BY ELAINE KLAASSEN
“The Scramble for Africa” is a very long book about Europe’s takeover of the continent of Africa at the end of the 19th century. The story is appalling, mostly because of the confidence of European rulers to just take and control whatever they found there, as though they had a right to it. But that’s what happened. That history can’t be undone. European and American missionaries went there. They still go there. But of course now African missionaries come here, too.
I’ve never been to Africa, but my overall impression, from Africans I know and from reading and reading about Africa, is that it’s a place of gratitude regardless of how much or how little someone has. Missionaries tell about all-night services of praying and dancing and praising God—sometimes with offerings that last for two hours.
My friend Rodin, when he was the leader of the International Gospel Choir, always prayed, in every single rehearsal, “Thank you God for this wonderful weather,” even if it was freezing, storming and sleeting, or miserably damp, cloudy and bone-chilling. It’s nice to be around people full of joy and thankfulness.
I’m not thankful all of the time. But I AM a lot of the time. I’m thankful for people who care about other people—whether in a lyrical way or at the legislative level. I’m thankful when my bones and joints don’t hurt me. I’m thankful when I wake up from a good night’s sleep. I’m thankful for my kitchen. I’m thankful for love—people I love who love me—and my cat who loves me, I think. I’m thankful for the beauty of the natural world and the beauty of art. Art is everywhere.
I went to visit my friend Marie in California in 1993. She was at work one day and I was in her apartment, reading, when I heard a piano. Someone would play one key at a time and then let the sound die away. Then another pitch. Wait. Another, as the resonance slipped into silence. Someone was listening to pitches and all the vibrations found in each one, listening all the way to the end.
It was Marie’s friend and neighbor Ed, who became my friend, too. Marie and I had dinner with Ed and his sister several times while I was there. Ed was a clarinet player. I got on the piano and we jammed. He hadn’t played for ages and I hadn’t either. I didn’t know he was sick. His partner, who was a pianist, had already died of AIDS. Ed gave me his partner’s books of Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas. Just before he died, Ed sent me a Mother’s Day card.
“Offering” was especially inspired by joy and thankfulness for my friendship with Ed, but I feel it’s a kind of thanksgiving for all friendships.
I have been writing music with parallel narratives for about 30 years. I performed my third set of pieces with narratives in the fall of 2017, Piano Stories III. There were 10 of them and Southside Pride published most of them in 2018. This piece was recorded by Mark Klaassen and performed by Ntanga Ngando (Rodin) on congas and myself on piano.