To the untrained eye, last Sunday Gleaner's story titled 'Keep your award!' was about classical pianist Orrett Rhoden's declination of a national honour because of unanswered letters and an inability to get audience with the prime minister.
But has anyone noticed that this was an unsolicited bid for alternative music production requiring a tender, submission to the contractor general, the National Contracts Commission, the OUR, J-FLAG, Commandante Munroe's NIA, JET, JFJ, JSPCA, TPDCO, TEF, and the media for public exposure and comments? Well, maybe not TEF - that would be a bit much, right? But Sunsplash, Sting, and Jazz promoters might not want there to be contact, because the bidding for 360MW of music has closed.
It doesn't seem like the original news story got it right, partly because there was no response from the PM's office. For it was subsequently revealed that Rhoden had, in fact, received replies to his letters. He had also communicated joyous acceptance of the award, had then publicly declined it via The Sunday Gleaner, but then has changed his mind once more and is now again poised to receive it. The award should be for drama!
But supposing he had declined, I still couldn't figure out why the rejection required such publicity. If a pretty girl, like Jamaica, wants to award you, I would seh tek it! But if for whatever reason you don't tek it, you really shouldn't announce the rejection to the world, and certainly not without careful consideration. You will hurt her feelings. And that's not nice.
TELLING THE STORY
On the other hand, there are some times when you just have to tell the story because you want to make a point. It's like when old Mr Eisenstein hobbled into the Catholic confessional and said: "Father! I went out last night and I met three girls and they all gave me sex. Three times!"
Father Michael was very concerned: "Mr Eisenstein, this is a very grave matter, but before I take your confession, shouldn't you be telling this to the rabbi at the synagogue?" Mr Eisenstein responds gleefully: "Confessing? Who's confessing? I've already told the rabbi ... . Then I went to the Baptists, and I also told the Methodists ... . I'm telling everyone!" So I get it. Sometimes you just have to tell people what's going on.
Unlike many on social media, I found it impossible to come to any firm judgement about Rhoden's vacillation, because the newspaper report wasn't exact about why he considered declining. Was it because of a perception that letters to the PM went unanswered? Was it because he hasn't received support for the Orrett Rhoden International Music Festival of Jamaica? Was it because, in Rhoden's view, the fine arts are inadequately funded? I imagine that reactions would differ depending on which of these reasons was the source of discontent.
If it's letters, that seems petty. I don't expect the PM to reply every time to everybody's chicken-scratch. She's workin', workin', workin'. And if it's because he hasn't received funding for the Orrett Rhoden International Music Festival, some other considerations come into play.
I cannot be the only scoundrel to have noted the name of the music festival, and while self-naming is not necessarily uncommon nowadays, it smacks of self-branding and egotism, and something is thereby subtracted from the public-spirited open-handedness that might otherwise be imputed.
We're all acquainted with this manoeuvre: every constituency has an equivalent of the Delroy Chuck Corner League and Netball Competition, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. However, we would arch an eyebrow if Mr Chuck approached the Government for funding while decrying that a profit is not honoured in his own country.
But if Rhoden's was a protest that the fine arts are inadequately funded and encouraged, well, now I'm sidling up to be a wagonist with his cause. For we could well use a review of the art our Government formally and informally encourages, and the debasement of taste and judgement has advanced to such an extent that it is no longer even recognised as a problem.
The dust-up, in fact, caused me to search out Mr Rhoden's music, and there's no question that it is top class. And as the full story unfolded, and it became clear that this was something of a temper tantrum, I considered that the qualities of mind and character that allow for such precision and focus as evident in Rhoden's work don't lend themselves to the disorganised chaos of the world that the rest of us untalented laggards live in. So he may be forgiven a lot.
A story comes to mind. Bach, though not as tempestuous as Beethoven, owing to his perfectionism, was no slouch in the temper department either. He was furious when the Duke of Weimar failed to award him an important position, and quickly found employment with the duke's rival. But one didn't thoughtlessly snub the authorities back then, so Johannes spent some time composing in jail.
Thankfully, we live in tolerant and democratic times, when pretty much anyone can tell anyone else exactly where to hop on or hop off the heavily tinted bashment bus where the schoolaz gyal pickney dem learn to Tip Pan Yuh Toe then Siddung Fi Di Jockey. It's some distance from Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring and the Well-Tempered Clavier, but why can't we have both? The clavier, by the way, was a forerunner to the piano that Mr Rhoden controls so dexterously, and by 'well-tempered', Bach means something like 'well-tuned'.
Incidentally, do you know who else feels their musical efforts have gone without due recognition? Kartel, who has pointed out to The Gleaner that "dancehall is in jail". Now even though is Gaza mi seh, it's important to remember that self-assessment of worth can diverge quite sharply from generally accepted social standards.
National awards, although they're kinda hokey, try to keep our sensibilities aright by singling out excellence and acknowledging that among our nearly three million souls are some really remarkable and accomplished people.
It's so important to remember that the awards are from the people of Jamaica, not any particular letter-shredding Government. In fact, this situation forced me to imagine the extreme case: Suppose my musically gifted son is offered an award in 2030 by then PM Everald, the Duke of Warmington?
Aaron: "I won't accept the honour because I wrote a letter to the PM and he hasn't responded."
Me: "What? Yuh gwine diss the people of Jamaica sake o' Warmy? Who told you he reads and writes letters? Go and collect the award, remember to say 'thank you', and try to buss a kiss on the governor general's wife for your father."
Of course, in reality, fire-breathing Warmy would have answered Aaron, "Go to hell!"
Daniel Thwaites is a partner of Thwaites Law Firm in Jamaica, and Thwaites, Lundgren & D'Arcy in New York. Email feedback to email@example.com.