I happened to be in Geneva at the that time of year when the streets of Europe fill with the sound of music, as professional and amateur musicians of all ages and abilities celebrate the Fete de la Musique.
With its origins in France, this annual festival marks the beginning of summer with bands playing in music halls and street corners. Although each village, town or city has its own special way of celebrating the event, Geneva, a global city, a financial center and worldwide center for diplomacy, runs concerts over 3 days entertaining jazz, metal, rock, reggae, hip-hop, classical, electronic , ethnic, chamber and choral music — to name but a few! There is something for everyone with a wide variety of food stalls to match. If you are a musician, or even if you’ve never touched a musical instrument in your life, you are invited to play any of the pianos situated in street corners and marked with the words “Jouez, je suis à vous”. (“Play me, I’m yours.”) The concerts are free of charge so you can sit and listen or participate and dance your way through the streets from dusk until dawn and beyond. It is no wonder that a city such as Geneva also houses one of the largest eclectic and diverse groups of peoples of different cultures and different religions. And what better way to celebrate diversity than through music. There is a fundamental unifying harmony that even the songs and arias that take you to despair lift you. There are no dogmas in music, no boundaries, and no domestic walls. It belongs to the people.
I stayed in the French town of Ferney Voltaire named after the French writer and philosopher Voltaire whose home it was from 1759 to 1778. It is a peaceful town between the Jura Mountains and the Swiss border and forms part of the metropolitan area of Geneva. Today, with a large international community due to the proximity of CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) and the United Nations Offices and Red Cross Center at Geneva, Ferney is growing very rapidly. The town is also home to the Lycée International which attracts scholars from across the continents.
The purpose of my visit was to be with my Uncle Bared who resides in Ferney. Here, I discovered a treasure passed on through the generations of my great uncle, Puzant Yeghiayan, and my uncle Bared. I learned that my great uncle Puzant, a professor, educator and author resided in Ferney while he attended the Graduate Institute of Higher international Studies in Geneva from 1928 through 1930. There, within the Circle of League of Nations he met with many international figures including Einstein, Mohandas Gandhi and with Rabindranath (Thakur) Tagore. What intrigued me the most was the poem he had written in 1930, “Let East Greet West” which was in direct reference to Tagore, a Bengali writer, musician, and philosopher known in the West as “the great mystic from the East” who was on tour in Europe in 1930 with other great minds of the era.
“Let East greet West
And West greet East
As the Sun greets both East and West.
Let true hearts beat
With truth in heart
As the Stars sing to Stars beyond.
Above the pledge
Of land and flag
There, rules the pledge of human love.
Where wise men march in mutual search,
Where brave men work in trust and faith,
There, no fear broods, all darkness fades.
One fight stands alone,
There’s no other;
One battle for Justice and Truth;
Same hopes we raise
To similar skies,
In the same ocean of light we sail.
When honest souls reach out and share,
New Creation shakes heaven and earth,
East meets with West,
North meets with South,
One world, one front, one human right!”
My great uncle was inspired by the great men of his time who introduced the best of their culture to the West and vice versa. Their ideas on poverty, education, freedom, and a resurgent homeland remain as relevant today while their hope for unity and human rights and justice among nations is read between the lines. The music I heard through cobbled streets of the centuries old city spoke their language and the universal language of a humanity that hopes a thousand different ways every day, for the same plight of man’s freedom, tolerance, understanding and friendship.
“…Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.” Gitanjali, R. Tagore