To attempt any kind of plan on any given day in the month of March in Ohio is to play a game of roulette. But March 24th was the day nationwide when the youth of this country, and those of us no longer so young who support them any way we can, came together to demand something be done about the overwhelming problem of gun violence in this country. And so it was that our city found ourselves bracing for a spring snow-storm, as well as an anti-gun-violence rally downtown.
Let me first preface this writing with a few quick words just so you’re clear where I stand…. (it’s by no means complete, but it’s a start.)
I am not anti-gun. While not a gun enthusiast myself, I see the place of a shotgun on a farm to deal quickly with a suffering beast or an overzealous predator. While I’d not join them per se, I appreciate the hunters who help to quell the population of deer and are careful to process, consume and share the animals they take down and who do so with a reverence to Nature. I’d rather see an animal taken down with a well placed bullet (or arrow) than one starving to death. I married a Navy guy who was a sharp shooter in college. I am not anti-military. (In fact, I truly appreciate the many veterans who are speaking out on the subject of gun violence.) I am a former school teacher. I am an artist who lives and speaks in symbols, story and metaphor. I know the difference between a shot gun and an assault rifle…..
So, with that out of the way, let me share with you a bit of the past few days, as I have an interesting tale to tell about my own experiences related to this past weekend’s March For Our Lives.
My beloved flute maker and dear musical friend of many years, Dave Copley of Copley and Boegli Flutes, sent along an intriguing message about someone who wanted to commission him to craft a series of flute like instruments out of gun barrels hitherto the March for Our Lives which was to happen a couple of weeks later here in town and all across the country. Upon reading the message, I knew this was something special and encouraged Dave to get involved if at all possible within his budget and schedule and, that I would help out along the sidelines if I could.
Pedro Reyes is an internationally renowned artist known for his capacity to tackle socio-political issues in innovative, creative and distinctly participatory ways. He is based in Mexico City where he lives and works with his family. Cal Cullen heads up Wave Pool Gallery which is “a dynamic place where art intersects with community. We act as a catalyst for social engagement and cultivate artistic development.” Factored into this mix is The Welcome Project which is affiliated with Wave Pool and is helping out a lot of vulnerable new members of our community. Somehow, these folks found flute maker Dave. Inspired by the 17 lives lost at the Parkland, Florida mass shooting this past Valentine’s Day and the activism sparked amongst the surviving students, Dave was to craft 17 flutes from 17 gun barrels to honor those lost and to inspire those now marching for change, backed by the people and organizations I have mentioned here.
(Yes, I know these are shot gun barrels. Please read above statement about my love of metaphor and symbol in art practice.)
Dave took on the project. At this point I was out of the country doing my work in Guatemala but I was keeping my ear to the ground as to how it was going. Last week upon my return, I stopped over for lunch with Dave and Marlene and got a chance to see the flutes in person. They are heavy and cumbersome but play surprisingly well. I make a decision on the spot that I will help to play these at the march the following weekend.
These former guns are still collectively creepy. They are heavy, cold, each a bit different from one another. They pose a bit of a challenge to Dave as an instrument maker but he soldiers on and they eventually make their way to Wave Pool where we give them a spin.
Remarkably, they play beautifully (at least when warm)! He crafts a few in each of a couple of keys. The ones in E are slightly lighter in weight and we choose them to play the coming weekend at the march. We had hoped for some local kids to help play them, but alas, no one shows to the rehearsal. Perhaps a case of mixed signals…..
We find our way into Saturday morning. Local music school classes are not canceled as we thought they might be and so some of our number had to go to work which left three of us to wield the new flute barrels best we can.
Wave Pool had sponsored a day of mitt making while I was away, crafting the Evil Eye onto gloves for the march.
I was prepared with my own crafting of the idea as this too was a concept I could get behind.
Those who know me well know I have an evil eye on my flute case. The charm is from Greece and was brought back to me by my friend and mentor Pam shortly before she died. I treasure it….
Somehow, all of the flute-related magic is coming together.
The weather is raw and unforgiving on marching day. The mitts are necessary and perhaps not nearly enough to keep fingers challenged with steel gun barrels from freezing.
We get to City Hall and already there is a great crowd gathering.
We are put into place to begin the work of musical activism. On the steps of City Hall, the three of us present to play remark half heartedly that we sure wish we had more flute players. It is cold and we do not trust our fingers on gun steel. Nor our embouchures really. And wouldn’t you know it….two of the young people on hand for the march chime in, “We play.” Just like that we are 5. And stronger for it. Thank you Lila and Kennisha. You saved the day for us older folk.
While introducing the kids to these strange instruments, we meet Ethel Guttenberg whose grand-daughter Jaime was a victim at Parkland. One of the 17 who sparked this rally, one of the 17 who sparked this gun barrel flute project. I am speechless and reeling from the gravity of what we are doing here.
We play a few classics. We Shall Overcome, Amazing Grace, that sort of thing. We only have a few minutes. And it’s cold and raw to be placing bare lips and fingers to cold gun metal. Miraculously, the crowd begins to sing along and it is magical. This is the genius behind the vision of Pedro Reyes and his biblical notion of ploughshares from swords. This is not a new concept really, but one brought beautifully to bear by this modern artist. To be quite honest, I find it hard to keep my quivering lip playing the simple music at hand, especially after talking with Ethel.
Ethel speaks to the crowd on hand, which is sizable, especially when combined with like minded folk across the country and around the world. Before her and after her are the children responsible for this amazing event. Kids like her grand-daughter Jaime. Kids, really. Up till now perhaps the world would have discounted these kids. But they are the future. In fact, I’d say they aren’t even the future. They are the now. They are stepping up where our leadership cannot.
“and these children that your spit on as they try to change their worlds, are immune to your consultations. They’re quite aware of what they’re going through.” ~David Bowie
As a parent of two young adults who weathered some serious storming in their own young lives along the way, I know what it is to be a parent witnessing the undoing of innocence in our children. I have been thinking so much about Emma and David, and their friends, parents and loved ones. I’ve seen snippets of what they are grappling with off stage and out of the spotlight. These are kids, y’all. Children. Children grieving the loss of their classmates. Children grappling with their place in a limelight none of them asked for. Their lives are altered. Taking a peek at what the interwebs has to offer in the way of feedback, a good chunk of it is negative. But a fair amount of it is also positive. From good people like myself wishing them well. Hoping they might even consider running for office one day. Sign me up.
I write to you crickets here in this echo chamber, hoping maybe my words will ring true. Even to just one person. Maybe two on a good day. Hoping that this avalanche of gathering young snowflakes is embarking on change….
I share Sam Cook’s music with a nod to how these kids have made it a point to include people of color so often left out of these conversations. Something I find remarkable and a glimpse of the future…..
People like Naomi.
ELEVEN, y’all. Let that sink in.
These kids are our future. They are poised and educated and can dance their way round the internet in ways I couldn’t have imagined. (Let’s face it, at their age, I couldn’t imagine the internet).
And so, time marches on. At this writing, over a month has passed. More shootings have occurred. These kids have a job ahead of them to be sure. But I have faith in them, despite the internet throwing shite upon them at every turn. Let’s find ways to support them as the tide turns.
“Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” ~Albus Dumbledore