Inclusion and Inspiration

There are experiences that have changed me. I had one of them ten years ago (July 2014) when I traveled to Taiwan to perform with my friend Yang Wei. 

I hadn’t done a lot of performing or recording between 1989 - 2014. 

As our sons were born, I was a musician performing throughout the US and parts of Canada. After one West Coast tour I came home after two plus weeks on the road. I realized that after paying all the bills and childcare I had made only $150. My boys (who were around 3 and 1 at the time) had changed so much during the days I was gone. I was missing their lives. We made a choice. I took a step and became the stay-at-home parent.        

In later years I had “real” jobs. Then in 2005 I went to work for The Silk Road Project on the administrative side. That job took over 60 hours a week. My performing was infrequent.

There are many myths about working in the performing arts (It doesn’t matter whether you are a performing artist or an arts administrator). One of those myths is the word inclusion. Inclusion is one of those words that people use to describe themselves or intentions, but rarely execute fully. 

In the years I was performing, festival workshops were more of a mini-competition rather than public sharing of ideas. Festivals crowned people as winners of different contests (songwriting, banjo, guitar, fiddle) but that means there are losers. This never felt very inclusive or sharing to me.

In the arts non-profit where I worked inclusion was part of the mission statement. There was a small staff ranging from 7 to 9 people. But only half the staff was included to attend concerts and programs. The excluded staff paid for their own tickets. The exclusion even applied to expressing a critique about a concert or program. It permeated everything. 

Say one thing then do another. After a while you accept this axiom as the way of the world.

Through the Silk Road Project I met Pipa Master Yang Wei in 2007. Yang Wei learned that I was a fellow musician. He was curious and encouraged me to share with him what I knew, and he played for me what he knew.  A personal and musical friendship grew. We performed at a few sporadic concerts together over the next few years.

In the spring of 2014 Yang Wei asked if I wanted to perform with him in Taiwan. I knew this would be an adventure. The only foreign country I had performed in before this was Canada. 

Nothing could have prepared me for performing in Taipei and Taichung. 

In Taiwan I experienced for the first time what the word inclusion actually means in practice. Inclusion is a call to action. After every concert performers were expected to spend time with everyone who helped with the concert, not just paying patrons. The sponsors, hosts, servers, janitors …. anyone who had a part in putting on that concert. Everyone was accessible. No one was excluded.  

 

The Taiwanese people we met are open and friendly. There was a language and a cultural barrier, between us but it didn’t make any difference. When Tracie and I went to explore Taipei, strangers saw we were trying to find our way and guided us.  The kindness from everyone we met was genuine.

My experiences in Taiwan connected so many of my dormant feelings as an artist, teacher and musician. I felt the joy of performing with my friend, of being able sharing so many experiences with my wife in real time, of meeting people who accepted and included me into their homes, tea rooms, studios, shops and concert stages. The people in Taiwan rekindled my desires to learn, perform and record. The people I met gave me an example of how I should treat others.   

The feelings from my experiences in Taiwan guided me these past ten years. I know what real inclusion feels like. I hope others feel fully included by me. 

I follow many of the people I met in Taiwan on social media. I like knowing how they are doing. I am concerned when there is an earthquake or a monsoon. So many people in Taiwan made a positive impact on me. Someday I hope to see my friends and perform for them again.

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