The Southeast Symphony is an orchestra here in Los Angeles that is predominantly black and performs works both traditional and contemporary, many of which by black composers. My experience with this group was outstanding. Being a black “classical” musician means being in a minority whenever you’re on stage, but playing with this group shattered that idea, and it was such an emotional thing for me. In studying the history of African-Americans and the music that surrounds us, one can see that a mix of what is “black” and what is “white” results in something new for us to claim. Take gospel, for instance. The early American slaves had no idea how to speak English, or what Christianity was, but that American influence coupled with traditional African “spirit” was the seed that brought forth gospel music as we know it today. The same applies to food – what the white man tossed aside in the slave days has become a cuisine that people across the country appreciate. At this concert, the mixing of western European constructs for classical music and the “spirit” of black people resulted in a piece called “Out of Kilter” by Marian Harrison.
At the concert, this composer gave a brief lecture about how this piece was born, and what it meant for her, as well as for black people in general. The work is filled with subtexts for the musicians, including “Get Down with the Get Down” and one that struck me personally, “Sit Quiet, Listen Well……Learn Yourself”. That particular weekend was extra hectic for me (this was the 4th gig I’d played in 2 days), so seeing this instruction while counting my rests moved me. The thought of relaxing was so far from my mind, but this piece provided it for me, if only for 20 or so measures. Getting so caught up with life and the hustle and bustle of just trying to make it keeps you distracted (which can sometimes be good), but if you stop and really think about yourself, I think there will always be something more to learn.
This week will be relatively easy for me, considering I’m not over booked, so I’m going to see how much more of myself I can learn. Learning yourself, in my opinion, also includes learning more about the people who influence your daily life, so I invite you to do the same. Find time in your chaotic schedule to sit quiet, listen well, and learn yourself.