In expanding from Rwanda to Southeast Asia, the Parade of One project will be exploring and discovering themes of war and peace that exist beyond any particular region. Our mission is to engage post-conflict societies, wherever they are, with musical performance on the street level. Again I will be flying across the world and wandering through the cities and countryside of foreign lands, reaching out to people by playing sax and clarinet in all sorts of public spaces. While I will be exploring and navigating societies, including my own, where the devastation of war and genocide are central to the collective experience, I am equally interested in the result of this exploration: discovery. Most of my music will be improvised, meaning that my objective will be to find my melodies, not by playing a memorized piece or by reading notes from the page. Instead, I will be using my thoughts in the moment, in combination with my knowledge of the instrument, to create music I haven’t even heard before. I don’t think that I will be the only one using improvisation to explore and discover. I will be enticing people to break away from the “script” of everyday life, and have an unexpected, new experience. Perhaps, they will find me on a street they walk everyday or in front of their workplaces. It will be unusual for them to see a foreigner performing in a public place, and maybe even the saxophone is unfamiliar to them. As they approach me, to stop and listen and to learn something from me and teach me something, they too will be taking part in this process of improvisation. They will be breaking out of the “script” of everyday life. The musical process of improvisation is, in fact, both the trigger and the model for the social processes that Parade of One puts into action. I believe that it is in this realm of unfamiliarity that great discoveries are made. New relationships can be formed between audience members and with the performer, and I believe that these new bonds between people can help lift people above the barriers created by war and genocide. It is with sorrow in my heart for the violent atrocities of the world, that I will travel across the globe to create happy and joyous experiences, by playing sax and clarinet on the streets in Cambodia and Vietnam.
Like Rwanda, Cambodia has experienced genocide. Between 1975 and 1979, the Khmer Rouge government killed 1.7 million people, many of whom were targeted on the basis of their religion or ethnicity, such as Vietnamese, Chinese, and Thai living in Cambodia, as well as Buddhist monks and Cham muslims. They even found new and unheard of targets, like people who wear eyeglasses, the logic being that the educated were useless as slave laborers in the government’s massive agricultural program. The Khmer Rouge was also known for such twisted policies as arranging marriages between complete strangers, and announcing them on village loudspeakers. Today, the war criminals of the Khmer Rouge are still being taken to trial. Victims and perpetrators are living together in the same towns and neighborhoods, and the line between the two is so often blurry, since even the perpetrators were forced by the government into their roles. Cambodians today still live with an acute sense of trauma and anxiety about their communities, often unable or unwilling to discuss their experiences of the Khmer Rouge with neighbors.
I seek out regions that have experienced genocide, because I am the grandson of Holocaust survivors. To many, this somehow justifies my historical right do what I am doing. Personally though, I believe that people who have the calling to do such a thing should do so, whoever they are, and with or without some absurdly perceived notion that their lineage’s place in history calls on them to do so. There is no right granted by anyone or anything to embark on this mission; the only requirements are the inclination, dedication, and talent that make it possible. I do however feel that my family experience has guided me to some understanding that the impact of such atrocities endures longer than the moments it takes to kill someone, and even longer than the years of slave labor that many survivors endure. In fact, the effects of genocide and war are with people their entire lives and are multi-generational. Being accustomed to the sensitivities of Holocaust survivors I do think bolsters my ability to relate tastefully to other people who have endured similar atrocities, though of course, the obstacles of culture and language persist.
At the Gisozi Genocide Memorial in Rwanda, I recall reading a profound statement. To paraphrase: when we ponder genocide, we consider the killing of thousands or millions of people to be one crime. However, in more ordinary circumstances each individual murder is considered a crime. In this way, many individual crimes are bundled together into one. Somehow, we (the observers, journalists, international justice system etc.) dissolve the many individual experiences of the victims and perpetrators into the machinery of factional and governmental forces. I believe that the Parade of One project, though, will bring something more personal to Cambodia. I will be addressing the genocide in a very intimate way, not as a distant observer, or policy advisor, but as someone with music and family stories of my own to share.
It is my hope that by performing in public spaces, such as the streets and markets, I will give an outlet for people to gather, and share a unique experience with strangers. This shared experience can then lead to discussion and new understandings between people. Public spaces are not restricted to anyone, nor are they products of social circles like clubs and theaters, so I am confident that people will be reached across lines of age, ethnicity, religion, and their roles in history. The themes of genocide, wars, and social divisions are the inspiration for the music, but the resultant acquaintances, friendships, and conversations are the anti-thesis of genocide and war. The Parade of One project introduces this process of discovery where, through the “escape” of music, new social bonds are born.
In this same mission, I will also go to Vietnam, which raises a whole new set questions for the Parade of One project. In Vietnam, I will be a direct descendant of the crisis in question, known to me as the Vietnam War, and to the Vietnamese as the American War. It is not only my US citizenship that places me in this position, but also the fact that my own father was drafted into the Army and fought in Vietnam. Despite being born years after the Vietnam War, my family’s and nation’s past will surely travel there with me.
As Vietnam was gaining independence from France in the 1950s, armed internal factions were supported by the main Cold War powers. South Vietnam was allied with the USA, and the North was supported by Russia and China. Between 1964 and 1975, 3.5 million Americans fought in Vietnam, and over 2.2 million of those men, were drafted like my father. As US casualties climbed, and the media regularly portrayed the brutality of the war, the notorious President Nixon withdrew the US troops, though his notoriety is more the result of his scandals. By 1975, America had abandoned the mission in Vietnam as a lost cause, and no troops remained. In the same year, Vietnam was united under Communist rule. Over 58,000 Americans died in the Vietnam War, and the Vietnamese paid an even greater price. Civilian deaths are estimated at two million, and over one million Vietnamese soldiers (both Northern and Southern) were killed. There was also massive environmental damage, caused by the American deployment of Agent Orange, an herbicide that is classified as a chemical weapon. Millions of acres of land were destroyed, and up to half a million birth defects are attributed to Agent Orange. US soldiers, who were exposed to the deadly mixture, have also suffered from this chemical warfare.
Despite the brutality and violence that my country brought to Vietnam, I am confident that my being a descendant of the “other side” will not hinder my ability to connect with the people. On the contrary, I think of our historical animosities as a call to action for future generations to foster friendships. While it is useful and for some reasons necessary to divide ourselves into categories, such as survivors, veterans, victims, perpetrators, and their descendants, there is another category to which we all belong – observers. Neither me, nor my audiences, whatever the ways that our histories have intertwined, are exempt from that endless murmur and shout of observation and judgment that dominates our minds at every waking moment. Being an observer is not just for United Nations workers, human rights groups, or journalists. We all must exercise our powers of observation to better understand those people who we might otherwise see with coldness, as strangers or enemies. I believe that when the Vietnamese see me playing on the street, that the music will, in their perception, individualize me. Their curiosity aroused by the particular action that I am taking, they will be enticed to look beyond the ways I might be generalized. Instead of classifying me, merely as a descendant of their enemies, they will approach me and learn about what makes me an individual. I also hope to learn about what makes my audiences unique, and I look forward to sharing the resultant conversations with you, as this process of exploration and discovery unfolds.
In fact, I will be joining a small new trend of American outreach in Vietnam. In 1994, the US lifted it’s embargo on Vietnam, which had been in place since the war, and within a few years American veterans started traveling there on missions of healing, where they revisit their pasts and provide humanitarian aid. I aim to make such veterans an important part of this project. I hope they too will be present for street performances, in the audience or even as collaborators, should some of them happen to be musicians.
No one was as eloquent as Martin Luther King about the Vietnam War, and I believe the relevance of his statements extends to many other wars and regions. He pinpoints the “evil triplet of racism, militarism, and economic exploitation” that is both the cause and effect of the global epidemic of violence. (Though in our times, the troubled environment may very well be added to that list.) I do believe that this “giant triplet” is present in Rwanda, Cambodia, Vietnam, America, and many other places.
The role of bigotry, which I use as a more broad term for all the different types of racism and ethnic hatred, and the need to heal from it is unquestionable in Rwanda and Cambodia, where genocide occurred. Surely, it plays a role in Vietnam and the US too. Why is it, after all, that I am familiar with this word, “gook?” And as Martin Luther King pointed out, the US was sending white and black soldiers to fight and die together, when they wouldn’t even be seated in the same classroom together. Indeed, my own father, the son of civil rights activists and nephew of a pall bearer at Dr. King’s funeral, was one of those children shipped off to war, ironically farther than ever from the discontent about racism at home. And let us not forget the recent spike in Islamophobia here in America, that has not so mysteriously coincided with our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
I believe that music can change people, that when people escape into this little, almost imaginary, and all too temporary sequence of sounds, that they might come back to the non-musical experience of errands, work, and family with a renewed sense of themselves. Ralph Waldo Emerson proclaimed that, “Music takes us out of the actual and whispers to us dim secrets that startle our wonder as to who we are, and for what, and whereto.” I also believe that should people experience music with others, like myself or their fellow audience members, there can be formed new understandings between people who normally do not mix on a substantial level. In this way, the Parade of One project is at the vanguard in the struggle against bigotry.
Militarism, the second of Dr. King’s evil triplet, is self-evident in post-conflict regions. I believe that the new fight is actually a metaphorical fight against the fighting. My gun will be the horn, and I will use it not for the call to battle but for the call to unity. These nations and borders and other reasons for fighting will become less prevalent when people come together to make and enjoy music and one another’s company.
Finally poverty, the third of Dr. King’s evil triplet, is still present on a dire level in the regions I visit. So far, the Parade of One project has left a good economic footprint. Despite our low budget, we supply temporary, part-time employment opportunities for dedicated assistants, interpreters, recording engineers, and musical collaborators in the regions we visit. The cash, I will admit is not a lot, but I hope that the unique opportunity to be a part of the successes, follies, excesses, and eccentricities of the Parade of One will open their minds and guide them in future jobs, projects, and new experiences, as it has done for me.
Martin Luther King’s legendary speech about Vietnam climaxes with a call for a “true revolution of values:” A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, ‘This way of settling differences is not just.’ This business of… injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love.”
I believe that the Parade of One project is a living example of Dr. King’s “true revolution of values,” and I intend to inject people’s veins, not with “with poisonous drugs of hate,” but with the joy of music and the bonding experience that it will bring. In fact, Dr. King’s famous speech ends with him reciting the lyrics to a well known song, Down By the Riverside, also known as Lo Yisa Goy in Hebrew. Indeed, Dr. King was well-aware of this easy to observe but hard to describe role that music can have in the struggle for peace. These lyrics, derived from the teachings of the prophet Isaiah (Chapter 2, verse 4) have been put to music to bring a special message of peace all over the world: They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they study war anymore. Dr. King concludes his speech by adding, “and I don’t know about you, but I ain’t gonna study war anymore.”
When I go to Vietnam and Cambodia, Dr. King’s words will be ever-present in my mind. The darkness of war and genocide has been injected into the veins of whole families all across the world, including my own. The great thing about musical improvisation and this open-ended process of social exploration and discovery is that we cannot predict what will happen. There is no way to know what form the fruits of this project will take. It is my belief, though, that magic arises from the realm of mystery. This is one thing that can make the legendary improvisers like John Coltrane and so many others so powerful. They can achieve beautiful surprises by following a process in which we do not know what will come next. I embark on this journey, full of suspense, and eager for surprises, and I do believe that some magic can in fact rise from the mystery in which I am immersing myself.
The Parade of One project is supported by donations from people like you. To learn more, please visitwww.paradeofone.org.
For more info on Cambodia, please visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cambodia.
For more info on Vietnam, please visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vietnam
For Martin Luther King’s legendary speech, please visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b80Bsw0UG-U