I always get a chuckle at the political assumptions my friends make: "She's black, she must be a Democrat." "She quotes scripture, she must be conservative." "She's an artist, therefore she's a bleeding heart liberal." "She's a woman, I know where she stands on abortion." Truth is, they are usually wrong. But they are right about one thing. I am indeed a political junkie. So when I found out I had been invited to play at the White House, I was definitely tickled.
Still yet, it was not until I was slipping into my gown (a fabulous Monique Lhuillier, thank you very much) an hour or so before my performance that the awesomeness of the occasion began to hit me. Walking through the North East Gate, clearing security and finally waiting in the holding area, I looked around and absorbed the reality of my situation. Being led to the State Room where the special Steinway awaited me, I passed a cabinet of former presidents' dinner services and a display of presidential Christmas cards when something hit me. Not once had a political thought crossed my mind. Passing the 23 Christmas trees along my route to the piano, I didn't huff and puff over the state of unemployment. I didn't gag over how unreasonable the "other side" of the aisle was being. I wasn't counting the ways I would do things differently if I were in office. I was simply relishing in the gravity of the moment and in the role of the president himself, whomever he might have been at whatever point in our nation's history.
I played everything from Rachmaninoff and Liszt, to daring atonal numbers and jazzy Christmas carols. It was something of a surreal feeling to let my music flow where the business of the day is normally not about Beethoven. Maybe I was being delusional, or just romantically patriotic, but it seemed to me that artistry was reaching across the aisle quite successfully. My audience, full of touring Republicans, traveling Democrats and nomadic Independents, were whispering to each other about how Mozart trumps even Rachmaninoff in the State Room. Music appreciation abounded, but not a word about which candidate had flubbed the most recent debate.
To test my theory that art was indeed prevailing, when my performance was done, I joined a crowd that was touring the White House. My eyes were set on the dazzling antiques and spotting the many homages to Bo in the Green and Red rooms. My nose was busy sniffing the mini White House made out of gingerbread but my ears were on high alert, listening carefully for snide remarks or political conversation in general. Turns out, my observation was spot on. That day, the East Wing of the White House was a vacuum of sorts where people creating art and the people who came to receive it all put their political leanings aside. Just for a moment, they had come solely to take in the history, the art and to enjoy one of the greatest gifts men and women can give each other... the gift of live music-making.
But what about me? Had I really been cleansed of political side-taking in the midst of this possible once-in-a-lifetime experience? Stepping in front of that cabinet I mentioned, the one with pieces from each administration's dinner service, I knew I had been purged indeed. I was most drawn in by President Lincoln's oddly playful pink and green scalloped stemware. I was so taken by the color, style and pattern choices of each president (or most likely their First Ladies) that when I read the names of whom each piece belonged to, I was not at all reminded of their scandals, their failings or their successes. I was just in awe of the fact that they were real people who had favorite colors, might have preferred crystal to porcelain and who genuinely held this awesome position because at some point in their lives they held a conviction that they were destined to lead, to create opportunity and to do good for a nation. Humbled is the best way to describe the emotion of the day.
Now, of course, waiting for me outside the White House along with the brisk Washington wind was the smack of reality. In the midst of the hustle and bustle of the White House gift shop, you could hear bipartisan political jokes, some funny, some made by my own father. The serious lady taking the pictures of tourists sitting in a faux Oval Office could not wait to tell me she was formerly in the Social Secretary's Office of the Clinton Administration... emphasis on "Clinton."
People bought bobble heads of President Obama and I could not tell whether they were gag gifts for despisers or true souvenirs for fans of the Commander-in-Chief. So the bubble was burst, but the memory could not be stolen. There is indeed a place where art and artistry cast an apolitical glow and truly brings us all together. Ironically, it happens to be inside the White House itself. And I can not help but wonder how replicable that glow might just be out in the real world.
"See! I told you she was a bleeding-heart!"
Check out an Album of Jade's White House pics on Facebook.