Protest Needs Music; Does Music Need Protest?

According to The New York Times:

“Every successful movement has a soundtrack,” the songwriter Tom Morello told reporters after he had tried to fire up the crowd at the Occupy Wall Street Protest last week with a Woody Guthrie tune and one of his own labor songs.

Perhaps he is right, but the protesters in Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan have yet to find an anthem. Nor is the rest of the country humming songs about hard times. So far, musicians living through the biggest economic disaster since the Great Depression have filled the airwaves with songs about dancing, not the worries of working people.

Where have all the protest songs gone?

Good question! 

In attempt to trace the history of the “protest song,” and the relationships between those songs and the artists who created them, Dorian Lynskey published 33 REVOLUTIONS PER MINUTE: A History of Protest Songs, From Billie Holiday to Green Day

In end, Mr. Lynskey can’t help noting, the protest song is nearly an extinct art form; few mean nearly as much as they once did. “I began this book intending to write a history of a still vital form of music,” he says. “I finished by wondering if I had instead composed a eulogy.” If the Bush years didn’t provoke scorching and popular protest songs, he asks, what could?

There are many reasons political songs no longer resonate. The Vietnam War bound people together as few issues have since. We no longer expect music to change the world, and we’re more atomized in our tastes. In the Stewart-Colbert-Gawker era we’re couch potatoes, and our default mode is sophisticated, needling humor. We’re lazier than ever too. “Placards and sit-ins,” he says, “have given way to charity wristbands and Facebook groups.”

However, this was back in 2011. Have things changed at all? Perhaps somewhat.

In Hong Kong, where mass, pro-democracy protests have rocked the political landscape over the past four months, the protest song seems to sing loudly and clearly.

Written and composed anonymously, then modified in online forums popular with protesters, “Glory to Hong Kong” features the kind of brass-heavy backing and soaring lyricism common to anthems, including the line “May people reign, proud and free, now and ever more.” In a slickly produced video version, an orchestra and choir dressed in protester garb — black shirts, helmets and gas masks — perform through a fog machine, meant to evoke images of tear gas.

A composer named Thomas, who has not shared his last name, first posted an instrumental version and lyrics on Aug. 26 to LIHKG, a forum used by protesters, and asked others to record themselves singing it. He collected audio versions via Google Drive, and assembled them together to make it sound as though a choir were singing. He adjusted the lyrics based on suggestions in the forum. 

The song was then uploaded on YouTube on Aug. 31 with English subtitles and rousing scenes from demonstrations, such as crowds parting for an ambulance, a child leading chants and a banner hung on a mountain. The composer recruited video editors and musicians to create new versions. 

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?

Crossing Point Arts

I am writing to you today to let you know about an issue that is pressing, and one that is often overlooked: human trafficking. It is astonishing to me that there are more people enslaved right now than ever in human history, yet it barely ever makes its way to the news cycle. 

Fortunately for me, an opportunity came my way to respond proactively when  I was invited to join the Board of Directors of a small nonprofit which is approaching survivors of human trafficking through the arts, and having beautiful successes. 

Crossing Point Arts: Bringing the Art to Survivors of Human Trafficking began providing workshops in all of the arts to survivors seven years ago, and they have reached nearly 4000 people in the NYC area, who were trafficked domestically and internationally. Their Teaching Artists help survivors to reclaim their once-silenced voices and start to heal from the ordeal of brutal exploitation, all the while learning to manage PTSD and develop long-term coping strategies.  Still the only nonprofit in the US solely dedicated to providing workshops in the art to trafficking survivors, the metrics are showing real results.

A recent story that I was told by head of the organization (who is also a Teaching Artist) is about a young woman who was sex-trafficked by her parents from the time she was a toddler to age 26, when she finally broke free.  After she ran away, she found art as the one sure anchor to manage her pain. The abuse, manipulation, violence and distortion that was her earlier life began to shift.  Now, with the support of our Teaching Artists, she knows that picking up her paint brush is literally her lifeline.  She has come to redefine her value, and explore her talents.  In her words: “Art gives me the opposite of what the exploitation did to me.  It shows me my value and makes me know I can be whole. When I think I am going to drown in the pain, art brings me back.”

This is just one of thousands of stories.  And their relationship to healing are strikingly similar.  Art does so much for all of us, particularly people who have suffered severe trauma.

I am telling you all of this with the hope that you will help me find channels of support for this valiant, yet growing nonprofit.  Would it be possible for us to explore who in your circle might be of help to Crossing Point Arts?

Project&

In what ways do the arts precede activism? In what ways does activism provoke the arts? And how do the comings together of the arts and activism enable people to re-experience the potentials of the world? Writer, activist, cultural advocate, and Chicago native Jane M. Saks has been probing such questions for decades. Furthermore, the commonality of art and activism is Saks’ belief that “human dignity” is the core for any form of social justice within artistic practices. 

One such example of Saks’ pursuit for human dignity through the lens of art making is her work as Artistic Director of Project&. As the mission of Project& states:


In collaboration with artists, Project& creates new models of cultural participation with social impact. We amplify artistic voices that risk, engage, investigate and inspire, highlighting issues at the forefront of our time including: race, justice, access and equity, identity, gender, cultures of violence, human rights and economic inequality.

Project& believes art changes the world. We believe that the core of the artistic practice is courage; when unleashed, it creates conditions for collective action that are inspired, resonant, and contagious. Forging expansive connections and engendering trust are fundamental to unleashing the artistic spirit in the work of Project&. As we seed chance through artist collaboration, we spark chain reactions and consequences that set cultural participation in motion in ways we cannot anticipate or predict. The impact of the Project& practice and of our artist/collaborators comes into ever-sharpening focus over the arc of time.

Gregory Haimovsky: A Pianist’s Odyssey to Freedom

The previously untold story of the brilliant Russian concert pianist Gregory Haimovsky is revealed in Marissa Silverman’s new book for University of Rochester Press. Exiled by the Soviet regime, Haimovsky found a way to perform the “banned” Western music of Olivier Messiaen and fight the USSR’s cultural prohibitions. Gregory Haimovsky, Gorky Conservatory of Music, 1960, …

Source: Gregory Haimovsky: A Pianist’s Odyssey to Freedom

#iamFOR

According to artist Paula Crown, the #iamFOR exhibition on display at the For Freedoms headquarters incorporates, examines, and explores themes of environmentalism, racial awareness, and identity politics.

Located in the heart of the Meatpacking District in NYC, onlookers are provocatively greeted by and confronted with Crown’s environmentally probing piece, Humble Hubris: Don’t know what you got (till its gone) bench (2018), outside Fort Gansevoort, at 51 Gansevoort Street, NYC: “If you think you’re hot now, just wait.”

Humble Hubris: Don’t know what you got (till its gone), Paula Crown, 2018

This statement, especially given its location—which is surrounded by all kinds of NYC construction—makes obvious the tangled mess of urbanization, commercialization, and industrialization. Notice, too, how Crown’s piece is juxtaposed with the seemingly dead vines clinging to the lattice work outside the edifice and the winding coils of cables adjoined to the outlet in back of the artwork. What does all this mean?

Crown repurposes a historical and picturesque photograph of a mountain-scape used in an advertising campaign for Humble Oil in 1962…Here, the photograph in the advertisement is translated directly into painting, channeling new evidence that oil executives knew of the link between their industry and the consequences of CO2 in the 1970s. The work references the language of posters and sign-painting to reroute this image from advertisement to activism. 

Additionally, situated in the window just around the corner from Humble Hurbis are Not banners (2018). As stated by the exhibit:

In the 18thcentury, anthropologists and cartographers created hierarchies and vocabularies that continue to haunt us, labeling the world with colonial perceptions of human difference. Classification of human beings by color is a social construct dismantled by scientific truth.  Artist Paula Crown’s NOT paintings prompt viewers to compare themselves with the subjective taxonomies of the past, to invalidate prior modes of categorization and to demand nuance and agency.

Not banners, Paula Crown, 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moreover, it is worth noting that one of the construction signs posted next to Fort Gansevoort, and catty-corner to the Not banners, is a call for vehicles to “use alternate” means of maneuvering through the area. Of course, neither the For Freedoms group, nor Crown, would have expected this kind of coincidence. That is, it is provocative that NYC is asking motorists for “caution” and to take alternative traffic routes when Crown invites her artwork visitors to reconsider the routes they use to move through the world!

There’s much more to the #iamFOR exhibition. If you happen to be in NYC, be sure to experience it for yourself.

London’s Fourth Plinth

For those who may not know, London’s Fourth Plinth is located in Trafalgar Square. The other three plinths, or platforms, contain sculptures of military officers: Henry Havelock, Charles James Napier, and King George IV. However, the fourth remained empty due to a lack of funding, unused for 150 years. That is until London’s Royal Society of the Arts developed the Fourth Plinth Project. The project maintains a revolving public art exhibit in order to celebrate, question, and engage with the world today through art-making. In fact, the Fourth Plinth hosts a series of commissioned artworks by world class artists and is the most talked about contemporary art prize in the UK. 

So, what is on exhibit now?

On March 28th, Michael Rakowitz’s “The Enemy Should Not Exist,” was unveiled. The work “depicts a re-creation of Lamassu, an Assyrian statue that stood in Iraq in the ancient city of Nineveh, on the outskirts of modern-day Mosul, until 2015 when the militant group destroyed it along with other irreplaceable works of ancient art.” The work is made of 10,500 recycled cans of syrup made from dates (dates being an important export of Iraq).

Photograph: Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty Images

Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, stated: “One of the reasons we should be so proud is this piece of art is from an Iraqi American of Jewish faith to be displayed in the greatest city in the world … And the creation and installation of this piece of art is an act of resistance against the tyranny of religious fanaticism. It is an act of resistance against the acts of philistinism. But it is also a celebration of who we are as a city: confident in who we are, pluralistic, welcoming and diverse.”

From London: Artists as Citizens

Just returned from the “Reflective Conservatoire Conference: Artists as Citizens.” This inspiring, 4-day conference showcased, among other things, a variety of arts projects that illustrate how the arts do their good work.

In doing so, the conference asked the essential and age-old question: What do artists do? Undoubtedly, artists view the world in unique ways. And, through their artwork, help us confront our realities—the good, the bad, and the ugly. Thus, at the heart of this kind of work is the concept of “artistic citizenship” and being an “artist-as-citizen.”

Meet one artistic citizen: Helen Marriage. Director of “Artichoke,” Marriage stays clear of traditional “artistic spaces”— the gallery, concert hall, theater or dance studio—and instead transforms the streets, squares, gardens and coastlines of the public spaces around the UK.

In her talk, “Beyond the institution: Working the streets,” Marriage spoke about disrupting public spaces “with an objective to work with artists to create extraordinary, large-scale events that appeal to the widest possible audience.

At the heart of Marriage’s projects is accessibility and equity, and the notion that all people have the right to experience artwork for free.

One such project was Great Fire 350, dedicated to commemorate the 350th anniversary of the London fire of 1666.

While this project, one among many, speaks for itself, a few aspects deserve special mentioning. Throughout 2016, London marked a season of exhibitions, concerts, lectures, and tours. A festival, really, of the power of the arts to provoke the imagination, Great Fire 350 included an underwater performance art-work, a domino-esque sculpture that snaked throughout London’s streets, which outlined the various roadways of the 1666 fire, and ended with a live re-burning of a model of 1666 London on the Thames River. This grandiose festival implied numerous aspects about social life. Primarily, though, Great Fire 350 highlighted a beautiful and powerful resilience of a city and its peoples to be re-born.

When Statues Hurt

In an open letter, academics and artists have urged NYC Mayor de Blasio to remove five public monuments and statues they say exhibit and promote racism.

The letter’s signers, who include the well-known artist and art historian Deborah Willis and the art critic and theoretician Hal Foster, argue that the monuments and markers honor figures who represent a variety of racist views and practices.

Importantly, we must ask: Do these statues qualify, though, as art? If so, why so? If not, why not? And why should we ask such questions in the first place? Do these questions matter against the larger issues of racism and prejudice?

The statue of Dr. J. Marion Sims, on 5th Avenue at 103rd Street, is one monument petitioners want removed from public display in the city. Credit The New York Times

Questions worthy of our consideration…

New Series Announcement

From Plato to Public Enemy, people have debated the relationship between music and justice—rarely arriving at much consensus over the art form’s ethics and aesthetics, uses and abuses, virtues and vices. So what roles can music and musicians play in agendas of justice? And what should musicians and music scholars do if—during moments of upheaval, complacency, ennui—music ends up seemingly drained of its beauty, power, and relevance?

University of Michigan Press is proud to announce a new series, Music and Social Justice.  This endeavor welcomes projects that shine new light on familiar subjects such as protest songs, humanitarian artists, war and peace, community formation, cultural diplomacy, globalization, and political resistance. Simultaneously, the series invites authors to critique and expand on what qualifies as justice—or, for that matter, music—in the first place. Music and Social Justice lends a platform for writers who wish to submit traditional scholarly monographs. The editors are equally enthusiastic to work with authors and artists who wish to unsettle the discursive norms of conventional academic prose in the name of rhetorical experimentalism, anti-capitalism, neurodiversity, and radical collaboration.

Music and Social Justice has assembled an Advisory Board who are active and activist leaders in their fields: Naomi André, Suzanne G. Cusick, Ellie M. Hisama, Mark Katz, Alejandro L. Madrid, Darryl “D.M.C.” McDaniels, Carol J. Oja, and Shana L. Redmond. The Advisory Board will work closely with the editors to seek out prospective authors, open lines of communication, and review submissions.

For more details on the impetus behind the series, including short interviews with the Advisory Board, please see http://musicologynow.ams-net.org/2017/10/announcing-music-and-social-justice-new.html.

Please direct queries and proposals to series editors William Cheng (william.cheng -at- dartmouth.edu) and Andrew Dell’Antonio (dellantonio -at- austin.utexas.edu), or University of Michigan Press Editorial Director Mary Francis (mfranci -at- umich.edu).

Music and Social Justice Resources Project

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.

To submit initiatives related to music and social justice for inclusion in the online repository, go here and follow the online instructions.

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.

Rwanda Youth Music is one of many of Musicians Without Borders’ projects.