Monday, August 31, 2009

I’m with the band

Something magical has happened and I got to witness it firsthand. Last week, 234 perfect strangers raised $14 778 to buy 42 band instruments for students they had never met. They did it gladly. They did it in just six days. And I got to be one of them. This is the story of how it happened.

Anyone who has been on my blog recently knows I am an Adam Lambert fan. I'll own that proudly. I think his voice and his talent are otherworldly and I will be among the hoards clamoring for his album when it drops in November. A few weeks ago Adam asked his fans to stop buying him presents. He asked instead that any gifts be sent to particularly for projects dealing with the arts. In the first week $12 000 was raised. Shortly after, realizing that fans were actually paying attention, he started a contest challenging the various fan groups to compete to see who could raise the most money in 30 days. It has been about a week and half so far and $73 876 has come in on top of the original $12K.

As part of the contest, for probably the first time ever, all the fan groups decided to focus on one, huge request. (This never happens. As a rule, fan groups, while united in their love of a given artist, hate each other. Don't ask me why.) A teacher in Washington state wanted to offer band to her students, but they had no instruments at all. Back in March she put in a request for $14 778 to buy flutes, clarinets, trumpets, trombones and the xylophones you use in marching bands. Up until a couple of weeks ago, less than $1 000 had been raised in 5 months. The project had a deadline of September 1st. We beat it by three days. All of us together did something that none of us could have dreamed of alone. We created a music program.

There comes a moment, a tipping point where the impossible becomes possible. There's a moment where the truth of what is going to happen is irresistible and it moves, like an oyster slips from the shell -- unstoppable, fluid and smooth, like destiny. A few weeks ago this wasn’t going to happen. It was too big, too much. When I came to donate I remember looking at the band request and hesitating. There was more than $10 000 left to raise and less than two weeks to do it in. “What’s the point?” I wondered. "It’s not going to complete and there are other projects that will." But I took a step of faith. I choose to believe that maybe, all of us together could do something magical. And now here were are. There is band where before there was only an empty closet.

One donor wrote, "In life, it's that one extra degree of effort that separates the good from the great. At 99 degrees, water is hot. At 100 degrees, it boils. And with boiling water comes steam. And steam can power a locomotive. The one extra degree makes all the difference." There is a lot of truth in those words. I wish I could be there to see the looks on the student's faces when their teacher tells them that they can take band this year. I hope she posts pictures.

I remember my own experience with band. I remember we had a whole wall of instruments, with cubies stacked so high you needed a ladder to get to some of them. I remember taking a flute home that first day, and clumsy fingers on slippery silver keys. I remember pressing down, breathing deep, concentrating and...... E flat. A beginning. The first step on a long musical journey. High school was not a welcoming place for me, but in band, I had a place. I practiced and I was pretty good. My fingers did what I asked them to, my breath was sure. In band I could add my note to the chorus and not be rejected for it.

Music is only the very first benefit of music education. There's discipline and celebration, a sense of belonging and a chance to be on a team, to be part of something even if you can't run very fast. Music teaches patience and an appreciation of beauty and the ability to wait for a reward delayed. Music calls forth dreams. I am so proud to know that these kids will get to experience some of what I experienced and that I could make what was a common experience for me, a common experience for them.

I am very happy to be able to say, I'm with the band.

There are a lot of other kids who can use your help. If you haven't heard of before now, go and check them out. They are a charity out of the US they have a brilliantly simple strategy. Teachers post specific requests for what they need -- anything from band instruments to pencils (yes, right now there are teachers requesting pencils) and donors donate to a specific project. DonorsChoose collects the funds, orders and delivers the supplies and the teachers post their thank you notes online where all the donors can see them, often with photos of thank you signs from the kids. So far, Adam Lambert fans have fully funded 70 projects. We've bought books, theater lights, costumes, a Jazz curriculum, instruments and yes pencils. There's plenty more to do if you want . to get in on this. Trust me, it feels pretty fantastic.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

my soul as a chosen landscape

I've always known that I'm named for a piece of music. Charles Debussy's Clair de Lune is my mother's favorite and that's where my name comes from. I've listened to that piece my whole life. (You can listen to it here.) I own four or five different recordings of it. I think it's haunting and beautiful and have always been pleased she like that song, and not, say something from the Backstreet Boys. But this weekend I found out there's a lot more to it.

For some reason, I never realized that Clair de Lune, which means "moonlight", is the third movement of a larger work. In 33 years, I had never heard of Debussy's Suite Bergamasque. There are three more courses of this piece of music I have always loved so much. It's a little like discovering that your favorite book has a prequel you didn't know about. What a treat.

And amazingly, there is even more, dessert if you will. Debussy based the third movement of his Suite, the famous Clair de Lune, on a poem by French poet Paul Verlaine. He even borrowed Paul's title. The poem, not surprisingly, is in French (you can hear it read aloud, as poetry should be here) and has been translated as this:

Claire de Lune
by Paul Verlaine (1844 – 1896)

Your soul is a chosen landscape
Where charming masked and costumed figures go
Playing the lute and dancing and almost
Sad beneath their fantastic disguises.

All sing in a minor key
Of all-conquering love and careless fortune
They do not seem to believe in their happiness
And their song mingles with the moonlight.

The still moonlight, sad and beautiful,
Which gives the birds to dream in the trees
And makes the fountain sprays sob in ecstasy,
The tall, slender fountain sprays among the marble statues.

I find it rather beautiful. I love that the characters in the poem do let even their sadness stop their dancing.

For the first time in a long time, I found a poem running through my own head and scurried to write it down before it ran away. Art brings forth life, which in turn, if we're lucky, gives us more art -- whole new world of undiscovered countries and chosen landscapes.

The sad song is a realist
Who dances, even while doubting the happiness
Who dances in the sad light
And wears a mask so fantastic that all sorrows are forgotten.

The sad song dances because it has known happiness
So indescribable that even the memory of it alone
Is enough to stir the body
And feet refuse to stand still
But give in to the loveliness of what is now.

The dance is a choice
A gift
A painting
Too beautiful to be cast aside by a little sorrow.
The dancer moves, light and sorrow
Beauty and memory and
Finds happiness again
In the ethereal sad light.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

a joy forever

As Keats told us, "a thing of beauty is a joy forever". At this rate, it looks like I'm going to be happy for a long, long time.

Beauty is. . .
a stunning orchid for my room. I have decided that all bedrooms should contain fresh orchids. They are impossibly beautiful, laws of gravity-defying flowers. Who wouldn't want to wake up to that?

Beauty is. . . phone calls that include the phrase "we're barbecuing at the lake tonight, you coming?"

. . .and the phrase "I'm making rolkuchen."
. . . and finding a way to hug your wet, fresh out of the lake niece and still stay dry.
Beauty is. . . .road-tripping up to Gardom Lake to see Amanda. And learning a new un-winnable card game. And then winning said game on the third try. (Funny, no one else was as excited about this as I was.)

Beauty is. . .loving someone enough to do their camp laundry and having great people to share the experience with.
Beauty is . . . a cold lake on a hot day and time to go swimming. This lake had an inflatable iceburg for climbing and even a pirate ship (sadly just out of the range of this photo.)

Beauty is. . . making it to the top of the iceburg and finding that even way up here, there's love too.(I don't know why I have so few pics of Amanda from our Gardom Lake Odyssey. We'll have to fix that when Amanda gets home in a few weeks.) All in all, it's been a pretty stellar summer so far. Dave & Janie & Corrina land in Abby tomorrow so amazingly enough, the summer is about to get even better. A thing of beauty, these joys mine, forever.