Quick: What community or communities are you a member of?
Chances are, you thought of your town/city. Maybe your congregation. Or your family. As far as I’m concerned, though, communities come in many other shapes and sizes.
For example, my husband once played in a pick-up touch football league in Central Park. Whoever showed up, played. Whoever didn’t, didn’t. The guys only saw each other for two hours on Sundays. They only knew each other by first names. But they’d played together for years. When my husband returned after two years in the Peace Corps, one of the guys said, “Hey, man, you’ve been gone for a few weeks. We’ve missed you.”
It was a community. As was your third grade class. Your gardening club. Your book discussion group. Your touch football team. Your blog readers. You get the idea. It’s people who are united in some way. Family, geography, belief or activity. Real and virtual. If you read this blog regularly, you and I belong to a community of sorts…… so, welcome.
One of the reasons I loved Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto is its portrayal of a community that develops in a most unlikely circumstance. But that’s exactly what it was: a group with cultural understandings, behavior norms, maybe even specialized language. No matter who or what or where, the sense of belonging engendered by membership in a community can be powerful.
One community I’ve belonged to for about fifteen years is the amateur orchestra in which I play violin. As with some communities, like the football team, the cast of characters has changed over the years, but the community itself is stable.
[You can get a sense of how an orchestra is a community in DEADLY ADAGIO, where the members are bonded not only by being musicians working together, but also by being English-speaking expatriates in francophone West Africa. Oh, and also by murder.]
One of the reasons I find the idea of orchestra-as-community so interesting is that we don’t know each other very well. There are many members I’ve been playing with for years whose names I still don’t know. I don’t know where people live or what their family situations are. After all, we don’t have a whole lot of time to talk to each other: We show up for rehearsal at 8:00, play until 9:45 and then don’t hang around because it is, after all, 9:45 PM, and the staff at the rehearsal space has to wait for us to leave before closing up. On concert night, we have some time back stage to schmooze, but schmoozing while nervous is, well …. not the regular kind of schmoozing.
It doesn’t matter.
We work together, week after week, year after year, to create something beautiful. Everyone has to play his/her role. For thirty practices and three concerts a year, everyone has a part. Everyone’s part depends on everyone else’s. Everyone wants everyone else to succeed. If that isn’t a bond, I don’t know what is.
We have our own jokes. We have our own rituals. We know things the audience doesn’t know (“What happened to those last three notes of the first movement?”), which is a powerful and seductive kind of bond. In our own realm, we understand each other. We are the insiders.
Making music as part of an ensemble is a singular joy, but I also love being part of the community. Do you belong to any groups that can be thought of as a variation on the theme of community?
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