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Toh Jam


The half-filled auditorium of the Tohickon Middle School, the sight of the "Toh Jam" Jazz Festival on the outskirts of Doylestown, P.A., had seen several of the competing ensembles made up of sixth, seventh, and eighth graders as my wife Trish and I along with my sister-in-law Jeanette and her husband Joseph made our way towards the event. No doubt the evening's festivities had already been spilling over with the silly to the sublime considering the relative immaturity of the contestants."NO WAY! Are you really in JAZZ BAND!"...followed by a non-verbal response which soon fell beyond the realm of my business to care to be privvy to, an exuberance careless of my attention.

A wistful smile creased the face of a sexagenarian roughly my height and weight wearing my shoes, answering to my name. Our presence met this cultural event devoted almost exclusively in support of one perfectly charming eighteen year-old percussionist who along with his equally talented cohorts during an overtly warm mid-April evening would bring the night to its rewarding climax. The Wawa salads, Italian hoagie alongside the chips and post show banter were still unforseen. Upon entering the lobby three volunteers seated behind a check-in table greeted our entourage amicably and after some gladhanding, we shuffled purposefully seeking maximum proximity and finding nirvana perhaps a baby's toss to the orchestra pit. Soon, Sean, our precious nephew, would sit perched behind an auburn upright piano; hair only a shade less red, a hundred feet give or take from where we sat twelve rows back far left of the stage. He and his cohorts would act as foreshadowing, I suppose, to those who before them had taken the stage. A type of glimpse into the future.

Though the overwhelming driving force on this particular evening lay in pridefully enjoying Sean deftly milking the eighty-eight keys of their delicious nectar, a surprising and mysterious discovery permeated the venue's fabric woven by disparate mindset, talent and purpose amongst the collective force on display at any particular moment. No doubt the competition playing out before those in attendance bore varying shades of importance; a plethora of divergent outcomes limitless and evolving as to significance overall within the individual with some the glory more tangible no matter how similarly we listened.

Might one have been silently imploring,"Lanie! Stand up straighter!"

Another,"Hold it together East! I think the night is ours!"..., while the second trumpet on the Wissahickon jazz ensemble wonders out loud, "do I come in downbeat on the intro to the second piece?..."

Betwixt the competing factions there chimed in an administrator/MC interjecting band humor: "What is the favorite music of fish?...Bait-ovan!!!",eliciting groans mixed with mock laughter from a rogue student section mimicking Joliet Jake and Elwood complete with sunglasses and porkpie hats. This homage whether sincere or merely opportunistic, honoring the scores of adolescent prodigies melding with well intentioned parent pleasers; spirits searching for purpose, romance, or notoriety, lifted spirit! Whatever the ambition combining effort married to melody; I began feeling akin to a prospective liason parsing vows; each musician courting me in their own inimitable way, their chosen vehicle wooing, flattering, persuading with their talent magnified based upon ability, passion, and perhaps even a state of mind not previously visited---a lost chord stumbled upon. Each artist coupling me, symbiotically calling my attention, drawing my compassion, indulging my thirst for humanity, harmony and mystery.

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