It’s the Symbolism that Counts

Black Friday’s coming up and remember, when you’re shopping for Christmas presents for your family and friends, it’s the thought that counts. Actually, that phrase is wrong. What people usually mean when they say that is that it’s the symbolism that counts. Putting the effort of truly thinking about the gift would rarely necessitate a platitude like “it’s the thought that counts.”


To wit, recently, the city installed two new apparatuses in the playground across the street from our house. They are two different stainless steel chimes, along with mallets with which to play them. The company that makes them is called Freenotes Harmony Park and you can read about them on their website. I can see why the park board thought these instruments would be a good idea. The company’s website does a good job explaining the benefits of the instruments to all ages and abilities and has several pictures of people with different disabilities playing them, which shows their concern to help the less fortunate. So the park board likely saw accessible music making as a benefit to this neighbourhood, which is home to so many children who cannot afford instruments as well as many people with a variety of disabilities.

A few concerns I have make me think that the city thought more about the symbolism  of the instruments than the actual benefits they might promote. One is that, as you can see from my photo of them, the instruments have been installed in a place that is not easily accessible to someone in a wheelchair, walker, or scooter. Also, considering I know most of the parents of children who live across the street from the park, it seems strange that the instruments just popped up one day without any consultation from the families who might benefit the most from them. I think the city might have gotten a different answer than they wanted had they asked.

There was also little thought put into the collateral damage that comes from installing a loud musical instrument in a park that is home to many many nighttime drug users. Because our house is insulated from the noise by another house, the noise coming from stoned music makers is muted when I’m trying to sleep. Not so for my neighbours. One sleep-deprived neighbour insisted he was going to rent a chainsaw and cut the chimes down. That was a few weeks ago and they’re still up (but I don’t know if a chainsaw could cut down a steel pole or not).

If they really put the effort to think about their gift rather than just the symbolism it conveys, the park board might have decided to forego installing the—what must be very expensive—chimes and donate the money to the St. James Music Academy. SJMA is only a block away from the park, is run by people who live across the street from the park, and provides quality music lessons to kids who can otherwise not afford them. Read about SJMA here (you can donate there yourself). That would have been a present which actually counts and doesn’t just look good.


About azlewis

I'm an academic living in the poorest neighbourhood in Canada. I also teach at a local seminary.
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