2015 Bread & Roses Show Report Report (BreadandRoses.org)
Volunteer Performer: René Jenkins
Organization: Catholic Charities Canal Family Support Program
Facility Name & City: Pickleweed Community Center – San Rafael, CA
Volunteer Host: Linda MacVey
Children streamed quietly into the sunny room, sitting shoulder-to-shoulder, cross-legged in tight rows on the floor in front of the stage. “Hola! Hello!” Eyes bright with curious anticipation, these young 4-5 year old bilingual students glanced excitedly at each other and the assembled instruments of world civilizations ancient and modern. René Jenkins, an accomplished “pied piper” of the heart, drew them into the performance with the haunting sounds of a didgeridoo speaking initially in a mesmerizing drone evolving with pulsed breath into a swirling dance as the melodic rhythm overtook the room. He shared with them how he learned circular breathing and demonstrated how this breathing was used to make continuous sound. Walking through the audience, children parted and swirled like shafts of wheat around his feet, giggling excitedly, as he gently allowed them to experience the sound vibration around them. He had them at didgeridoo!
Originating in what we now know as Australia, René shared that this instrument, created by Indigenous Australians (Aboriginal inhabitants of mainland Australia and Tasmania, and the Torres Strait Islanders), was thought to be the world’s oldest known, continuously played cultural instrument, dating back many centuries, perhaps 40,000 years. Eyes widened, exclaiming “Wow! How old is that?!” fathoming time far exceeding the 10 fingers used to count birthdays at their young age.
The flame of musical curiosity had been fanned! The audience was filled with laughter, smiles, and questions. These sharp minds were hungry, fully engaged as we learned that the didgeridoo is made from a log or cylindrical plant. Knocking on the wood, a craftsman could hear if it was hollow and if not, return later giving hungry termites a little more time to eat through the soft inner core. René let the children hold the didgeridoo surprising them with how light it was. This was a very unique instrument, crafted from a hollow desert agave stalk. Asking if they would like to make their own didgeridoo, he explained that PVC pipe could be used by warming a bee’s wax snake around the opening to make a mouth piece. “Yes!” one little guy exclaimed.
The exploration continued as each unique hand instrument was offered for discovery . . . rustling bamboo leaves known as an Energy Broom moving air, sounding like wind in the trees and then resting on a shoulder or back, quieting before moving on, a whirling Wind Wand made with wood dowels and rubber banding, the ethereal howl of a Tibetan Bowl. René shared how a conch shell, a treasured gift from his teacher, shaved slightly to remove the tip, revealing the spiraling chambers inside. When blown, the shell could be used as a communication device to signal across long distances or to spiritually connect one with heart.
The room quieted as René wove a healing song on a very unique 2-Chamber Mayan Drone Flute crafted of Peruvian oak. One chamber held the single drone tone while the second moved with melody in a deeply meditative soundscape. Walking through the audience the children listened as their bodies relaxed and minds calmed. Three young girls closed their eyes as their hands moved
in meditative prayer; two with open palm encircled by forefinger and thumb, and the third with clasped palms as the music called them individually unbeknownst to the other. Quietly, the music faded as cheers of “Yeah! Bravo!” erupted. A hand shot up, acknowledged by René. “Can you play the opposite end?” René encouraged these young, inquisitive minds as audience and performer awaited the experimental outcome. While the mechanics may not have generated an expected voice, one marvels at the high-speed power of these fresh new minds and what future evolution this curiosity may have ignited!
The audience was insatiable. With each discovery, the intrigue deepened. A delicate Chimu Water Whistle from approximately 1000 AD inspired awe as two adjoined pre-Columbian vessels, unexpectedly made a whistling sound when gently tipped. “How did you do that?!” The audience struggled to grasp the technical phenomena evolving as water flowed from one vessel forcing displaced air in the second vessel to escape through a whistle slot. “Do it again!” they pleaded, as René explained what these brilliant artisans had created, acknowledging the immense accomplishments of ancestors in centuries past.
A delicate flute fashioned of translucent condor quills and a feather emitted a sweet gentle song when played. “Thank you for the wind.” “Oh, that feels good.” Peruvian Pan Pipes were demonstrated, separated as a courting song between young suitors, and then reconnected as a single instrument. From Vietnam . . ., two Asian students immediately shouted “Yes!” recognizing their heritage. With a sound, much like a Jew’s harp, when blown across the tines of an expended metal gun shell emitting in song, the unknowing child responded “I love that.” Healing a deep war wound, music rises above the many missteps of humankind to reconnect us once again. As the program came to a close, the room erupted in clapping, cheers, and sweet wave’s farewell as teachers mingled for a moment before escorting children back to their classrooms. Carlos Garcia, the program director, recognizing René’s connection and deep sensitivity with the children, made a special effort to thank us for the wonderful Bread & Roses performance. If this young audience is any indication of our future, it certainly looks bright!
As we departed, the sound healing lingered, resonating, perhaps more deeply within, as a calming, enhanced awareness of the beauty and spirit which surrounds us. The late afternoon sky feathered with white cirrus clouds, illuminated from below by the setting sun, in slow transition through glorious fuchsia, darkening to black and white, as if evoking feathers of the condor, as the sun slipped silently behind Mount Tamalpais. Having stopped to take in the unexpected gift, I lingered just a bit longer before making my way back to the busyness of the urban environment.
And even in the casual routine of a simple errand before I reached home, I found myself face to face with a 14-month old in his father’s arms as our paths met at right angles at the end of an aisle. “Hola!” the sweet one exclaimed, smiling broadly. His father said, “Hello!” Realizing this little guy was bi-lingual as well, he proceeded to point to his body parts in both Spanish and English and repeat his father’s words for tummy, nose, mouth, eyes, and head. And with, yet, this third, precious unexpected moment, I returned home, grateful for a deepened awareness of the shared gifts of René Jenkins, the wonderful children in our audience at Canal Family Support Program at Pickleweed Community Center, and to Bread and Roses in their Mission of Hope and Healing through Live Music.