Last Saturday, I witnessed a sublime moment on a football field. (If you know anything about me, you wouldn’t bet that I would ever use the phrases “sublime moment” and “football field” in my lifetime). But there I sat, with my childhood friends in Lucas Oil Stadium, listening to a group of world-class musicians play Moon River. Welcome to the wonderful and paradoxical world of Drum Corps.
Drum corps has its roots in military marching maneuvers. The modern corps have transcended beyond traditional drills, with the 2022 season featuring a keytar player, a cellist on a three-story tower, and the readings of Jack Kerouac (check out this 3-minute montage of this summer season). A world-class corps consists of approximately 150 elite athletes playing horns or percussion, or, for the color guard, tossing flags, rifles, or sabers while maneuvering through formations on a football field at tempos up to 220 beats/minute. Over fifty corps competed in this year’s world championships.
That night, the Blue Devils from Concord, CA, gifted us with that lovely Moon River moment. After presenting an over-the-top wall of sound in their opening suite, the hornline turned toward the backfield, creating a breathtaking musical space for a lone trumpet player to lift the first eight bars of Moon River over our heads. His trumpet playing was a marvel.
I have watched the Blue Devils for over 40 years, and competed against them when I was a young performer in the Mandarins Drum Corps. Even for this world-class corps, this moment stood out. A warm glow washed through my body, unleashing memories of my dad carefully placing Andy Williams’ record into the console stereo, and Henry Mancini’s music filling the room. Mom would sing along -
Moon River, wider than a mile
I’m crossing you in style, someday…
and a sense of just-rightness drifted through our home. Little did I know that Johnny Mercer’s iconic lyrics would one day become a soundtrack for my life, when I crossed the Sacramento River at the age of 18, and embarked on a journey defined by huckleberry friends, rainbows, and a whole lot of style.
That trumpeter reminded me that art and beauty are as essential to our survival as clean air and fresh water. For those who doubt, go no further than the desolation of the past two years which have brought into stark relief how art, even through a proxy provider like Netflix, sustains us. Beauty, often discounted and under-rated in our work-a-day world, is a portal to help us understand why we work as hard as we do.
I am particularly attuned to this need, and make it a priority to offer a bit a wonder to each person I encounter. That is why, when you enter a Kahakulei Institute gathering, you are greeted with music and poetry. It gratifies me to see people relax and smile when they log in and hear the sweet music of Yasmin Williams or Ozzie Kotani. We greet folks with just a few words, allowing the music to set our tone. Often, we will let the song play out before sharing a short poem, such as You are Oceanic by the incredible Tapiwa Mugabe.
You might think — “that’s fine for you, Kevin, but we really can’t afford to waste time this way. We have so much to do!” My response would be, try it, and see what happens. Our experience has been that, by devoting a few minutes of your meeting to music or the thoughtful provocations of a poem, people open their hearts and connect to their humanity before commencing with the agenda. By creating space for beauty and wonder, people will be more inspired, cooperative, and productive. Instead of entering the space on edge or with apathy, they may look forward to joining your meeting, and be excited to engage in what you need to accomplish.
The past couple of years have shown, once again, how life can be filled with struggle. But if we are open to it, we can experience joy in the struggle.
For example, I am writing these words from a rather unlikely place to experience joy and beauty — Terminal C of Newark International Airport. Even here, beauty finds a way, such as the magical moment I just had with Zack, an 11-month-old bundle of wonder who, to his parents’ dismay, made a move for my French fries. I most happily shared one with Zack, and his parents were grateful.
In return, Zack brought back of flood of wonderful memories of my sons as infants. Needless to say, I feel like I can fly myself across the country with the joy that exchange brought to me.
Moon River moments can present themselves anytime, anywhere. You can receive them if you remain open to that possibility, and you can give them in return — to family, friends, colleagues, and even perfect strangers. To share a simple smile, a song, an inspirational word or story — can have a profound impact.
The sweet sound of the young trumpeter was a gift that has emanated from me to you. The story of my magical moment with Zack likely brought you a bit of joy. We can never predict what is waiting round the bend, but as agents of the essential and transformative power of beauty, joy, and wonder — we can change lives for the better.
Questions for Reflection and Consideration
- What was a recent Moon River moment you experienced? How did it impact you in that moment? How does it impact you now that you are reflecting on it?
- What can you do to bring more Moon River moments to your life and to the life of others?