Seeking the Peace through Music

Someone shot this photo of me practicing “Sir Duke” with our bassist as the sun set in the coffee shop

I played my first public performance in years just this past month. To be accurate, the event was centered around collective story telling. But the event site included an hour of live music as part of the evening! I saw the flyer posted in a local neighborhood business and thought “I hope we don’t disappoint!” If we had a solid setlist, I would have felt ok, but we didn’t. Our newly formed band did not have an hour of music rehearsed in our setlist.  And our keyboardist couldn’t join us because of travels. Yet the other core musicians weren’t concerned at all, so I stepped in to play based on their confidence. It was a vulnerable experience going in not knowing exactly what was going to happen. This was unprecedented for me. But it was a worthwhile experience, one that unexpectedly helped further erode my perfectionist tendencies with being “on stage.” The experience changed me; rather than me focused on bringing peace to others through music, my participation brought peace to me.  

“Edge Reflections” – that was the theme of the event storytelling. The wonderful play on words reflected an intersection of stories from the margins along with stories that were rooted  in our geography, on the physical edge of the west coast. The head curator is also the head boss of the architectural firm, the main tenants of the space. A very humble man, he and his firm have done some sizable projects here in San Francisco, bringing accessibility and beauty to its residents through architectural projects. He was the emcee of the evening, the director with the original dream of bringing in music into the coffee house space. “Edge Reflections” is part of a series of talks in the space, but it would be the first one to feature live music anchored by the “coffee shop Yahama keyboard” we got together for the shop.  

Authors, spoken word poets, members of my bike advocacy group, faith community, local businesses

I was brought into this musical “fold” through my neighbor, a concert pianist whose music could be found on YouTube whenever students of music around our nation would give grand performances and needed a backing pianist of the highest caliber. (listen to her piano below!) My neighbor is also a very compassionate and connected person. She’s in her early 60’s, yet seemingly knows every barista though they are often less than half her age, and employees in neighboring shops and coffee houses by name. One day, she introduced me to the head boss of the architectural firm. We’ve exchanged stories and became friends. And upon learning of his dreams to bring music into the coffee shop space, my neighbor and I put our heads together and helped him purchase a keyboard. Once we set it up, my neighbor would play the keys there, sometimes for hours at a time. Sometimes, I’d accompany her. She’d get the occasional finger snaps from the baristas and applause from coffee goers. Listeners have no idea they had a world-class pianist on their hands. I was just along for the ride (and trying to keep up with this pianist). 

“Lovely Day” take 2. Percussion, Bass, Guitar, and Keys. No Vocals yet

Soon after, a couple more employees from the architectural firm above the coffee shop joined in. And even one of the baristas came in on vocals, a young women whose been singing before she could talk! At first, we all mainly played after hours until one day, our bassist simply announced that we had a gig. My security felt threatened; I certainly did not feel ready at all. But I went in by faith that all would be well.  

I felt vulnerable pretty much the whole time, especially when I learned we had a gig; I was easily the least musically trained. I suppose I had enough skills to contribute to the band; we actually were pretty tight from the very beginning, and we could read each other pretty well. I’d bring in my song contributions, one of them “Golden Lady” from Stevie Wonder. I’ve spent hours learning all the jazz-inflected chords and getting them 2nd-nature so that I could feel the rhythms and be present with other band members. The other band members were not familiar with the song, yet got the song DOWN after a couple takes. I was trying to “confess” that I didn’t have their musicality, that I spent perhaps 15 hours over the last few years on that song. My novice ways did not seem to bother them. 

Our keyboardist taped me trying to work out my part.

I liken it one who’s practiced martial arts for years, but in their own private space, giving demonstrations at times, but never called to use it on the streets. Though the parallels fall short, it still serves to illustrate; on the day of the gig, perhaps 30% of the songs we played were improv or unplanned, where I felt I had to trust on those hours I spent stretching my skills, but never called upon to use those skills live. We made space for other people to step in with their instruments to play and sing…unrehearsed. We just found the key and backed each other up. That’s something I’ve done in my own time, sometimes with others on open mike, but never live with a band. Another time, a B-52 song (Rock Lobster) came into our bassist’s head, and he just started playing and we all fell in (I did not know the song; I’m not sure how well I “fell in”). Or we’d play blues, as we did in practice…but not in the KEY we practiced in. Though I signed on with the idea that I was bringing peace to others, my soul was being blessed, I was the one receiving peace. We DID play the songs we planned. In fact, I was the one who did any arranging work and charted all the songs we prepped…because “I” needed it for me. I needed tracks, enough tracks to feel secure. Yet, when we played songs unplanned for, I went “off the tracks.” And it did wonders for my soul. In my past, playing for mostly church bands, sometimes we’d change keys, change tempos, even throw in a song, but we never went totally “off the tracks” as we did in this gig. It wasn’t a big deal for the others, so I just went along. Altogether, the gig took what I’d done in private, and brought it out in collaboration with others, for the benefit of listeners. I’ve never experienced that before, and it blessed my soul. 

BTW, in this post and the corresponding post, I’ve decided not to name any of the businesses explicitly. Part of that decision is to center the power of music, to seek the peace, to invite others to participate, and to bring communities together. With the ongoing wars going on in the world, we were bringing a evening of connection, storytelling, and music across communities in our little neck of the City by the Bay.

We’ve only practiced once more since the gig, and so the musical journey continues. In this latest practice, we focused on Hawaiian music, the musical culture of 2 members. We practiced some of this music, but did not bring it live. But in this practice, I ensconced myself in the Hawaiian melodies and lyrics. As I played along (the music was simple and gave ample space to contribute), I inquired about the stories. It was a cultural immersion I could participate in, over coffee, there on the edge of the City. 


  1. Susan on May 1, 2024 at 11:17 am

    What fun!

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