I HEAR AMERICA

During election seasons like this one, words of patriotism pour out of people’s mouths. Candidates spew platitudes. Pundits and the public respond with their own. But what strikes me aren’t the words proclaimed during presidential campaigns but the music Americans play.

Last Sunday, Carolyn and I flew down to Los Angeles to hear our son Yosi play violin. For years, Yosi played fiddle with a popular band performing Americana—an amalgam of bluegrass, country, folk and other musical forms rooted in our native soil. He traveled across the United States and Canada and on tour in the United Kingdom, Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Now living in L.A., he determined to improve his technique by shifting gears and studying classical music.

Yosi worked with several teachers when on the road. At home in Los Angeles, he found Beth Elliott, who heads Kadima Conservatory of Music. Kadima—Hebrew for forward—teaches students from young children to adults. Many receive scholarships. They come from a range of backgrounds but share several key traits: They love music. They want to improve their playing. They’re committed to working hard.

How very American—people with a passion seeking to be and do their best. And Kadima is as American an institution as they come. Beth is Jewish, her staff Jewish, white (including Armenian-born), Latino, African-American and Asian. Kadima students mirror this ethnic mix.

Were the student musicians good? The elementary- and middle-school kids displayed both talent and, overcoming initial nervousness, poise. You could hear how they will grow. The older students and adults proved to be truly accomplished and on the brink of great things.

The key to my experience: When I closed my eyes, I didn’t hear the playing of one or another ethnic group. I heard Americans united in their love of music.

Now, let me brag. Yosi was awesome. He and Beth played Vivaldi’s “Concerto for Two Violins in A.” They would have made Vivaldi proud. Carolyn and I were delighted as was the audience.  After the recital, no one considered that any of the students didn’t belong on stage because they weren’t white—which some were.

An added note: Saturday night, Carolyn and two other women performed in a show produced by Society Cabaret, Tunes of the City, as a workshop for budding songwriters. The trio sang “Ladies of Alamo Square” by Jeff Becker about San Francisco’s fabled and fabulously painted Steiner Street Victorian houses. The harmonies are tricky, but the trio did them justice.

Society Cabaret audiences talk about songs and patter, never about performers’ ethnicities or gender preferences. When it comes to music of any kind, you exhibit talent and discipline or you don’t. Performances are judged by their quality, integrity and effort. That’s the reason orchestras now hold “blind” auditions during which musicians are screened off from their judges.

The 2020 presidential campaign will be marked—or marred—by comments about what it means to be a “real American.” Some voters will define that by ethnicity, religion and gender factors rather than core human values.

I hope that the next time those folks sing America the Beautiful at a ballgame or public gathering, they’ll listen to the voices around them. They’ll hear just how beautiful Americans sound when we’re singing together.

To respond, click on “comments” to the right just below the title of this post. Then go to the response space at the bottom of the post.

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8 Comments

  1. It’s such a thrill and an honor to watch Yosi’s musical journey from self taught train riding fiddle player, to touring artist and now to classical violinist. All of his experiences can only lead to greater accomplishments because he always follows his heart.


    • David
      Feb 14, 2020

      Totally agreed, CP.


  2. David Newman
    Feb 14, 2020

    First the personal — congratulations on Yosi’s success. How wonderful it is to see our children succeed.

    Now the political — the many voices that make up America’s song make this country unique. That is the American dream. No other country can claim to do what we have done, despite the challenges that still remain. In fact, I think it is the American success that has stirred some of the resentment and xenophobia that is permeating our political discourse.

    If there is an American dream, there is also an American nightmare. One of my fears for the 2020 campaign is that, if the Democrats nominate a Jewish candidate — and we might — it will unleash a wave of both coded and blatant anti-Semitism that will be breathtaking in its ugliness. This is not an argument against Bernie or Mike, but a warning that we must be ready to respond vigorously and to engage with other communities to oppose it.


    • David
      Feb 14, 2020

      Thanks, David. And agreed. A Bernie or Bloomberg candidacy will bring out a great deal of anti-Semitism and put our democracy–and our values–to the test. I think America can handle this. I think the task will be hard.


  3. Sandy Lipkowitz
    Feb 15, 2020

    To both Davids, Yes there will be antisemitism. However we had a black president for 8 years. If we can handle that, we can handle Jewish. I remember when Kennedy was running. There was so much talk about a Catholic could not win. Yes there are racists in our country, and they have loud voices. Trump took the lid off that pot. I truly believe there are more sane folks than not. I’m more concerned about Bernie’s socialist rhetoric that will turn many voters off than his being Jewish. I think Biden got knocked out with Ukraine. I really believe Bloomberg has a chance. I like Mike!!


    • David
      Feb 15, 2020

      Yes, Sandy, I think the country as a whole can handle a Jewish candidate. There will be anti-Semitic material on social media. Comes with the territory. So be it. Let’s field the best candidate possible.


  4. Tracy
    Feb 15, 2020

    I find it very interesting that both Drumph and Bernie activate anti-Semites — though on opposite ends of the political spectrum. That said, there have always been and always will be people who hate us for no reason other than that we are Jews. I guess the silver lining is that many of these folks are “out of the closet.” As Malcom X said – “I have more respect for a man who lets me know where he stands, even if he’s wrong, than the one comes up like an angel and is nothing but a devil.”

    Shabbat Shalom


    • David
      Feb 15, 2020

      It may be less interesting, Tracy, than expected. Jewish presence triggers anti-Semites. Bernie only had to be born. Trump is in bed with racists and appears to be one himself. What his specific attitude towards Jews is, I don’t know. He’s had to swallow having a Jewish son-in-law and his daughter converting to Judaism. He certainly won’t speak out against anti-Semitism. As to Malcom X, I get his remark but would rather have people hate me silently and not do anything to disrupt me than announce their presence and make my life difficult.

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