Thursday, October 7, 2010

Catching up - and a frantic reflection on Peace

So....Peace Day 2010 has now come and gone, and after a year of work in the build-up to those events, we thought we would now be taking a short breather  - but things at Listen for Life seem to be even faster-paced (and therefore less peaceful? or maybe not) than before!

My last blog entry was written from Europe, so a little catch-up report and reflection might be necessary:
In mid-September I was honored to give UN Peace Day-related performances in Croatia, Bosnia, and in England, before returning to Oakland California 2 days prior to Listen for Life's inaugural launch of Peace Day events for our home city. None of us knew what to expect from our 1st Annual (we hope) Festival for Peace in Oakland, in terms of audience turn-out, reaction to the scheduled programs and events we'd put together, any press attendance/coverage, or the overall response to our year of work on the part of the city, the participant listeners and performers, or the dedicated volunteers who helped us dramatically in the final 24-hour push after my return.
In the end, the day (and its aftermath) has been an absolute roller-coaster of emotions, reactions, and energy levels, for all of us....a "top ten" list of those emotions might read as follows:

1. Urgency: In the hours prior to Peace Day we had been offered the opportunity to place musicians in yet another additional venue which was in an important downtown location, so on September 21st after 3 hours asleep we awoke at dawn to create last-minute flyers that volunteers then handed out to nearby office workers, city hall employees, and passers-by in an attempt to draw an audience there unannounced.

2. Gratitude: Busy with that urgent task, I couldn't get the chance to visit a city senior center/shelter and soup kitchen where one of our musicians James Brooks (JB) was meanwhile serenading the elderly guests with songs of their era, but I heard later from the staff there that everyone loved his suave voice and outgoing, friendly participation in their Peace Day activities so much that they are begging him to come back on a regular basis  - and he has generously agreed!

3. Excitement: Thanks to the proactive work of one of our enthusiastic senior volunteers, another senior center in town picked up the Peace Day purpose in a big way and had an entire day of activities including a meaningful drum circle where the Alzheimers patients, especially, were a huge success!

4. Surprise (and gratitude): Some press showed up! So did our wonderful ally at the Special Events commission, Jim McIlvaine, who gave us tremendous encouragement and moral support in trying to "put Oakland on the map for a positive reason" over our last 11 months of work. And so did our equally supportive and very active city councilwoman Nancy Nadel, who was kind enough to respond when I spontaneously invited her to come up to the mic and speak to the audience and press with me, in front of City Hall, about the year-round significance of Peace Day for our city. Her words were very moving and exactly on target - I couldn't have hoped for more, if we had planned it!

5. Dismay: despite the hard work of our Listen for Life team and volunteers over many previous weeks/months and the assistance of seasoned PR professionals on our team - contacting newspapers, radio, TV, online Oakland blogs, and printing/distributing over 7,000 color flyers that listed all of the venues for free music concerts throughout the city - we learned the hard way just how challenging it can be to start something new! We had been warned that when looking at all of the really big, successful music festivals or city celebrations in any community, it is easy to forget that in their first one or two years, very few people knew about it or participated. These things apparently take a long while to spread by word of mouth, and some people wait to see the quality of the event and the artists in the first year or two before getting involved. But that didn't alter the feelings of exhausted disappointment while surveying the smaller-than-hoped-for crowds at each of our venues on the day, we have to admit!

6. Joy (and gratitude):  The musicians, at every single one of the venues, were absolutely incredible! And they played with heart regardless of the number of people in their audience. I felt so gratified that these nationally and internationally renowned performers had all agreed so freely to come out for Listen for Life on a weeknight and donate their time - and amazing talents- in an attempt to build something positive and new for the citizens of Oakland through the sharing of cross-cultural music. It was wonderful to watch the joy that they gave to their listeners, and it was even more wonderful to see the musicians stay to listen to each other perform, create new friendships amongst each other, and discuss future jam sessions combining their instruments and cultures. This was an unplanned but very important result from the year of planning!

7. Pride: Listen for Life was proud to have the support of so many fantastic musicians for this cause that we could create non-stop cross-cultural music programs at several different simultaneous venues across Oakland. And without exception, at each of those venues, every audience member asked our volunteers if those particular musicians would be back next year, saying that they had never, ever heard such incredible musicians perform, all under one roof, and all for free. They also thanked us for creating such a nice way to raise awareness of the message and meaning of Peace Day for Oakland.........

8. Relief:    So......the musicians all thought it was fantastic, and I am humbled that so many of these world-class musicians have taken the time to write us thank-you notes (for letting them share their gifts for free?!), saying what a wonderful experience it was and how appreciative the audiences were and to definitely put them down for "next year" .....the venue administrators have all written to say how impressed they were the performances and how gratified they felt to be part of this inaugural Festival for Peace in their city, and to please put them down for "next year" (adding that they promise to help more with publicity-sigh)......the volunteers and press have all told us they thought it was a huge success......

9. Exhaustion:  (compounded with jet lag, and regret about lack of TV or radio coverage, but enough said....)

10. Discovery:  We have learned a tremendous amount. We started this process a year ago at the request of UN-related organizations in Geneva that have asked  Listen for Life to create music festivals or concert performances around the world to raise awareness of the UN Millennium Development Goals and/or of UN Peace Day. We already knew that some of our musicians would be performing in Peace Day-related events in various countries, like my concerts performances in Croatia, Bosnia, and the UK. But we looked around our US headquarters in Oakland and thought about the tremendous positive impact that the celebration of Peace Day - and the use of cross-cultural music to create that celebration - could have on this city. If we had known how much work it would take over an entire year, for our very small Oakland based team of volunteers - in the midst of our many other separate and simultaneous projects like the MusicMessage Campaign and Notes for Nourishment and the Travels with Music production series - I do not know if we would have started. But once we started, our team became "the little engine that could". When one of us got discouraged with the lack of resources or hours in a day, another person would jump in with energy and enthusiasm. We took turns encouraging each other and sharing tips on how to stay awake on long nights of work! But in the end, what we have realized is that OUR mission is to the MUSICIANS. Pure and simple. 

What we have learned is that the Peace Day performances were NOT, as we had thought, the completion of a year-long work process but were actually the celebration, beginning and LAUNCH of a whole 365 day process of planning, working, and thinking about ways to promote peace in our hearts, homes AND community - through music!   We have no intentions to be the event-planners for Oakland Peace Day the next zillion years hence. Our role is as the catalyst - to create the model, let other organizations (hopefully!) run with it, and simply continue to provide the musicians who have heart enough to do this - not only in Oakland, but in cities and towns all across the world, wherever we are invited and wherever we have Listen for Life musicians and volunteers to make it happen! 
So here is what I said to the 120+ musicians who took part in our 2010 Festival for Peace when I wrote to thank each one of them this past week: 
"What we have realized is that OUR mission is to the musicians themselves - to YOU! 
Our mission is to inspire YOU and to help you create the opportunities to continue to share your gifts in ways that will inspire OTHERS. Only then will we have fully succeeded. Only then can we rest a little bit. And between the Listen for Life work and my own global concert tours each month, believe me, I could use a little rest - so please, come be inspired and come join us in inspiring others! 

If you like the idea of giving performances in your own community or countrywide YEAR-ROUND to help raise funds for various causes, then check out our newest global project called Notes for Nourishment ( and tell other musicians you know in ANY location and any country about this concept, as our goal is simply to be the catalyst for more events, ideas and positive musical ACTION worldwide. If meanwhile you have thoughts, venues, volunteers, suggestions or ideas for next Peace Day in your own communities please let us know asap! If we organize things NOW for next Peace Day (September 21, 2011) it will be ......maybe?.....a little less frantic and a little more Peace-filled....."
One activity we will be launching in the next 1-2 weeks is the creation of a short weekly video on YouTube that will outline steps/action items for any musicians in other cities/countries wishing to organize Peace Day music concerts in their own communities for next year. Some of those initial steps need to happen this month and next, so if you do know musicians or groups in other cities/countries who were excited and inspired by what you did for Oakland, get them to watch these videos or let us know who they are and we will be happy to contact them with support and help. 

As for me, I have spent the days since Peace Day trying to play catch-up with some of the other Listen for Life projects, including upcoming Notes for Nourishment concerts in Hawaii November 15-22 and in Washington DC, Maryland and Virginia November 28-December 8. 
But meanwhile, Listen for Life musicians Winnie Wong (China) and Vanessa Vo (Vietnam) are combining forces (and cultures) in a very rare duo concert later this month in San Francisco so our immediate project is to help with the PR and get the word out about that - so please stay tuned! [Please see this post for full concert details!]

1 comment:

  1. I had the chance to see Donna and Erin concert on Dec6th at St. Mary. It was not only refreshing, would be too shallow to post that in the blog. I am in the middle of sculpting a St Michael in the Battle of the Digital Age. Then Erin sent a message: Forgive as Our Father forgive us. Which I had immediately an afterthought: must go hand in hand with justice.
    Thanks for your Notes for Nourrishment, in which I draw energy to continue my sculpture. May God bless both of you to fulfill your mission like sunrise, like endless waves, for God's glory. An audience who shouted "encore" :)
    Warm Regards and Happy Holidays