A wrinkled old woman waves hello as she heads indoors to pick up her usual Sunday lunch at the food court. She weaves her way through the crowd around us, navigating past an Israeli family, a few Spanish-speaking men, and a group of Red Sox bound Bostonians. Home to 18,000,000 tourists a year, the lively historical sight-turned marketplace, Faneuil Hall, is not an easy location for her to pass through. The member of the band whose part is the least busy— either my mom, my sister, or I— waves hello, letting the musical harmonies wane from three parts to two, and back to three again after she picks up her bow and continues playing.
Playing music as a part of the Performance Roster on the buzzing streets of Faneuil Hall Marketplace is not about a perfect performance. I’ve thought it started to rain, only to realize it was actually just a massive wad of bird poop dropping onto my head. I’ve witnessed our whole stack of business cards fly away with a breeze, sending me into hysterics as I ran and collected as many as possible with a few of our current audience members. I’ve smiled so big while playing watching a little girl dance that I couldn’t possibly run a steady bow on the strings of my violin. These little moments, gems of live, outdoor performance, bring the focus of my music on joy, rather than flawlessness.
My family band, Tatu Mianzi, got together years ago for a family wedding. Over the years, we’ve moved far beyond the classical genre. These days, in a typical set, we might bounce from a Brazilian Bossa Nova to Scottish Fiddle, from Hava Nagila to Eleanor Rigby. Well past learning the technical skills of our instruments, we focus on learning music from as many regions of the world as we can, reaching out to specialists to teach us their traditions. It doesn’t matter that our two violin and cello band learned to play tangos from an accordion player, or jazz from a saxophonist. Music is music.
We take our eclectic shows all over the country and the world, performing more than 50 concerts a year. When we play in schools, I ask the kids, “Where do you want to travel today?” A girl in the front calls out a country, probably from her family heritage, and we play her a song from that region, watching her face light up as she listens to her culture come alive.
I’ve played some songs in my repertoire well over 500 times, yet performing with my band never gets old. I’m no longer thinking about playing the right notes or bowings. Instead, I’m listening closely and responding to what my sister and mom are playing as we take turns trading off the melody, choosing a bass line, and improvising harmonies. I play from the heart, not the page.
Back at Faneuil Hall, people with seemingly nothing in common—no common language, a different skin color, an age gap—enjoy each other as they listen to us play. They start to clap and dance together, and I dance too. In these moments, letting my emotions take over and seep through me, at the expense of a few lost notes, is okay. In fact, it’s encouraged.
While playing in Tatu Mianzi is technically a job, and it’s great to make money, I gain so much more from my trio than the tangible. In a time where my country seems so completely divided— politically, economically, and racially— our music is a catalyst, melding people together who would normally be at odds. Our music creates a community of people, if only for a few minutes at a time, that gets along. They stop to listen, opening themselves up to their emotional impulses and refreshing themselves for whatever lies ahead. I too am refreshed. Goodness can be so simple.