fantastic music. But at a deeper level, Stanley's music is about deeper things than just beautiful sounds. He is a marvelously open person, and he makes marvelously open music: songs with the courage of articulate the joy, sorrow, compassion, and pain of being a human person. It is wonderfully inspiring--and, for a musician, deeply empowering--to encounter a fellow musician who is both that open as a person and that honest as a musician. Kip, Polly, and Paul matched him every step of the way, playing his songs with the same openness, selflessness, humility, and passion with which he writes them.

Second set was the bowed-string virtuosa (and ZF workhorse--she is teaching three classes daily, plus private lessons--what we call in academia a "triple load") Kaila Flexer. Kaila's music is both personal and deep, both "traditional" and "contemporary": she writes instrumental music based in the procedures of Turkish, Balkan, Macedonian, and other Eastern Mediterranean musics, but that reflect both her own free-spirited (and, again, for a hide-bound "traditionalist" musician like myself, courageous) engagement between the tradition and her own musical and personal inspirations. The tunes are beautiful, and their modal and metric complexities, though challenging for a rhythm section, are, equally as in Stanley's music, in service to a more profound and personal goal.

Kaila also spoke about the emotional rollercoaster that ZF can be, insisting that she "wouldn't cry tonight" on stage--because so much emotional input can only be processed or emerge so many different ways. It was brave of Kaila to speak about that--and in fact to joke about it ("OK, out there in the audience, how many people have had their emotional breakdown yet?"), and even to elicit honest responses from audience members about that (many hands went up).

The music last night was beautiful, but it was even deeper than beautiful--it was honest, it acknowledged the joy and the sorrow of impermanence, and it helped us all accept that the transformation we're undergoing is worth it.

That's what makes us human.

1 comment:

John H. Farr said...

I thought Kaila's performance was the most spiritual I've heard so far. She absolutely blew me away, and I told her so later that night. I felt I was listening to pure soul in her playing, like there was no interference at all between the music and what was inside of her. That kind of thing comes from the source, if you know what I mean, and I know you do.