Happy New Year for 2014!
I want my first post of the new year to begin with a big thank you to the over 2,000 readers in 62 countries who follow my Los Angeles International New Music Festival blog. From Saudi Arabia to Hong Kong, Mexico to Vietnam, South Africa to India, I’m encouraged by your interest and promise to keep the posts coming on a regular basis.
As promised in my last blog, I’m going to describe the day autumn arrived in Hong Kong this fall as Jan and I ventured into a full day in Hong Kong Park.
I’ll get to these cups and the flowers of the months soon. But the autumn breeze one Sunday in early November lifted the near omnipresent humidity. Shirts were dry and walking was easy. Hong Kong Park was the perfect destination.
One issue that is a serious one for people in the West when they even imagine Asia is crowding. In general there is apprehension about density. As in huge crowds of people, being pushed into every metro car, street crossing and open air market.
I’ve got good news. It’s a lot easier than you think to figure out.
Here are a few tips to go from congested to confident. First of all, the density is different in Asia. The tempo of the density is SLOW. People most probably won’t bump you and crash into you because they are in a hurry. They aren’t, as a rule. I’ve never been rudely shoved. Automobile tempo is also SLOWER so the Western sense of speed and competition is not in play. After all, a car is expensive so why would you risk any damage?
But let’s go a bit deeper. As in Yang and Yin. Which will bring me back to tea and music.
As I’ve traveled more and more in Asia, I’ve found that there is always an escape valve within easy grasp, in fact much more so than in any Western metropolis. If Yang is density, then Yin is private space. The one doesn’t exist without the other. There will be a park or a temple within easy reach if you look for one.
Now that we are aware of these escape valves, Jan and I find them easily. Hong Kong Park is a great place to unwind.
Tai Chi, Zen, Yoga, Mindfulness, Meditation. You name it and the West is already trying to figure new ways out of our monkey-mind world. And a great proportion of those ideas, many almost abused into cliche, come from Asia.
Let me change your concept of the calendar year. Ever heard of the Flowers of the Months? With the appropriate teas? And the appropriate tea cups? Neither had I until we ventured into the Flagstaff House in HK Park and its Tea Museum.
The Flagstaff House is the oldest building left from the British Era. When we visited it housed not only the most compelling exposition of tea we’d encountered but also numerous prize winning designs of new tea cups and pots. A tradition regenerating itself before our eyes.
Change is the only constant we have. How we approach change is a key to happiness. We tend to accept weather well enough, but other change experiences cause a lot of tension and anxiety.
Welcome to Fluidity. Welcome to the Flowers of the Months. Welcome to Accepting Change…
January/Prunus. February/Apricot Blossom. March/Peach Blossom. April/Tree Peony. May/Pomegranate. June/Lotus/. July/Rose. August/Osmanthus (my favorite tea and yes, my birthday is in August). September/Chrysanthemum. October/Cymbidium. November/Narcissus. December/Wintersweet. That’s a new way for me to view the calendar!
Got tea cups handy? Neither do I, but since I’m not indifferent to traditions I loved learning about this:
So much for traffic density, tea can make it all become opaque and forgotten. As I said earlier, if you know where to look, all those Asian crowds melt away with ease and grace into a park, a temple or a tea ceremony. And the tea tradition is alive and well in Hong Kong, as evidenced by the numerous hip designs on display for new concept tea sets.
From the Flagstaff House it’s an easy walk past lovely cascading waterfalls and ponds to the Lock Cha Tea House.
Once you arrive, the tea smells are enticing and the atmosphere perfect.
Why Tea? Why Change? Why these side routes in my world of new music?
I want to share with you how love enters into my musical world for composers like John Cage, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Pierre Boulez, Toru Takemitsu, Elliott Carter, Lou Harrison, Nguyen Thien Dao, Ton That Tiet, Gabriela Ortiz, Vu Nhat Tan, Carlos Chavez and a host of others.
Having and developing outside interests were a key point for business guru Peter Drucker. He was right. You can’t sell something you don’t know. And if you can’t get out of your own comfort zone you will never understand your potential customer, no matter the transaction. Which means you need outside interests.
People by and large default to what is familiar. My food or tea detours are a metaphor for leaving a Western comfort zone and finding another one in the world of Asia. Music fascinates me because it takes place in an eternal present. The idea that music can be held and owned is crazy. You can’t hang Beethoven on a wall and stare at his music.
Music is here and now. And it’s something you hear. Like weather, it’s always changing its landscape. It’s changing as you listen. Music pays attention to itself and music doesn’t lie. Music is fluid. The flow of sound is constant in any performance, from Bach to Cage to tomorrow’s new piece.
Tea is anchored by the flowers of the months. And the tea cups of the months. Brewed in the pots of the months. Always changing in harmony with nature. For both sound and taste, memory is destiny.
So have a Happy New Year, filled with a new love for change. And new music. Challenging new music. Quiet or roaring new music. Let the twelve flowers of the months guide and shape the Love of Change. And the next time you hear a piece by Cage, you just might hear the silence. It’s always there, even if you can’t hear it.
Best, best, best,