Category Archives: MESSAGE FROM THE CENTER

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

Message from the Center: Tigran Hamasyan

Armenian pianist Tigran Hamasyan describes his latest works, this year’s For Gyumri and its companion album, 2017’s An Ancient Observer, as being “about the world we live in now, and the weight of history we carry with us.”

What does it mean to carry history with us? I’m reminded of a quotation carved in stone above one of the entrances to Royce Hall, the words of the building’s namesake, the great Californian philosopher Josiah Royce: “The world is a progressively realized community of interpretation.”

We should keep this idea of a progressive interpretive community in mind when considering history. Despite how it is often taught, history is not just a boring list of trivial facts about some distant epoch. Rather, it is something vital that lives within us in the here and now. There is no final draft of history, it is a multiplicity of intertwined stories that we tell and retell to make sense of our lives in a constant and often agonistic process of reinterpretation.

You can see the importance of historical interpretation in many of the contentious debates we have about the past today, where questions of justice are often paramount: whose stories do we give more weight to, the oppressed or their oppressors? Which figures and events deserve monuments and which demand critical reexamination? These debates are particularly relevant for long-marginalized peoples. It is interesting to note that Hamasyan combines musical influences from two groups that were both victims of unimaginable historical injustices: African-Americans and Armenians.

In drawing from both his native folk traditions and from jazz, Hamasyan’s music fits Royce’s ideal of progressive interpretation. By finding connections between different art forms and different histories, across eons and continents, Hamasyan is able to create something new in conversation with the ever-present past, enriching that evolving interpretive community to which we all belong. As Faulkner wrote, “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.”

—Andrew Hartwell

Message from the Center: Emmylou Harris

Existentialist philosophers argue that a truly authentic life requires awareness of our finitude and mortality, what Martin Heidegger famously called “being-towards-death.” Perhaps this is why the best country music feels so authentic: it is infused with an awareness of death, with the hard-earned knowledge of the pain that life dishes out. What else would you expect from an artform that evolved from the experiences of the working-class rural poor, from the stories of people who live close to the earth, where the cycles of nature and the storms they bring are a part of everyday life?

Emmylou Harris knows about weathering storms. Her solo career began with the tragic death of her original duet partner, Gram Parsons, a loss that haunts much of her subsequent work. There’s an inescapable ache at the heart of great country music: the bottle that lets you down, the sweet dreams that can never come true. As Harris sang on the title track of her 2000 album Red Dirt Girl, “One thing they don’t tell you about the blues when you got ‘em, you keep on falling cause there ain’t no bottom.”

Los Angeles may seem like an odd venue for such authentic, American music. After all, we are constantly told that we aren’t the “real America,” that we are a city of fakes and frauds. But beyond the superficial glitz of Hollywood, we have our share of the blues, too. The L.A. transplant Harris sings of in “Two More Bottles of Wine” works hard, suffers heartbreak and drinks her sorrows away, just like that southern “Red Dirt Girl” who “never got any farther across the line than Meridian.”

These songs remind us that the struggles of downtrodden working folks aren’t so different, whether they are Angelenos or Alabamians. Maybe that’s why country music has fans in east Africa as well as east Texas: it reminds us that we all suffer from loss, that our pain is never just ours, that we’re all heading to the same place regardless of what patch of dirt we call home, and that our ability to live with that knowledge, to weather the storm together, is what makes us truly human.

—Andrew Hartwell

Message from the Center: Fran Lebowitz

This summer when my husband was visiting family in Kansas, I got a text from him with this picture.

“Look,” he wrote, “Fran Lebowitz in Kansas!”

“Wow,” I wrote back, “Where are you?”

“I’m in a cool bookstore, and they have good iced coffee!”

My brain had never put the words, “Fran Lebowitz,” “Kansas” and “good iced coffee” in the same sentence. I looked more closely at the picture.

“Think before you speak. Read before you think.”
—Fran Lebowitz

The words were hand painted on what looked like old newsprint, the edges were curling, it was torn, but somebody had cared enough to frame it, and hang it on a wall. Being a native New Yorker (something I share with Fran), I will admit to having a few preconceived notions about what I think people are reading and thinking in other parts of the country. So, this was a bit of a surprise. It looked like the kind of thing you would see in San Francisco, or in downtown New York, but not in a small town in the middle of Kansas.

I texted back, “Who, in Kansas, even knows who Fran Lebowitz is?” Ooops. My cultural bias was raging. Think before you speak. Read before you think.

The woman who said these words has over 10,000 books in her apartment, and has read many more. For 60 plus years Fran Lebowitz has been thinking and reading. She has been called a literary icon, a social critic, a New York snob, a big mouth, a wit, a curmudgeon, a genius, a satirist and the heir to Dorothy Parker. She is all of these things, and none of these things. But she is a reader. She believes in books, printed on paper. The kind with pages that you turn, and fold, and write in the margins, and spill iced coffee on, and give to a friend, or pile in stacks or cram into crowded bookshelves, desks, nightstands. In the essay, Fran Lebowitz On Reading, she writes:

I would rather read than have any kind of real life, like working, or being responsible. Reading prepares you for other reading, and possibly for writing…All the things that I never did because I was reading, so what? If someone said to me, how did you spend your life? I’d have to say, lying on the sofa reading.

Books are our crucial connectors — whether in libraries, archives, classrooms, or small, scruffy bookstores in the middle of Kansas. I failed to imagine that someone in a tiny town could love what I love, value what I value, or—gasp—read what I read. Think before you speak. Read before you think. Sometimes we need our great readers to remind us to think differently.

—Meryl Friedman
Director of Education & Special Initiatives

Message from the Center: DakhaBrakha

What is ethno-chaos? That’s how tonight’s band, DakhaBrakha, describes their aesthetic. The term is provocative, bringing to mind the anarchic attitude of punk rock, but chaos is not merely destructive: it can be essential for new creation, the explosive combustion powering an engine of renewal.

DakhaBrakha means “give/take,” and that’s what their brand of ethno-chaos is all about. Philosophically, they embrace a poststructuralist approach: breaking down styles, reterritorializing foreign timbres into their own vernacular, freely taking from the old and giving us something new. They are experimental cartographers remixing the map of world music, spreading Ukrainian folklore while absorbing and metabolizing new ideas, asserting the uniqueness of their traditional culture while championing progressive ideals, boldly exploring the transcendent power of primal rhythms and cosmic drones.

We know a thing or two about ethno-chaos here in Los Angeles, the postmodern metropolis that gave the world Korean tacos, the place where the French Dip sandwich was invented in Chinatown. The perpetual swirling deconstruction and recombination of cultures and styles is a source of vitality for our city, just as it is for DakhaBrakha.

By joining us here tonight, you have become a part of this symbiotic process of giving and taking. That’s what live performance is all about: the energy shared between artists and audience. The creativity presented on stage should serve as a reminder that humanity always has the potential to grow in unexpected ways, giving and taking, forming new networks without regard for the barriers that separate us.

Maybe we could use a little more ethno-chaos in our world.

We hope you enjoy the show.

—Andrew Hartwell

Composing the Body:
Portrait of a Score

Deborah Hay, photo Sarah Granholm
Deborah Hay, photo by Sarah Granholm

In March of 2010, Deborah Hay performed her first solo in six years at Dancespace Project in New York City. This piece, No Time To Fly, became the foundation of a number of subsequent works. In early 2011, Bill Forsythe’s Motion Bank invited the performers Jeanine Durning, Juliette Mapp and Ros Warby to adapt this score — first as an individual solo and then into a new trio. This new piece, now called As Holy Sites Go was performed in 2012 at Motion Bank’s Frankfurt Lab.

Jeanine Durning and Ros Warby
Jeanine Durning and Ros Warby, As Holy Sites Go / duet

The trio adaptation of As Holy Sites Go, has been adapted yet again, but now as a duet, by two of the original performers, Ros and Jeanine. The digital score of the Motion Bank process, was set by Deborah on the twenty-one dancers of Cullberg Ballet in a new iteration called Figure A Sea. Both of these new works make up this weekend’s program.

Cullberg Ballet
Cullberg Ballet, Figure a Sea, photo by Urban Jörén

The process of this series of adaptations (which encompassed both live performance and digital transcription/performance), is documented on the Motion Bank website, and two of the resulting films are being shown on the large screens in front of the courtyard.

The evolution of this score, from the printed word though many modalities of performance and point of view is a sublime portrait of how bodies compose themselves. The written score of No Time To Fly reads like a prose poem, with interjections of notes, drawings, footnotes, instructions. It is a way of capturing space, and then presenting that space for others to capture, or re-capture, depending on your point of view. Deborah’s works have been described as being “more like rituals than concerts,” her scores give dancers an individual agency that is not as prevalent in more traditional choreography.

From No Time To Fly:
Note: My head is free to look down or away or to turn. It is not fixed.
Note: There is no repetition in live performance.
Note: I neither hurry nor linger.

Deborah’s scores are frequently framed in the form of “What if” questions, many of which are on display in the courtyard. Deborah wrote in 2014, “For as long as I can remember I struggled with whether the questions that are applied in the performance of my work be included in the program notes. My dances would not exist without them. The conflict about identifying the question in the program is that I do not want audiences to be looking for what might either satisfy or not satisfy their beliefs about what they are seeing.”

We also struggled with how much to reveal of the questions and the score before the lights dim and the dance begins. In the end, our wonder and fascination with the score and all it offers won the day. We couldn’t help but share some of it with you: not so that it would provide you with answers, but so that it might encourage you to consider your own questions.

this empty space
a song
an ocean
a figure moves
an ocean
the figure a sea
weaving her destiny
repeatedly
dh, 2012