I was driving in Los Angeles last December feeling full of holiday spirit thanks to the decorations my daughter had hung in the car earlier that day. I put on some of my favorite yuletide music. Shortly thereafter, I was swept up and out of the driver’s seat and thrust into the middle of the London Philharmonic Symphony’s string section somewhere between the violins and cellos. Cruising through the nearly empty downtown caverns of Los Angeles on a mundane Monday night with Handel’s “Messiah” on full blast, I received a request for a pool ride (a ride open to additional passengers throughout the duration of the trip and therefore offering the possibility of an impromptu holiday party).
I pulled my car to a rest at a corner downtown and waited for my rider. The choruses of “Hallelujah” blasting from my stereo were an odd juxtaposition amidst the wanderings of the scattered homeless and drunk pedestrians zig-zagging the downtown LA sidewalks after midnight. A glowing woman who appeared to be music in motion danced up to my car and gracefully took her seat in the back, amidst the horn section in the middle of this beautiful oratorio.
“This is one of my favorite pieces of holiday music,” I explained in order to somewhat justify the unreasonable volume of my stereo. I was secretly hoping to gain her permission to leave the symphony on full blast.
“It is beautiful,” she said in affirmation of my musical selection and the volume. She then adhered to the pause in our conversation seemingly notated in the sheet music as the musicians progressed through the chorale. A few moments later, a brief intermission in the program allowed us to talk and exchange some common pleasantries. She explained that she had just come from a jazz performance where she had witnessed some incredible improvisations by some local hands.
This led us into an enlivened discussion about jazz music, as well as the tunes in her homeland of South Africa. She was full of beautiful music from head to toe and there was even a rhythm to her conversation as well as a melodious tone to her voice. She appeared to be musical notes in real-life animation and it was a simple joy to listen to the passion with which she spoke about music.
On our way to her destination we received a request for another passenger, adding another movement to the score of our ride. By the time we pulled up along a sidewalk somewhere just south of Staples Center to pick up the passenger, Handel’s deeply emotional and religious composition had become ambient background music to a spiritual and passionate discussion about the personal religion that we each found in music.
I refused to interrupt the music that was playing in deference to the originality and remarkable nature of Handel’s composition. However, I did want her to hear some of the music of which we spoke. I made a recommendation of some original recordings that bridged the cultural gap between two very different musical traditions. These were also songs that had moved me in way similar to the cadence of her speech. As I explained to her the collaborations of Ravi Shankar and Yehudi Menuhin and the merger of Indian and Western instruments into a harmonious international string symphony, we were joined by a like-minded spirit full of the religion of rhythm who had just finished communing with his own musical muses at a downtown studio.
“Are you talking about Ravi Shankar?” he asked as I spelled the sitar player’s name for my original passenger. Our new friend was a tall gentleman from Iceland, akin to a bass clef resting upon the edge of a measure, orchestrating and organizing the rhythm section in preparation for the pulse of the next song. He spoke of his exploration in the production and creation of electronically based music. As a more formally trained musician than the two of us, he provided some credibility to our conversation and laid down a bass line from which to build upon the imaginative scales of our prior conversation.
I could not contain my joy and excitement any longer and so I remarked about what a wonderful trio we were, collaborating in conversation with contributions from three individuals from entirely different continents and musical backgrounds. When we received a request for another rider, I joked that we were about to become a quartet; except the conductor had already come to a rest and the fat lady had sung.
That magical moment when our muses convened and communally drank from the kylix of Dionysus as we danced and sang together was coming to an end. My first passenger had dropped out of the conversation briefly while she wrote down some recommendations of music from South Africa. In a few blocks we would reach her destination. She would take with her the notes that she had scored dictating the tone of our conversation — twinkling off into the soft LA mist to sprinkle her magic and song upon her next audience. However, before spinning and pirouetting into the fog, she astutely summed up the situation for us all. She said that it was truly the “essence of music” to bridge the gap between culture and syncopate us in harmony, for music is “the universal language” that unites us all.