I celebrated my birthday last night with my 18-year-old daughter Jennifer (a name James and I chose for our first girl before we’d even made the leap from engaged to married). “We did good,” I told her on the way home. I’d waited patiently while she dawdled in getting out the door. She’d controlled her urge to scoop up a little black cat that crossed our path as we drove home from the Mesa Arts Center.
We’d gone to see a concert by Playing for Change, a self-described “multimedia movement created to inspire, connect and bring peace to the world through music.” Our last concert together was Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band at the Jobing.com Arena in Glendale. Because I’m just this side of rabid when it comes to Springsteen, other music sometimes has a hard time measuring up.
But I was pleasantly surprised. The audience was as diverse—from school age to retirement age—but there was at least one important difference. No one at the Playing for Change concert made a beer or bathroom run when confronted with a song they didn’t recognize. If you can judge musicians by the company they keep, Playing for Change is in good stead.
We sat next to a lovely gentleman, there with his wife and out-of-town guests. He shared that he was 75 or so, a military veteran and a self-taught guitar player. He loves YouTube, he told me, because he can watch something while starting and stopping it whenever he needs to. So much for the stereotype that no one over age 30 knows the fine art of YouTubing (for those of you who are new to this blog, welcome to my inventive spelling). And thanks to Jennifer, he now knows about Hulu too.
We chatted a bit before the concert started. He was impressed with the venue and the surrounding architecture, as was I. Very modern. Lots of glass, stone and metal. Clean lines and wide open outdoor spaces perfect for après-performance strolling. The Ikeda Theater itself reminded me of the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Like the bed and bowl she chose—the space was neither too large nor too small. It was just right. Intimate but spacious. Lots of warm wood tones and great acoustics. (And seats so comfy I wanted to take one home with me to install in my teen taxi!)
It reminded me of seeing Springsteen at ASU Gammage many years ago during the Ghost of Tom Joad tour. Arena shows are amazing, but smaller venues leave you feeling more connected with the artists and fellow audience members. I felt proud as I watched the crowd swaying and stomping their feet to Playing for Change within such a welcoming venue. Proud of the Valley. Proud of our people. Proud of my daughter, who never hesitates to support a good cause and get others involved alongside her.
I did have second thoughts at one point in the evening. Perhaps I shouldn’t have told my children about lingering at the band’s bus after a Doobie Brothers concert somewhere in California (I moved around so often, I really couldn’t tell you which city). As we passed the Playing for Change buses on the way from the parking structure to the concert hall, Jenn said something about wanting to wait at the bus after the concert to meet the band. This has infinitely less appeal when you are having a 40-something birthday rather than a teen-something one.
Happily, we were able to meet several band members under more civilized circumstances. I enjoyed telling Clarence Bekker, a lead singer and dancer extraordinaire with the band, that Jennifer seemed to find him exponentially more exciting than E Street sax player Clarence Clemons. It’s blasphemy, I know. But sometimes our children don’t follow our religion. Band members were gracious and I was grateful. No loitering bus side for me after all.
When we got home (sans feline), I pulled out an old basket full of musical instruments we’ve collected over the years. A recorder. A harmonica. Sand blocks. A triangle. Small variations of drums we’d fallen in love with several years ago during a museum trip in NYC. We’ve collected African instruments, Asian instruments, Australian instruments. Many came from a music teacher and friend who sold instruments from around the world.
The music basket—like our many book baskets—was always at the ready when our children (now 16, 18 and 20) were younger. It made for great solitary play, but was equally fun to share with friends (many of whom flocked to it because they didn’t have anything like it at their house). For whatever reason, we never met a musical instrument we didn’t like (well, there was that one close encounter with a bassoon). We had keyboards and guitars–plus a saxophone, flute, violin, piano and more–the way other people have electronic gizmos.
I’m grateful for the bounty of that basket, for music continues to be a bond holding our family and friends together. I’ll share more about that—and about Playing for Change—in future blogs.
Note: Looks like the Doobie Brothers are performing on New Year’s Eve at Tempe Town Lake
Did you know? The Musical Instrument Museum, dubbed the “world’s first global musical instrument museum,” will open in Arizona on April 4, 2010. Visit their website to learn about the museum and ways you can get involved.
Update: Eager to hear African drumming close to home? Check out the ASU African Drum Ensemble December 6, 2009 from 7:30-9pm at Katzin Concert Hall (ASU Music Bldg., Room 222, on Cady Mall).