I’d wager–although I’ve never inhaled unlike a past president–that music is like marijuana, giving an instant high to those who seek it.
I have discovered that in my home, in my children’s soul, in my husband’s heart (and on his bazaar-like Facebook page) music reaffirms that when everything tanks–when you’ve bombed the last chemistry test of the semester, or blown your monthly budget, or missed the stock option exercise date or crashed your hard drive–music alone can lift you out of the doldrums of an average day and bring you to a place of wonderment where the sun always shines, the birds always tweet and the roses always bloom crimson-red.
I visited that wonderland on Sunday, November 22nd, when my son, his Carnatic (South-Indian classical) music group and his guru, Anu Sridhar, made music with youth and master musicians from many traditions around the world for the Tenth Annual San Francisco World Music Festival. Could the Chinese Erhu, the Sheng, the Ruan, the Pipa and the Yangqin, be accompanied by the South-Indian mridangam? Could xylophones, Chinese drums, Chinese string instruments, sarodes, tablas, violins, harmoniums and the mridangam work together to play a Raag Bhupali (Raga Mohanam) that you wished would never end? Oh, yes, and yes again.
The evening was filled with the ingredients for a perfect world. A world unfettered by margins. A world in which deer can graze on a grassy patch and cows can moo by the side and hummingbirds can flit between crows and rattle snakes can clatter in a corner. A world where, as on San Francisco’s Golden Gate bridge, lanes change on a traffic whim and orange cones can define and redefine a space as needed. A place where people can unite for a purpose, mingle and exchange stories and emails over a cup of ginger chai, forget about mental and physical boundaries, appreciate their own and accept others even if they don’t quite understand the other completely all the time. A world where one humble musician from Tibet can walk over to ask a group of parents if he could please drink some of that steaming ginger chai that someone has so kindly brought. A place bursting with adventure–where a Chinese master musician is excited to eat the South Indian puliyodarai with chopsticks, where a blue-eyed Caucasian shuns pasta and drifts towards curd rice and its grenade-like condiment, the mor milagai–a fried dried red pepper marinated in buttermilk. A universe where a reed-like elderly musician from the mountains of Kyrgyzstan can banter with a group of young Carnatic musicians with or without a Russian interpreter and connect over some Mozart, a common musical language that many around the world speak. During the weekends leading up to the finale of the festival, parents, master teachers and youth of diverse origins and traditions realized that music transcended unnatural borders initiated by man. Music, they realized, could move mountains–the mental mountains that we prop up and bequeath by memory.
Back in my home, however, our son found that some mountains remained stationery even when the music was life altering. “Mom,” my 15-year-old begged, “that cool kid who plays the Chinese mouth organ like a beast? He wears the coolest clothes. Earlier today he was wearing OriginalFake. Just hypothetically speaking, now keep your voice down, don’t get hyper or anything, would you buy me that?” I kept my Mt. Everest cool. “My dear boy,” I said to him in a Zen voice which even I didn’t recognize because weekends of rapturous music had transformed me. “Why would I pay $200 for a T-shirt whose name is OriginalFake? Get Real.”
That wasn’t music to my son’s ears but he went on to sing and play an original Mohanam on stage anyway. And I believe he wasn’t faking it. Music does that to a youth. It gives a high and, along the way, it builds resilience against earthly desires.