Sunday, September 9, 2007

Worth Noting

It's actually a very short story: A drop of water falling into the pond of my day, or maybe my life. An encounter of less than a minute's duration. But to give you enough light to see this little moment by, I'll have to set the stage for you, which will take longer.

My housemate had such awful allergies today that she chose drowsy-making antihistamines over going to work. So I drove myself to work, and drove home alone. Thus I was at more liberty than usual as I passed near Liberty Hall.

The most efficient route from work to the Post Office to pick up my mail goes through the intersection of 7th and Massachusetts (a lively corner at night), or at least 7th and Vermont a block away. At 7th and Mass., on weekend evenings, Saxophone Man rules. With the car windows down, I can hear the sound for several blocks, faint strains of jazz echoing among the brick buildings through the traffic noise, the trains, the squeals and giggles of young revelers. Sometimes he switches to a flute. His simple, skillful, melodic improvisation on the background of cacophony always captivates me, like noticing a special birdsong amidst the general hubbub of farm sounds. Those few moments of music, heard in passing, give me immeasurable rest at the end of along day. They are an essential part of balance in living a life as busy and complex as mine is these days. They are of far greater value to me than any formal concert in a fancy hall.

Saxaphone man is extensively tatooed, dressed in the raggedy, stained denim typical of vagrancy. I suspect this is partly showmanship. But once in awhile, when I'm alone and nothing seems pressing and the night air is particularly fine, I'll walk the block from the Post Office to Saxaphone Man's corner, and put a contribution in the old coffee can that sits atop his wooden crate.

Tonight was that kind of night, and then some. So I sat on the concrete rim of the nearby planter, and listened to jazz, and watched strangers walking up and down the streets: couples strolling with "to-go" boxes in hand; families of every description (including a family of five, parents and three children, where every member's face bespoke a different racial ancestry); lovers holding hands (including two sweet young men); toddlers sleeping in strollers; dogs enjoying a night on the town; giggling co-eds; rowdy young men calling across the street to one another; two graying homeless men who greet me with a joyful, resounding "Hey Bus Lady!".

Saxophone Man has a sense of humor: As a little girl walks by with a Standard Poodle nearly as tall as she is, he skillfully, without missing a beat, weaves in the tune of "How Much Is That Doggie in the Window," which probably only I and the girl's grandfather notice. Later, he ends the night's concert with a tune familiar to me from Dad's old favorite jazz album, Last Set at Newport.

It was a long day, Farmer's Market this morning followed back-to-back by driving the bus. I was tired to the bone, but as I listened, the melodic, meandering, rhythmic thread of the saxophone seemed to wind its way into my mind and then draw me out of the tight, tense coil I had become, relaxing and refreshing me. To me, there is something uniquely healing about a single live instrument of good tonal quality--a way the sound resonates in my own body that never happens with recorded or amplified music, a purity that is lost when other instruments join in. The order of the notes is almost (though far from entirely) irrelevent. I've tried in vain to explain this phenomenon to a friend who plays the piano, who apparently can't believe that I truly enjoy listening to her practice (even scales) simply for the sound of the fine instrument...a deep pleasure I'm rarely afforded these days in the busy-ness of our separate lives.

I'd been sitting there about 45 minutes when a passer-by roused me from my reverie. A total stranger, 60ish, slightly arrogant, well-fed, well-dressed, well-exercised...that deliberately casual look that's anything BUT. Some well-to-do someone in town for Band Day and the football game, no doubt. A band director, a coach, a business sponsor. Not the sort of person I'd expect to approach me, sitting there in my bus-driver uniform and prayer covering.

He stopped close in front of me, almost confrontingly, as his companion walked on a few steps before stopping to wait. Still mesmerized by the music, I responded pleasantly to his opening words (now forgotten) by rote. "Nice music." He riveted his attention on my covering. "You're...uh,... Mennonite? Enjoying the music?" It was part statement, part question. "You're not supposed to do that, are you?"

"Whyever not?" I responded, baffled, now focused on him.

He shrugged. "Well, I guess you don't get much chance to hear music, do you? It being forbidden in your church, and all that."

I sat speechless for several moments, wishing I could instantaneously summarize for him the spiritual and harmonic wealth of Mennonite hymnody; the fellowship of monthly Sacred Harp 3-hour singing meetings; my long-time love of classical music; the symphony of birdsong that has attended my whole life; the timeless nights of "thinking along with the music" at old-time jam sessions with good friends; the delicious, sweaty exhileration of a rousing contra dance band; hours of relaxing on my friend's couch while she practiced on her superb grand piano; the endless stream of hymns and improvisations in my head as I garden or drive....

He shrugged, and reached to shake my startled hand. "Carry on," he said, implying a puzzled and oddly authoritative consent that I hadn't realized was required for me to do what comes so naturally to me.

I know that various churches of various denominations have forbidden various sorts of music at various times for various reasons, but I can't imagine myself ever consenting to such nonsense! I cannot think of anywhere in His gospel that Jesus said, "Thou shalt NOT sing, nor dance, nor make any joyful noise, nor listen to nor observe any such thing."

No indeed. Jesus even suggested that the stones should sing! And so will I! And so will the Saxophone Man's saxophone!

1 comment:

dkzk said...

thankyou, dear......
much has been written re:
this art'ist's "career", but
never anything nearly this Beautiful re:
his "calling"