- . . . each of us can work to change a small portion of events. . . It is from numberless diverse acts of courage . . . that the belief that human history is thus shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance. [Robert F. Kennedy, “Ripple of Hope” address, June 6, 1966.]
No one can do everything but each of us can do something. We may not be able to save the world single-handed but we can make a difference. Our most sacred purpose is to find the place where we fit best, and then contribute in the way that is best suited to each of us, taking into account the needs of the whole.
In a theatre troupe, some people will be well-suited as actors, others as costume designers, others as light technicians or set designers. The troupe’s best light technician may be perfectly suited to certain roles on stage. Can we imagine “The Wizard of Oz” without the incomparable Bert Lahr?
If everyone was a master chef, we might enjoy delicious food but on the other hand, who would grow it, harvest it and market it? In a world still beset by the modern version of tribalism, and taking all misgivings into account, we need soldiers “on that wall.” Perhaps no one contributes more to society than the mothers and fathers all over the world who devote their time and attention to rearing competent, respectful and responsible children. We owe thanks to the research scientist, the honest political leader, the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker.
The saying that “there are no small parts, only small actors,” refers to the importance in each of us playing our part in our communities. This is the concept of finding our niche.
Technical and Analytical Readings
Dan Buettner, Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way (National Geographic, 2010).
Documentary and Educational Films
- Clint Eastwood produced a documentary about Thelonious Monk called Straight, No Chaser, after one of Monk's greatest compositions.
Film and Stage
- Big: on not growing up too quickly, no matter how talented you are.
- The Thirty-Nine Steps: I cannot tell you why this is a film about finding one's niche without giving away John Buchan's surprise ending.
- The Jazz Singer: a son gains a sense of forgiveness after breaking with tradition to follow his own artistic path.
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
Every great artist – every “great” person in any field – has found his niche, but Thelonious Monk stands out in that way. We are all unique but Monk occupies a remarkably unique place in jazz, especially his striking of adjacent keys on the piano – it sounds like a beginner’s mistake, until you realize that this is part of what makes him the great Thelonious Monk.
Of Monk, John Coltrane observed that he "talks about music all the time, and he wants so much for you to understand that if, by chance, you ask him something, he'll spend hours if necessary to explain it to you." Idiosyncratic personally and professionally, and a founder of bebop, Monk is recognized among the top handful of jazz giants. Shortly after Monk's death, his family founded the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz (now the Herbie Hancodk Institute of Jazz), devoted to the education of young jazz musicians.
Music composed and/or performed by Thelonius Monk:
- “Monk’s Dream” album
- “Straight, No Chaser” album
- “Genius of Modern Music” album (1952)
- “Theonius Monk with John Coltrane” album
- “Thelonius Monk with John Coltrane: The Complete 1957 Riverside Recordings” boxed set
- “The Man I Love” album
- “Mønk” album
- “Underground” album
- “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” album (1960)
- “Volkshaus Zurich” album (1964)
- “Theonius Alone in San Francisco” album
- “Solo Monk” album
- “Brilliant Corners” album
- “Grandes Maestros del Jazz 12” album
- “Misterioso” album (1958)
- “Evidence” album
- Live in Copenhagen, 1961
- Live in Paris, 1964
- Live in Paris, 1965
- Thelonius Monk Live in Norway and Denmark, 1966
- Giants of Jazz, Copenhagen, 1971, with Dizzy Gillespie
- Thelonius Monk: American Composer – documentary
Another example of someone who found and occupied his niche with great distinction, Michel Plasson conducted French music perhaps better than anyone else.
- Debussy, Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune (Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun)
- Debussy, La Mer (The Sea)
- Berlioz, Symphonie Fantastique: 1. Rêveries - Passions; 2. Un bal; 3. Scène aux champs; 4. Marche au Supplice; 5. Songe d'une nuit du Sabbat.
- Fauré, Requiem
- Fauré, orchestral works
- Ravel, Cantata Alyssa
- Ravel, Cantata Myrrha
- Ravel, Alcyone
- Bizet, Patrie, Op. 19
- Bizet, L’Arléssiene, Op, 23
- Bizet, Overture in A minor/A major (1855)
- Saint-Saëns, La Foi, Three Symphonic Pictures after the incidental music, Op. 130
- Chabrier, orchestral works
- Franck, Symphony in D minor
- Franck, Symphonic Variations
- Offenbach, La Belle Hélène
- Offenbach, Orphée aux Enfers
- Gounod, Roméo et Juliette
- Massenet, Hérodiade
- Choruses from French operas
- Magnard, Symphony No. 1, Op. 4
- Magnard, Symphony No. 3, Op. 11
- Magnard, Symphony No. 4, Op. 21
- Ropartz, Symphony No. 3
- Satie, Parade
- Roussel, Évocations, Op. 15
- Roussel, Aux bords du fleuve sacré (1911)
- Honegger, orchestral works
- Duruflé, Requiem
- Dukas, L’Apprenti sorcier (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice)
- Duparc, Lénore
- Tower, Strike Zones (because percussion instruments strike things)
- Joseph Tawadros, “Chameleons of the White Shadow” (2013): an oud, a banjo, an organ and a bass – and everyone plays his part.
- Cecil McBee Sextet, “Music from the Source” (1977) (45’): “It is as if each member were a unique piece of a puzzle, carefully placed to complete precisely the breath taking picture intended. The music is adventurous enough to satisfy any aural daredevil who has not completely lost his or her sense of beauty, yet all the basic jazz values have been preserved with due reverence.”
- Andy Fusco, “Vortex” (2019) (61’): “. . . each man has a distinct voice and makes essential contributions to the record.”
- Claude Monet, Haystacks at Chailly at Sunrise (1865)
To this generation I would say:
Memorize some bit of verse of truth or beauty.
It may serve a turn in your life.
My husband had nothing to do
With the fall of the bank -- he was only cashier.
The wreck was due to the president, Thomas Rhodes,
And his vain, unscrupulous son.
Yet my husband was sent to prison,
And I was left with the children,
To feed and clothe and school them.
And I did it, and sent them forth
Into the world all clean and strong,
And all through the wisdom of Pope, the poet:
"Act well your part, there all the honor lies."
[Edgar Lee Masters, “ George Reece”]
- Pablo Neruda, “Ode to Tomatoes”
- Seamus Heaney, “Digging”