music

Art, music and a distant longing

by Steve Brock on January 30, 2015

Sacred Places by Christian Burchard

I’m driving home from a meeting. The radio is on. NPR. Garrison Keillor to be exact, his lounging voice reciting in its rhythmic gait the words of Anne Porter’s poem, “Music.”  You can (and should to fully appreciate the meaning of all this) pop over and read her poem now.

Work by Jason WalkerBack with me? Her poem surprised me since it ends in a far different place than where I expected at the start. But such is the nature of good writing and good trips.

Two days later, I take a short trip over to Bellevue, WA. It’s not a typical tourist destination, but it’s more than sufficient for our needs. I’m taking my wife on a date to make up for more than my share of travel lately. We have a wonderful lunch then we go to the Bellevue Art Museum.

I love their exhibit of John Economaki’s work at Bridge City Tools, of Jason Walker’s whimsical yet thought-provoking ceramics and most of all their BAM Bienniel 2014: Knock on Wood. As the name suggests, all of the works in this latter show were made in whole or in part from trees.

Have you ever been somewhere – a museum, a fair, a restaurant or even a party – where you enjoy each piece, experience, dish or person individually, but collectively they build to a cumulative sense of sheer delight? That was my feeling at the show, but even that description doesn’t capture exactly how I felt.

Perhaps it was wonder.

Or maybe something more. A reaction more akin to longing. More like this line from Anne Porter’s poem:

Why is it that music
At its most beautiful
Opens a wound in us
An ache a desolation
Deep as a homesickness
For some far-off
And half-forgotten country

Substitute the word “art” or even “travel” and the sentiment still holds true.

Works by Morse ClaryWhy is it? She answers that question in the last stanzas of her poem.

Is what she writes the only answer for how we feel? A complete answer? Likely not. But is it satisfying? In its own way, yes. It helps explain why all of us have these moments where we encounter beauty that moves us so profoundly that we don’t know what to do with it or with ourselves.

Music, art, even travel touches us and reminds us that:

We have been wandering
But we were made for Paradise
As deer for the forest

So close, so far 1-3 by Brian WilsonWe retain only vestiges of memory of our lost native country and when windows – gaps or glimpses more likely – open up and open us up to that half-forgotten place, we sigh. We know it to be true. Or at least, we want it to be true and sometimes that may be enough.

Works by Helga WinterWhat this short trip did was remind me that in music, art, travel or other areas of passion, we find not what we may have been looking for, but what we need to be reminded of. We need these soul-stirring awakenings in this life to remember that there is more to (and than) this life. So much more.

And best of all, in and through all of this, we have a Guide who brings us to these moments, moments of wonder that satisfy us even as they stir in us the yearning for that something more. A Guide who, as Anne Porter notes,

also came to live with us
And wanders where we wander.

Therein lies the deepest wonder of all.

 

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Travel and trust – Part 2

by Steve Brock on May 21, 2014

Delft MusiciansWhen I was a kid, my brother offered me an intriguing experiment. He claimed he could pull a hair from my head without me feeling it. Being the gullible younger brother, I said, “No way,” but let him proceed. He grasped a single strand, tugged gently saying, “That’s the one. Feel it?” “Yep,” I replied. “OK. Here I go. On the count of three you won’t feel me pull it out. One. Two. Three!”

On “Three,” he slammed his other hand down hard on my head. Despite the near concussion and my anger at his deception, I had to admit it was a pretty clever ruse. Painful. But clever.

Pickpocketing works on the same principle: Distract your target and mask a smaller movement and pressure (the removal of the wallet…or phone) with a larger one (e.g. bumping into the target or say, saddling up right next to him in a friendly photo pose. Just as an example, of course).

So there I am in Delft. I’ve listened to the Serbian musicians play, chatted and laughed with them, taken their photo as they took mine – side-by-side with their leader (third from the left in the photo above). Then, as I walk away, I realize my smart phone is missing.

What would you think at that moment? Maybe your thoughts might run something like this (if you would ever actually admit these to anyone):

  1. Don’t panic.
  2. When did I last use my phone?
  3. Double check all my pockets, etc.
  4. Could it be? Did they really steal my phone?
  5. No way.
  6. Way. Or at least a possibility.
  7. They’re from Serbia. Serbia is in that region where the Roma (gypsies) live, right? Aren’t they known for stealing things and doing scams?
  8. Don’t think like that. That’s profiling, stereotyping and all sorts of other bad things. But…
  9. When did I last use my phone? In the car for navigation. Could I have left it there? Please, oh please, God let it be there…

And off I walk as fast as I can back to the car.

On the way I think about going back to where the group was performing. But what will I say to them if I do?

“Hi there, fellas. Say, you didn’t by chance steal my phone did you? And if so, could I have it back? No hard feelings. Love your music.”

I’m saved from that by finding they’ve all dispersed…which only furthers my suspicion. All except one. He’s sitting not far from where the group had been playing. He’s casually talking to his wife or girlfriend. He sees me and waves in an ever-so-friendly manner.

Either he’s really milking this scam or he’s as innocent as he seems. I wave back in a half-hearted manner trying to look like either I know what’s going on or I’m just in a rush to meet up with my family. I hurry on, feeling even more awkward about the whole thing.

It takes me almost 20 anxious minutes to get back to my car. All the way there, I’m praying to find the phone, praying for forgiveness for my judgmental thinking, praying not to be so stupid in the future.

I get to the car.

Not only is the phone there, it’s sitting on the console between the front seats where I left it when using it for navigation. Right there where, ironically, anyone could have seen it, busted the window and stolen it.

I want to run back. Find my Serbian friends (they’re friends again, of course, not suspects now) and apologize for something I could never really explain to them without insult and embarrassment.

So I don’t. I simply wander back to where I’m to meet my wife and son. As I go, I think about several lessons from this experience.

First, always be vigilant when you travel. Keep track of your valuables like your phone. Always.

Second, be careful but extend grace. I won’t make some Pollyannaish pronouncement to just trust everyone everywhere. There are people out there that do prey on us tourists. You do have to be careful. But wariness is a tricky thing. The more protective we become, the more it shapes how we respond to people in general, even if they haven’t earned our distrust. We close ourselves off to the very people we’d often like to meet.

Interestingly, the more we do the first point – be vigilant – the easier it is to do the second point – extend grace. When we know where our stuff is, we have less to worry about. Even better, the less we’re lugging around with us, the less we need to protect.

Each situation will be different. Sometimes wariness is the right response. But for me, I will try to err on the side of trust. What I found is that you lose more than your phone when you stop trusting people. You lose a little bit of your own humanity.

I can’t afford to lose that.

 

Read Part 1 if you haven’t yet.

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Travel and trust – Part 1

by Steve Brock on May 9, 2014

Delft Building and Bicycles

On the afternoon and evening we were killing time waiting in Delft in the Netherlands, we did something every family should do when traveling together for an extended period.

We split up.

No matter how well you get along, it’s good to go your own way occasionally and get a small break from each other. My wife and son went shopping for some of Delft’s famed blue and white porcelain. I took off to explore.

Traveling solo opens a world that isn’t available to you even when you’re with just one other person. You’re more approachable, even vulnerable. That can be very positive since you have encounters you’d miss otherwise. But it can also put you in situations where you wish you had some back-up…

As I wandered around the main square taking pictures of the interesting buildings such as the one above or the numerous canals such as the one below, I came across a beautiful sound.

Delft CanalAs I turned the corner, I beheld a group of street musicians, a half dozen playing while a few others and what appeared to be their wives or girlfriends sat in their midst enjoying the music as well.

I’d never heard music like this – exactly in this style – before. It sounded like a cross between the band in the bar scene of the original Star Wars movie and Jewish Klezmer music. Led by a lively, uplifting clarinet, the music was both complex with the various instruments weaving their sounds together, but almost childlike in its simple, catchy melodies.

I paused to listen and watch, then lingered in the general vicinity ostensibly taking photos, but mostly enjoying the music. I passed through an entryway into a nearby garden area where I discovered a lovely park and sculpture made from the shards of Delft pottery such as the bench below. All the while, I could still hear the music.

Delft China BenchI decided to reward these musicians, so I dug out all the change I had, a substantial amount in heft but totaling barely a euro (about $1.30). Still, it was something.

I held the coins in my hand as I returned to where the musicians were, but by now, they were wrapping up and bundling away their instruments. As I approached, the leader of the group came over and, shrewdly surmising my intent, held out his hand. “You like our music?” he said in halting English. “Very much,” I replied pouring what now seemed like a paltry amount of change into his hand. He didn’t seem to care about the monetary value so much as my appreciation.

Soon, the entire band was around me, all smiles as I told them how I’d never heard music like that and how good they were.

They told me they were from Serbia and, of course, they wondered about my country. So we talked and they held up their various instruments; clarinet, violin, small guitar, tambourine/drum, accordion and others. Soon, one of the members was gesturing with his cell phone for me to stand with their leader (who did all the talking) for a photo. The leader wrapped his arm around me and there we stood for the photo like two old friends. And for that moment, that’s what it felt like we were.

By now, they were all packed up and so we said our goodbyes. I wandered off toward a canal and they dispersed. As I walked, I mused over these small moments and brief encounters you have on trips, ones that usually only happen when you’re on your own.

What a great experience I thought. Then I reached into my pocket for my smart phone to check the time.

It wasn’t there…

To be continued…

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It all seems the same

by Steve Brock February 14, 2014

Being open to new experiences changes the way we not only perceive the world, but how we engage it…and enjoy it.

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When your trip goes awry – Part 5

by Steve Brock January 31, 2013

We begin to make sense of hard trips only when we realize that where we thought we were heading isn’t our actual destination. What I learned about travel and life from an Andrew Peterson concert…on a trip.

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The unimportance of travel

by Steve Brock February 1, 2012

Travel doesn’t really matter, except when, of course, it does. So when most of you comment about issues on this blog that don’t relate to travel, well, that might be a very good thing…

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You had to be there – Part 1

by Steve Brock December 26, 2011

A recent performance by The Civil Wars highlights the limitations of words to convey the fullness of experiences, like those on a trip, that blow us away and are almost impossible to describe.

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