In my own lifetime I can think of only one other time – October, 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis – when I felt the same depth of personal anxiety and horror that I feel today about what’s happening in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. All month I’ve been labouring with the appropriateness of relating music to the international state of affairs.
Then, when I was reading an October newsletter released by a colleague arts administrator, Joseph Glaser, the Ontario Regional Director of the Canadian Music Centre, I saw how another man of music was similarly focusing on what was challenging me. My thanks go to Joseph for kindly agreeing to share his recent column with us here today. His thoughts resonate with me.
In his own newsletter, Joseph writes:
“I must admit that I’ve struggled with what I would say at the opening of this newsletter. In times of global strife and tragedy it seems trite to talk about concerts and composition prizes. How can we talk about music when we see so many lives crushed under the weight of seemingly insurmountable political forces?
“I am reminded of a talk I attended as an undergrad at UBC with Scottish composer Nigel Osborne. Nigel was speaking about a project he was running with kids suffering from PTSD from the Bosnian Civil War. Many of these kids were terrified of loud noises because for them, loud noises meant attack helicopters and airstrikes. Nigel observed that when he put the children into a situation where they had control of the noise, able to author when it happened and, more importantly, giving them the power to stop it, they regained a sense of themselves. There is power in composition in creating a world where self-expression trumps violent authority.
“I think about the power of composition to imagine worlds otherwise. The very human act of creating music with others teaches us a lot about politics, in a way. When in an ensemble, there is no room for denying the humanity of your colleagues. There is idealism in the fugue – a vision of multiple independent voices working together in harmony. There is a joyful community in the free improvisation ensemble where the direction is undecided but worked towards together. There is understanding in the work of sound artists saying “this is where I am and this is how I hear the world”. I think about the humanity of those in Gaza, having the ability to author their destinies taken from them for generations. I think about hostages and those killed for political aims – unable to be authors of their destinies. I, perhaps naively, wonder if we conducted politics closer to how we create music we could imagine a world where neighbours could live alongside each other in peace.
“I’m left with the words found at the end of Luciano Berio’s Sinfonia:“ ’For when we find ourselves, face to face, now, here, and they remind us all this can’t stop the wars, can’t make the old younger or lower the price of bread […], can’t erase solitude or dull the tread outside the door, we can only nod, yes, it’s true, but no need to remind, to point, for it is all with us, always, except, perhaps at certain moments, here among these rows of balconies, in a crowd or out of it, perhaps waiting to enter, watching. And tomorrow we’ll read that …[the music] made tulips grow in my garden and altered the flow of the ocean currents. We must believe it’s true. There must be something else. Otherwise it would be quite hopeless.’ “
Some of you will know that the Canadian Music Centre, whose work has been to support, preserve and celebrate the works of Canadian composers since 1959, is close to my own heart because of the years I spent there as its national director. I encourage you to learn more about the CMC, about our own Canadian composers, and about Joseph Glaser himself as he guides activities in Ontario. Here are three links, the first with general info about the Centre, the second as a sign-up route to receive newsletters and information about the CMC and its activities, and the third to open a complete copy of Joseph’s October newsletter from which I’ve excerpted his text for our attention today. Thanks, Joseph!
Till we’re together again…remember that Music Connects Us.
John A. Miller, Artistic Director