Playing for Change Day offers a big group hug with meditation and music

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh
M2 Foundation and "Playing For Change" purveyors Marc Anderson and Beth Barron.

For the third year in a row, the folks behind Playing for Change Day are rallying musicians from all over the globe to come together in an effort to stem the seemingly ceaseless tide of bad news and offer an alternative mode of human communication and connection via the big group hug that is live music.

It happens Saturday in most every locale you can name, and in Minneapolis at the Cedar Cultural Center, Marc Anderson’s M2 Foundation has joined forces with Playing For Change to bring meditation and mindfulness to the music.  

At the Cedar, performers will include Anderson, a percussionist and Zen Buddhist priest who teaches meditation in the schools, Carin Vagle, and Michelle Kinney, Sowah Mensah & The Macalester College African Music Ensemble, the Walker West Music Academy Jazz Ensemble, the Turtle Lake Elementary Music Ensemble, the Center For Irish Music Advanced Youth Ensemble and world-music purveyors Batucada de Norte.

“We use music as an entry point, or an access point, and a practice, to teach mindfulness,” said Anderson, sitting with his partner in all things mindfulness, artist Beth Barron, at Kopplin’s coffee shop in St. Paul earlier this week. “So in the programs that we’re doing, music is always part of it. We do body drumming, we sing, we do various kinds of activities. We’re trying to bring mindfulness into communities, and we’re trying to demystify meditation.”

Anderson once ran for mayor of St. Paul, and at the moment he’d be an excellent write-in candidate to lead any city, state, country, planet going forward into the next version of humanity. Imagine a world in which the mayor greeted citizens each day with a message of meditation and how making a practice of sitting still for minutes or hours at a time fundamentally changes people and how they go about doing things. Imagine the prevailing sanity.

“The issue with human beings is we can’t carry mindfulness and focus with us,” said Anderson. “We lose our vitality and vividness and appreciation of what’s happening, and it’s also difficult to do with things we want to shy away from things or run away. It’s difficult to stay with it, the way you would when you’re playing music, for example.”

To be sure, that locked-in feeling, the “zone” that musicians experience when playing alone or with others, is the sort of transcendental experience that can bear wise fruit along the way. Plenty of which will be there for the picking Saturday at the Cedar, and all over the world.

“I understood from an early age that music is a spiritual practice. It was how I connected to the world, how I learned to follow my intuitive wisdom,” said Anderson. “I couldn’t articulate it for a long time, but I saw that the only reason we do this is to connect with something that’s bigger than us and to get outside of ourselves and see if we can let go of our desire to manipulate the moment by actually learning to really manipulate the moment, by playing chords and playing in time, and playing with all these people.

“ That’s actually the gateway for letting go of all that [excess noise], because once you learn the skills, you realize that, ‘Oh, now I just have to get out of the way and let music happen.’ Once you have that experience, something changes with you forever.

“When you have those moments when you’re really playing music, you realize ‘All I’m doing is tending to exactly this thing, and as soon as I start thinking about the chorus that’s coming up, I’m not really playing anymore.’ It’s such a great training ground, and you wonder, ‘Could I just walk through the world this way? Could I live moment-by-moment-by-moment this way?’ You start seeing that you can truly be connected to people, not because you make it happen, but because it’s the truth of what’s happening because you’ve gotten out of the way.”

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