Category Archives: MESSAGE FROM THE CENTER

Message from the Center: MOUTHPIECE

The great poet Mary Oliver passed away on January 17th. We were lucky enough to have had her on stage at Royce Hall in 2010, reading her poems in her signature style. This is one of her more well-known pieces, and it has a particular resonance to tonight’s performance of MOUTHPIECE. It is a celebration of knowing, of listening, of discovery, of the freedom to pursue the path. It is a declaration of independence. Here’s to Mary, to the artists of Quote Unquote Collective, and to all women who continue to speak up and speak out.

The Journey
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice —
though the whole house began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voice behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do —
determined to save
the only life that you could save.
—Mary Oliver

Meryl Friedman
Director of Education & Special Initiatives

Rebecca Solnit on Sam Green’s Utopian Cinema


The word utopia means, literally, no place and this is a movie that unlike almost all other movies can only be in one place at a time, this place you’re in now with its filmmaker Sam Green and musicians. These live performance films attempt to embody it by weaving together images and ideas and spoken words that will never be replicated exactly, a movie being born as you see and hear it, as alive as music.

Maybe little utopias are realized all the time, the utopias of people together in spirit and in body for a dance or a protest and everything in between. And sometimes we only realize their sweetness as they recede. A lot of us now look back at the golden age of cinema as a bygone paradise, the communion of strangers in the dark with each other, with darkness, with light, with story, with enchantment, drawn together to see a flicker of projected light come to life onscreen.

Were you to ask people if they’d be comfortable sitting in the dark surrounded by strangers from all walks of life, people would undoubtedly say that sounded scary, but every evening all over the world, we pay admission and settle in to do exactly that, and the audience becomes the Greek chorus of the film, laughing, snickering, hushing or fidgeting, instructing each other how to see and hear.

Television chopped up movies with commercials and put them in the middle of domestic distraction, but that was nothing compared to this moment when films are on your iPhone and your laptop and in fuzzy tiny windows on YouTube. The worst thing about these new modes of viewing isn’t that they diminish cinema as visual and imaginative spectacle. The worst thing is that they’re watched furtively and alone. Cinema, which was once a great banquet in a dream palace, is now often a snack devoured absentmindedly in isolation. And only in society, only together, do we have the power to live out those old dreams, or new ones.

Utopia is sociable, and Sam Green’s work gives you back the sociability of a movie, the way it was always about coexisting, by making it as live as a silent movie with an orchestra, a nineteenth-century Chautauqua lecture, a sermon or a party. Take it as an invitation to think about utopia, not only the old ones that might have failed, but whatever faint aroma of paradise might arise in a room where you hope and think and breathe with others

— REBECCA SOLNIT

Message from the Center: Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn

Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn’s latest album is full of places and spaces: the Blue Ridge Mountains, Harlan County, dirty coal mines and tumbled down company towns. Even the album’s title, Echo In The Valley, evokes a linkage of sound and space.

How are art and space connected? The philosopher Martin Heidegger argued that art functions as a sort of clearing-away, a making of space. Much like a settler might clear an area in the forest for her home, art makes room, creating openings for uniquely human places that we can dwell in.

A sculptor carves away at rock, releasing something that was, in a sense, always there. This opens a space for us to experience the uncovered truth. Béla and Abigail creatively sculpt from the raw material of American musical history, finding new spaces within old traditions.

Abigail sings on “If I Could Talk to a Younger Me” that:

If I could talk to a younger me

I’d tell me to go slow

This time on earth

It moves so fast

And when it’s gone it’s gone

So take this opportunity to slow down and dwell in the spaces that Béla and Abigail open up. Allow yourself to be transported. Settle in that valley. Listen for the echoes. Wherever you come from and wherever you are headed, tonight you are home.

–Andrew Hartwell

Message from the Center: Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and Tallinn Chamber Orchestra

The famous final proposition of philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus reads, “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” By this, he meant that certain concepts are inherently beyond the limits of our language: the transcendent, the metaphysical, the ethical, and the aesthetic. Our attempts to pin down these ineffable concepts in words result in literal nonsense. Nothing truly sensible can be said about them. We can only gesture in their direction.

What is it about the music of Estonian composer Arvo Pärt that makes it feel transcendent? A key component is in the way Pärt incorporates silence. In describing the role of silence in Pärt’s music, conductor Tõnu Kaljuste has said, “Silence is important, but silence comes after a musical idea. Then silence becomes part of the musical language.”

By incorporating silence into his musical language, Pärt reminds us that, as Wittgenstein said, the transcendent cannot be expressed. The interplay between sound and silence in his music creates an opening for us to contemplate what lies beyond the world of language, a signpost pointing towards the ineffable.

Perhaps the feeling of transcendence in these compositions comes, then, from the feeling that we are being pointed towards something noumenal, something beyond ourselves, beyond language, beyond music, beyond even silence. Art has the power to remind us that there is something inexpressibly awe-inspiring about the very fact of existence, something indescribable at the core of being, something which can only be felt on a profound level. What more can be said? Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.

—Andrew Hartwell

Message from the Center: David Sedaris

This year is the 20th Anniversary of David Sedaris being a part of our season. In 1998 he inaugurated a new series of writers and speakers at Royce Hall, which was then called Word of Mouth. Twenty years later we are still inviting writers to share their ideas on our stages, and the series is now called Words & Ideas.

Ten years ago, when I first started here, I had an idea to sponsor a humor-writing contest for students, as a kind of celebration of David. We spread the word on campus, three winners got their stories published in the Daily Bruin and displayed in our lobby prior to David’s talk; as well as a signed book and tickets to the reading. That first year, before the show, I remember asking David to sign these students’ books, as they had won the writing contest. He was so tickled by this that he asked if the students would like to introduce him. He met them all backstage, three breathless, shocked and wide-eyed students, who had no idea what to say, but bravely walked on stage in front of 1800 people and gave the most charming, heartfelt intro — the audience loved them. Backstage, David was grinning from ear to ear, and so delighted. This is the thing about David; he delights in supporting others. Every year, he recommends an author and a book that he loves, so we’ve gone back through the archives and listed all of those authors here. We hope that you find some of your favorites, as well as new discoveries.

We are all in this crazy stew together, and the best of us know that we are stronger when we support each other. Happy Anniversary, David. Here’s to twenty more.

—Meryl Friedman
Director of Education & Special Initiatives

2018: Less, Andrew Sean Greer and Homesick for Another World, Ottessa Moshfegh
2017: The Rules Do Not Apply, Ariel Levy and Strangers Drowning, Larissa MacFarquhar
2016: Eileen: A Novel, Ottessa Moshfegh and Ghettoside, Jill Leovy
2015: Family Life, Akhil Sharma and The Splendid Things We Planned, Blake Bailey
2014: This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, Ann Patchett
2013: Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, Barbara Demick
2012: The Bill From My Father, Bernard Cooper and The Book of Deadly Animals, Gordon Grice
2011: River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze, Peter Hessler and The Barracks Thief, Tobias Wolf
2010: Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, Wells Tower and Irish Girl, Tim Johnston
2009: Our Dumb World, The Onion
2008: The Braindead Megaphone, George Saunders

Prior to 2008:
Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules: An Anthology of Outstanding Stories
Blue Angel: A Novel, Francine Prose
The Columnist, Jeffrey Frank
Random Family, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc
Truth Serum, Bernard Cooper
Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth, Chris Ware
Among the Thugs, Bill Buford
Birds of America, Lorrie Moore
An Obedient Father, Akhil Sharma
Jenny & the Jaws of Life, Jincy Willett
Take the Cannoli, Sarah Vowell
Guess Again, Bernard Cooper
Fraud, David Rakoff
Easter Parade, Richard Yates

Message from the Center: Joan Baez

In her performance of trans artist Anohni’s song “Another World” on her final album, Joan Baez sings, “I need another world, this one’s nearly gone.” Baez has long been a voice for other worlds, taking the side of the marginalized, the oppressed, the persecuted. When Dr. King spoke of his dream of a more just world at the March on Washington in 1963, she was there. Fifty years later, when Occupy Wall Street protesters chanted that “another world is possible,” she was there.

Art has a way of revealing unfamiliar worlds to us, of challenging us to expand our horizons. Whether performing covers or original compositions, Baez regularly invites us to inhabit the worlds of the downtrodden, to identify with the outcast. She becomes the voice of the voiceless, confronting us with the ethical demand of the Other, reminding us that we are always already in relation to and responsible for our fellow beings on a fundamental level.

Through her voice, we feel the desperation of the sex worker in the traditional “House of the Rising Sun.” We internalize the tragedy of the undeserving poor in Phil Ochs’ classic “There But For Fortune.” And we are inspired by the defiance of the political martyrs in her own “Here’s To You.”

The power of artists is that they are navigators and pioneers, pointing towards new north stars and guiding us out of the darkness. We think we know the darkness well; we see it every day in the headlines, after all. But we should remember that the darkness is also within us, in so many subtle ways. It’s there when we fail to recognize ourselves in the beggar and the prisoner, when we dehumanize the different, when we prioritize our own comfort over justice.

At times when the darkness can seem overwhelming, when we are tempted to give in to nihilism and defeatism, art reminds us of our inseparable interdependence, our mutuality, and our responsibilities to each other and to future generations. We need another world, alright, and we need radically empathetic artists like Joan Baez to help us get there.

–Andrew Hartwell

Message from the Center: Terri Lyne Carrington

In the late 18th century, two child musical prodigies took Europe by storm as they performed for royal courts from Vienna to London. Audiences were amazed by the uncanny instrumental talent of the young siblings. One of these musicians, of course, was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. He grew up to become one of the great composers of all time, with the support and encouragement of his father. The other was Marie Anne Mozart, nicknamed “Nannerl.” She grew up to become a wife and mother, as was socially expected of her. No music she wrote has survived.

200 years later, another child prodigy, Terri Lyne Carrington, was able to take advantage of opportunities not available to the forgotten Nannerl and build a successful career in music. Now she pays it forward: she recently founded the Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice at Berklee College of Music to help address gender disparities in the historically male-dominated jazz world. As Carrington says, “It’s up to both men and women to do this work, and anybody that really cares about the music and cares about humanity will see the value in making it more equitable.”

She’s right. Anyone who is interested in the development of art and culture ought to support expanding the conversation to include as many voices as possible. How many great symphonies would have been written by Nannerl Mozart, had she been able to develop her talents further?

Classical philosophers like Aristotle argued that the goal of humanity was eudaimonia, usually translated as “human flourishing.” But if we truly value our own flourishing, then we must also value that of others, for it enriches our own lives. Our eudaimonia is intractably social. When some groups are marginalized, when their creative potentialities are suppressed and their talents are artificially constrained, we all lose out.

We are lucky that, unlike Nannerl, Terri Lyne Carrington grew up in a time and place where she was able to fully develop her skills. But as she says, it is up to all of us to work to improve upon those gains. Those of us who believe in human flourishing must work together to dismantle oppressive structures and create a more vibrant and artistic future, a world where no Mozart is left behind.

–Andrew Hartwell

Terri Lyne Carrington
Fri, Nov 9 at 8PM
Royce Hall

Message from the Center: Pat Metheny

There’s an old cliché that jazz is as much about the notes you don’t play as it is about the notes you do. But what is the sound of an unplayed note? It is the sound of an opening, a clearing of
space for both the listeners and the other musicians to interweave their own ideas.

Today we often think that the word “truth” means something like “accuracy” or “correctness,” but the ancient Greek word for truth, aletheia, means something more like “uncovering” or
“unconcealing.” This classical etymology provides a powerful way to think about art: not as just the creation of some new truth, but as the disclosure of something which was already in the background, the bringing-forth of particular threads from a holistic tapestry of meaning.

Art brings our attention to something previously hidden within our world, reorienting our perspective. The “notes you don’t play” are also a sort of unconcealing of truth. By tricking the ear into anticipating a note and then not playing it, musicians indirectly reveal surprising tensions and emotions within melodies, providing openings for reflections upon unexpected vistas.

Tonight, we come together to enjoy the talents of Pat Metheny, Antonio Sanchez, Linda May Han Oh, and Gwilym Simcock. I am excited to find out what is uncovered. What new aletheia will be
experienced? What truths shall be disclosed that were once hidden within the musicians, within their instruments, within the acoustics of Royce Hall, and within ourselves?

Thank you for being a part of our community and for opening yourself up to the world-expanding, revelatory power of art.

–Andrew Hartwell

Message from the Center: Rebecca Solnit & Jon Christensen

I write this at the end of a bizarre, disturbing and utterly depressing two weeks, as a new Justice of the Supreme Court is being sworn in. The media — both professional and social— continues to hash and re-hash what did or did not happen, what might have happened, what might have been. I’ve tried not to listen to the news for a few days, but today this caught my attention: “Taylor Swift breaks political silence, will it destroy her career?”

Predictably, there are the haters:
— “Just shut up and sing.”
— “Does every pop star have to voice their political opinions to the world?”

And the supporters:
— “Taylor Swift just posted an extremely political post on Instagram & I’m so happy she’s using her huge platform to speak out!”

Putting aside what Taylor Swift believes, why is there controversy over her right to express it? Artists live in the world, are a part of the world, make art in response to the world—why would they be apolitical? Why do we want them to be? James Baldwin, Ai Wei Wei, The Dixie Chicks, Ted Nugent, Maya Angelou, Susan Sarandon, Patti Smith, Kanye West, Leni Riefenstahl, Lillian Hellman,  and hundreds more over hundreds of years — artists stand and have stood on both sides of whatever divide they happen to be on. Why the disbelief over Taylor Swift and her opinions? Are the rules different for twenty-eight-year-old female pop-stars?

Just shut up and sing.”

Apparently they are. When I first heard this “breaking news event” voiced by the talking head with the arched eyebrow and the smug tone posing as a journalist, it struck me that at the end of an unbelievable week about the silencing of women, we were still at it. The talking head wondered who had advised her to speak out. Really? Maybe she decided for herself.

In a recent postscript to an updated edition of the essay, Men Explain Things to Me, Rebecca Solnit writes:

The point of the essay was never to suggest that I think I am notably oppressed. It was to take these conventions as the narrow end of the wedge that opens up space for men and closes it off for women, space to speak, to be heard, to have rights, to participate, to be respected, to be a full and free human being. This is one way that, in polite discourse, power is expressed—the same power  that in impolite discourse and in physical acts of intimidation and violence, and very often in how  the world is organized—silences and erases and annihilates women, as equals, as participants, as human beings with rights, and far too often as living beings…Having the right to show up and speak are basic to survival, to dignity, and to liberty.

So, Taylor Swift has shown up and spoken out. Here’s hoping more young women do the same thing. To use Taylor’s own words, I think we’re Ready for It.

—Meryl Friedman
Director of Education & Special Initiatives

Message from the Center: Barber Shop Chronicles

The older a man gets, the faster he can run as a boy.
—Inua Ellams

It took me a while to understand why my mom would leave me alone in the Barbershop every other week. Six years old, surrounded by Black men and their conversations, all I could do was listen and hope that one day, I could add to the conversation. Being an only child raised by a single-mother, the Barbershop taught me a lot about the Black male voice. Mainly, that it matters and that it exists. Somehow, my mother knew this. She trusted that these important conversations would live with me, shape me, push me towards my own definition of Black male masculinity.

In Inua Ellams’ piece, these same conversations take wing across a variety of borders. For many Black men, his characters find a place of commune in the barbershop where joy and pain are expressed. Where questions are answered, jokes told. Heartfelt and beautifully crafted, Ellams’ Barber Shop Chronicles provides to us all a window to the scared haven that is the Barbershop. The Country Club for Black Culture. To my first barber, Mr. Jerry, I thank you for all the cuts and conversations.

On behalf of us at the Center, it is with great pleasure that we welcome and share these conversations with you.

—Theodore Bonner-Perkins