Articles on this Page
- 11/08/16--09:55: _Squish
- 11/08/16--10:50: _Awakening Joy Throu...
- 11/08/16--11:11: _Chimera Of The Stat...
- 11/08/16--12:32: _Herbie Hancock Conv...
- 11/08/16--12:58: _Taiyo Onorato and N...
- 11/08/16--18:30: _Waiting for Grace ...
- 11/08/16--20:05: _A Washington Jewel ...
- 11/08/16--04:53: _The White Road: Jou...
- 11/09/16--13:46: _Robert L. Lynch Spe...
- 11/10/16--02:49: _6 Artists on their ...
- 11/10/16--04:25: _"Why Not?"
- 11/10/16--06:06: _Lawrence Halprin: D...
- 11/10/16--07:07: _Rome Had Caesar. Am...
- 11/10/16--14:24: _Your Friends And Re...
- 11/10/16--18:55: _Leonard Cohen: Firs...
- 11/10/16--20:01: _A Masterpiece in th...
- 11/11/16--06:20: _Climate Change in t...
- 11/11/16--06:57: _Jeanne Gang Designs...
- 11/11/16--12:46: _My Journey to Carne...
- 11/12/16--06:57: _Nicoletta Braschi a...
- 11/08/16--09:55: Squish
- 11/08/16--10:50: Awakening Joy Through Jazz Studies
- 11/08/16--11:11: Chimera Of The State -- Donald Trump And Vladimir Putin
- 11/08/16--12:58: Taiyo Onorato and Nico Krebs: On Eurasia
- 11/08/16--18:30: Waiting for Grace at the Odyssey Theatre
- 11/08/16--20:05: A Washington Jewel Hidden In Plain Sight
- 11/08/16--04:53: The White Road: Journey into an Obsession
- 11/10/16--02:49: 6 Artists on their Parents
- 11/10/16--04:25: "Why Not?"
- 11/10/16--14:24: Your Friends And Relatives Did This -- Now What Can You Do?
- 11/10/16--18:55: Leonard Cohen: First He Took Manhattan, Then He Took Berlin
- 11/10/16--20:01: A Masterpiece in the Attic: Some of the Greatest Surprise Art Finds
- 11/11/16--06:20: Climate Change in the Classrooms
- 11/11/16--06:57: Jeanne Gang Designs 'Working in America'
- 11/11/16--12:46: My Journey to Carnegie Hall Via Venezuela
- 11/12/16--06:57: Nicoletta Braschi and Andrea Renzi Perform "Happy Days" in Lisbon
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Awakening Joy Through Jazz Studies
By Joel Yennior
Albert Einstein once proclaimed, "It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge."
I find these words to be particularly applicable to my work in the field of jazz education, where I am tasked with the responsibility of imparting musical/theoretical knowledge, sharing practical strategies for applying this knowledge, and fostering creative expression (which is a central component of jazz music).
These goals remain central to my teaching whether I'm working with adult students through New England Conservatory's School of Continuing Education, or younger learners at NEC's Preparatory School. In teaching both groups, I have a similar process in terms of assessing, evaluating, and identifying goals for study. But over the years, I've found that there are a number of key differences between adult and school age learners that influence the way I teach each group.
Although a small number of my adult students have found success playing jazz professionally or semi-professionally, most are not actively pursuing a career in music. The typical adult I encounter is firmly established in their profession, and is mainly interested in developing a deeper understanding of jazz music, and opening the door to creative expression through jazz improvisation.
Adult students are experienced learners, and I've found that they generally have an advantage over younger students when absorbing facts and extracting the central concepts from a lesson. But because each adult begins study with his or her own unique set of prior experiences, they occasionally need additional time to ask questions and make connections when presented with new information. I've found that sharing personal anecdotes, creating analogies to emphasize ideas, and pursuing the occasional tangential discussion are all valuable ways to help students to make connections and better understand core concepts.
On the other hand, younger students are less experienced and less disciplined learners than they ultimately will become. I've found that prioritizing a small number of key fundamental skills and concepts, and reinforcing these concepts through a variety of instructional techniques is vital to helping young learners develop a strong foundation for continued growth.
By nature, learning to improvise requires a degree of humility and self-confidence. When practicing improvisation, younger musicians are much less self-aware than adults, and are far less likely to be encumbered with the fear of making mistakes when learning. Of course, this is not unique to learning jazz. There must be scores of best sellers - Timothy Gallwey's The Inner Game of Tennis, and countless others - that address the issues of self-doubt and anxiety so prevalent among adult learners and performers.
In my experience, most adults can overcome these internal barriers when issued a thoughtfully tiered set of challenges presented within a positive and nurturing learning environment. Setting the bar low at first to help guarantee initial success, and outlining a clear and logical sequence can help build confidence and illuminate the path toward musical growth.
Ultimately, with a bit of thoughtful guidance, there is joy to be awakened in the pursuit of knowledge and creative expression - for students both young and old.
About Joel Yennior
Joel Yennior is a trombonist, composer, and educator currently residing in the greater Boston area. He has performed and/or recorded with an array of notables including Ran Blake, George Garzone, Jerry Bergonzi, Mulatu Astatke, Medeski, Martin & Wood, and the Either/Orchestra, and was named as a "Rising Star" on trombone in Downbeat Magazine's 2013 and 2014 Critics Poll. His recent recording debut as a leader, entitled "Big City Circus" (Brass Wheel Music), was described as "soul music" by renowned author and NEA Jazz Master, Nat Hentoff. Yennior currently serves on the faculties of New England Conservatory and the Westwood Public Schools (MA) and has previously written for the Massachusetts Music Educators Journal, the International Trombone Association Journal and Learn Jazz Faster.com.
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This oil painting which I have been making already two months is not political at all, this painting is a part of my new series Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Its whole title is a bit long -- The state, I call it, where all are poison-drinkers, the good and the bad: the state, where all lose themselves, the good and the bad: the state, where the slow suicide of all--is called "life."
I've chosen Donald Trump as a model of my Chimera of the State, because in my opinion he is a perfect example of the Chimera of the State. He is sexist and misogynist, he is superficial and has no good cultural and educational background, he has no good taste.
Chimera of the State by Lena Hades
The painting is not yet finished, but it will be ready in a week or two...The painting's size is 39" x 47", it depicts a monster with the head of a man, with wings of a bat, two snake-headed tails and four hands.
You can see on it also a portrait of Madonna as Eva Peron and a portrait of Illma Gore, Australian artist who was attacked by Donald Trump supporter because she painted a controversial nude portrait of Donald Trump.
Madonna as Eva Peron, by Lena Hades, 2013
"Tired with all these, for restful death I cry"... This is the Sonnet 66 of Shakespeare, it describes very well my state of mind when I think about Putin's sympathy for Donald Trump.
Tired with all these, for restful death I cry,
As to behold desert a beggar born,
And needy nothing trimm'd in jollity,
And purest faith unhappily forsworn,
And gilded honour shamefully misplac'd,
And maiden virtue rudely strumpeted,
And right perfection wrongfully disgrac'd,
And strength by limping sway disabled
And art made tongue-tied by authority,
And folly--doctor-like--controlling skill,
And simple truth miscall'd simplicity,
And captive good attending captain ill:
Tir'd with all these, from these would I be gone,
Save that, to die, I leave my love alone.
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By Dan Ouellette, Senior Editor ZEALnyc, November 8, 2016
"It's special playing with Chick," said Los Angeles-based musical polyglot Herbie Hancock in New York last week to take in a performance of Hamilton. "After all these years, it's always great. It's fun and challenging. He's always thoroughly prepared but loose."
While the Blue Note is wall-to-wall Chick Corea to celebrate his 75th birthday, the one-night concert of piano duos with fellow superstar Hancock (November 19) promises to be the gem of the batch. (A word of caution: This show will undoubtedly sell out.)
"I've had a timeless friendship musically with Herbie since we first met in the '60s," Corea told me last year after the pair had triumphed for its duo show at Carnegie Hall. "Years may go by, but we're always in touch and aware of each other. Herbie was in New York several years before me, so he was always an inspiration. We both love this kind of adventure to freely improvise. In recent years, every time we had seen each other, we were both busy with personal projects. So when it came to this, it was a personal success."
"We're connected in a lot of real ways," says Hancock reflecting on their paths as young musicians. "Chick replaced me with Miles Davis [in his '60s band], and I replaced him in [Latin percussionist] Mongo Santamaria's band in 1963. Those were key points in our lives."
But they had never played together until 1977. Both had launched seminal electric jazz bands in the early '70s fusion era--respectively, the jazz-rock group Return to Forever and the funked-up jazz ensemble Headhunters. And they were recording for Columbia Jazz during its '70s heydays. As president of the label, Bruce Lundvall suggested that the two pianists should get together and see what happens.
Initially Hancock was reluctant as he writes in his autobiography, Possibilities. "We decided to see if there was magic," he wrote about the first meeting they had at Corea's house where he had two pianos set up and ready to go. They immediately clicked in an improvisational session that Hancock said was "very open." So both the pianists--eschewing electric keys for acoustic pianos--hit the road, traveling through seven countries and garnering five encores when they played at Montreux. Their brilliant collaboration was documented on the top-notch 1978 double-LP album, An Evening With Herbie Hancock & Chick Corea: In Concert. That was released on Columbia under Hancock's name, while another live album from that same tour, CoreaHancock, was issued in 1979 under Corea's name for Polydor.
Since those early dates, the two friends jetted into supersonic motion with their own stellar--and busy--careers, only rarely getting the opportunity to play duos. Last year, Chick and Herbie revisited the magic for a worldwide tour that included an April stopover at Carnegie Hall.
Just walking on the stage together, the two garnered a standing ovation. Neither of them had touched their pianos yet, but it was a jazz fan's dream to see them together after each had done so much to contribute to jazz history, surging ahead in their vibrant solo careers as Grammy Award-winning leaders. The Carnegie concert took place a few days shy of Hancock's 75th birthday and two months prior to Corea's 74th. But age, as Corea expressed, is not a factor when it comes to artists who are not only banking on the past but are also creatively--and often innovatively--diving into the future with an ebullient vision.
With two grand pianos on stage facing each other, they made their concert a regal recital. But first, they engaged the audience by excitedly reflecting on being in New York where their significant careers started.
Then Corea said, "I'll bet the audience doesn't know what we're going to play."
Hancock added: "But they know that we don't know what we're going to do." He paused and said, "You thought we were joking?"
After which they manned their 88s and like kids on a playground began to riff off each other in a torrent of improvised passages--no charts in sight at the moment (some found their way to the pianos later). They looked at each other; they listened to each other. They played dainty and mysterious, then pounced and scurried and rushed. Hancock would stop and Corea would fly and vice versa. But the best moments came when they countered, at times doing call-and-response runs, looking at each other, smiling and marveling. It was journey music with conversations along the way--sometimes getting lost and then finding their ways, with the only question being where--and how--the trip would conclude. Nonetheless they magically landed safely.
While they played a new piece written by Corea specifically for their duo performance, they veered into more familiar territory (read: crowd favorites) for the remainder of the show, beginning with a sumptuous rendering of Miles Davis's "All Blues" from his classic 1959 album Kind of Blue. Again the two played off each other, one plunking out the bass lines while the other showered notes. Each dove into mad dashes across the keyboard, embellishing the piece with startling harmonies and tumbling fleet-fingered rolls.
After huddling to discuss what to play next, the pair launched into a remarkable doubleheader of Hancock's early '60s tunes recorded on Blue Note Records, "Cantaloupe Island" and "Maiden Voyage." Gentle lyricism buoyed into charged dynamics with pockets of chilling beauty and ripples of speed--again in a spirit of conversation rather than competition, evidenced at the conclusion of the 80-minute show with hugs and handshakes.
After another standing ovation, Hancock and Corea returned for the requisite encore, with the latter inviting the audience to "sit in" with them in Carnegie Hall as a vocal choir for his standard piece "Spain." Each pianist played a series of reflective and rolling sections and used the "choir" (two sections of male voices on each side of the auditorium and three sections of female voices) as a pause point before dancing together again. It was almost like a little game as the participation parts would circle back. Again, the accent was on fun and play, as it had been the entire evening.
Expect this same thing at the Blue Note--in an intimate and predictably tight space. Corea gives a clue as to what to expect: "I like communication. That's my way of giving--my version of the Golden Rule. I want the audience to be able to receive new ideas, not just ideas that are familiar. For me, it's like saying, come on an adventure. Feel comfortable and relaxed and not feel threatened. In some of our improvisations, we don't even know where we're going. But that's the adventure."
As for the songlist, Hancock says: "Chick might want to do some of the same things we played on our last tour last summer, but maybe he'll bring something new. He plays all the time, which I don't do. He practices a lot because he does a lot of classical music. So his chops are always up, he writes all the time--and he writes great stuff."
Will Hancock contribute anything new? "Me? I don't have the time," he says with a laugh. "I wish I could be more than one person. One person: no, I can't do it because I'm working on my next record, and then I send in the clone." After another hearty laugh, he says, "But I can't. He's a buddy of mine. We're close. We don't even have to contact each other all the time. It's just there. That's the best."
Cover: Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea (late 1970s); courtesy of artists
Dan Ouellette, Senior Editor at ZEALnyc, writes frequently for noted Jazz publications, including DownBeat and Rolling Stone, and is the author of Ron Carter: Finding the Right Notes and Bruce Lundvall: Playing by Ear.
Dan Ouellette's "Editor's picks" for upcoming live performances in NYC:
Ireland Meets America as Iconic Vocalists Liam Ó Maonlaí and Cassandra Wilson Collaborate for the First Time at Irish Arts Center
Rising-Star Vocalist Charenee Wade Channels the Spirit and Soul of Gil Scott-Heron at Ginny's Supper Club
The Conversation Continues Weekly by Arturo O'Farrill and the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra at Birdland
For all the news on New York City arts and culture, visit ZEALnyc Front Page.
Swiss artists Taiyo Onorato and Nico Krebs work together as a collaborative duo. They travel, discover and interpret what they see. Their diverse understanding of the architectural environment and wastelands, and the power of their archive of research explore visual culture and bring landscapes of new forms in surprising ways.
Zaha, 2013 / Silver Gelatine Print
©Taiyo Onorato & Nico Krebs / Courtesy RaebervonStenglin and Sies+Hoeke
Joana Lazarova: Let's start from your last big work Eurasia.
Taiyo Onorato: Eurasia is an undergoing project and we are currently working on a book with Patrick Frey. It all started with our work in America - The Great Unreal. We travelled in the US and worked with the country's iconography. Because of America's diverse history, we've found a huge collective imagery to be recreated. Later, we worked in Europe for few years and decided to make a counterpart - a very long journey in the other direction. Central Asia was sort of a blank spot on the map for us. Our idea was to go and discover these places. So, three years ago, we drove from Switzerland to Mongolia by car and later we went back again. Actually, Nico just travelled back from there. So this project is not finished yet, we are still working on it.
JL: When crossing physical borders, social and political differences remain, it's fascinating how your work seems to break them.
TO: Central Asia is a very complex place, politically and socially, and we are not feeling so comfortable in making statements. Our work is different in each place. In Berlin we are much more free to approach social and economic issues, but in some places we enter a sensitive space. Travelling and photography is not really easy, because you always kind of scratch the surface of things, you pass from place to place - it's an instant, superficial way of working. A lot of working is in the editing.
Wedding Palace, 2013 / Silver Gelatine Print
©Taiyo Onorato & Nico Krebs / Courtesy RaebervonStenglin and Sies+Hoeke
JL: They say travelling is the best way to learn about the world and yourself. What is the place you remember most obsessively?
TO: I am always happy when I see places untouched by humans, unpolluted places, where nature is at its best. We found such places in Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Kazakhstan. It's incredible.
Ruin, 2013 / Silver Gelatine Print
©Taiyo Onorato & Nico Krebs / Courtesy RaebervonStenglin and Sies+Hoeke
JL: Certain places seem to exist only because someone has written about them or remade them in an image. Through your narratives you shape places, render them, create sort of new cartography. Could you tell me more about this approach?
TO: The interesting thing about photography is that this is not the final stage. You can always change the form in a way, and this is what interest us. It's challenging to invent new landscapes ad situations. Same when working with space, we try to use the media to recreate the space.
Well, 2013 / C-Print
©Taiyo Onorato & Nico Krebs / Courtesy RaebervonStenglin and Sies+Hoeke
JL: Like in your work Sea Division?
TO: Sea Division was shot on a journey from Ukraine to Georgia. We were traveling for three days on a ferry and suddenly there was this line in the water. And I captured this image. For us photography is more about raising questions than finding answers.
Sea Division, 2013 / Silver Gelatine Print
©Taiyo Onorato & Nico Krebs / Courtesy RaebervonStenglin and Sies+Hoeke
JL: Can you tell me about the process that you developed working with film?
TO: Photography is not a final stage, you can always change the form. When working with film, we always try to learn and practice new things. We work with 16mm film - there are not many cuts and it's an exciting camera that gives you another way of concentration and feeling. You are challenged and have to be inventive to create something special.
Filmstill from Lelo, 2015, 16mm Film
©Taiyo Onorato & Nico Krebs / Courtesy RaebervonStenglin and Sies+Hoeke
JL: The film 'Lelo' - what's going on there?
TO: Lelo is an ancient traditional game in Georgia. Some say it's the father of rugby. Every Easter people gather and the two parts of the village play against each other, trying to keep the leather ball in their creek. It takes couple of hours of fighting and struggle, and party. It's a celebration of the dead.
JL: Your artwork Faces is very powerful. Looking at portraits of ordinary people can teach us a lot about the world and ourselves. Why are such human 'traces' important to you?
TO: We filmed people in different cities. It's always very difficult to make portraits. In photography you select a glimpse of a second in which you capture a person when making a portrait. With film, even within few seconds, one can see so much more information. In film a 'portrait' is much more alive than an image, constantly changing and adapting to light. This artwork was not about fashion or a specific place, it's about human beings. The faces, the eyes, they speak for themselves.
JL: How did the idea of Distance to destination, referred to in the title of your work, come to mind?
TO: The whole idea came from travelling. It's a very seductive idea when starting a project. Driving through itself was much more interesting than reaching the destination and we based our work on this idea.
One Ear Donkey, 2013 / Silver Gelatine Print
©Taiyo Onorato & Nico Krebs / Courtesy RaebervonStenglin and Sies+Hoeke
The book, based on the project Eurasia and published by Patrick Frey, will come out at the end of February. See more projects by Taiyo Onorato and Nico Krebs here.
photo by Ed Krieger
When playwright/actress Sharon Sharth suffered a freak onstage accident that dislocated her jaw during a performance at the Old Globe Theatre, her doctors told her to "get a new career." "I could barely open my mouth," recalls Sharth, "and the doctors were pushing me to have surgery, but I refused." So she took a detour into a successful career as a children's author, but the stage continued to beckon.
It's no wonder. Sharth had a budding and brilliant career as an actress in New York. As a member of the prestigious Circle Repertory Company, she originated roles in plays by Sam Shepard, Lanford Wilson, Aaron Sorkin and John Bishop, worked with prominent directors like Marshall W. Mason, Don Scardino and Randal Myler, and performed at Manhattan Theatre Club, Geffen Playhouse, Mark Taper Forum, San Diego's Old Globe, Actors Theatre of Louisville Humana Festival, Yale Rep and the Eugene O'Neill National Playwrights Conference, as well as touring internationally.
After moving to Los Angeles, Sharth took the first steps back to acting. Since then, she has been nominated for best leading actress awards for both Woman In Mind by Alan Ayckbourn and for A Perfect Ganesh by Terrence McNally, and recently won an L.A. Scenie Award for Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in the Rubicon Theatre production of See Rock City by Arlene Hutton. She also has appeared at the Odyssey with Jane Kaczmarek and Gregory Harrison in The Snake Can by Kathryn Graf. Films include starring roles in Doorman with Bradley Whitford and Eat and Run with Ron Silver.
Even as she returned to the stage, Sharth continued her writing - this time for the theatre. "I was thinking about the men in my life," says Sharth, who was single at the time, "and so I started writing about that and ended up with a one-act play." As she was writing, she met author Mark Bryan, who co-wrote The Artists Way, a best-selling guide to creativity. Before long, they were married, and Sharth had a second act for her play, Waiting for Grace. Waiting for Grace
"In many ways," says Sharth, "the play is the story of a generation of women who were caught between marriage and career. In that way, it may be controversial, but I believe it has a universal message for women, and for men as well." Waiting for Grace opens on November 12th at the Odyssey Theatre. It is directed by Lee Costello and features, in addition to Sharth, Pamela Dunlap, Lily Knight, Todd Babcock, Jeff LeBeau and Bob Telford.
From the confluence of Rock Creek and the Potomac River, the House of Sweden faces the sylvan beauty of Roosevelt Island, which also shields the eye from the hodgepodge development on the Virginia shore. The mixed use Swedish embassy is a stunning piece of architecture whose appeal is enhanced by the agreeable exterior view.
In late October the 10th anniversary of the unique glass and blond laminate creation was celebrated with an open house that attracted over 2,200 visitors. The guests flowed easily through its three levels and many spilled out onto the roof to take in the varied skyline. There was Swedish food and music and exhibits from Swedish companies, particularly Volvo which displayed its latest car and heavy truck.
The building's principal designer, prize-winning architect Gert Windgardh, told visitors that the environmentally friendly structure is wearing well. "With LED lighting behind the laminate panels," he said, "the building becomes a lantern against the nighttime sky." It was designed to be modest but also elegant. "We Swedes," Windgardh continued, "are proud of Ikea because it combines quality and affordability and the House of Sweden should be viewed similarly. The House of Sweden, he said, is essentially an office building, with apartments at the top and public space accounting for 30 to 40% of overall square footage. It also houses the embassy of Iceland.
Architect Gert Windgardh
From the House of Sweden steps looking east towards Key Bridge
A side view from Rock Creek near Thompson's boathouse
Largely because it is the only Washington embassy facing the Potomac instead of a thoroughfare, the House of Sweden is better known to hikers, boaters and cyclists than the public at large.
Grand as the exterior is the brilliance of the architecture is most apparent from the inside. The lower level used for displays, meetings and receptions is reached by a side stairway with blonde treads and railing. At the base is a reflecting pool and windows looking out at plantings along Rock Creek.
Side view from lower level
Lower level display area on the back side
The House of Sweden may be ten years old but it is so fresh and appealing that it appears brand new. In the view of this writer it is the finest embassy to grace Washington in recent decades. #
Barry D. Wood has written about the Oculus train station at New York's World Trade Center, the TWA flight center at JFK airport, and the makeover of downtown Skopje, Macedonia.
By Edmund de Waal
It looks as if it has been busy for hours. It is six a.m. and stalls are up, watermelons arranged in pyramids, the bicycle-repair man sitting next to his kit. The roads are eddying with bicycles and knots of people. The carp seller with a polystyrene crate on the back of his scooter cuts in front of us, turns and swears extravagantly. We are going north out of the dusty city towards the hills, past alleyways squeezed between great high brick walls, factories with open windows, rubbish. The day is grey and promises deep, grey heat.
The car turns off the new highway on to the old road and off the old road on to the old track rising between two farmer's houses. Each is three storeys high, gabled. The one on the left has a portico held up by gilded Corinthian columns.
When did farmers get rich in China?
The rice is young in the paddy fields. We bump up and stop outside another farm, a modern house, half built, half stucco over thin Chinese brick, old barns, set amongst trees. A wrecked car sits on breeze blocks. We are a few hundred feet up in the lee of a hill, bamboo stretching up to a ridge, a mountain beyond that, fields half-heartedly cultivated below us. There is a small lake, a muddy declivity ringed with reeds.
A woman comes to the doorway and shouts at us and it is explained by my guide, through shouting, that I'm an archaeologist, a scholar, legitimate.
And under the tyres of our car amongst the weeds are broken saggars, brown and black, rough thrown clay vessels with high raised ridges, five, six inches across. And shards, pale crescents of porcelain in the red earth. I pick up the first and it is the base of a twelfth-century wine cup, a fine tapering stem holding a jagged bowl, a thumb's breadth across. It is impossibly thin. And not white at all, but a very light washed-out blue celadon, with a network of brown crackles across it where hundreds of years of this soil has stained it.
This is my grail moment and I'm holding it reverently and they are laughing at me with my ridiculous epiphany, for on and up is a hillside of shards, a tumbling landscape of brokenness, a lexicon of all the ways that pots can go wrong. It is not a spoil heap, careless but discrete, it is a whole landscape of porcelain.
I stoop and pick up a shard, and this one is too thin at the base and has sagged and twisted like an art-nouveau girl. And this beautiful straw-coloured shard is cracked through an air bubble that has blown in the firing. And this concatenation of clay is three saggars compressing three white bowls, a firing that has gone too high, too fast, too long, leaving this bit of fierce geology.
And God knows what happened here. There is a patch of broken bowls, the colour of green olives amongst high nettles, a sort of crime scene.
The summer rain has made the earth so friable that each step opens up a rim of a jar, a foot ring, the centre of a deep celadon bowl decorated by a running comb, a sketch of a peony, held in eddies of glaze.
I hold this shard, run my index finger over the pattern; to make this you need to feel when the clay is as soft as leather so that there is a bite between comb and bowl. Too soft and it snags and furs. Too hard and it skates. Or the bowl breaks. It is all this exactitude and all this excess in one place that collapses time for me. I know this bowl I think, it took a minute on the wheel, perhaps less, was dry for trimming within a few hours on a morning like this. It would be one of dozens on a board, passed on into the hands of the decorator and finished by noon.
We are swishing our way through the undergrowth with sticks because of snakes and I toss the shards back into the hillside in a moment of exultant connectedness and have to try and find my bit of twelfth-century wine cup ten minutes later to check on its weight. But this is beyond checking. The scale of this stretches me.
This place is one of hundreds in these hills, not a major kiln site, unimportant for art history, not documented, known to the farmers who would have to deal with the waste, the shards they have to shovel away to clear the field for beans, and known more latterly with the odd chancer braving the old woman in the farmhouse and digging and sifting for treasures to sell on in the Monday market in the city, twelve miles away.
Eight hundred years ago there would have been a couple of dozen potters here on this hillside, clagged with mud in winter, beset with horseflies on a midsummer morning like this, snakes in every season. The kilns are long gone, the bricks reused for a shed or pigsty, broken up for foundations or weathered back to the earth, but these slopes would have been useful to build into, and the bamboo and these long flat grasses would have been cut for packing finished pots to carry down to the river, to the boats to take them to the city.
And the wares that went wrong would have been thrown over a shoulder from the kiln mouth at opening, collecting season by season amongst the stones and the shifting earth in the spring rains. So many thousands and thousands of pots that haven't worked, each saggar that cracks needing to be made again, each stack of tea bowls that warp another few hours of effort to bank, another part of a day lost. The potters here would have been paid by finished pots, piecework, not wages. 'Pots cover every inch of space before the door', writes a poet 1,000 years ago, 'But there's not a single tile on the roof / Whereas the mansions of those who wouldn't touch clay / Bear tiles overlapping tightly like the scales of a fish.'
This answers my question of how you make a living when things go so wrong, so often. You work even harder. You make more, and then some more.
If I look south from here across the valley floor I can just make out the river, several hundred feet wide as it passes through the city, flowing from the north towards the Yangtze. Tributaries join it, snaking their way down from the hills. Behind me, thirty miles away, are the hills that make up Kao-ling mountain and there are mountains ringing every direction. The forests are a dense black-green smudge. I can see the highway but the only sounds are of the breeze in the bamboos and the crickets in the tall grasses.
I've been looking at all the maps. There are Chinese ones from the seventeenth century, schematic ones that show the arrangement of houses and kilns and rivers. There are the Jesuits maps from a century later, the first dogged attempts to make the country explicable to the West, and then the strangely anaemic maps in the books of the archaeology of the region — variant names hopefully pinned to the hills and rivers.
A favourite is from 1937, when Mr A. D. Brankston, a young Englishman, climbed these hills and sketched a map with a scale of 'about three miles to an inch', small wobbly bowls for kiln sites. There are great gaps in his maps due to rumours of banditry. He makes this landscape look like Hampshire.
But nothing has prepared me for this. It is a beautiful puzzle of a landscape. Stretching before me is earth and forests and water and villages. And somehow people and happenstance, and trade and taste combined here to make this the centre of porcelain for the world.
I've got a plan. I want to get up to the mountain and follow the old route that the raw materials for porcelain took back to the city.
Copyright © 2015 by Edmund de Waal
EDMUND DE WAAL is one of the world's leading ceramic artists, and his porcelain is held in many major museum collections. His bestselling memoir, The Hare with Amber Eyes has been published in thirty languages and won the Costa Biography Award and the RSL Ondaatje Prize. It was shortlisted for the Duff Cooper Prize, the Jewish Quarterly Wingate Prize, the PEN/Ackerley Prize and the Southbank Sky Arts Award for Literature, and longlisted for the Orwell Prize and BBC Samuel Johnson Prize. He lives in London with his family.
I congratulate President-Elect Donald Trump and all of the national, state, and local elected leaders across the country who won their elections last night. I also thank Secretary Hillary Clinton for her hard-fought campaign, along with all the candidates who did not win but participated in our great democracy by running for elected office.
The historic election of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States brings some uncertainty in terms of federal support for the arts. President-Elect Trump, in answering questions co-developed by Americans for the Arts during the course of the campaign, deferred to Congress on supporting increased federal funding of the National Endowment for the Arts and other federal funding for culture in general. He also deferred to state and local school districts on maintaining or increasing support for arts education funding. While he does express appreciation for arts education and the arts in his own life, specific policy positions are unknown or undeveloped.
We do know that the President-Elect is very interested in growing the U.S. economy and improving international trade deals. Arts and cultural industries contribute 4.23 percent, or $704.2 billion, of the nation's GDP. The value added by arts and culture to the U.S. GDP is greater than that of several other sectors, including the construction industry, transportation and warehousing, mining and extraction, utilities, and agriculture. In contrast to U.S. goods and services as a whole, arts and cultural commodities are yielding a trade surplus--of $24 billion. The arts and cultural sector supports 4.7 million jobs, with more than 2.2 million people in the U.S. whose primary occupation is as an artist.
Americans for the Arts, with the support of hundreds of thousands of grassroots arts advocates in every state, will reach out to the Trump transition team and administration to share these economic numbers on the arts and culture. We will work hard to advance pro-arts policies and strengthen our efforts to transform communities through the arts. It is more important than ever that we use the arts to help the economy, our communities, families and children, and our nation to seek hope, opportunity, and ultimately to come together.
President-Elect Trump has said, "...supporting and advocating for appreciation of the arts is important to an informed and aware society. As President, I would take on that role." We hope for a White House and administration that supports the nonprofit arts community, the local and state arts support infrastructures, as well as independent artists and creative entrepreneurs. Arts policy recommendations that the Americans for the Arts Action Fund has put forward and will continue to fight for include:
• Increasing federal funding for the arts to $1.00 per capita (an increase from 46 cents per capita);
• Fully funding and implementing the "well-rounded education" provisions within the Every Student Succeeds Act by strengthening equitable access to learning in the arts;
• Preserving or expanding charitable tax deduction incentives for giving to nonprofit arts and culture charities; and
• Establishing a cabinet-level position for the arts and culture to advise President-Elect Trump on matters such as how the arts impact the economy, diplomacy, education, and the overall well-being of citizens and the nation at large.
As the 115th Congress is sworn in this January, it is also possible that we will see more conservative and bold policies emerge with a single party controlling the House, Senate, and White House. Complex challenges may be ahead that will impact funding decisions and policy priorities, including a possible tax reform overhaul that hasn't happened since 1986 that could impact charitable giving for nonprofit organizations. However, we look to our bipartisan congressional partners, like the long-standing Congressional Arts Caucus, the Congressional STEAM Caucus, along with new Senate Cultural Caucus leadership with the retirement of Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), to grow their ranks and press for supporting arts and culture in America. Together with all of America's pro-arts elected officials and continued grassroots advocacy, we look forward to continuing to build upon legislative successes when the next session of Congress begins in 2017.
Further, last night, pro-arts results came in from a number of ballot initiatives at the state- and local-level. For instance, in Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Denver, Douglas, and Jefferson Counties in Colorado, a ballot initiative--Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SCFD)--dedicates one-tenth of a 1 percent sales and use tax to cultural facilities throughout the seven-county Denver, Colorado metropolitan area. Voters overwhelmingly supported extending this through 2030, which currently generates about $55 million a year. The SCFD was first authorized in 1988 and has since been reauthorized twice in 1994 and 2004, respectively. It is local efforts like these that can make real impact in communities all across America. Several arts education funding referendums were also overwhelmingly passed last night by voters in Pinellas County, Florida and Tucson/Pima County, Arizona.
Americans for the Arts will continue to recognize and advance support for the arts and arts education among the nation's bipartisan state legislators, county officials, mayors, lieutenant governors and governors through a robust set of partnerships that promote leadership in the arts each year.
It's also important that those of us in the nonprofit arts sector remember the great strength and resiliency that binds us together. For more than 60 years Americans for the Arts has worked with the infrastructures and governments of our communities to make people's lives better. And of course the arts have helped our communities in different ways for thousands of years before that.
As President-Elect Trump's administration takes shape, we will remain engaged to ensure that he and his transition team hear from arts leaders, community leaders, and activists and keep the arts central to the many pressing needs of the country. We will unite and strengthen our efforts to show that the arts represent the best of humanity, and urge President-Elect Trump's administration to advance pro-arts policies that will impact our society, communities, and generations to come.
When Bill Viola's mother died it gave him an artistic breakthrough, David Shrigley's parents wondered why people would pay for his art, Jonathan Meese's mother is working for him as his assistant, and Yayoi Kusama escaped her parents to become an artist.
American photographer Leigh Ledare (b. 1976) tells the story of his mother, who was a ballerina with the New York City Ballet but turned to striptease in her early 50s. Ledare uses photography and film to map social relationships and began photographing his mother as a means to "continue the relationship with her in a non-judgmental way where I could try to understand how she was using herself as a sexualised persona".
Much less controversial but equally moving is American video artist Bill Viola's (b. 1951) memory of his mother on her death bed. Viola witnessed his mother's passing and recounts the moving experience in this video. Clearly touched, he remembers: "It was profoundly beautiful, profoundly sad and mysterious beyond belief."
Icelandic performance artist Ragnar Kjartansson (b. 1976) was, in his words, raised by militant feminists and pays homage to the feminist legacy in his ongoing work "Me and My Mother." German artist Jonathan Meese (b. 1970) also introduces you to his mom in this video and Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama (b. 1929) explains why she had to escape her family to become an artist. In the end, says British artist David Shrigley (b. 1968), it boils down to one thing: "One always wants one's parents to register one's success."
Watch the whole interview "Yayoi Kusama: Let's Fight Together" here: http://channel.louisiana.dk/video/yayoi-kusama-lets-fight-together
Watch the whole interview "Jonathan Meese & his Mother: Mommy and Me are Animals" here: http://channel.louisiana.dk/video/jonathan-meese-his-mother-mummi-and-me-are-animals
Watch the whole interview "David Shrigley: Everything that is Bad about Art" here: http://channel.louisiana.dk/video/david-shrigley-everything-bad-about-art
Watch the whole interview "Bill Viola: Cameras are Soul Keepers" here: http://channel.louisiana.dk/video/bill-viola-cameras-are-keepers-souls
Watch the whole interview "Leigh Ledare: Photos of Inappropriate Desires" here: http://channel.louisiana.dk/video/leigh-ledare-photographs-inappropriate...
Watch the whole interview "Ragnar Kjartansson: On 'Me and my Mother' here: http://channel.louisiana.dk/video/ragnar-kjartansson-his-mother-me-and-my-mother
Produced and edited by Roxanne Bagheshirin Lærkesen
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2016
Supported by Nordea-fonden
I have just spent the most amazing week in the company of some of the most creative, innovative, disruptive, and collaborative people I could have imagined. The experience has left me feeling reflective, energized, and, above all, optimistic about the direction of the world.
So let me back up a bit here and give you some background starting with an introduction to a new friend and colleague. I first met Panos Panay (in photo right) about two years ago, just as he was returning to his alma mater, Berklee College of Music in Boston. Since graduating, he had become a very successful entrepreneur (he was the founder of Sonicbids) and was coming back to begin a brand new program at the invitation of the College's President, Roger Brown. He would become the founding Managing Director of the Institute of Creative Entrepreneurship (ICE).
Panos exhibits one of the highest energy levels I have ever come across in a human being. He is what I would describe as an enquiring creative disruptor who challenges the orthodox and yet manages to steer a course towards collaboration, innovation and discovery. In a very short period of time he has established ICE as a program that redefines the role of musician and places entrepreneurship at the center of career development. He facilitates these goals through developed collaborations and partnerships with MIT, and IDEO, as well as work with other major educational institutions from Babson to Harvard. His program provides internships in the music business, online learning, the opportunity to meet and hear some of the finest thinkers and leaders in the field, study tours to places like Silicon Valley, as well as incubator projects that allow young artists to think through their own start up and become agents of their own development.
Take a look at some of Berklee's online introductory videos and you will get a clear sense of Panos' passionate conviction that students need to elevate their ambition and aspire to the highest goals.
The first time I met him I took to him immediately and since then we have spent many hours discussing ideas and the place of music in the world. Last March he invited me to be part of a panel talking about music and social entrepreneurship and it was there that I met for the first time fellow panelist Carla Dirlikov Canales, an opera singer 10 years into a blossoming international career who already has established her own nonprofit and for-profit dedicated to new thinking about music and culture.
This serendipitous gathering began a discussion and finally an invitation from Panos for Carla and me to become the co-artistic directors of a weeklong residency at Berklee called "Music as Catalyst for Change." It's a provocative title and it involved us in a huge amount of research and brainstorming that allowed us to shape the residency. I say "shape" because the week was designed in such as way that it was responsive and flexible to the needs of the attending students rather than a rigid structure with imposed syllabus.
As someone who loves structure, I had to breathe very deeply at the seemingly improvisatory quality of this format and yet I have to say that it was one of the most liberating and creative experiences that has ever come my way.
This was the declared basic objective the students received for the week:
Your challenge over the next five days will be to take your idea of a better world, your passion for change, your spark of a project from concept to reality. Soak in inspiration from the guest speakers, learn from their failures and successes, tap into the on-campus coaching and imagine how the arts might be used to positively impact your community, your home, your country, or even the world.
I thought this was pretty impressive. From it emerged two themes to the teaching and learning on offer: inspiration and practical advice. The inspiration was provided by some really great guest speakers who came and told their story about the power of music and its new and innovatory uses in the widest social contexts. They included people like the Ugandan musician Samite Mulando who found a place in everyone's heart through his experiences as a humanitarian in Africa; Courtney Casey the Artistic Administrator of National Sawdust, which is redefining what it means to be a performing arts organization in the C21; and three founding directors of Sistema-inspired developments in this country--David France of Revolution of Hope in Boston, and Dantes Rameau and Aisha Moody from the Atlanta Music Project. Theirs were really sweeping experiences that anyone interested in social entrepreneurship would find fascinating and inspirational. (in photo L to R: Aisha Moody, the author, David France, Dantes Rameau)
The practical advice came from, amongst others, David Rothkopf, the CEO of the Foreign Policy Group, and Rachel Roberts and her Entrepreneurship team from New England Conservatory. Carla (in photo right) and I were available to the students in and around the scheduled sessions and they seemed to seek us out in large numbers to discuss ideas and concepts and advice about the best way forward for their projects and presentations.
These presentations were the culmination of the week and were delivered in Shark Tank format. But before the Shark Tank, there was a Hackathon, another first for me! The Hackathon proved to be a working session for the students to try out ideas with various advisers and their peers and to exchange information and experiences. It was serious fun and I think gave the students some really great feedback. This led to the Shark Tank the next day, during which students were given not more than three minutes to present their projects and then face a battery of questions and more advice from the panel.
The panel comprising Carla, Panos, David Rothkopt, Rachel Roberts and me never really discussed the criteria to be used for the assessment of the projects so I invented my own--giving credit for how well a plan resonated with the theme of the week, the project's potential viability, the effectiveness of the presentation, the definition of the need and opportunity, and then the details of the plan and its outcomes. All of which seemed to work and also seemed to be what everyone else was thinking as well.
The presenters needed to be really disciplined in their thinking to cover all that in just three minutes. Panos hated the idea of calling this session Shark Tank but I must say I thought it was a great format and the students really responded to the whole challenge. There were 11 presentations in total on projects that included linking Ghanaian Music and Healthcare; re-imagining disaster relief fund-raising events to be more pro-active than responsive; dealing with negative attitudes towards asylum seekers; integrating music and technology, and music and medicine. Every student who presented deserved a prize and the very best received major internship opportunities through Carla's nonprofit and my offer of one on one coaching.
I really loved the students' approach to the assignment, their thinking and intuitive sense of innovation. I was also delighted to see how diverse and international the student group was.
This morning over a coffee contemplating my flight back to Europe I found that I missed everyone and that I also could not quite understand how the whole thing had come together and developed into such a wonderful success. Maybe it was the project's manager, Nicole d'Avis, who flew around, almost literally, making it all work, or the loose flexible structure, or the students and their receptivity, or the brilliant guests and their stories and expertise. Then I decided not to analyze it but to bathe in the light of the project, which for just five days illuminated what can be done when orthodoxy is thrown to the winds and creative disruption takes over. Maybe it was all contained in the phrase that appeared in our discussions nearly every day when discussing a project or an idea: "Why not?"
Larry Halprin changed the profession of landscape architecture. Period.
He loved people.
He was fascinated by cities.
He created bold, innovative environments that blew people away. When the Ira Keller Forecourt Fountain in Portland, OR opened, the New York Times architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable said it was "one of the most important urban spaces since the Renaissance."
Ira Keller Fountain. Photograph © Jeremy Bitterman, 2016, courtesy The Cultural Landscape Foundation. Click on image to enlarge.
That site and several dozen others are featured in a new traveling exhibition - The Landscape Architecture of Lawrence Halprin - organized and curated by The Cultural Landscape Foundation in collaboration with the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., where it is on view through April 16, 2017.
The Landscape Architecture of Lawrence Halprin, installation at the National Building Museum. Photograph courtesy The Cultural Landscape Foundation. Click on image to enlarge.
It coincides with the 100th anniversary of Halprin's birth and features more than 50 newly commissioned photographs of his built works, as well as sketches, drawings, notebooks, models and other artifacts from the Architectural Archives at the University of Pennsylvania, and drawings from Halprin's personal collection courtesy Edward Cella Art & Architecture in Los Angeles.
The New York-born, San Francisco-based Halprin was not only a gifted designer and a terrific advocate, he was also prescient; his influential treatises Cities (1963) and Freeways (1966) presaged the urban renaissance taking place across the country today. The exhibition is meant to be an introduction to Halprin's work, not an exhaustive account of his professional activities; but it does highlight the innate ephemerality of his built legacy and the need for action to safeguard it.
In 1994 the perpetually upbeat and forward looking Halprin said somewhat ruefully to me: "We spend thirty or forty years trying to get our projects built and then the next twenty trying to make sure that they don't get knocked down." He had recently completed the four projects that make up the Los Angeles Open Space Network, a significant example of Postmodernist design. And there were other projects in his future, most notably Sigmund Stern Grove, the Letterman Digital Arts Center in San Francisco, and the Yosemite Falls Corridor. Those all opened in 2005 - when Halprin was 89.
Yosemite Falls Corridor. Photograph © Philip Bond, 2016, courtesy The Cultural Landscape Foundation. Click on image to enlarge.
Nevertheless, by the end of the last century, Halprin was very aware of the fragility of his work; some projects had been demolished including Old Orchard Shopping Center, in Skokie, IL, and Nicollet Mall, in Minneapolis, MN. At the time, none of his projects were eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places because Halprin hadn't retired and his body of work could not be assessed.
In 2002, TCLF's nascent Landslide program, which calls attention to nationally significant works of landscape architecture that are threatened and at-risk, named Halprin's Skyline Park in Denver, CO a Landslide site. This was followed in 2003 by Heritage Park Plaza in Fort Worth, TX. Threats to other sites arose including to Freeway Park In Seattle, WA, and Park Central Square in Springfield, MO, and in 2006 his sculpture garden at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts was demolished.
However, there has been a shift. Within a year of Halprin's death in late 2009, Park Central Square and Heritage Park Plaza were listed in the National Register of Historic Places; in 2013, the Portland Open Space Sequence, which includes the Ira Keller Fountain that Huxtable praised, was similarly designated thanks to the leadership of the Halprin Landscape Conservancy. The Seattle-based, non-profit, Freeway Park Association is helping raise the visibility of Freeway Park, a work that pioneered the concept in the U.S. of a "capped" park over a freeway (a remarkable turn of events since about a decade ago plans were advanced to amputate a third of the site).
Freeway Park. Photograph © Aaron Leitz, 2016, courtesy The Cultural Landscape Foundation. Click on image to enlarge.
In addition, Heritage Park Plaza is the focus of an ambitious rehabilitation plan led by the Dallas-based studioOutside and Bennett Benner Partners for the City of Fort Worth Parks & Recreation and Downtown Fort Worth, Inc.
More can and should happen. All of the projects featured in the exhibition, including residential, academic, planned communities, parks, plazas, and open space systems, are likely eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places, because they meet the program's criteria as "the work of a master."
Nevertheless, while Halprin is achieving greater recognition, there are real threats to his built legacy. His work from the early 1960s at the Capitol Towers residential complex in Sacramento is facing imminent demolition. Elsewhere, several of his signature projects suffer from years of deferred maintenance and others are the victims of unsympathetic alterations. For example, the great cascade that runs the entire length of the Bunker Hill Steps in downtown Los Angeles has in the past year been substantially altered - without any public discourse. Halprin spent considerable time perfecting this site-specific and unique design detail; suddenly, it has been neutered.
Bunker Hill Steps showing the original Halprin-designed cascade. Photograph © Charles A. Birnbaum, 2013, courtesy The Cultural Landscape Foundation.
Bunker Hill Steps following the alteration of the Halprin-designed cascade. Photograph © Alan Ward, 2016, courtesy The Cultural Landscape Foundation.
The Landscape Architecture of Lawrence Halprin exhibition and website are meant to create discourse. Along with additional photography, links to a video oral history with Halprin, and other material, the website includes two salient rankings - the current state of each site and the degree to which Halprin's design is recognized by the site's stewards.
Screen shot of The Landscape Architecture of Lawrence Halprin website showing the site rankings for Capitol Towers.
There's much to discover about this charismatic, innovative and prescient artist - and visiting one of his landscapes is a great way to start.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. Photograph © Roger Foley, 2016, courtesy The Cultural Landscape Foundation. Click on image to enlarge.
I teach ancient history at a small liberal arts college in the Midwest. One question I’m often asked when I tell people what I do is whether or not America is falling apart like Rome did long ago. They want to know what Donald Trump’s victory means for our country and if the Romans can teach us anything about why Trump was able to pull off one of the most stunning political triumphs in American history.
Professors hate to give short answers, but there are some disturbing parallels between Rome and modern America, especially in the presidential election of 2016.
Rome was a civilization of haves and have-nots. It was a republic in which every male citizen could vote, but the elections were dominated by an aristocracy that routinely manipulated the process so that they kept power for themselves. The masses were bought off with promises of bread and circuses, while the wealthy dined at lavish banquets and ran the affairs of state.
The Roman people, in the end, simply decided that they would rather have food than freedom.
On occasion, the common people would rise up in rebellion and demand a bigger share of the pie, but they were placated by handouts or beaten into submission by hired thugs. The nobility rarely took seriously the plight of the poor, though there were, on occasion, members of the elite who harnessed popular discontent to seize political power. Nobles such as the Gracchi brothers, Clodius and of course Julius Caesar were masters of reading the mood of the crowd and manipulating it for their own purposes.
We like to imagine Roman civilization falling to sweaty barbarians storming the gates of the city and slaughtering the citizens while they took refuge in the temples of the gods, but it didn’t happen like that. The Roman people, in the end, simply decided that they would rather have food than freedom. When, after a century of civil strife and economic turmoil, Caesar crossed the Rubicon River and took over the state as dictator for life, the crowds cheered and welcomed him. The nobility couldn’t understand what had happened. Had the plebeians lost their minds? No, they were simply tired of being overlooked by an elite who didn’t care about them. Maybe Caesar would be better. He certainly couldn’t be any worse.
I live in a small town in rural Iowa ― one of those red flyover states that progressives on the coasts routinely dismiss as irrelevant to their lives (except when they want to eat). My neighbors who put up Trump signs during the election are good people whose families are hurting and who believe, with good reason, that no one in Washington cares about how hard their lives have become. With rare exceptions, they don’t hate immigrants or minorities, and they cringed when Trump bragged about abusing women.
My neighbors who put up Trump signs are good people whose families are hurting and who believe, with good reason, that no one in Washington cares about how hard their lives have become.
But so many here have lost their jobs in a changing economy that they don’t know where to turn. Walk around my town and look at the signs in store windows of families advertising bake sales to pay soaring medical bills. My neighbors don’t go to jazz brunches on Sunday mornings; they go to church and pray from their hearts for a better life. Like the people of ancient Rome, they were willing to take a chance Tuesday on anyone who would offer them hope.
It’s too easy to say that Donald Trump is a rising demagogue who will do to America what Caesar did to the Roman republic. History lessons aren’t that simple. But if you want to understand why my neighbors voted as they did this election, you can learn a lot from the people of ancient Rome.
Something happened Tuesday night. Something that will dramatically mark this generation ― and believe it or not, it wasn’t the election results.
That night, while munching on cheese fries, surrounded by friends in a crowded bar, I saw something shift. I saw the diverse and eager faces of Hillary voters cheer every time a state swung in her favor. I saw a table of smug, white Trump voters chant his name. I saw white Hillary voters exchange drinks and make small talk with the Trump table. They took selfies. Meanwhile, anxious Brown, Black, and Asian faces looked to the TV screens.
Then, it happened. Slowly, and late into the night when the results weren’t going to favor Secretary Clinton. I saw those diverse faces leave with quiet resolve. I saw the Trump table order victory shots and chant at those diverse faces leaving the bar.
But the thing that stood out most was the white people I saw crying. They poured out of the bars and onto the sidewalks, holding each other and screaming in agony. They wept.
And standing in the middle of it, I couldn’t help but feel a little vindicated. Rooted in the pain they were feeling was a terrible truth. By feeding themselves and marginalized people empty platitudes, they had built an illusion of safety and progress.
Tuesday night, that illusion was broken.
White people got to see through the glasses from They Live for the first time. And it horrified them. They weren’t ready to see the spiders come pouring out from under the rocks. Spiders with the names and faces of people they knew.
This is the hard part. The part you struggle with accepting. But the sooner it happens, the sooner we can move forward.
Your friends and relatives did this.
Your uncle who hates black people did this. Your aunt who shares Fox News memes did this. Your dad who thinks Hillary’s emails are more questionable than a man who has sexually assaulted a dozen women did this. Your mom who believes all lives matter did this. Your friend who is a piece of shit online, but is a “good dude if you get to know him,” did this.
Your uncle who hates black people did this. Your aunt who shares Fox News memes did this. Your dad who thinks Hillary’s emails are more questionable than a man who has sexually assaulted a dozen women did this.
White people are afforded the privilege of having relationships with awful people. Marginalized people aren’t afforded the same luxury of staying in a relationship with people who hate our existence. I’m not telling you who you can and cannot be friends with, but I am telling you that you cannot be silent.
You can’t say that you’re for progress and then stay quiet because it’s too awkward. We’ve tried changing the minds of racists, and it hasn’t worked. So it has to come from you. Not the you that posts “woke af” articles (like this one) that only your friends can see, but the you that goes home for Thanksgiving and silently digs into the green bean casserole while someone talks about Black Lives Matter being thugs. Use your voice. Those mashed potatoes won’t stand up for Black people—you have to. Talk to your family about the relationships and friendships you have. Those are the experiences that dissolve negative stereotypes. If you don’t have any, well now you have homework for next year. Use the advantage of your personal relationship. People can easily dismiss those they don’t know, but they know and trust you. It won’t be as easy to dismiss your experience when you are leveling with them person to person. Use empathy. This is the part where it gets sticky. White supremacy is so ingrained in American culture that in order to dismantle it, we need you. You’re our anti-racist Serpico. Ask about the troubles they are having in their own lives and relate it to everyone wanting the same things. Discussions about race and white supremacy can make anyone hunker down and get defensive, so in order to keep your sanity, use empathetic approaches.
Also, you don’t have to be an expert. It’s okay if you don’t have all the answers. You probably won’t change hearts and minds over the course of one meal. But understand that you are laying the groundwork for someone who is an expert. Share books or Netflix recommendations or bring your friends along (if it’s safe). If you’re reading this and thinking “this is a lot of work,” or “it’s going to be really hard,” you’re right. It is. This is what dismantling systems of oppression look like. It’s hard work. I’ve seen a lot of apologies to marginalized people because of the election. Save them. If you didn’t know this country could be THAT racist and sexist, you weren’t listening to us. But now that you see what white supremacy looks like ― now that you know how much they truly hate people like us ― ask yourself: What are you going to do to help fix it?
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I wrote the following this morning and now comes word tonight that Leonard Cohen, one of the greatest writers of our time (poet, novelist, songwriter) has died at the age of 82.
"Give me back the Berlin Wall." Of course, Leonard Cohen, who at the age of 82 has just released one of his greatest and most popular albums, You Want It Darker, didn't really mean that, a quarter-century ago. He sang in the guise of the unreliable narrator in his classic, and scary, song "The Future." Other Cohen lyrics from that little ditty, written just after the 1989 fall of the Wall, call for the return of Stalin, more people to torture, and another Hiroshima, among other horrors. "I have seen the future," Cohen croaked, in warning, "it is murder."
That's not the only Berlin and/or Wall lyric from Cohen. Another famous song, "First We Take Manhattan" promised, "then we take Berlin." Cohen over the years has offered various explanations for that line, some tied to the city's divided and troubled history, some not; some claiming it is about terrorism, others that it reflects an artist's wish to break out. One time he claimed, "It's just the voice of enlightened bitterness. [it] is a demented, menacing, geopolitical manifesto in which I really do offer to take over the world with any like spirits who want to go on this adventure with me."
Then there's one of his most famous lines and images, not necessarily about the Berlin Wall but evoking it, from "Anthem"-and it profoundly captures the designs of the escape heroes (who dug under the brutal barrier in the 1960s) of my new book The Tunnels: "There is a crack in everything / that's how the light gets in."
Finally, there's "Democracy," from the same era. While that, he hopes, is "coming to the USA," he clearly has global ambitions for it, and he explicitly mentions "a crack in the wall"-or is it the Wall? In any case, Germans made use of the song in a moving video depicting the night the Wall fell, 27 years ago this week, and also covered in my book.
Cohen, however, told an interviewer, that when he wrote that song, "This was when the Berlin Wall came down and everyone was saying democracy is coming to the east. And I was like that gloomy fellow who always turns up at a party to ruin the orgy or something. And I said, "I don't think it's going to happen that way. I don't think this is such a good idea. I think a lot of suffering will be the consequence of this wall coming down.'....So while everyone was rejoicing, I thought it wasn't going to be like that, euphoric, the honeymoon. So it was these world events that occasioned the song."
U2 may be most associated with the fall of the Wall because of the 1992 video for their song "One" set in Berlin and including images of that brutal barrier and the reunification of Germany. But, a few years earlier, as I show in my book, David Bowie and Bruce Springsteen helped bring down the Wall. Bowie's performance at the border in the West in 1987, when he sang his "Heroes" (inspired by the Wall), was witnessed by a huge audience across the border. The following year Springsteen starred in with one of the first concerts by a Western rock star permitted in the East, drawing his biggest crowd ever. When Bowie died this past January, the German Foreign Office tweeted: "Good-bye, David Bowie. You are now among #Heroes. Thank you for helping to bring down the #wall. " A German historian, Gerd Dietrich would comment: "Springsteen's concert and speech certainly contributed in a large sense to the events leading up to the fall of the wall."
Leonard Cohen never played East Germany but he seems to carry his experiences in West Berlin with him to this day. Since he is a world-class poet he no longer mentions the city or the Cold War by name. But consider the lines from "Different Sides," off one of his recent albums: "We find ourselves on different sides/ of a line nobody drew/ Though it may be one in the higher eye / Down here where we live it is two." And: "Both of us say there are laws to obey / But frankly I don't like your tone." He never did, contemplating leaders who kept citizens enslaved.
Greg Mitchell's latest book is The Tunnels: Escapes Under the Berlin Wall and the Historic Films the JFK White House Tried to Kill (Crown).
Caravaggio, Judith Beheading Holofernes. Photo: Charles Platiau, Reuters.
This might be the understatement of the year: the world is full of surprises. Every so often, you hear about a truly astounding art discovery that comes right out of the blue: a long-forgotten canvas is found while cleaning out Grandma's attic; a rare antiquity is unearthed at a flea market; or a new attribution transforms an ordinary work of art into a priceless masterpiece. Just this week, it was reported that an oil painting depicting Jesus, trodden underfoot at an antiques fair in Avignon, might in fact be the original work of Renaissance great Raphael.
A possible Raphael, Noli Me Tangere. Credit: Colin Usher, Telegraph.
But how often does this really happen? If the long-running success of the television program Antiques Roadshow is any sort of barometer, the odds aren't astronomical that you might have some hidden treasure worth a surprising amount of money among Grandpa's old belongings. But these finds rarely make headlines. On occasion, however, true masterpieces are found in the unlikeliest places, lurking in attics and basements, just waiting for someone to discover their true value. We combed through MutualArt's database of art news articles from the last ten years to find out where to start looking.
Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Portrait of a lady as Flora.
First place to check is your attic, preferably your French attic, which is by far the most popular place for hidden family heirlooms that might be worth a lot of money. In 2008, an exquisite Giambattista Tiepolo masterpiece that had been discovered in the attic of a French chateau sold at auction for a stunning £2.8 million ($4.2 million), exceeding its pre-sale estimate by nearly £2 million. The Portrait of a lady as Flora had been hidden away in the attic by the vendor's grandparents, who perhaps felt a bit prude about a nude. In April of this year, another French attic produced a stunning long-lost Caravaggio painting, depicting Judith beheading Holofernes, and bearing the hallmark dark drama of classic Caravaggio. It was located behind a locked door in the attic, chanced upon by the house's owner while trying to repair a water leak. Quite the hidden treasure: the work is valued at more that 120 million euros, or $136 million. In September of 2013, the Van Gogh Museum unveiled an 1888 Van Gogh painting that had been banished to a Norwegian attic for years because of a passing suggestion that it might be a fake. It was subsequently rejected twice as inauthentic, but was finally authenticated by the Van Gogh Museum based on new evidence. Hidden masterpieces in the attic might also reveal further family secrets: in June of 2015, it was reported that a Scottish man discovered a Picasso painting rolled up and stashed in a suitcase in his mother's attic, while also learning that the painting had been a gift to his mother from a Russian soldier--his real father. And in a sensational story from 2010, a brother and sister chanced upon a Chinese antique vase in the attic of their deceased parents' house in London, and put it up for auction at Bainbridges Auction House. Expecting to sell it for between £800,000 and £1.2 million ($1.3-1.9 million), the siblings were shocked when the auction floor turned into a fast and furious bidding war. After 30 feverish minutes the Qianlong vase was sold to a Beijing-based advisor for a record-smashing £53 million ($85 million). Even the auction house director was flabbergasted at the intense demand for this Qing dynasty heirloom, admitting, "I didn't quite realize how exciting it was."
Vincent Van Gogh, Sunset at Montmajour, 1888. Herman Wouters for The New York Times.
Another great place to look is the basement. In September of 2015, an unknown painting, found in a New Jersey basement, went up for auction; the owner expected it to sell for $800, but it ultimately fetched $870,000 after three aficionados recognized it as an early work by Rembrandt, one of a series of small allegorical paintings he had executed as a very young man. (The fifth painting in the series, which illustrates the five senses, is still missing.) The basements of museums have also yielded some notable surprises in recent years, including Madrid's San Fernando Academy of Fine Arts' discovery of a Van Dyck Madonna, in 2011, which for years had been considered a copy. And 2010 saw a number of museum-basement-related finds, including an early Velásquez, discovered in the basement of Yale University's museum, and the Staedel Museum's rediscovery of a work by Ludwig Kirchner in its basement.
Rembrandt van Rijn, The Unconscious Patient (An Allegory of the Sense of Smell), 1624. Getty Museum.
Antique shops can sometimes house overlooked masterpieces. In May 2014, it was confirmed that a painting bought at a Spanish antique shop for around $200, 20 years earlier, was indeed an early work by the artist Salvador Dali. It had fooled everyone for so long because the date inscribed on the painting read 1896 (eight years before the artist was born) rather than 1921 (the date that infrared, x-ray, and ultraviolet tests determined), possibly meant by the artist as a joke or an experiment with numerology. A Van Dyck painting identified on Antiques Roadshow in 2013 took the title of the most valuable work of art ever appraised on the television show, with presenter Fiona Bruce estimating its value at up to £500,000 ($780,000). It had been purchased 12 years earlier, at a Cheshire antiques shop, for only £400 ($625).
Salvador Dali, The Intrauterine Birth. Photo: AFP/JIJI.
Valuable works often surface among the junk at rummage sales and flea markets. A Philadelphia resident, for instance, ended up with a great find when a striking, modern necklace, bought for $15 at a flea market, turned out to be a piece of jewelry designed by Alexander Calder. In 2010, a man named Andy Fields bought a bundle of sketches for $5 at a rummage sale in Las Vegas, discovering in it a previously unknown, early drawing by Warhol. These finds, though lucky, don't always yield the desired results. Without the stamp of approval from the Warhol Authentication Board (it became defunct before they could gather enough evidence to authenticate the drawing), Fields could not put the drawing up for auction--except on eBay. (In August of 2013, the eBay auction took place with the starting bid set at £1.25 million ($1.5 million). It got zero bids.) Works that have been previously stolen or missing from museums sometimes show up, incognito, at flea markets. A print by Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer was discovered at a flea market in the French town of Sarrebourg, it was reported in August, 2016. The print was returned to Stuttgart's Staatsgalerie, whose name was stamped on the back of the print. It had been missing since WWII. Another stolen work, this one by Renoir, reportedly turned up at a flea market, where it was snatched up for a measly $7. When the bargain hunter tried to sell the work at auction, however, it came to the attention of the Baltimore Museum of Art, from whom the painting was originally stolen, in 1951. It was returned to the museum in January 2014.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paysage Bords de Seine, 1879. Photo: Potomack Company / Associated Press.
You can also get lucky on the digital equivalent of the flea market: eBay. In 2014, a collector found an original watercolor by Victorian artist Richard Dadd on eBay, unattributed and included as part of a larger collection of works for sale on the online bidding site. The painting was purchased for a mere £200 ($330), while comparable works are regularly sold at auction for tens of thousands. And in February of this year, the BBC show Fake or Fortune appraised a painting by Post-Impressionist painter Edouard Vuillard, at £250,000-350,000 ($310,000-436,000)--one of a pair of works with a distinct oval shape. The other canvas had been sold on eBay to a mystery buyer for only £3,000 ($3,750), or "the bargain of the century."
French School, 13th Century, Virgin and Child Enthroned.
Often enough, however, these modest, unassuming artworks with priceless pedigrees are hidden in plain sight. An ivory carving of the Madonna and child, purchased in 1949 in London for £80 (or about £2,600 or $3,260 today), spent the next 50-odd years sitting on a mantelpiece, assumed to be a fake or a Victorian copy. In 2013, it was reported that historians traced the carving back to the Bridgettine nuns, dating it to the 13th century - transforming a piece of mantelpiece kitsch to a bona fide Gothic ivory worth £1.2 million ($1.9 million). It was sold at Sotheby's in 2013 for nearly twice that. And in 2010, the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen was surprised to find that a painting hanging in a reception room, that was attributed to one of Rembrandt's pupils, was by the master himself, instantly increasing the painting's value from 80,000 to 8 million euros ($87,500 to $8,750,000).
While some truly incredible works seem to have materialized out of thin air--the Caravaggio behind a locked door in the attic, for instance--most of the great discoveries in recent memory have resulted as a reappraisal of an existing work that was overlooked or underestimated. Clearly, art's value is not inherent to the object. It often just depends on whether the right pair of expert eyes has assessed its worth. So, once you've rummaged through the attic and investigated the basement, take a closer look at what you already know you have. Could that old canvas be misattributed? And have you had it appraised recently?
On 4 November, the Paris Climate Change Agreement came into force -- just three days before the official opening of the 22nd Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP22) in Marrakech, Morocco.
The speed of this entry into force speaks to the urgency of the issues at stake. The name of the game is clear -- we need to move from paper to action as quickly as possible.
Mitigating the impacts of climate change calls for new efforts to contain emissions and prevent further drastic consequences, which we have seen affecting women and men in societies across the world, including migrants and refugees. It calls also for a new focus on reducing vulnerabilities and building resilience. For this, we need greener economies, greener legislation, greener policies.
But, most of all, to underpin all of these efforts, we need greener societies. To succeed, fundamentally, we need green citizens.
This is why translating promises into reality must start in the classrooms. Education is the red thread tying together the Paris Agreement with the other historic agreement of 2015, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Education is a human right essential to individual dignity -- it is also the foundation on which to shape a sustainable future for all, and the planet. Sustainability calls for new ways of seeing the world, new ways of thinking, new ways of acting and behaving as global citizens. Only education can catalyse such deep change.
This is why the Paris Agreement includes Article 12, calling for the promotion of climate-change education -- and the 2030 Agenda includes a comprehensive Sustainable Development Goal on education, with a specific target on education for sustainable development. Education is key to understanding climate change -- it is vital to learning to adapt and take action, for today's generation and tomorrow's.
This calls for new approaches to education across the board -- to ensure learning is relevant and empowering. UNESCO's 2016 Global Education Monitoring Report examines education's potential to propel progress toward all of the new goals, along with the need for education systems to pay more attention to environmental concerns. The curricula of half the countries in the world still do not explicitly mention climate change or environmental sustainability in their content. This cannot go on.
We need now political commitment by countries to put commitments into practice. COP22 will serve as the kick-off for the implementation of the Paris Agreement -- education should be included in national commitments, as well as Nationally Determined Contributions. At the same time, education sectors everywhere must be better prepared to support these efforts, through systemic reform.
UNESCO is working to support Member States in bolstering capacities to meet commitments. With the UNFCCC, we have developed an instrument to guide Member States to implement the Climate Convention's Article 6 on education -- I will launch this guide at COP22 next week on 14 November, the thematic day on education. UNESCO is pulling out all the stops to back Governments in efforts to promote a smooth transition to green economies and resilient societies through education and training. We need "whole school" approaches, and education that empowers young people to become change agents themselves, to craft sustainable solutions at every level.
This builds on a decade of UNESCO leading the United Nations Decade on Education for Sustainable Development (2005-2014) -- and the same spirit underpins our action today, to spearhead the Global Action Programme agreed to at the 2014 UNESCO World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development, held in Aichi-Nagoya, Japan.
Examples abound of positive change. Costa Rica has a National Strategy on Climate Change that includes specific attention to education. Kenya's has developed a national action plan being rolled out across the country, in cooperation with UNESCO. The Cook Islands are actively committed to education for sustainable development and climate-change education, including through the Sandwatch Programme, supported by UNESCO. The Dominican Republic has placed priority on training teachers to address climate change in the classroom. The Kingdom of Morocco has longstanding leadership in integrating education for sustainable development in schools, universities, corporations, associations and society at large. This is embodied in the Government's eco-schools programme, educating students about positive ecological principles.
All of this shows that sustainability -- true and lasting sustainability -- can only be achieved if individuals and societies change the way they think and act. And this can only begin in the minds of women and men. To move forward, we need new political will from every country, combined with resources and the reorienting of education systems. This is UNESCO's mission, and the message we are bringing to Morocco.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post, in conjunction with the U.N.'s 22nd Conference of the Parties(COP22) in Morocco (Nov. 7-18), aka the climate-change conference. The series will put a spotlight on climate-change issues and the conference itself. To view the entire series, visit here.
It's been 40 years since Studs Terkel published "Working," a book packed with 150 people explaining what they do all day - and why.
Jane Saks - whose father was Terkel's friend - hasn't forgotten it. In fact, she's celebrating it by updating it for the 21st century. To do that, she assembled a star-studded team consisting of Chicago architect Jeanne Gang, Pulitzer Prize winner photographer Lynsey Addario, and National Public Radio.
"My work is about using art and culture to collaborate and create new models of cultural participation that have social impact," Saks says.
She's created a three-part, multimedia experience designed to travel the nation's public libraries. "Working in America" tells 24 stories of as many individuals - a veteran-turned-urban-farmer, a high school principal and a professional escort, among others.
"It's museum quality but accessible to the people," she says. "It's not to be nailed to the floor or walls - it's for multiple spaces."
And it's about issues of economics and equity - the widening wealth gap, access to quality education and the impact of globalization on people trying to make a decent living. "It's about the social inequalities of our time," she says.
Among the three parts is the exhibit designed by Studio Gang, currently on display at the Chicago Public Library's Harold Washington Library Center and designed to travel to libraries nationwide.
"They're very large photographs of individuals in their workspace - it really draws you in, because the photography is stunning," Gang says. "There's a library shelf for books related to work or labor - and that brings reading and history into the exhibit."
The displays are designed also for a desk element to be inserted, so viewers can actually sit down and get engaged with the story of the people and their photographs. Each birch-wood display folds up for flexible transit - with soft leather handles that won't bruise a librarian's hand when it's unfolded and assembled.
It's that kind of thoughtful work, driven by clients, users and viewers alike, that sets Studio Gang's architecture apart from all others, even in a library exhibition on the nature of labor.
"I'm interested also in how work has changed today - with people working anywhere and all the time," Gang says. "It's so strong to put that in a library, where people are going to search for work today - we thought that would be very impactful."
In addition to the exhibition, there's also a radio series, co-produced by Saks and Joe Richman and featured on NPR's "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" this fall. At working.org., members of the public can upload their own stories and photographs to an online archive called "Your Working Story."
"It's about participation - what you take away and what you give," Saks says. "The more participation, the more alive it becomes."
Surely, Studs Terkel would approve.
For more, go here.
J. Michael Welton writes about architecture, art and design for national and international publications, and edits Architects + Artisans, where portions of this post first appeared. He is architecture critic for the News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., and the author of "Drawing from Practice: Architects and the Meaning of Freehand" (Routledge, 2015)
By Paul Desenne, ZEALnyc Contributing Writer, November 11, 2016
And thirteen million mouse clicks later, I was taking a bow onstage at Carnegie Hall... A very special moment, of course, but not only for the obvious reasons. There was something more that night than the honor of being a guest composer in the Venezuelan segment of the program conducted by Dudamel, on his second evening, opening the 2016-17 season. The millions of mouse clicks were but a fraction of those required to create all kinds of works for El Sistema over several decades: didactic, serious, chamber, orchestral... cantatas, children's symphonies, adolescent symphonies, large tropical and mahlerian adult ones, Caribbean overtures, frog-and- mosquito bagatelles, Anacondas, Afro-pizzicato puzzles, high density South American sonatas, a leaping Jaguar cello suite... A long story.
That night the piece was Hipnosis Mariposa, the most informal commission in the history of music, I guess. Walking out of a concert in Caracas, at the end of July 2014, one of the managers of El Sistema yells at me from a distance: "hey, Gustavo wants you to write...I don't know...something...on a Simón Díaz song, for November... December, not sure yet". Commission noted. The late Simón Díaz is perhaps the best known singer songwriter of bucolic Venezuelan songs, based on traditional genres. Dearly remembered by audiences of all ages, a famous children's TV-show host and captivating storyteller.
September, I sketched; October, I finished the score. November, the premiere went extremely well, thirteen minutes of orchestral music, very warm reception (minutes count in composition); the audience in Caracas likes it when symphonic works speak their language. I knew it would be easy when I started work on the song I had chosen, a song everybody knows, with a hypnotizing 5/8 time signature; I'd sung its lines hundreds of times, so I was able to paint my illumination on that canvas without too much pondering, sans souci. But quite frankly that ease hadn't been easy to reach; it took 40 years of exploration. Transposing intimate Venezuelan music, designed for the little four-string guitar -the cuatro- to a symphonic medium, keeping the freshness of morning dew on the leaves, the lightness of a simple song without being dragged down by the pompous proportions of a full orchestra requires some skills. You're not just making an arrangement, pouring chords and melodies into a bigger mold. You need skills that will take the orchestra, and eventually audiences, on a voyage to a very special musical world. And I guess this is why Hipnosis Mariposa was chosen by the Simón Bolívar Orchestra for its world tour that filled Carnegie Hall in early October. I myself would have picked another work from my catalogue for that tour, a "serious" one, loaded with more complex Latin American statements. Instead, the orchestra chose the piece based on that Venezuelan children's song. A meaningful choice.
When we say Latin America we think youth. Countries with the virtues and the problems of young populations; hope, but also endless needs; it's life on the edge of scarcity; food, planning, education...Arts! Someone in New York writing about this Venezuelan orchestral tour noted that these players weren't the same thirteen-year-olds who bedazzled the BBC Proms a good decade ago, and quickly went on making rather facile comments on disastrous politics and falling oil prices. While this is an undeniable fact, that thirteen year old players, twelve years later, should be nearing thirty and be judged as such (and they fare very well), it is still quite amazing to see, beyond basic age rankings, the formidable trajectory of an organization after 42 years of constant growth, in the flakiest continent for long-term planning, the least-consistent for keeping good education on course. The list of foes is familiar: massive corruption, trafficking, violence, illiteracy, and so on. The political funambulism, the huge engagement required in South America to maintain such an institution progressing across tumbling regimes and governments, keeping the flame alive until it will hopefully reach the highest world standards and, beyond that goal, until it manages to transform the way good part of the world sees, plays, listens to, and uses music for education, is deeply misunderstood. It cannot be judged properly from a distance. Inside, it's political tightrope on a podium, dodging the looming destruction of an institution which has served hundreds of thousands of kids on a daily basis, in a country where public schooling has literally imploded.
After granting a prize for sheer persistence and formidable local expansion to a South American educational system--the only one in history to be admired and emulated worldwide--the most obvious recognition Western concert music really owes El Sistema should perhaps be for resuscitating the limbs of its aging and stiffened body; somewhat in the same way the Early Music revolution shattered the postwar era of bleak standard classical performance. But what happened to Western concert music?
I was recently listening to a French radio commentator speaking about a new exhibition in Paris: The Art of Peace. In substance he said that peace treaties throughout history were like an art form: the style, the choice of words, the way things were named and tied together in a document. The document proper, bearing wax seals, ribbons and proud calligraphy, was often an impressive object in itself. The language of these treaties, of course, was remarkable; artfully shaped to create the intended entente. Yet since 1945, namely in the treaties of and after World-War II, mankind was swallowed by technocracy; human acts had to fit in folders and filing cabinets and be expressed in metallic, cold and grey terms. Where beautiful language was previously required, an uninspiring typewritten memorandum was now the norm. Beauty was out; efficacy and mathematical quantifying were in.
A similar shift seems to have taken place in composition, in universities and conservatories of the Western world, after the war. Cultural budgets, and of course the contents they supported, were forced to mimic scientific packaging in order to pass. The notions of taste and beauty, so hard to justify and explain to technocratic managements that controlled everything, were discretely evicted and replaced by numeric and technical evaluations; music for the eye and the report. Audiences, with their needs for schmaltz or fun could listen to vaudeville, Broadway, Brahms, or jazz (or, God forbid, Rock 'n Roll!) while rocket scientists built the mathematical concert prodigies of tomorrow. Cultural ministries and administrations followed and became progressively allergic to The Artist, the unpredictable, but above all the arbitrary. They were frightened by unfathomable values, they needed railings, justifications. For that purpose they installed an unbelievable system of art doctorates, as if these degrees had any purpose other than relieving them from taking the responsibility of exerting personal taste in the arts, from having inclinations for something, or anything. Art was finally graded, academically.
A formidable surge in classical performance competitions was also used to insert Olympic style measurements to impose parameters, as the deciding aristocracies vanished and were replaced by cultural bureaucrats. A very strange process of classical repertoire freezing and standardization on one hand, and an avant-garde, code-shattering technocratic seizing of cultural power, on the other, destroyed the organic life of concert music. When concert audiences were not parked on the safest rails of the repertoire, they were intimidated, stripped of their rights to like or dislike; you had to understand an importance. Great new music was now in the hands of experts who would explain it; pleasure was not in the picture anymore, as figures like Boulez insisted on their allegiance to Pascal, the austere, anti sensuous philosopher, the enemy of pleasure.
This cultural mindset eventually took over, but the Death of Classical Music, as explained rather depressingly by Norman Lebrecht in his book, was also a complex economic phenomenon: baby boomers filling Shea Stadium to hear the Beatles while their parents listened to Ormandy on their Hi-Fi. This tectonic cleavage grew, worsening things for concert music, until digital technology and CDs brought back entire catalogs of dead performers, stripping living ones of recording revenue, and finally choking the bins of Tower Records to death.
Meanwhile, in Venezuela, one of the most amazing musical countries in the world, where African and Hispanic roots blended with Amerindian voices, a man many deemed insane was handing out hundreds of symphonic instruments to kids, pulling oil money out of government agencies to fund the most amazing educational revolution, based on classical symphonic music. Doctor Abreu's quiet persistence paid off.
This is where the three stories intersect: the fate of Western concert music, the worldwide recognition of El Sistema, and my personal trajectory as a composer.
I've often described the four decades of El Sistema as a lengthy process of translation; the conversion of the entire Western symphonic performance playbook into Venezuelan and Latin American terms. A monumental transfer of techniques and cultural knowledge from the advanced Western industrialized nations to a relatively small nation of extremely musical people. In return, the orchestras of El Sistema re-injected the vital sap of lost oral traditions into Western music; the energy of Afro-Caribbean rhythmic culture, dance and syncopation, and of course the spontaneous energy of youth flowed into a repertoire that was running out of steam. Fresh readings of old works, unhindered by decades of routine performance, stripped off coats of old varnish, bringing new life to everything from Tchaikovsky to Bernstein. Listen to Richard Strauss in Caracas and you'll understand what I mean; it's being invented right there, sparkling, real live music. Not a museum piece. European audiences rediscovered the excitement of seeing players actually enjoy playing symphonic concerts, having a blast! Even what could be seen as naivety, Venezuelan kids dancing on stage, was changing the chemistry. They were not the jaded, safely established tuxedos playing on autopilot. Some might disagree on the exact causes, or even reach, but it's undeniable that there was a global symphonic warming after Dudamel and his orchestra toured the world. Box offices will confirm.
But the content of those tours was not Latin American, few pieces were chosen from the modest inventory of symphonic works the continent can proudly display today, for many reasons, the first one being the stiffness of local conservatories and their slow moving glaciers, precisely the ones El Sistema bypassed to thrive. American composer John Adams told me in 2008, after seeing an impressive El Sistema showcase in Caracas, centered on Rossini and Beethoven: "you could try to become the Venezuelan Bartok." Kind words, but my homework that day was not on display, it was hidden in my satchel, and there was still a lot of to do to become one hundredth of a Bartok anyway... This is a vast subject.
The struggle to have Venezuelan symphonic works played is not only a struggle to get more rehearsal time for unplayable stuff; it's finding the confidence to defend a language, once you've found your voice. Western concert music has quietly set parameters of universal musical progress, and the rest, meaning everything outside its glorious history--and borders--is "noise." The palette of local colors, forms and textures, even when it manages to escape simple folkloric triviality, is not given much artistic credit. South Americans in their noisy fiestas are often labeled intellectual lightweights, and when they follow the West, mere imitators; so it goes. If a British composer gets rhythmically excited, he is brilliant, funny; if he's South American it's redundant, it's a drag. Or it just becomes a fleeting fad for tango and spice, when the chef whips up a pleaser. One needs to escape the dangers of making symphonic tropical salon music to reach a point of abstract cannibalistic saturation, or dive into Amazonian weaving complexity. Rarely heard. The coexistence of the most diverse archeological strata in Latin American cultures, from Stone Age to high-tech silicon silliness, gives composers a lot to work on; not merely for posturing, it's sincerely a very rich background where academic music is totally absent, and deaf. Yet Mendelsohn is in our ears next to shamanic chanting, Salsa big bands and Afro-Venezuelan descendants of Baroque Hispanic harps; all seen and felt as contemporary music. There is no Historical Imperative; if it's played it's today's music. Time does not travel on a straight line in one direction, Wagner to Webern to Xenakis, then to Y and Z... Time is circular. Every traditional or hybrid musical language in Venezuela -and Latin America- has a special grammar, a contemporary presence, a set of instrumental idioms, a palette of vocal styles, a tempo, a mood. There's an amazing laboratory of oral traditions that recombines musical DNA of everything from Viennese music to drumming from the ancient Gold Coast of Africa, Renaissance guitars, Amerindian maracas, Bolero, Flamenco...something from these diverse cultures, in abstract cocktails or served straight up, will inevitably find its way into the symphonic body, requiring a different kind of listening, feeling and understanding. Mere transposition to a symphonic medium, when it's well done, exposes amazing musical devices. Imagine when transfiguration, recombination and freehand design intervene. The possibilities are simply volcanic.
The proof is in the pudding, and now, in the empanadas....
Cover: Composer Paul Desenne; photo: M.D. Torres
Paul Desenne, a Contributing Writer for ZEALnyc, is a composer and writer on music and arts-related topics.
For more ZEALnyc features click below:
No Longer a 'Youth' Symphony, La Orquesta Sinfónica Simón Bolívar de Venezuela Is Finding Its Way on the World's Stages
Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Operatic Debut In Washington DC
VIDEO: A Rare Instrument Finds a Home in Montreal
For all the news on New York City arts and culture, visit ZEALnyc Front Page.
Nicoletta Braschi and Andrea Renzi received a standing ovation for their rendering of Samuel Beckett's "Happy Days" this weekend, to a packed audience in Lisbon, in a side-event of the Lisbon @ Estoril Film Festival. To my great regret, I did not manage to see it. In Beckett-like repetition, I tried twice to get to the play, and each time was blocked by traffic.
Nevertheless the famed Italian actress Nicoletta Braschi welcomed me to sit with her at breakfast to discuss it.
With great exuberance, the engaging actress told me how she and Andrea (who is both the director and her husband "Willie" in the play) had worked years on the text, on each word.
"The text is so complex, so extraordinary," she exclaimed. "We worked on every word, every space between the words."
In Beckett's Happy Days, Winnie is buried up to her waist in a mound of sand, carrying on a monologue about her daily existence, while her husband calls out--occasionally--from his newspaper.
"How do you interpret the philosophy of the play?" I asked. "What is your take on Beckett, and your character Winnie?"
I could intuit that hers would not be a gloomy take. It is impossible to see Nicoletta as an alienated, frozen Winnie, stumped by existence,as she is sometimes played. The actress exudes energy--and dare I say, happiness.
"Oh Beckett is not sad or despairing," Nicoletta smiled radiantly. "He is showing life as it is. Happy Days is life. Life is like that. We are born here in conditions that just are and we face these conditions. For example, Winnie speaks in contradictions. 'The sun is blazing today,' is one of her lines. And a moment later, she says today there is no sun. This contradiction touches the reality of life: there is both one thing and the other. Winnie has great passion for life. She changes her ideas, she is very vital!"
One of Beckett's famous lines in this play is: "Yes, something seems to have occurred, something has seemed to occur, and nothing has occurred, nothing at all."
Even this line Nicoletta interpreted with its positive force. "A contradiction once more. Something has happened, or has it not," she smiled. "It's brilliant!"
Director Andrea Renzi came to our table, from the breakfast buffet, and affably joined the conversation.
"How do you see the meaning of this play?" I asked.
"It's about dignity and resistance," he said at once, with equal passion. "Yes there is a space--a breath--an abyss--between the words. But the characters look into this abyss. Remember the play begins with waking up! Each morning, the character wakes to give meaning to her life. Beckett's characters are always going deeper into the conditions of their lives, and becoming more profound."
The spirit of this interpretation was so exhilarating I regretted once more missing the play.
"Don't worry!" Nicoletta touched my arm. "We will be playing in New York and in Canada and in Italy. You will have another chance! I'll let you know our schedule!
I will take on the Beckett odds and persevere--and next time will not miss it!