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Global Music, Connecting Cultures Stories from the Rajasthani Road... from world music ensemble LIBANA

The wildest pre-concert preparation ever!

USA | Thursday, 3 March 2011 | Views [1312]

Well, we’ve been back in Boston for a few days and I am only now coming up for air after transitioning back to work and reaclimating myself to day-to-day life in the US—but thoughts of India and our experiences there continue to reverberate in my brain and heart.  I am so struck by the extremes of India:  cacophony and peace; extreme poverty and extreme beauty; degradation and dignity—all pressing so hard against each other you can barely breathe.


One of the moments most emblematic for me of these seemingly irreconcilable opposites was when we were preparing to give a concert for 2,000 school children at the C.N. Vidyalaya School in Ahmedabad—a Gandhi-inspired co-educational school www.cnvidyavihar.org.  We arrived at the school and began setting up on a stage with a large pavilion-type roof, but open on the sides; kids were playing soccer in the field immediately adjacent to the performance area.  It was a challenge getting the many helpful men to let us set up the stage the way we wanted it.  I would attempt to place the two tables for our instruments at angles at the back of the stage and they would immediately move them back to the center in a straight line.  This comedy routine went on for a while, until I finally convinced them to just let us handle moving and placing the tables; I’m sure it was a big faux pas given that Indians don’t like the idea of women carrying or moving much of anything, but American women are pushy, so I eventually got my way J 


Instead these lovely gentlemen turned their attentions to getting four ancient microphones to work.  By now it was getting pretty noisy with kids beginning to filter in to their places on the floor; the mics squawked crazily and the growing chorus of excited voices echoed off the high metal ceiling above.  In the meantime, we were unpacking instruments and trying to figure out where we were going to change into costumes and how we were going to be ready to perform in the roughly 15 minutes we had until show time. 


All of a sudden, some imperceptible signal caused the kids to begin streaming into the performance area and the noise became simply deafening.  I don’t know if I have ever been in the midst of such cacophony. Of course, we chose that moment to begin a 5 minute vocal warm-up:  there we were clustered around each other in a circle, dutifully singing our vocal exercises and none of us could hear anything that was coming out of our own or each other’s mouths.  We might as well have been lip syncing!  So much for the warm up.  Next we kicked the sound guys out of their little booth off to the side of the stage and hurriedly changed into our costumes, joking that we would never again have to arrive 4 hours ahead of our scheduled concert time when it was quite clear we could be totally ready to roll in under 30 minutes!


My heart was literally racing, not from nerves, but from the stress of trying to get ready in the midst of mayhem.  And then, all of a sudden, peace descended upon the entire arena.  2,000 kids were all sitting cross-legged on the ground in perfectly straight rows, one behind the other in the most precise order imaginable—and they all began singing their morning prayers.  Gandhi believed in starting the day with prayer and so this school follows his example.  It was the most stunning unison singing I have ever heard.  Voices rising and falling like a great ocean of calm washing over us all.  I stood there looking out over the sea of earnest, young faces and at the beautiful women from SEWA who had come to hear us sing (more on them later) and I thought this couldn’t possibly be the same reality that we had all experienced only moments before.  But again and again, India is like that. 


So they sang and then we sang; the warmth and excitement coming from these kids was simply enthralling.  For many, it was likely their first concert ever—and for us it was an unforgettable lesson on the power of music to bring worlds together.  Earlier in our trip, a friend recounted a story that included the astute observation that “only in India is there the proper amount of chaos with which to live a spiritual life.”  That day I felt the truth of that statement and marveled that chaos and peace could be so closely entwined. 




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