I was first introduced to Liberia through my work with the Liberian Education Fund, and through these experiences I have learned that despite economic instability and often difficult circumstance, community is what creates culture. The vendors at colorful market stalls connecting with every passerby, dusty barefoot football matches in most backyards, youngsters dancing in bars all evening, exuberant gospel-filled church services, the half hour in the school day dedicated to singing before class begins, all represent accessible and built-in cultural activities in Liberia. I don’t think culture has anything to do with wealth except for that wealth can provide the means and space to promote cultural events.
In the U.S. we have access to beautiful museums, concert halls, sports stadiums, and amazing restaurants. Almost every community has spaces that offer culture whether in large entertainment centers, town halls or gymnasiums. We are lucky in that way. Museums and concert halls are cultural landmarks that are truly inspiring, however they are not often community based or accessible. It can be isolating to go to a large museum and look at art and reflect inwardly or just to a friend. As it can be isolating to see a live show, especially of the classical genre, and watch in silence, then clap or maybe even stand up if you are excited at the finish. Not to mention that too many people cannot afford tickets to these cultural events in the first place.
Although some forms of art and music remain inaccessible, there are many forms that are open to everyone and bring people together to discuss, celebrate, and meditate. Friends often tease me for idealizing growing up in a small Midcoast town in Maine. I’ll admit I sometimes obsess over the quality of simplistic, small town living, but I think my admiration comes from the accessible culture was made by this strong community. Plays at the local theatre, community rowing, a new restaurant opening, or street music and dancing on summer nights were all special town events. What made these events so powerful, was that we created and experienced them together as a community because everyone was welcome, thereby creating traditions of our own.
One of the many goals in Palaver is to create this sense of community through music, enabling our audience to learn about each other or to discuss a value or difference . We want to allow for a person to recall a memory or have an amazing conversation because we are creating an experience that induces ideas. I can vouch for other artists or at least classical musicians that our social skills can sometimes be voided because of the extreme amount of time spent alone in the practice room or studio trying to hone in our art. But what is the point of making art if not to give it to something? Well, I hope my something is in community because I believe that community based culture is the best way to instill emotion and motivate change. Through music, I hope to learn how to create an environment where people can feel comfortable discussing something that is hard or wonderful, sitting and listening just for a shared physical experience together and getting to know each other.