Free concerts and small crowds at Oakland’s first Peace Day
on September 24, 2010
In some cities, the annual United Nations’ International Day of Peace on September 21, is marked by large vigils and even ceasefires. For Oakland, which officially celebrated Peace Day for the first time this week, the occasion was a smaller and more musical affair.
In honor of the city’s first Peace Day, a local nonprofit called Listen for Life organized a series of free concerts, featuring world music in seven venues around Oakland. “Music is the common denominator that opens our hearts to peace,” said Donna Stoering, the founder of Listen of Life, which promotes music as an international instrument of peace. “Through it, we can all come together and share and meet new people to talk about ways to create peace in Oakland, 365 days a year.”
Despite the good intentions, the Peace Day concept was slow to catch on among Oaklanders. Among the sparse group of music lovers and curious passersby who gathered to listened to lilting harp and classical guitar in Frank Ogawa Plaza during the first of the free concerts, many were unaware of the global cause the concert was promoting, “I didn’t know about Peace Day,” said Tim Reed, a banker who works in the area and decided to sit in on the concert during his lunch break. “I was just looking for a good outdoor spot to eat, heard the music and decided to stay.”
Though for some in the audience, the appeal of the event was simply free music, the Peace Day sprit was not lost on the musicians. “There are so many different cultural and religious emblems in music “ said classical guitarist and Peace Day performer Rick Flores, who stretched back onto the plaza steps after his set to enjoy the rest of the acts. “If you really start listening for them; it’s a great segue into understanding people’s cultures and experiences.”
Peter Jaques, a clarinet player for the lively Balkan band Orkestar Sali, said he had experienced the correlation between peace and music first hand during a trip to Greece following the US-NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999. “People there were like, ‘Oh, you’re American, your government bombed our neighboring country,’” he recalled. “But then we just started playing music together, and none of that mattered anymore.”
Later in the afternoon, Orkestar Sali joined another group of musicians at Preservation Park in downtown Oakland, to perform an array of world music ranging from Irish jigs to rap. Other venues for Tuesday’s events included St. Mary’s senior center on Brockhurst Street, and North Oakland’s St. Augustine’s church. “Peace Day? Never heard of it.” said Oakland resident Gus Avery, who veered into Preservation Park on his way home. “But sure, I guess listening to this music makes be feel pretty peaceful right now.”
Despite the low concert turnout, Stoering said she hopes the event will become more popular as awareness for Oakland’s Peace Day builds over the next few years. Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums has issued a proclamation that Peace Day will be celebrated in the city each year from now on. “Our goal was to have many more,” Stoering said. “But this is a good place to start.”
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