Detail of Wassily Kandinsky's Quartet
It was our second day in New York City. We awoke to a drenching rain, bought two umbrellas from a vendor just outside the hotel door, and walked to the Museum of Modern Art. But the rain had driven everyone to the museum, and we had to wait in a long line, outside, in the rain. Finally, our wet umbrellas tucked into museum-provided plastic bags, we entered.
There I spent at least an hour in just one room, with four Kandinsky paintings, while scores of people streamed by. The wash of color, texture, patterns across the canvases looked to me like music, so I wasn’t surprised to then read this quote by Kandinsky: “Color is a means of exerting direct influence upon the soul. Color is a keyboard. The eye is the hammer. The soul is the piano, with its many strings.”
The skies cleared by late afternoon, so we hopped a subway to Greenwich Village and wandered its streets, finding ourselves at Washington Square, where throngs enjoyed the rain-cleansed evening light. Near the center fountain, a man clothed entirely in silver, like the tin man but wearing a suit and top hat instead, held perfectly still. A little girl in yellow rubber boots walked up and put money in his bucket, and the mime began to move. We sat watching his flowing dance, and listening to a young woman singing jazz accompanied by a stand-up bass off to our left.
Then we walked through the park to where a man played a baby grand in the middle of the sidewalk. My first thought: how on Earth did he get this piano here? My second thought: what beautiful music. Tattoed and dressed punk, this man played song after song of some of the most vibrant classical music ever composed.
It was late; we were hungry; but we couldn’t pull ourselves away. A strong wind came through, playing chorus in the trees. It was one of those moments.
Even in New York City, where the natural world is so contained and replaced that it seems irrelevant, even here, in this moment, I could see the interplay between human creativity and the creativity of the natural world. The way we can be in harmony. Literally.
I turned my smartphone up to the trees and the wind, and made this brief video:
Later, I learned the piano player, Colin Huggins, had been the music director for the Joffrey Ballet Company, but decided he wanted to do something more interactive with people, and so began this life of busking. He actually pushes the piano from a nearby storage building to the park, dodging traffic, to the sidewalk, all by himself.
It’s crazy, but it’s that kind of crazy creativity and devotion to doing what one loves that makes New York the amazing city it is—and that makes me feel hopeful for the future of humanity and the natural world.
All of human creativity originates in the natural world, music from the sound of wind through trees. And it can be reciprocal: we can use our incredible gifts of creativity to expand our knowledge, awareness, and harmonious existence with the rest of this living, breathing, creating world.