Over There Is Over Here

Kristi Holler and I performing in downtown Brookings, SD.

My musical partner Kristi Holler and I performed our first Music2Care event this past Saturday (see additional photos in my last post). In case you haven’t heard, Music2Care is a project we’ve just launched to raise awareness of, and funds to assist, the victims of humanitarian crises. We plan to perform our original music every Saturday from around 10:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., outside Cottonwood Coffee on Main Street, Brookings, South Dakota (if the weather turns bad, we’ll move our gig inside). We’ll donate any tips we receive to Doctors Without Borders, or other relief organizations as appropriate.

This past Saturday, we were playing in support of Somalis suffering from famine. The weather was sunny and cool for a South Dakota August, just perfect for street performance. Main Street was fairly busy. Since street performers are rarely seen in downtown Brookings outside of special civic events, Kristi and I knew that we would attract attention. Pedestrians, patrons of the Cottonwood and even folks in passing vehicles gave us a warm reception. It was the most stress-free gig I’ve ever played. By the end of a couple of hours, our tip jar held nearly $150 for Doctors Without Borders.

I wasn’t surprised that this first Music2Care gig was so enjoyable. After all, I was performing on a lovely day, with a very talented friend, for a cause I believed in, in a place I’m fond of.

What did surprise me, though, was that our live music seemed temporarily to change the dynamics of the neighborhood in which we were performing. This, I hadn’t expected.

I hadn’t expected children stopping on the street, staring at us with wonder-filled eyes, mouths sometimes hanging open. I hadn’t expected the barber from several doors down to come by and drop a donation in our jar, with his thanks. I hadn’t expected the truck drivers and motorcyclists waving at us and honking their horns. I hadn’t expected the middle-aged woman who stood where she thought she was out of sight, eyes closed, toe tapping in time with our music, so tuned in that she was lost to the world. I hadn’t expected our music to provide the entertainment at a private outdoor party for some senior citizens, two blocks away. I hadn’t expected that down at the Post Office, farmers and university professors would pause on the steps and cross their arms and listen to at least a refrain before moving on with their business. I hadn’t expected that a sun-wizened vagabond would pull his harmonica out of his pack and jam along with us, or read a poem while I backed him on the piano, playing (at his request) “something sad.” I hadn’t expected a table of chatting friends sitting nearby to suddenly grow quiet, their eyes filling with tears at “There Is a Still Place.” I hadn’t expected that a woman who had never met Kristi and never heard our music would try to sing along in harmony, or offer on some future Saturday to bring along her flute and guitar, to play along. I hadn’t expected that same woman (as I later heard through the grapevine) to go home and compose the first original song she’d written in a long time, because she “felt inspired”….

I could go on and on. So many things, unforeseen. Such a heightening of energy in the place, or so it seemed. And when after a couple of hours Kristi and I called it a wrap and started packing our gear, the wait staff of the Cottonwood, so puzzled when we first arrived in mid-morning, was offering to store this for us, and help us with that, and was thrilled to hear we’d be back next week.

Kristi and I started Music2Care because we were tired of constantly hearing about all the suffering in the world and feeling like we were powerless to help. This would be our little (but persistent) effort to ease that suffering some. But the suffering isn’t only over there. It’s also over here. Sometimes we forget, but over there and over here are connected in the heart. They are one place. Music can help us remember that.

And so I remembered on Saturday.

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