November and December passed quickly and with some difficulty in my part of the world. When Hurricane Sandy visited New York my neighborhood, Red Hook, was among those badly hit. Although the storm passed swiftly through the news cycle, many of my neighbors are still living in its aftermath. So it was with special pleasure that we observed the passing of 2012 earlier this month.
The storm was a tear in the fabric of everyday life. I spent the first week on the ground floor of my friends’ house, salvaging books and belongings from the destruction of six feet of sewage and seawater. During that time the features of ordinary life became precious. Each salvaged book was a world of ideas; a good dry glove, a treasure; a table of food with friends around it, a universe.
Life has since become mainly ordinary, a banality for which I am nothing but grateful. In the days after the storm, though, my appreciation for music and a life therein deepened appreciably. That appreciation stays with me as I contemplate the start of the new semester at New England Conservatory.
In my last essay I wrote about the slender weapons—bows, reeds, mallets—that musicians use to defend their livelihoods. If we musicians are warriors, then these instruments are truly extraordinary weapons. Instruments are tools for living, teaching a discipline that aligns body, mind and spirit. To play an instrument, we assume a posture of dignity. We take our seat, we claim our space; we take our breath, we make our sound. This alone can be a radical act.
Music connects us to other people, times and places in complex and beautiful ways. In a time when sounds, like selves, are increasingly split from their sources, playing an instrument brings connection to the bodily level. Instruments are vehicles that can carry us to greater possibilities in education, employment, and enlightenment. Instruments are exquisite weapons that can pierce the armored heart with delicate tenderness. They are, in short, what’s needed in this world.
I spent the last week of December in Istanbul, working with Anthony Coleman to teach a workshop on improvisation. Simply put, it was magic: how twenty-some musicians became a family in two days. We repeated this magic with an extraordinary cast for a Turkish performance of Cage’s Song Books. I was reminded again how efficient music can be as mechanism for building trust and community.
As 2013 begins, there’s much that I’m looking forward to in my musical life. In February I’m co-curating a concert with Gunther Schuller, tracing Third Stream innovations to the present-day. After several visits to Kabul over the past two years, I’m delighted that the New England Conservatory is welcoming students and faculty from the Afghanistan National Institute of Music for a three day residency. (If you’re in New York, don’t miss ANIM students’ Carnegie Hall debut on February 12.) I’m performing a solo recital at Jordan Hall on March 10, and East Coast dates for my trio with Anthony Coleman and Ted Reichman are all set. In short, it’ll be a busy few weeks, for which I am simply grateful.