Category Archives: Message from the Artist

Message from the Artists: Elizabeth Gilbert and Cheryl Strayed

I spend a lot of my time trying to encourage people to live more creative lives — to take risks, to make something out of nothing, and to expand their sense of wonder. I can get really passionate about this. (Another word would be “pushy.”) Sometimes I wonder why I care so much. What does it matter to me if people are making art or not? Who cares whether anyone out there is writing novels, or learning new languages, or dancing or singing or growing or transforming? Well, in the end, I think it comes down to this: We appear to be living in a universe that is constantly creating and recreating itself. The evidence for this is literally everywhere. Nature is always changing from one form to another. All you need to do is look in a telescope and you can see galaxies being born. Look in a microscope and you’ll see bacteria evolving and adapting right before your eyes. The whole thing reeks of a giant cosmic arts-and-crafts project — an infinite, ever-unfolding experiment in constant creative response. It appears to me that energy only wants one thing: to create. And you, of course, are made of energy. So start creating! Because once you start creating, you will step into alignment with the direction that the entire universe is heading. You will be in the flow of life itself. And that will you make you happy. That will make you healthy. That will make you belong. That’s why creativity matters so much to me — because I want a sense of healthy belonging for myself, and I want it for you, too.

— ELIZABETH GILBERT

Writers don’t have job descriptions, but if we did the first line on mine would be this: tell the truest story you can about what it means to be human. That’s the thing I’m always digging for, and by digging I mean that rather actually. On the page and in my life, I attempt to uncover to the truth that lives beneath the easier truths that sit on the surface of our lives. I seek to understand and convey not who we are, but who we are really. This kind of emotional excavation has been an obsession of mine since I was a child. I always wanted to know why. Not why the sky is blue or why birds have feathers (though these are certainly worthy questions!), but rather why does she love him, why did you leave, why are you ashamed, why did you go down this path instead of that one, why did this sorrow lead to that beauty, why can’t you, why will you, why are you going keep loving or walk away or change your mind? My deepest curiosity is the inner workings of what gets called the human heart, but it’s really something far grittier than that. It’s the dark core of who we are, which I have found endlessly, shimmeringly beautiful.

— CHERYL STRAYED

Message from the Artist: Luciana Souza

In her excellent book Nine Gates, Jane Hirshfield says that a good poem begins in the body and mind of concentration. She goes on to explain that by concentration she means a particular state of awareness: penetrating, unified, and focused, yet also permeable and open.

I had fallen in love with Leonard Cohen’s Book of Longing many years ago. Everything about that book is important and interesting to me. The poems, the drawings, and his way of illuminating the truth of a moment, of revealing things, his clarity.

As I started setting these poems I wanted the words to be heard, but not necessarily defined. To me, the string instruments offer the best canvas for these songs. Like the voice, the sound of plucked strings decay and brings on silence and more possibility for listening. Also, the idea of counterpoint between the voice and strings was essential to me. The music would have to be simple and unadorned.

I am often asked if I conceive projects based on themes, and if I return to poetry from time to time. To me, a project shapes itself and is generated by what is occupying more space in musical and artistic mind for a certain period. But I never leave my other interests completely. I am always navigating between poetry, Brazilian, and a
more wordless and instrumental context. To me, these things are interchangeable and they are one. I can always find the stories in wordless melodies, and I can always find the silence in poetry.

The other day I taught a class and caught myself describing the process of setting a poem to music as falling in love. Falling in love with a poem. Locking myself in a room and reading the poem ten, twenty times. Walking around with the poem looping in my head. Driving in my car and feeling possessed by the poem and thinking — You are mine! I do think the process is a bit obsessive and all-consuming, but deeply rewarding… when you are granted permission by the publisher.

When you play with musicians such as Chico Pinheiro and Scott Colley, you are treated to such a generosity of possibilities. Questions get answered without having to be asked because the trust and intuition are so generously displayed. Questions are also left unanswered, which is a necessity in music (and life) — to have things open and possible.

On the liner notes of the record I say that making music with Chico and Scott is a thing of wonder. And I mean that in the sense of what is mysterious, miraculous, and beautiful about making music and lifting poetry from the page.

— Luciana Souza

Message from the Artist: Sweet Honey In The Rock

On behalf of Sweet Honey In The Rock®, welcome to our 45th Anniversary Celebration at UCLA Royce Hall.

Can you believe it’s been 45 years since our first performance at the WC Handy Blues Festival at Howard University on November 17, 1973? Although the original group of men and women was created at the request of Le Tari, an actor at the DC Black Repertory Theatre, there was a fall rehearsal where four women showed up—Louise Robinson, Bernice Johnson Reagon, Carol Maillard and Mie Fredericks. Bernice was disappointed but Louise said let’s keep going.

We can sing.

Since that time, 27 women have graced the Sweet Honey stage.

We are humbled and deeply appreciative of everyone who made and makes it possible for us to be here today. We do not take our longevity for granted. Gratitude to you all—family, friends, and fans. We could not be on this journey without you.

Have a good time party hearty sing-along raise your voices in wishing Sweet Honey In The Rock® a glorious 45th anniversary and blessings for many years to come.

Always giving thanks all ways,
Carol Maillard

Message from the Artist: UnCabaret

We are filled with hope every time UnCabaret convenes. We are curious about each other’s stories, and our own. What do they mean? How are we changing? What’s funny about that? We rejoice in the right to assemble, to meet friends of friends and the person at the next table reading that book you love.

We commit to the courage of making the uncomfortable funny. We love our adventurous audience. We intend to uplift. We work to be a safe space for women and the LGBTQA community without excluding CIS men. We look for people who make the most beautiful mistakes, original thinkers and open hearted lovers. Those who are self knowing without being self-obsessed. And of course who love to laugh.

We enter into partnerships and community. We seek to be a full chakra experience. We have an attention span. We understand silence. We try to respect our own history while staying in the now. We have a sense of urgency. We have never written an artist’s statement before but are always up for the new. Thank you for being here tonight. Thank you for being part of UnCabaret.

—Beth Lapides

Message from the Artist: Bill T. Jones on Analogy Trilogy

MEMORY & UCLA – A MESSAGE FROM BILL T. JONES

“Memory often strikes me as a kind of a dumbness. It makes one’s head heavy and giddy, as if one were not looking back down the receding perspectives of time but rather down from a great height, from one of those towers whose tops are lost to view in the clouds.” – W.G. Sebald

While the eloquence of W.G Sebald fails me, in this return visit to UCLA I am overcome with a particular emotion and a recall of the first time a young Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane were invited to perform at Schoenberg Hall in 1983; our first national tour as a duet company. The vastness of the city, the endless highways, its glamorous history and presence made us feel as real players in the modern world, and children in the deep end of the pool finally. UCLA stood out as an essential beach head in the question of the new. To be invited to show one’s work was a nod of approval and something more.

Bringing this three-part work, a result of 5 years of making and doing, I am overcome with a sense of gratitude to Kristy Edmunds and UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance, and also to you the adventurous patrons, for upholding this belief in the transformative power of live performance.

—Bill T. Jones

Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company
Analogy Trilogy

Message From The Artists: Vijay Iyer and Teju Cole on Blind Spot

I’m fortunate to have called Teju a friend since long before he became the household name he is today. Our collaborations have emerged slowly and organically from a camaraderie established in the early 2000s. This particular one was born in 2016 as a kind of stunt, using Teju’s photographs and writings as our stimulus. Faced with a run of six performances, I thought, “What if we actually create the piece live from scratch each time, using Teju’s riveting text and images as our score? What if the music had no permanence, but rather consisted of a set of guiding principles, orienting forces, and emotional stimuli?” If the project’s music used the vulnerability and fragility of real-time creation and dispensed with any presumption of fixity, what’s left instead of a “piece” is an aggregate of very careful listeners — a band — with a compact network of social relations: ways of listening, sounding, building, and coexisting. As Ornette Coleman summarized once when rehearsing with his band: “If you cut loose the method, what’s left is stone presence.” Teju’s collection of texts and images gives us a way to be collectively present with some unadorned, harsh truths about the world at this moment; our ritual patterns and emergent unisons offer a slowly evolving emotional correlate to his work.

We’re excited to share this project with CAP UCLA audiences. We’ve performed this project more than a dozen times, but this will be a special version of Blind Spot with guest artist Ambrose Akinmusire, a trumpet superstar and another longtime collaborator of mine who will be no stranger to listeners.

—Vijay Iyer

I know of no artist more alert to improvisation’s inextricability from composition than Vijay Iyer. I was an avid listener of his for many years, and during that time I became a friend. Then a collaborative phase began a few years ago, and that has been such a joy. We first did the Open City suite, composed for a big band in which all the members were virtuosi. A kind of super band. And now there’s Blind Spot which brings together images, words, and music in a more elusive way. Blind Spot is different each time we do it. When the lights go down, I don’t know what the opening notes are going to be, and when we get to the end of the piece, I don’t know whether we are going to end with a feeling of peace or sorrow. What I do know is that there are a five of us on stage, listening intently to each other, using a sequence of photographs I’ve taken around the world as a kind of score. A multipartite co-creation happens. The audience is part of that too: the intensity of the audience’s listening amplifies the emotional precision of the musicians.

This is the magic of live performance. Questions of scenography and sound quality aside, sitting at home watching something on your computer couldn’t begin to capture the high wire emotion that results from seeing something unfold in real time and in actual space. Of the many different ways I present my work, doing Blind Spot with this band is for me the most moving and most satisfying.

—Teju Cole