Corey Henry is one of the most compelling musicians performing today. Deeply committed to his craft as a keyboardist and improviser, his singing talents too often go unnoticed. This cover of Prince's "Purple Rain" might go a very long way to changing that. Also, listen closely to the magic in Henry's treatment of the postlude--the ether of chords after the massive and iconic plagal cadence closing the area-rock section of "Purple Rain." Here one gets a wonderful sense of how the keyboards of Corey Henry are an extension of his voice, and how his voice is an extension of his energy: fierce, focused, and deeply humane. Put your headphones on and listen. This work changed my world.
Author Elizabeth Gilbert reminds us in her book, Big Magic, how showing up to engage in creative acts can invite both the mundane and the miraculous to thrive within us. Her thesis is that when creative production discards its vain romance with foolish notions of inspiration and genius, things get better for the artist and the art. Gilbert favors the workaday grace of a craftsperson, who plods patiently onward with or without proof of her work changing the world. I find proof of that type of grace in this sonnet by Lin-Manuel Miranda:
"My wife’s the reason anything gets done
She nudges me towards Promise by degrees
She is a perfect symphony of one
Our son is her most beautiful reprise.
We chase the melodies that seem to find us
Until they’re finished songs and start to play
When senseless acts of tragedy remind us
That nothing here is promised, not one day.
This show is proof that history remembers
We lived through times when hate and fear seemed stronger;
We rise and fall, and light, from dying embers,
remembrances that hope and love last longer.
And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love cannot be killed or swept aside.
I sing Vanessa’s symphony, Eliza tells her story
Now fill the world with music, love and pride."
Miranda delivered this sonnet as thanksgiving for having received this year's Tony award for Best Score. It honors his wife, their son, and grieves over the death and injury in an Orlando nightclub mass-shooting this weekend.
The sonnet begins simply enough. A humble nod to his family, Miranda's first quatrain enchants us by taking the big honor he's received and placing it in the hands of his son. The second quatrain gives the poem action--"we chase the melodies that seem to find us." At the end of this group of four lines, however, Miranda shows us that the poem's "We" is chasing much more than just melodies; the "We" is also chasing meaning in the present moment. ("nothing here is promised") This sentiment goes beyond the Latin saying Carpe Diem, for it builds a fire in the poem that grows as we travel to the next stanza.
If the second quatrain gave the sonnet action, the third places that action right inside the struggles chronicled in Hamilton: "hate and fear" that "rises and falls," and "remembrances that hope and love last longer." But that's not why I'm writing to you about this poem. I'm writing to you about this poem because of what happens next.
Form in art is like law in society: both allow channels for the violence of one's most private feelings to converse with others. Harvard president Drew Gilpin Faust called law "the wise restraints that keep us free," illustrating how our collective tendency towards less regulation too often betrays a danger toward real ontological imprisonment. Form liberates us from that imprisonment, allowing the artist and her audience to share densely packed abstractions of energy and emotive power.
So what happens when that form is stretched, broken, bruised, violated? What happens when the end of this sonnet does not provide a neat little bow for itself, summarizing its aforementioned thanksgiving, love and resilience before going on its humble, merry way? What happens when, instead of a final couplet of around twenty syllables, Miranda gives us this:
"And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love cannot be killed or swept aside.
I sing Vanessa’s symphony, Eliza tells her story
Now fill the world with music, love and pride."
Three lines. Close to fifty syllables.
It shakes the foundations upon which this sonnet was built. It calls bullshit on the ability of this formal poem (which moves from the awesome simplicity of a small family to the horrendous violence of mass murder) to do its job without some violence of its own at the end. One can recognize the shape of a "proper" ending in the lines above--perhaps something like:
And love cannot be killed or swept aside
Now fill the world with music, love and pride.
This would have been lovely. And moving. And inspiring. But for Miranda. . . for Miranda it would not have been enough.
"And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love cannot be killed or swept aside."
Two lines collide--crash into--one another, making a long virus of a sentence. Because the form was not enough. It could not hold the grief, the rage, or the sorrow--the gratitude, or the affection. It could not hold all of the worlds of pain--all of the feels. It could not hold all of the strange and sad things in his heart--not in that precious, little, sonnet-package. The form was not enough. The couplet could not rage. The moment demanded more.
So Miranda broke with convention. He set an expectation, and then stretched it past its limit, bringing the ferociousness of love onto the form of this couplet again and again and. . . isn't that better than bringing ferociousness onto others with an AR-15?
Form matters to me because law matters to me. Because they are similar. And if I am to bear witness to either being broken, I hope it's in service to the workaday grace of being Alive, not a corrosive romance with greatness that would have someone crown themselves king, and shoot people with an automatic weapon. Miranda brought us the former to counter the latter.
Author Elizabeth Gilbert reminds us in her book, Big Magic, how showing up to engage in creative acts will invite both the mundane and the miraculous to thrive within us. And while Lin-Manuel Miranda built art with no confidence of finding that grace (that grace of the cabinet maker or patient gardner), grace is exactly what he found. And he found it by knowing, in his deepest place, where to build, and also. . also, where to break.
Two things come to mind after reading Ta-Nehisi Coates' pitch-perfect critique of the film "Nina": 1. How forces at work in casting this movie also inform the way we now listen to and appreciate jazz music at large. Were he alive today for exmaple, Thelonious Monk would not get close to winning the piano competition that bears his name because we reify his legacy while denuding its contemporary racial and cultural importance. 2. How Hollyweird has little trouble casting black women with African features to portray servitude and illness. (e.g. Hattie McDaniel in "Gone with the Wind," Octavia Spencer in "The Help," and Mo'Nique in "Precious," all of whom won Oscars). And yet it denies and denudes Simone's face? Coates' writing offers some of the most cogent observations on African American life available today. It's time to face the music.
What I find most interesting in this Vanity Fair portrait is how her brand of conservatism does not seem to be driven by ideological impulses so much as her own brand of common sense reasoning. It's refreshing to read about someone who believes in knowing what the hell they're talking about without fetishizing or valorizing their work as a moral triumph. I get so tired of hearing about how wonderful someone is because they've accomplished something extraordinary, as if their achievements were the product solely of their own ingenuity or rugged individualism. Doing something awesome does not make me better than someone else. While it may help me keep a job, doing awesome things and knowing how to learn are skills acquired and cultivated over the course of my life. Accomplishments and hard work, while admirable, are not what should give people their sense of self-worth. A person's accomplishments extend from who they are, and every person has inherent worth, and is deserving of regard and respect.
According to the article, early on in Megyn Kelly's tenure at Fox News, her boss, Roger Ailes, told her to "make more mistakes." That's great advice for anyone starting out in a new venture. What is the point of having knowledge, enthusiasm, vision, and dedication to a field if one is afraid of making errors? How can we learn if we don't try new stuff out? Over time, Kelly's voice in journalism began to emerge when she became less concerned about making mistakes and more interested, in the words of Steve Martin, in "being so good they can't ignore you." (She is said to like this quote very much.) To take on a mission like that necessitates hubris that can produce groundbreaking work, but also some errors along the way. My takeaway from the Vanity Fair article is that those two outcomes are not separate, or, as buddhists like to say, "they are not two." Groundbreaking work means that one must make mistakes along they way.
Talk all you want about the evil Roger Ailes and Fox News have rendered onto our republic and the world by making candidates like Donald Trump appear to be viable alternatives to the very un-glamourous and important work of governance, and I will largely agree with you. And if the folks at Gawker are to be believed, Kelly is an odious presence on television, and a virulent racist. There is a case to be made, however, for the rise of Megyn Kelly, no matter what Donald Trump or Gawker may say about her. My lesson from the article is simple: living with a voice can be challenging sometimes. Any composer worth her salt knows this. But to move through challenges, humbled and informed by them, and everyday be un-ignorable by virtue of one's good works--maybe that's the hokey pokey. Maybe that's what it's all about.
"The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice," King said. Perhaps it bends like an asana, or yoga pose. Yoga translates roughly from Sanskit to "yoke," which ostensibly brings ugly associations of enslaved ancestors to my mind. But perhaps the idea of "bending towards" something (instead of "fighting for" something) can reframe our understanding of what and how we strive in social justice work.
The vocabulary of social justice work is filled with struggle and battle. Much like the war on crime, the battle against HIV/AIDS denotes, for example, a direct enemy, and specific sites for confrontation. We "struggle against" racism, and "battle for" a living wage, thus demonstrating our commitment against corruption. But to "bend toward" desired outcomes involves a very different set of material and psychological tools than to "battle for" or "struggle against."
King observed a force within the universe that binds all of us, long before the discovery of the Higgs field or the musings of master Yoda. He observed that the work of social justice is as much a question of inner alignment & disposition as it is of material struggle. For King and many others during the civil rights movement of the 1950s & '60s, fervent religious conviction was a primary instrument of that sense of alignment with the world around them. Their struggle for radical change through non-violet revolution was rooted in a deep-seated belief in the inherent goodness of their cause.
So, thirty years into our MLK Federal holiday, what shall we call King? A jedi for justice, perhaps? What we can say with certainty is that he recognized justice to comprise more than the absence of corruption, and peace to be more than the absence of war. He understood that the fates of every person on earth are tied together.
So let's not celebrate Martin Luther King as an icon, or idea, but rather as a person who deeply understood our interconnection. He knew that we are yoked together in a lifelong bending towards justice, today and everyday. That, for me, is worth celebrating.
If you are in or around Banja Luka, on the 25th of November, stop by and listen to the MAN trio (flute, flute & piano) for me. The trio is putting on a concert that night that features fifteen 1-minute premieres, and my frisky little romp, BOP!, will be among them. This group has a lot of energy; to put together a program like this demands some serious technique, and I wish I could be there to experience the concert in person and meet them. If you're close by though, you owe it to yourself to check them out.
Timbre: soft, sweet, with brightness of modern piano accents shaved off; Key: G-flat/F-Sharp, with pentatonic undertones, hints of 7ths, and a 9th finish; Prevailing tonal gestures: scale degree 6 to 5, exhaling on 3 over a plagal sigh, and pentatonic affirmation, as if sanctioned by a higher power. Working Title for the sonic environment: Don't Panic, Relax, We'll Take it from Here.
"Literacy in Music & Arts is one of your vital links to global citizenship!"
"Be sure to support the arts in *your* community!"