Thursday, October 20, 2011

Oktoberfest One....

We like to explain to folks that Listen for Life is "a global family of music listeners, performers, and producers, all working together to restore music as a unifying force for good, throughout the world".....and sometimes we find out that we have actually helped to accomplish that mission in a particular community, even without realizing it or intending it! Such is the case with the first annual Oktoberfest that Listen for Life was asked to help produce for a San Jose, CA neighborhood and parish this last weekend.
LfL has been involved in the area for the last 9 months or so, creating a year-round series of cross-cultural concerts and music-based events for the Race St/Rose Garden neighborhood and being held in the good acoustics and ambiance of St Leo the Great parish through the generosity and visionary planning of their pastor Fr Marcelo Navarro. When discussing a program for Fall 2011, LfL had suggested bringing in an authentic German band and doing traditional Oktoberfest music. At the first planning meeting I was in awe at the number of volunteers (from the parish, school and neighborhood) who showed up, the incredible ideas and energy that they brought with them, and the  speed with which this simple idea ramped up into a massive event with authentic German food, professional crafted desserts, special outdoor lighting to create a Bavarian beer garden area, children's games, a dancing area near the band.....all was great until I realized, with a sinking feeling, that I was being asked to coordinate the entire event and not just the music. Thankfully, a new arrival in the community, realtor Jacqueline Price, offered to put in just as many hours behind the scenes outlining tasks and connecting all of the people to do them, through constant emails and phone lists, and a rather large army of school parents and parishioners (from both the Hispanic-speaking and English-speaking communities) gradually took shape. The Don Sommerfeld band provided fantastic music and ambiance while the ticket line at the door just grew and grew. The event was a huge success in every way, and now the German Oktoberfest in this primarily Hispanic/English neighborhood is slated to be an annual happening that folks are already looking forward to.
But why is this story in a Listen for Life blog on music? Because we learned something very important through  this event as well. Music does indeed have the unique power to be a unifying force, perhaps even more-so on the local community level than on the global level where we are also frequently involved. The night of the Oktoberfest, as it was drawing to a close, several people explained to me in different ways that this was the first time in many years that the various communities within the parish, school and neighborhood had all shared in the planning, participated in the work, enjoyed the event together, and made new friends during the clean-up. The type of music was something unique to most all of them so it became the common denominator for a shared new experience.
So, for all of you Listen for Life music listeners and volunteers out there, or those interested in creating LfL chapters in other cities worldwide, take note! Look for opportunities to be a catalyst for building this unity -  donate your energies to create unique music events within the communities where you live, and involve as many of the different organizations or groups within the neighborhood as you can. Nothing is too small to be worthwhile, and nothing is too big to tackle. I am living proof that you will survive (the lack of sleep and extension of your working hours), and help will appear, and you will be so glad to have met and worked with so many new friends and wonderful people! It is a rather magical thing to suddenly realize that your "mission" has been accomplished for you, and by everyone involved. Thank you again, Oktoberfest team!

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