Monday, December 10, 2007

"The Office" (workstation series) 80 (morning-after edition)

Morning after the CD release weekend; back in the Office office-after Dharmonia's and Co.'s remarkable cleanup, it's a clean well-lighted place to work (and grad students coming in for consultations are still gob-smacked at the transformation). And, the satellite office is crazy-busy with kids studying in groups. The 21st-century's first high-school generation is used to studying in large groups with complete distraction: cell, text-messaging, web, music on the store sound-system, books and notebooks open (and my lazy non-music colleagues' "course outlines", which are really nothing but printouts of their PowerPoint slides), and talking six ways to Sunday. It seems like an impossibly distracting environment to me, but, on the same principle that "if you practice stoned, you should play stoned," these youngsters seem to take the attitude "if you spend all your leisure time with 6 different media inputs, you should study that way too." I think it's probably why they can't sit still if only one thing is going on, and why they can't even walk (or drive) across campus without hauling out the umbilical cell, snapping it open to the first available "favorites" number, and saying "hey, whaddya doin'?"

I feel sorry for them. But they also distract the shit out of me, so I've bailed on the satellite office and come up to the Office office.

Good Celtic Ensemble rehearsal last night: they've learned all their Galician music for Celtic Christmas and January concert, but they've also learned two Bampton Morris dances from the Cotswolds, a Breton an-dro (for the finale), and some miscellaneous village harmony (Steeleye Span's great version of the wren song "Please to See the King"). Plus the great South Fermanagh version of the mummers' play from Henry Glassie's All Silver and No Brass: An Irish Christmas Mumming, one of my very most admired books on folklore. We've done a mummers' play for 5 years as part of the Celtic Christmas but have never had the chance to do the traditional Fermanagh version--looking forward to that.

Book proposal drops in 5 days. I'm ready to roll it: two sample chapters, cover letter, bibliography, literature review, table of contents, all ready to go.

Followup to the CD launch weekend: last of the 3 shows went great, but there was a sad event in the aftermath of the Friday night pub session. We had lunch with bodhran player J the next day, and he told us that a friend of a friend, both of whom had been in the bar while we were playing, had gone home--on the night of his birthday,

and committed suicide.

I saw that kid: J described him and I remembered seeing him in the pub with a young woman I assumed was his girlfriend. He seemed perfectly engaged, having fun with his friends, and happy to be part of the event.

There is nothing to be done in the aftermath of a situation like that, and it would be egocentric to think otherwise.

But in the aftermath, you think back to seeing that kid and you think, "Jesus, did I miss something? Should I have seen what was going on with him?" It's disturbing to think that, at an event that was so joyful for most present, somebody could be so unhappy, and so unhelped by the music and the community around the music, that he would take his own life.

The music is supposed to help people, in both joy and sorrow: it's how, for over 300 years, the Irish coped with the shit--famine and war, sectarian violence and the brutality of the Catholic church--that history laid on them. It helped them recreate some kind of joyful community, even in exile.

One of my students, who's thinking about various graduate school choices, asked me the other day why I play the music, and I think I surprised her (but not myself) by the vehemence of my response. I said:

"I want people when they hear the music to feel what I feel when I play the music. I want them to feel the joy, and the sorrow, and the rage, and the redemption. Because this music saved my life. At a time in my life when my personal situation was full of rage and loss, I found this music and it gave me something to believe in at the other side of the misery I was mired in. If I hadn't found this music, I would have turned out to be a very angry and very abusive and probably a very bad person."
I am convinced of this. The music gave me a vision of how to be a different person, and an awareness that even out of much greater sorrow than my own, beauty could come. The music and the experience of the music and the communities of the music are the reasons I'm not crazy or evil.

Let me be clear about this. I don't think the music is the only reason I'm not a sociopath--12 years of therapy and the great Buddhas I have been privileged to know and learn from are at least as responsible.

But the music absolutely did give me a vision of a kind of life to live, a life that could seek to find and create connection and community. A life that could help others.

Because that is what art does: It acknowledges the pain of living and, through effort, dedication, and sacrifice, it creates beauty. If you believe that the heartbreaking beauty of Lone Shanakyle can come out of Black '47, or the ferocious joy of Tim Britton's The Humours of Ballyloughlin out of the sorrow of the Irish Diaspora, or the dark beauty of Blind Willie Johnson's Dark was the Night, Cold was the Ground out of Willie's own suffering and sanctity, then you believe that art, in turn, can save lives.

I don't know of any exile sadder than that young man's. I wish the music had been able to help save him.

That's all I have to say.

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