During my formative years, I remember pleading with my parents to let me take piano lessons from a highly-respected music teacher, Oneida Lewis, who chaired the music department and directed the choirs at my school, Louis Pasteur Elementary in Northwest Detroit.
Armed with my stack of books and donning my eyeglasses from which I was only freed with the advent of contact lenses about a decade later, I embarked upon a 10-year journey during which I mastered the pianoforte. I practiced regularly and according to Mrs. Lewis, showed great promise.
Perhaps it was because as I grew older, my hands became so large that I could pull off the playing of chords that called for a large expanse — at least eight notes (an octave) or more. But it was more likely the fact that my teacher really like me, treating me like the son she never had.
Further pleading would result in my parents purchasing a piano for our home where I would perch myself each day to learn the proper interpretation for some of the greatest classical composers in worldwide canon: Schumann, Bach, Brahms, Beethoven and my favorite, Rachmaninoff.
Regretfully, I closed the lid on my piano after leaving home for college and as one would expect, my muscles began to atrophy, my ability to sight-read with ease diminished and my overall skills plunged. Blame it on being attracted to other activities and interests — like chasing girls, playing basketball with dreams of becoming the next Dave Bing, slamming down winning cards in bid whist games or dancing and chanting at parties sponsored by my college fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha.
About five years ago, I purchased a new piano — one which has all the bells and whistles — and have started to practice once again. But it’s a process that sometimes frustrates me more than it brings me joy because I cannot do the things on the keyboard that once came so effortlessly. In effect, I’m rusty. Still, I continue plodding through scales and arpeggios with the hopes that one day, I’ll achieve the skills that secured statewide awards in Michigan during my senior year in high school. At the least, I want to be able to serenade my “sweetheart” or just have some fun playing songs whose melodies bring me personal satisfaction.
As the nation continues to protest and pushback against the long legacy of injustice and police violence aimed particularly at Blacks, fueled by the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis law enforcement, many activists, politicians and others suggest that we have arrived at a rare moment where we can change the trajectory of American society. They suggest that we can actually put an end to the constant lip service and actually enact policies and laws that make America a place where all men are equal — especially when they encounter police.
As a musician, I am reminded of the practice of composers who, as their works reach their conclusion, often change the sound of the chords in a highly predictive manner. In the next to the last measure, known as the penultimate measure, the sounds tend to be jarring — often described as dissonance. But with the final measure, the composer achieves harmony in the sounding of a chord that achieves resolution.
I am led to cite this practice among the majority of Western composers as a metaphor for what lies ahead in America. Two options lie before us. We can take the anger, the injustice, the frustration — the dissonance that has long dominated society and restructure our country, our practices, our laws and our mores in anticipation of a final measure in which resonance is achieved.
By definition, the effect of resonance is to reinforce or prolong a sound. In fact, the terms resonant is used to convey a sense of richness or fullness. That’s what America needs today. It is what we have needed for centuries.
Let the music play.