I think I may have mentioned before that I’m a percussionist. I know that in Pilgrimage IX I spoke about music a little, but not much. I haven’t played much in years, but it is still in me. I think in these terms still. I listen a certain way because of this. I generally enjoy pianissimo people more than fortissimos. I can really appreciate a political speech or a sermon if the speaker knows how to use dynamics, and when to be stacatto, or maybe most importantly, when to rest for a few measures.
I very much enjoyed when I was in high school, playing in several bands and orchestras, and I likewise enjoyed having a student pass to the London Philharmonic when I was in England. For what it’s worth to the non-orchestra people, the London Philharmonic performed the scores for the Lord of the Rings movies, and when you play Zelda – that’s orchestra music you’re listening to.
One of the great things about orchestras (of course you can do this with a good jazz or rock band as well, but don’t bother trying it with your basic pop music) is that you have multitudes of options of how you listen. You can focus on the winds and filter out the strings, or vice versa; you can adjust your mental equalizer to put the snare drum up front and everything else in the background; if you have the skill and a good seat, sometimes you can listen to one clarinet as opposed to the whole group. This is all entertaining, and there is nothing wrong with engaging in these exercises, just as you can appreciate the different brush-strokes and textures used by a talented painter without necessarily taking in the subject matter of the masterpiece.
But sometimes we should listen to what the conductor is presenting as a whole, just as sometimes we should taste the flavors mixed and created by a good chef, rather than putting ketchup or salt on her dish just to eat and satisfy our simple hunger.
What’s all this about, you ask? Don’t be impatient. That was fun to write. I said all that to give you this:
In April of 2004 I found myself in Belize again, cooking for the construction missions crew. One particular evening we took a break from my cooking and had dinner at Blancaneaux Lodge. This is a retreat owned by Francis Ford Coppola, of “The Godfather” fame, deep in the jungle of Belize. He has his own cabana and visits there from time to time, but we missed him on this trip. Anyway, I managed to escape the group – as usual – and sat on a rock to enjoy the scenery. Blancaneaux:
The scenery was magnificent, as you can see above. I examined the clear starry sky above, trying to pick out constellations without the light pollution of a normal American suburb, but it didn’t take long to be consumed with memories of Dad and Hale-Bopp comet, so I refocused.
The daylight was dimming into twilight now, and I could see less than I could hear as the music started. This was the jungle version of that moment in the rural southern United States when the traffic calms, the people go inside for the night, the daytime birds settle in, and after a short intermission of silence, the whippoorwill sings its first notes of the evening.
In the Belizean rainforest, you have your options just as you do in the metropolitan concert hall. You can listen to the percussive sounds of the broad, thick leaves rustling against one another or the snapping of twigs by some unseen nocturnal varmint or beast, or you can single out the hoarse calls of a pair of scarlet macaws talking from tree to tree, or enjoy the soothing white noise of the nearby waterfall and rapids. I don’t know a blue crowned mot-mot from a red-footed booby, but I can recognize a toucan, and by this time it was fully dark and I couldn’t see any of them anyway. So then I leaned back, looked out into the light-pricked infinity of dark sky, and listened to what the Conductor was giving me. His music. His dish. His painting. His masterpiece.
I heard the harmony of the calling birds, croaking frogs, laughing voices, swaying leaves, rushing water, and then the laugh of a child somewhere pierced through like a cymbal crash or maybe a triangle strike. And where I had recently been asking questions about the balance of family and career, and direction of my profession, the Conductor told me that providing for my family was not just a financial challenge. He explained that I needed to “be there” as much as I needed to fund things, or more.
I logged all this into my journal the following weekend as I sat in my regular hammock on the beach of Ambergris Caye with my IBC and Oreos. The next morning I thought through it all again over banana pancakes under a Caribbean sunrise, and then flew home to MC&L. I concluded that I should provide my family with the finances I can manage without causing myself so much stress in the process that we can’t mutually enjoy the things that those finances buy. If I breach that line, I’ve lost the game, and perhaps my family in a sense. I made some changes based on that rainforest symphony.
to quote another jungle missionary:
He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.