I told myself I wasn't going to blog while I was in San Francisco this weekend but yesterday presented me with such a fabulous experience, I didn't want to let the moment slip out of my mind. It all started with your typical airline experience...
I've boarded my flight, Philly to San Francisco. I have the aisle seat, the two seats next to me are empty.
I'm watching people dribble on the plane, wondering which one will be sitting next to me - some silent pleas are murmured. I go back to reading my book and a few minutes later (a watched pot never boils) I sense someone standing next to my in the aisle. OK, so here's one of them. I get up to let my new travelling partner in and take my first look at who it's going to be. It's a guy with long brown hair, some dreads, a beard, and
tattoos. Before I can fully recover, another guy is standing next to us - dyed short blond hair and more tattoos. Now before I go on, I should say that I don't have anything against tattoos; I try not to pigeonhole folks that choose to get them. But when you're on a plane, getting ready for a 6 hour flight, some of your prejudices can make themselves more obvious - sad but often true. But I smile, because really, after a second glance they don't seem so "bad," whatever that means, and I move out of the way to let them in the row. The guy with the beard sticks out his hand to shake mine, gives me his name, which I promptly forget because I'm a bit nervous, and I resume my reading with a new intensity.
Fortunately this is not the end of the story.
As I am reading my book for the first hour, I catch sound clips of the conversation the two guys next to me are having and although I try not to I begin the inevitable process of trying to figure out who these tattooed men are. I pick up that the long-haired one works in a restaurant in the Philly area - he's a manager or perhaps even an owner? They both swear quite a bit which in my stereotyping mind, goes hand-in-hand with the tattoos and slightly grungy look. I can't discern much about the blond-haired guy - he's pretty quiet. After a while, though, I find myself having a harder and harder time not eavesdropping because certain words keep popping out: practicing, music, gigs, wishing they had learned more instruments, wishing they hadn't stopped taking piano lessons when they were young...by that last one, they have completely caught my attention and I almost open my mouth to say something...
But I'm shy. I put away my book and pulled out my score for Winterreise so that I could work on it a bit. Sigh...
We proceed to ignore each other for a while until finally, about 4 hours into the flight, the long-haired guy, Jeff, points to my music and breaks the ice. What follows is a mind-opening conversation that turns them from tattooed, grungy guys into passionate, energetic, musical colleagues. Turns out these two guys, Pat (the long brown-haired one) and Jason are in a punk rock band called "Violent Society." They're traveling out to California to go on a brief tour after being on a hiatus for several years. They explain that about 10 years ago they were touring a lot, both in the US and over in Europe but after being disappointed by a less-than ideal relationship with the European record label that had picked them up, they broke up with each member slipping from a musical life full of music, touring, and parties, into the mundane 9 to 5 world of real life.
As they talk on, and as I share bits of my musical journey, I find myself completely drawn into their story. There are so many parallels between the punk rock world and the classical world: we have all had to put aside music for a while in order to meet the demands of the real world and to build relationships with those whom we love; in that sometimes painful process we have come to realize that music simply must be a part of our lives in some way; after injecting music back into our lives we now look at our art in a completely new way, respecting it more than before. We all struggle to find time to practice; wish we could learn more instruments;feel the power and intensity that comes from sharing our music with our "band members" and with the audience that hears us; feel that music is vital in our community and that we can do our part in being vocal about the society in which we live through our music. We spend a lot of time discussing how the internet and social networks are changing how we as artists present ourselves and increase our audience. Suddenly we are interrupted by the pilot's voice...the flight is almost over. I find myself smiling from ear-to-ear. We exchange business cards, urls, more genuine handshakes, and best wishes and then go our separate ways once we arrive at our gate.
Looking back on the whole scene now, I need to alter the previous sentence. At the end of the flight, we physically parted but I truly believe that this brief encounter on the plane has made it so that we are not really going such separate ways spiritually. Whether it's punk rock music or classical, we are all trying to find a path that unites a musical world with the real world. And after talking with Jeff and Jason, I am now one step closer to seeing that that path just might be the same.