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Diversity engaged

by | Jan 31, 2022 | Benny Goodman, DEI, engage

engaging Diversity is deep…

This evening, as I was working my way through the records, I stumbled across a double album of Jazz. It was my daily visit to Peaches – a huge grocery store remodeled to house huge stacks of records, including those that had been sentenced to the trash heap of music. “Cutouts” were just that – albums that had the corner clipped, along with their price. To keep me engaged in my major goal of graduating in only 12 weeks, I would buy 5 records, come home, listen for 3 hours until they were finished, and hopefully, I had finished enough homework to repeat it the next day…

…buried in the very Music we engage with…

As we wrapped up MLK last week, we are now engaging Black History Month with a lot of focus on Diversity in the writings around us. There is no field that is more clearly a resource than Music. Think about it for a minute – if songs were only in Unison – all the same instruments playing the same notes, you would tune out in about 2 minutes. By its nature, music is Diverse – keys, instruments, notes, harmonies, players, and yes races and backgrounds. So what can we learn about Diversity from Music?

One of my close friends noted that I have a near-encyclopedic knowledge of music – and I should quickly say that thankfully, Wikipedia has been invented since I was in college. 😉 He also encouraged me to really dig deep into the roots of music – artists that other artists point back to, and if possible, those that are not well known. Another leader has asked for help in defining the Culture of their growing startup – what is it that will keep it growing and cutting edge? Exploring the foundations of the music we now take for granted in its Diversity, are there themes to leverage as Leaders in our teams and in society as citizens?

…and also provides notes of Harmony…

The record I had picked up was the concert of Benny Goodman at Carnegie Hall in 1938, which I knew enough about to know it would be engaging enough to keep me focused. I loved jazz generally, and particularly Big Band music that was complex in its construction, and also the instrumentation. Huge horn sections, solos that would allow great creativity, then brought back to the main theme together before usually a big finish. And with my intentional focus on Diversity of music, this was an album I hadn’t heard before, so what could I learn? SO much…

Benny Goodman was born in 1909, in Chicago, to Jewish immigrants from Warsaw and Lithuania. His father worked in stockyards and as a tailor. His mother, Dora, gave birth to twelve children and raised them. The Goodmans shifted from tenement to tenement, once spending a winter in an unheated basement room. “A couple of times there wasn’t anything to eat,” Goodman wrote in his memoir. “I don’t mean there wasn’t much to eat. I mean anything.” The Goodmans drank coffee once they were weaned “because milk for so many kids cost more than Pop could afford.”

“If it hadn’t been for the clarinet, I might just have been a gangster,” Benny once said. David Goodman devoted his life to boosting his children up a rung of the ladder – he’d bought into the promise of America in the way only someone working fourteen hours a day in a stockyard could. He urged his kids to do well in school, to find jobs that weren’t in a sweatshop. For the Goodman brothers, music looked feasible. They could play weddings and bar mitzvahs, instruments were affordable on the installment plan, and there were free lessons at synagogues and at Hull House on Halsted Street, which had an amateur band.

Benny, the smallest of the Goodmans, got the smallest instrument at the synagogue, the clarinet (his bigger brothers got tuba and trumpet). He was a natural, quickly able to play intricate runs of notes at brisk tempos, enlivening his lines with rasps and growls. A music teacher named Franz Schoepp gave Benny “the foundation” – the correct embouchure and fingering, breath control – and stressed the need for daily scales, a regimen that Goodman kept for the rest of his life.

…if we choose to listen for them….

So why did I pick a Jewish kid from Chicago to engage writing about Diversity for Black History Month? In many ways, we are all Diverse – some more than others, but all put into situations and teams that can leverage our own unique perspective – if we and others understand that Diversity is important as more than a bumper sticker. It requires engaging purposefully in broadening your own horizons, looking for and learning things that you DON’T know, constantly challenging the assumptions of all of the other voices that seem to be in Unison. If you don’t think you can engage Diversely while bringing Harmony, let Benny encourage you – Don’t Be That Way!!

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