What is this connection to place that I’m on the hunt for?
Is it possible to equate the way people live in a place with aspects of the land itself? How do you quantify that idea in a place where the landscape is buried under generations of human construction. Or in a place with no discernible geographic features-no river, no mountain, no ocean, no tall trees, no big rocks? Is the vibration of the land still there-underneath? Is it in the open sky, or the far-reaching horizon? Is that essence shaped by the first people to live on the land and then passed on in some fashion to every succeeding generation? If so, how? In the institutions? In the civic life?
Is it organizational?
Is it finding a way to thrive/survive in a place with a group? Is there some way we humans seek to organize that is organic and natural, that something inside us seeks to put in order? Is it some kind of equilibrium we are programmed to want.
Is it a morality?
Are we striving to live in balance with what a place has to offer, no matter what level of development we rise to? Is the essential nature of this force found in patterns of interaction-of engaging with each other? Is it an intrinsic balance with the surrounding ecosystems that each individual or community is compelled to achieve? Is it “living in sync” somehow?
And what does this vibration resonate with inside the individual? Is it common to all people, is it innate? Is it even real?
I flew into Weatherford, Oklahoma two days ago for a performance and clinic at Southwestern Oklahoma State University. That’s SWOSU for acronym fans. The forecast was for snow and frigid temperatures, and they did not lie. Yesterday morning’s windchill was minus 20, and this morning’s was only slightly higher.
Despite the temptation to hunker down in the hotel, it was more interesting to meet people and chase down these questions. After all, if I’m an artist who seeks to connect with whoever is in my audience, then every opportunity to travel is a chance to dig into history and place, to try and better understand this thing I’m trying to put my finger on.
So I’m curious.
Why Weatherford? How did this city come to be?
It is fun to speculate with no prior knowledge…
Was it a trading post? A geographical nexus- river bend, lake, watering hole. Was it a military encampment that became a fort? Were there mineral deposits?
The presence of a state University indicates a land grant from state government at some point. So why here? These decisions are usually hard-fought and speak to money, influence and power struggles on some level. Who were the wheeler dealers and the power brokers. Do their grandchildren and great-grandchildren carry on those legacies?
It’s Oklahoma, so that means ranching, and oil. Is there a Weatherford cattle baron? Is there a “Ewing Family” with old money in town? Will I get a sense of it from the names on the sides of the college buildings? Who was the arts patron? For that matter, who was the jazz patron? I mean this jazz festival has been going on for 41 years. Somebody started it and kept it alive. Who was THAT guy?
And how does all this shape what people want here, what kind of lives they live? What inspires them?
What is their connection to place. Does the music bear it out?
Those are questions I brought with me on the plane.