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Jazz and Water Partnerships: What We Can Learn

As a fan of many different kinds of music, it was quite a treat to accompany part of the Cimorelli music group a few months ago on their visit to Cuba to learn more about what our partners are doing together to bring clean water to communities. Cimorelli is helping us raise awareness among their fans - if you haven’t heard the version of Thirst for Life they recorded for us recently, you can click here to listen and watch the video. Such talent!

On our first evening in Havana, we went to the jazz club La Zorra y el Cuervo. Though I’ve been to Cuba a number of times and have gotten to hear lots of live music, getting to go to a jazz club there was a first for me. I have always found jazz to be fascinating, from the attention to listening that is required of each player to the cooperation that is evident among the members of the ensemble—all of these are essential elements (along with quite a bit of stamina!) As I watched and listened to the group of musicians come together on stage that evening to make some beautiful music together, I began thinking of all of the correlations between a great jazz ensemble and a solid water partnership.

Listening to and watching a jazz set, it’s easy to forget that these folks didn’t just step on to the stage and start magically improvising seamlessly together. All that creativity on the fly and constant adaptability to change is the result of many hours spent practicing, learning each other’s cues, building trust with one another, and sweating together, long before that first gig is ever booked. So it is with water partnerships. Relationships (with our partners, network staff, and within our own teams) don’t just build themselves. For a water partnership to be sustained over a number of years, opportunities for creating rapport will need to be intentionally cultivated by everyone involved, whether it’s across town with members of our own team and supporters or across cultures with our partners and network staff who walk beside us. This level of collaboration calls for a high level of communication. Seeking out communication tools to which our partners have access can help us stay connected between face-to-face visits. Email, WhatsApp, Facebook messenger, Skype - while not every partner will be able to use all of these, we have more options for keeping in touch now than we did even a few years ago. And there is no greater communication tool than prayer! Praying with and for our partners (and network staff!) brings us closer together than 10,000 WhatsApp messages.

As each member of the ensemble took a turn playing a solo that evening, the rest

of the band could have used the opportunity to “lay out” and take a break from playing. Instead, they leaned in to listen even more closely to better support and accompany the soloist. They nodded encouragement, and smiled and raised their eyebrows to show their delight, surprise, and agreement with what the soloist was playing. Water partners do the same for each other throughout all the phases. There are certain times when our partners or we take the lead on a particular aspect of all the planning, preparations, and implementation that go into sustainable clean water for a community. Neither partner lays out during these times - we’re right there beside each other, smiling and cheering each other on (the network as well!)

Several jazz greats have pointed out that players shouldn’t fear playing wrong notes. In jam sessions, bandmates develop and have empathy for each other. They trust that they’ll figure it out together and so they embrace the uncertainty. Instead of playing an accompaniment that contradicts what a bandmate plays in a solo (a sort of musical “yes, but” which would sound discordant), they instead take a more harmonious “yes, and” approach and build on what the other person has played. I think there’s a lot of wisdom there for us as water teams and water partners. Here’s a short clip our friend Sean Sheetz recorded that evening at the club. May our water partnerships be like this music, beautiful and cool, with a crowd cheering us along the way. Got some ideas to share about building more rapport, trust, and harmony within your water team and with your water partners? We’d love to hear from you! You can email Kendall here.

Kendall Cox is the Director of Education for Living Waters for the World. She attends First Presbyterian Church in Greenville, MS whose water team partners in Cuba. When she grows up, she’d like to learn to play the drums.

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