When the band started playing, I forgot all about it.
The music was incredible. Anyone familiar with Carlos Santana knows what an amazing musician he is. Anyone familiar with his band knows that every musician playing on that stage is brilliantly talented.
After fifteen minutes of dazzling music, Carlos Santana spoke to the audience. He is a spiritual man for whom music is a gateway to a higher consciousness. I don't mean that in an airy-fairy, new age kind of way. I mean that, for him music transforms our experience from self-absorption to self-forgetting. From little "I" to all-inclusive "we." He talked about the uniqueness of each of us and how, together, we create a beautiful pattern of experience that becomes complete and whole because each individual brings something to it.
That's when I started to get it. We are all different. Yet we are all the same. We hurt the same. We love the same. We laugh the same. But we are unique.
When the band started playing again, the musicians showed me exactly how it all works, this unity in diversity thing.
In jazz, of course, everything depends on improvisation. And improvisation only works when there is a structure to support it.
- First the bands plays the piece all the way through to establish the "parameters"--notes, keys, chords, phrases from which each player will depart and to which each will return.
- Next the first player (often, in this case, Santana) does his improvisation, creating his own phrases inspired by the main melody and his own feeling in the moment.
- Then, each player takes off from the player before him using the improvisation he just heard to inform his take on the piece.
- Often, two players jam with each other, challenging, questioning, commenting on what the other just played in a fascinating musical conversation.
- In the end the band plays the whole piece through again just as they did it in the beginning, only now it's different because of everything we've heard leading up to this final run-through.
That is the perfect illustration of unity in diversity.
The piece doesn't exist until the band plays it. It's only squiggles on a sheet of paper.
The piece is different every time they play it because the musicians change their improvisations to suit the mood, the occasion, the audience, their frame of mind.
There is no music unless the band plays together--as one unit--at the beginning and again at the end, following the notes as they are laid out on a piece of sheet music somewhere.
And yet, there is no music either unless each musician puts his unique twist on the piece during his improvisation, subtly changing it, making it his own.
Maybe there's an analogy in fiction writing.
Maybe the writer creates a story--squiggles on a piece of paper--that comes to life because she imagines a world and peoples it with characters who have emotions, perform actions and create consequences for themselves that others can identify with.
But the story is not complete until readers add their spin to it, bringing their own experiences to bear on what the writer has created. Each reader's take on the story is uniquely his own. How he interprets each character's actions, motives and words reflects his own life. Yet the "story"--the words on the page--remains the same.
Unity in Diversity. Or is it Diversity in Unity?