Bonding pt 1: The case of music

Among all the means of social interaction, I find that music provides a unique and most fertile way of coming in touch with people across continents. Listening to music together, to begin with, can be highly valuable, but getting together to play music provides a yet better example of international bonding. We don’t have to know each other in order to play together, and we don’t even have to have practiced the music too much, for there are always the notes (or our working knowledge of the music to be played)… And even without extensive experience together, playing music together can show a high degree of spontaneous, gesture-by-gesture communication.

In June 2013  during a weekend of when the Finns were celebrating their Summer solstice back home – I had a chance to sit down with old friends from Michigan to do something new together. A rather spontaneous gig was put together at the initiative of my friend Ben who had been asked to play live music in a French Market organized by connoisseurs of French culture in the small town of Albion, Michigan. I happened to have planned a trip to see old friends at the same time, so by way of American spontaneity, Ben threw in the option for me to join him and our shared friend Dan to play together.

Since my primary instrument are the drums, I suggested we could carry a drum set to the scene, if only we find one lurking around somewhere… And we did: in the living room of Ben’s house (owned by his son Aiden), cozily covered in Angry Birds stickers and to brought into better tune with a few tricks here and there and a drum key purchased at the local music store.

I didn’t know the songs to be played, but I asked for a list in advance from Ben and took a quick listen to the songs through Spotify. We had a chance to practice but one time – the previous night, of course, in their living room – but that was no obstacle to getting on stage and trusting our instinct. During the gig, about half of our songs were based on improvisation, where I the drummer would characterize the rhythm and the tempo (and perhaps something like a scale to be used or a tone to be adopted), and then we would jam freely and yet in a structured enough vein to keep up the attention of the audience…

And luckily enough, we heard back from family members to have heard the rehearsals the day before that playing live we played much better! We had a whole lot of fun and were named the Ash Street Band following the name of the street where the impromptu collaboration came about.

Another chance for musical breaking of barriers during my Fulbright period arose in Cambridge, MA in May 2013 with the Harvard Jazz Band. A handful of the band members get together every Thursday at Harvard main campus to put out a Jazz Jam featuring jazz and funk classics at a college pub titled Queen’s Head. I’m not a specialist in jazz, so it took me a few weeks of some careful listening before I found my way into the band with a couple of percussion instruments purchased from a local music store in Allston. Playing the percussions, to begin with, warmed me up and I was ready to play a full song with the band sitting in at the drums! Again, we jammed freely, and I surmise I brought more of my rock experience onto the stage than virtually all of the other drummers would. But this only shows that spontaneous communications between musicians coming from different backgrounds can emerge even when they don’t share a long tradition together…


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