New opera, Death by Life, premiering May 20-25th, 2021.
Galvanized by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the virtual opera “Death by Life” was conceived as a monument of support for the Black Lives Matter movement. The opera explores the intersection of systemic racism and mass incarceration using texts written by incarcerated writers and their families, with a score by five Black composers—Jacinth Greywoode, Leila Adu-Gilmore, Jonathan Bailey Holland, David Sanford and Mary D. Watkins—representing a broad range of ages and styles. The sets are immersive 3D environments created in Unreal Engine by Curvin Huber, White Snake’s Director of Innovation.
In past posts, we’ve noted the many ways artists speak out through their art-doing. Whether to question or connect us, artists are charged, perhaps now more than ever. And thanks to social media, more and more people can engage with the good work artists do.
For example, to memorialize and respond to the atrocities that ended the life of George Floyd – as well as re-ignite #BlackLivesMatter and speak to the hundreds of years of Black persecution in the United States – visual artists have taken to the streets in the ways they know best. Greta McLain, Xena Goldman, and Cadex Herrera acted by painting a mural at the corner of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue South, the spot where Floyd was arrested. These three artists were assisted by artists Maria Javier, Rachel Breen, Niko Alexander, and Pablo Helmp Hernandez.
Minutes before his death, Floyd managed to muster: “I can’t breathe.”
Floyd’s last words, “I can’t breathe,” were transformed and the phrase at the center of the mural came later. As stated by one of the muralists:
Physicians, social media, and social psychologists are saying that, if at all possible, social distancing does not necessarily mean emotional distancing.
With this in mind, artists of all kinds have been doing their uplifiting “good work”—i.e., mobilizing their artistic citizenship or “artivism”—by putting the arts to work for emotional and psychological well-being.
Indeed, while concert halls, school auditoriums, museums, galleries, clubs, and other places of/for artistic experiences are closed, many musical, visual and other kinds of artists across the nation and around the world are going online and taking to the streets.
Diplois live streaming DJ sets from his home five times a week on YouTube. The shows run Sundays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, with distinct themes each day. Paul Simon and Lukas Nelson & Promise Of The Real are “coming together” on Twitter through #selfdistancetogether
When the times call for social distancing, cellists of the New York Philharmonic respond with J.S. Bach’s Suite No. 1 for Unaccompanied Cello in G major. I: Prelude, Nathan Vickery II: Allemande, Principal Cello Carter Brey III: Courante, Sumire Kudo IV: Sarabande, Alexei Yupanqui Gonzales V: Menuets I and II, Eric Bartlett VI: Gigue, Maria Kitsopoulos
The above-mentioned do not provide monetary comfort for those producing the art nor those experiencing it. Alongside many newly-found unemployed persons, artists and arts-takers are not immune to financial loss despite the Internet’s outlets and potentialities.
As reported in The Guardian, some visual artists are taking to the streets.
These artists are not benefiting financially for their efforts, and neither are people who are experiencing these performances. Obviously, unemployed people, including art-makers and audiences, are not immune to financial loss.
Still, we must say “thank you” to all the artists across genres and practices who find the perseverance and courage to continue doing what they do. In fact, we might be more accurate and honest if we ask: Where would we be right now without the arts? And: How might we feel if artists—whether professional or amateur—failed to provide us with ways and means of/for connecting?
In what ways can satire, sarcasm, comedy, and artistic excellence come together to help illustrate some of the potentials found within the concept of “artistic citizenship”? Rather than answer this question literally, we would like to pose the following example for your consideration. Does this arrangement and performance of Shostakovich’s music suggest a possible interpretation of understanding “artistic citizenship”? We leave this question with you as you listen and watch.
Might the rest of the world learn something from Hong Kong? Are there fights—small and large—that need songs to raise our levels of consciousness up; songs that urge us to join our brothers and sisters in bettering today and tomorrow?
Conversely, might our musical experiences—whether as listeners or performers—become more significant and, potentially, creative when we compose, create, improvise, perform, and LISTEN with the intent to move, shake-up, and confront the ills of our common world?
The Society for Ethnomusicology is currently collecting news items to include in its online repository: applied project news, educational outreach program news, organizational endeavors, and research projects. We are grateful to and inspired by the Society for Ethnomusicology and their thoughtful attention to connections between music and social justice.
The Society states:
The Society for Ethnomusicology’s Music and Social Justice Resources Project is a repository of material on how people worldwide are currently using music to address issues of social conflict, exclusion/inclusion, and justice. We welcome notices on public events (e.g., rallies, performances, conferences) and other general news; proposals/reports on projects involving community engagement, activism, or advocacy; syllabi, lesson plans, and other educational material; information on activist organizations; and research articles.
By way of example, meet Musicians Without Borders. Founded officially in 2000, this world-wide organization has been working with local musicians and community organizations to build sustainable community music programs. Why music? The organization states:
Where war has raged, people need everything to return to life: food, water, shelter, clothing, medicine. But more than anything, people need hope. To reconcile, people need empathy. To heal, people need connection and community.
Music creates empathy, builds connection and gives hope.
In Artistic Citizenship, Aria Fani examines Persian literary cultures, specifically in Afghanistan. For Fani, and for Persian peoples, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (1979-1989) ignited a heightened awareness of concepts of citizenship, homeland, and exile. In the absence of a centralized political body in Kabul, Persian poets expressed variegated narratives of what constituted Afghan “identity” and loyalty to the nation.
Poetry of Afghanistan maintains ancient roots. And for thousands of years in Afghanistan, various peoples and forms of poetic expression have been and continue to be sites of resistance and, therefore, artistic citizenship. One such form is the “landay.”
an oral and often anonymous scrap of song created by and for mostly illiterate people: the more than twenty million Pashtun women who span the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Traditionally, landays are sung aloud, often to the beat of a hand drum, which, along with other kinds of music, was banned by the Taliban from 1996 to 2001, and in some places, still is.
Janis Brenner & Dancers premieres Once You Are Not A Stranger. Created in collaboration with Bosnian-born, electro-acoustic composer Svjetlana Bukvich, costume designer Sue Julien, lighting designer Mitchell Bogard, and installation artist Eva Petric from Slovenia, this 45-minute, interdisciplinary work investigates notions of “empathy in a multicultural, multi-ethnic, and multi-religious world and uses the dance company as a microcosm of this world.”
Video projections are embedded in the center of an elaborate set-piece, playing a personal and imagistic role in the work. Performed with live music, including Ms. Brenner on vocals.
After a meaningful tour to Sarajevo, composer Bukvich and choreographer/singer/actor Brenner spoke about collaborating. As Bukvich states:
Janis and I conversed about things that interested us and empathy came up right away, as did the need to really hear one another. I spoke about walking in someone else’s shoes – feeling wise – and how that impacts the strangeness in any relationship…Visually, the piece unfolds in wavy patterns which “freeze” on occasion, or so was our intention. There is a hanging set piece onto which video is projected in the same fashion. With each unfolding, messages becomes clearer, there is a shedding, a letting go, a cutting into deeper layers of pain and, yes, beauty and goodness which lurk in all of us. Like taming a wild animal, the piece comes to terms with its audience. The music is complex and electronic at first, then becomes gradually acoustic, with a string quartet, then a voice, a scrape of a shoe, and into silence. Art-rock-meets-electronic experimental-meets-old world sentimental.
In the mean time, watch the ETHEL String Quartet perform an arrangement of this work. The following segment was performed as part of Composers Concordance’s Roundtable concert at (le) Poisson Rouge on January 26th, 2017.
Video by Eddie Papetti
What happens to us when we actively engage as art-makers or art-takers? Who do we become?
Given the complexities of today’s political, social, and emotional landscapes, engaging with/through the arts is as important now more than ever. Why? “With everything that’s going on in the world, it’s easy to question the value of telling stories or making sculptures.” While some may be tempted to question the arts at times like these, we disagree. And so does Miguel Syjuco.
“Silence, it is said, implies complicity. But that’s only half the story. Silence also confirms oppression, because the ability to speak out is too often a luxury of the privileged.
The aggressive populism we see today seems to be a testament to people refusing to be silent – and rightly so. Our societies have largely failed to provide equally for all, and technology now gives us new avenues through which to be heard, and with which to rebel against repressive ideas and structures. New leaders have latched onto that and now seek to speak for us, even though many of them are rallying us crudely around fear and mistrust.”
Art making and art taking help us raise our voices to the level of consciousness. The arts confirm that we do not need to remain silent and complicit.
Pablo Picasso knew this all too well. That’s why he painted “Guernica.”