Monday, April 15, 2019

Lessons learned ... even in these late years ... .

... and they're seemingly unrelated, yet ...

One week ago, I was a participant in one of the annual Google ICloud conferences in San Francisco.  These occur in 3 places, London, Tokyo, and San Francisco.  I'm told that there were 3400 gathered in the Moscone Convention Center for 4 days of workshop sessions, and mine was in one of the smaller meeting rooms that held, maybe, 250 people.  It was a "Fireside chat with Betty Reid Soskin."

It was during the Powerpoint presentation that I learned for the first time that there is a room at Google headquarters in Silicon Valley named for yours truly!  Can you imagine?  It was then that I recalled giving a talk there a few years ago, but had no idea that this had happened.

Lessons learned?  Simple one in this case.  We're leaving tracks even when we're unaware ... .

The other?  This one was a bit less comfortable:

I was aware that one of my songs, "Your hands in mine", that had been introduced in December at the Paramount theater in Oakland, would be featured in the spring concert of the Symphony's Freedom Choir.  What an honor!  And Saturday evening was that time, and I was picked up by Ken Saltztine, a member of the choir, and driven to a lovely church site for the event.  I could hardly wait to hear how it would be arranged, and presented.  This was another of those rare occurrences that are now happening with some regularity, accompanied by a course of elevated adrenaline splashes and sleepless nights for days preceding.

Arriving early, I would sit in a pew with a hand-drawn sign announcing that this was "reserved" for V.I.P's, status I'd never quite found myself formally a member of -- with wired nerve ends, alone, waiting ...

Just before the clock struck eight, Maestro Michael Morgan slipped in beside me, the choir of 108 voices began to file in; the stately choir director, Dr. Lynne Morrow, entered down the center aisle dramatically taking her place at the podium ...

I'd checked the program and found the title of my little song just past the middle and before the intermission, following directly the great hymn of the Civil Rights days, "We shall overcome."

The program was absolutely brilliant!  It consisted of Negro spirituals, all familiar and much-loved.  We proceeded through Ain't got time to die, Kumbiya, Ain't nobody gonna turn me 'roun' etc., then one of the most beautiful arrangements of "We shall overcome" (5 choruses), that I've ever heard, and sung with the passion of professionals with a message.

Then Dr. Morrow introduced my simple little song-- all 2 minutes and 26 seconds of it -- giving the explanation of why it was written and under the circumstances of my response to the treatment the courageous Fannie Lou Hamer faced at the 1964 Democratic Convention -- and I suddenly felt uncomfortable -- embarrassed, wondering how on earth I ever had the audacity to believe that I could ever write anything worthy enough to take the place of that amazingly powerful song that had brought us together at a time when our courage as a people may have been wavering; when our lives were being threatened, and when our voices were providing the sound track for the tumultuous Era of the Sixties?

The soloist, who stepped out of the choir to be me in this moment, did a wonderful job, and pain of it was quickly over; both the feelings and the song.

Maybe, what was familiar about these feelings of discomfort was the reason my music had been hidden away in the back of my closet for fifty years, this feeling of unworthiness.  Yet, at the Paramount theater in December I'd felt triumphant in sharing this song before that audience of friendly strangers.

Why had I not felt this way the night before when this same little song had been sung by children of the Oakland Performing Arts School?  It felt so right just 24 hours ago!  Fitting.  Those middle school kids did such a wonderful job, and the song was so well received by their parents and teachers in that audience.  What made this different?

Why did I have this feeling that somehow, all those many years ago, I'd stepped inappropriately over some line, and my private war with President Lyndon Baines Johnson had spilled over into some V.I.P. "reserved" territory where, I forgot that I was not a composer, but an interloper daring to enter a world that lay far beyond my capacities.


Find myself wondering which of these feelings will prevail as we go forward?