I was in a school band concert yesterday attending my step-son’s Spring band conert. The auditorium was filled with the music of clarinets, flutes, trumpets, saxophones, drums, xylophones, and probably a few more instruments that I missed. Today I am reminded that beautiful symphonic music cannot happen by chance. I recall the quote by Carl Sagan, “If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, first you must invent the universe.” Applied to the concert last night: “If you want to invent a symphony, first you must invent the universe, and then human beings to communicate and create culture and art, and then instruments, a composer and so on …”
The music depends on the composer, who is depends on instruments. Music that sounds “just so” here in the States would sound different if it were imagined in Tibet or Madagascar or Southeast Asia. I spent some time in Indonesia and there is nothing in the world like the sound of gamalan, with anywhere between five and fifty circular gongs of various sizes played by five to fifty performers. Put together, gamelan is symphony with essentially one instrument and a wide array of tones.
The symphonic band I heard last night, here in the States, consisted of brass, wind instruments, percussion, and strings. The conductor stood at the front, animated and dressed in black, and we were even fortunate to have a student teacher conductor lead one of the songs.
Every composer is ideologically, culturally, unquestionably trapped by the instruments that swirl around in their heads and sometimes around their studio. They can be exposed to instruments and music from other cultures (and even compose in that style, as did Paul Simon in Graceland), but they are predominately influenced by their home base. Their schema.
Schema refers to the structures in our brain that classify how we perceive concepts, especially new concepts.
And yet the metaphor of the day isn’t simply to say that a symphony is a collection of various instruments that make beautiful music. Or that beautiful music is the result of the structures fixed in the composer’s brain. This isn’t what I was thinking yesterday when I sat in the school band concert. Rather than thinking about specific instruments, I was thinking about the kids playing instruments. Their make-up. Their color. Their background, identity, orientation, gender, and the tone of their skin.
This was not a diverse band. I am remarried and at this event, I observed 3 bands and at least 180 performers who, in terms of the tone of their skin, look predominantly like me. I can observe but I can’t judge. This is just where we live.
My son goes to school 30 miles to the south and I’ll be attending his band concert next week. I’ll sit next to a diverse collection of parents – at least in terms of the tone of their skin – and the band members will look like they are painted with a different brush. Hues of white and brown and shades in between. Along with diverse colors comes diverse family background, diverse heritage, diverse religion. Again, I can’t judge. This is just where he lives.
Symphony and color. Instruments and skin. My son goes to a relatively diverse school and I appreciate that he sits next to kids who look different and who come to class with different heritage, different religious backgrounds, and ultimately different perspectives.
We live in a diverse world. The spiritchat community spreads across the states and across the globe. Call me crazy, but I believe we should seek out and embrace differences – skin, culture, background, and every difference that makes someone unique. A mosaic. A symphony.
I am going to challenge myself during the next week to have one meaningful conversation with someone culturally different than myself. During the next 7 days, I want to encounter someone who is culturally different than myself and with a healthy dose of empathy, risk being changed. Feel free to share with me in this small challenge. Bring new color to your life. Create a mosaic. Create a symphony.
One thing we know: the spirit is happy with color. Or rather, the spirit is happy with colors.
It is in differences that we grow our perspective, our schema. And this is not just a good thing, it is a necessary thing.
David Tumbarello is a technical communicator with over 50 years in the growth industry, with 49 of those years communicative and on two feet. When he is not technically communicating, he enjoys hiking, biking, and writing. Feel free to connect with David on LinkedIn.