Everybody loathes your name?

Posted on August 1, 2011


You know, making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got. Taking a break from all your worries sure would help a lot. Wouldn’t you like to get away?

It’s true. Sometimes we want to go where everybody knows our name and they’re always glad we came, right? We want to be where we can see our troubles are all the same as other people’s, and that there are people out there who are like us, right? Right. And as musicians and artists- especially classical musicians- that’s precisely our problem.

It’s ok, as the Cheers theme song says, to sometimes want to go where everybody knows your name. But if you always want to go where everybody knows your name and aren’t ever willing to go where everybody loathes your name, or where no one knows your name, I don’t know how you could possibly expect positive change in your community- musical or otherwise- to take place.

Last Sunday, as someone who is trying to learn how to appreciate and support local hip-hop artists in Denver (DJs, emcees, producers, etc.), among other things, this classically trained children’s choir conductor went to a hip-hop event in Denver at a park by myself. I shouldn’t feel like that’s newsworthy, but unfortunately I did. It was an all-day event put on by Denver’s Hip Hop Congress for the second year in a row, and after accidentally oversleeping during a rare Sunday nap I managed to catch the final two hours or so of the event. I knew no one there when I showed up, but I knew that a couple of the people I followed on Twitter would be there. I hoped to meet them and talk to them about music, and I did just that. These local emcees could not have been much nicer to me than they were.

It was an awesome event. A community of incredibly diverse, happy and peaceful people having a great time. Beautiful. Local rappers and poets were grillin’ up food for everyone (everything was free) and there were a couple of b-boy battles, cyphers, and a few short sets performed by some of the local emcees in attendance. I’m sure some have at some point, but I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a classical music organization in The States throw a party on that scale for people who loved their music (especially one that wasn’t an attempt to raise money).

It was also refreshing to go to a music-related event that was all young people in attendance- most of them appearing to be younger than me, and I just turned 30. My wife and I sing with the Colorado Symphony Chorus, and when we walk out on stage to take our seats for a performance of Beethoven 9 or Mahler 2 or whatever, all you see is a sea of gray hair in the audience. Sure there are some young people there and some middle-aged folks there, but they are swallowed up in the big picture by the 55 and above crowd. I think I saw one man with gray hair checking out the b-boy battle at the hip-hop event. Other than that, it was folks in their 20s and 30s, plus their kids.

Don’t get me wrong; music is for the old as much as it’s for the young, but I couldn’t help but wonder for the 24,876th time: if both groups of people love music, what is it that keeps the old folks away from a hip-hop and the young folks away from a classical music? Seems like an elementary question, but I’m discovering that the answer is more complex than you or I could possibly imagine, and that it’s a little bit different for every person.

But at the same time, as I stood there shooting the breeze with some of Denver’s prominent local rappers and poets- something I never thought I’d do in a million years- it became embarrassingly clear that in the midst of all the complex reasons that people live and breathe one kind of art but ignore another, there is this narrow road on a higher plane that calls to us all. This narrow road can and already is “making straight in the desert a highway” that I believe is leading us to a more inclusive community of artists from all genres and mediums here in Denver. It’s the road less traveled. It’s the path of The Listener.

It’s tempting as an artist (at least for me, anyway) to think that outside of the small circle of people who truly appreciate “my” art is this big bad world of haters and eye-rollers who fear and loathe me, what I do and what I stand for. But if you can muster the courage to cross that imaginary line in the sand (emphasis on imaginary) and choose to listen rather than fear, avoid or insult, you’ll find as I have that your fears were a colossal waste of time and energy. There’s no place on earth where everybody loathes your name. Sure there might be some individuals who loathe you, and they may at times make up the majority of the people in a given room, but those individuals will loathe you whether you’re in the same room as them or not. Not much you can do about that. With a little time and a little effort, a local hip-hop fan that you had coffee with a few months back will see you in a club, give you a big hug and say, “Hey I saw that song you did with those kids down in Mexico. That was dope.” Or the people who were perfect strangers to you at the beginning of the night in the club will invite you to an after party and offer you a chance to smoke a bowl with them before they go inside (which you can choose to accept, or as I did, politely decline.) Or the young lady who just spent the weekend “celebrating” the five-year anniversary of her brother’s murder with a weekend of  booze and music that connects her to a happier past decides that she’s ready to go to  A.A and grab a Diet Coke with you- a fellow music lover- as she embarks on her courageous journey towards sobriety. Suddenly, these places where people supposedly loathed or didn’t know your name become the place where everybody knows your name. The places where even they can’t believe that they’re glad you came. The places where even though our troubles and lifestyles are not the same, music paves the way for understanding, open-heartedness, and when we need it, help.

Oh, the places we’ll go if we would just put down our agendas for two freaking seconds…and listen.

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