On the Soft, Supple Joy of San Francisco’s Flower Piano Festival

Now in its eighth iteration — the COVID-19 pandemic having stolen a season from our 2020 calendars — San Franciscos’ Flower Piano concert series returned this past weekend, filling Golden Gate Park with consoling, cushiony recitals.

I’m someone who struggles with the concept of satisfaction. Or rather: I’m an almost thirtysomething manic depressive that continues to oscillate between varying degrees of mental soundness. Happiness has always seemed fleeting and ephemeral — a yet-dry watercolor painting thrown into a rainstorm that’s left to bleed toward randomness.

On this basis alone, I view happiness with a sideways glance. An emotion to acknowledge in a moment, but one to not chase after it inevitably evaporates.

Joy, on the other hand, I’ve come to imply with more permanence; the notion that delight is not singular, but rather the amalgamation of multiple pleasures sprinkled throughout one’s life.

Work’s going well. You’re in a healthy open relationship. That one neighbor stopped slamming their door, rattling the books above your credenza. Friends continue sending GIFs and memes. There’s a comma in both your checking and savings accounts.

For those reasons, joy has remained aspirational. It sits as an antithesis to my evergreen melancholy about… well, everything. About those sadnesses that have come to fruition or those born from confabulations.

My writing career will run dry. The next man I love will, again, call me a “worthless faggot” on my birthday. An incessant neighbor won’t move out when their lease ends. Friends go quiet because I’ve turned silent and sad. I’ve made a grave mistake in the tens of thousands of dollars I’ve invested.

But there’s another facet of joy that washes over me in less obvious, less flashy fashions: contentment. That feeling of pure ease for just existing; for just being; for just occupying whatever space you may find yourself in at whatever moment in time.

That — this softer, more supple side of joy — is what Flower Piano has always exuded.

Flower Piano was organized in 2020 to become its sixth consecutive year inside Golden Gate Park. A global pandemic, however, had other plans, forcing the days-long alfresco musical event to be postponed until… sometime in the future. Thankfully, it’s since come back into our lives in glorious iterations; the beloved festival wowed, delighted, and enchanted crowds in both 2021 and 2022.

And this past weekend (and until Tuesday of this week), Flower Piano was again set up inside the San Francisco Botanical Gardens to wild fanfare — a metaphoric peal of trumpets that also included playings from San Francisco’s viral Vanessa The Robot.

Masses of people flocked from all over the city — and Bay Area, for that matter — to appreciate the scheduled and impromptu concerts from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., with admission free for SF residents. (The latter mentioned money savings are incentive enough to donate to the SF Botanical Gardens to ensure these concert series continue well into the future).

But my weekends have grown cumbersome over these past two years. In a twist on the social norm, my weekdays are far more flexible. For the most part. Barring any lapse in mental health or teetering breakdown. Or a forgotten dinner reservation.

This past Tuesday, I made it a goal of mine to again find myself sitting atop green grass in Golden Gate Park, swaying like a metronome in the presence of 1,056 piano keys.

The San Francisco Botanical Gardens is a wonderland for the rooted and in-bloom. Some 9,000 different kinds of plants from around the world perform the 55-acre green space; wafting aromas from a myriad of magnolia species, high-elevation palms, regionally specific conifers, and other cloud forest species thrive above all else due to SF’s peculiar microclimate.

September 12th of this year, though, proved unusually warm. I continue to find myself analyzing every weather anomaly in San Francisco through the lens of the climate crisis. My wardrobe exists in a similar state of obscurity. Alas, I chose dawn textiles that would ease the pressure placed on my pores: a mesh t-shirt that I regularly reserve for nights out at PowerHouse and a pair of running shorts worn with little abandon.

It was an ensemble I was promptly grateful for when I sat down on the Great Meadow’s lawn — typing out yesterday’s newsletter soundtracked by a Beethoven score.

I, too, think this is where this alfresco concert series comes alive. There’s an outward awareness of gratitude that washes over every cell in my body combing through the trees, hearing the soft patter of distant applause. Or the echo of wind instruments finding their way within songbird calls. That unmistakable grandness of realizing you’re in arguably the best city in the world — your ears rich with piano melodies, oftentimes played at random.

By some manner of serendipity, you’ve found yourself here. Not anywhere else, but here. Right here. Alive. Able to occupy this maddening bag of enzymes and proteins that’s capable of making sense of the tangible world around it. What a centering, illuminating, compos mentis perception, isn’t it?

But that’s contentment — this uncanny understanding of presence. To find appreciation in ubiquity; being simultaneously both everything and nothing to everyone and no one. Paradise exists in the folds of your mind; it’s expressed through your exposed fingertips. And letting yourself sink into it all of that without pretense or expectation is a pleasure that knows no mortal bounds.

Oh, what a soft, supple joy, indeed.

Leave a Reply