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Saturday Art: David Rovics’ Song for Chelsea Manning

12:44 am in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Dave Rovics at Resurrection Seward

Two and a half years ago, minstrel and progressive activist David Rovics composed and recorded his Song for Bradley Manning.  The song and its official video were among the first credible works of art created in acknowledgement of the service Manning performed as whistleblower and patriot.

Since its creation, Rovics performed the song hundreds of times, in eastern, western, northern and southern hemispheres.  In an essay and iPhone video posted at his site Friday, he described how he came around to changing the song to reflect the reality of Chelsea Manning:

It’s humbling to discover that you’re not as righteous as you thought you were.  Not that this is the first time for me to discover that.  But the past 24 hours have certainly been one of those occasions in life, and I thought I’d share a little bit about that, in case that might be useful for anyone.

When my hero became my heroine and proclaimed that her name was now Chelsea and that she now wanted people to use the female pronoun, she gained a new support base.  Of course she had some trans supporters before she made this public announcement — people don’t fit into neat little boxes, and there’s lots of crossover in so many aspects of life, including political activism.  But Chelsea gained many wonderful, vocal new supporters in the trans community around the world, and sometimes when they encounter some of Chelsea’s non-trans supporters, perhaps particularly in generally alienating (I find) online social environments like Facebook, they often seem to encounter some spoken or unspoken version of the question, “well where were you before?”

I’m so sorry it took me so long to clearly answer that question for myself.  Where were they before?  Well, of course some of them were campaigning on behalf of Chelsea Manning, before she announced she was Chelsea.  And all of them — whether campaigning for Chelsea then, now, or never — were busy being members of one of the most marginalized, misunderstood, ostracized, attacked, murdered group of people on planet Earth.

And then, as people who already have to deal with life in a decidedly heterosexist world, when members of this community or people speaking in their support do something like ask me why I haven’t re-recorded the song I wrote about Chelsea, I have responded in various ways.  Sometimes I say I haven’t gotten around to it yet, or I can’t afford the studio time to do it right.  Sometimes, if someone presses the issue at all, I have reacted with defensiveness, with an attitude that said, “this isn’t important.”  I have reacted in ways that could perhaps be characterized as derisive.  And when other people have spoken up in my defense there on social media, I have sat by and not bothered condemning comments that were even more dismissive or derisive than mine.

Here is David Rovics, in his Song for Chelsea Manning.  He will come out with a more refined studio version soon:

(image: David Rovics at the Resurrect Gallery in Seward – by Philip Munger)

Saturday Art: Will 2014 Be the Watershed Year for Cultural Boycotts of Israel?

11:29 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller


I.  On December 27th, Gaza’s University Teachers’ Association and the Gaza Palestinian Students for the Academic Boycott of Israel wrote to young Norwegian songwriter, Moddi, asking him to cancel his upcoming 2014 concert, in Tel Aviv on February 1st.  Friday the young and rapidly upcoming artist responded, in a Facebook post that links to an article Jello Biafra wrote after he had cancelled an Israeli show, with his band, the Guantanamo School of Medicine, back in 2011.

The Gaza letter is an openly emotional plea.  It recounts some musicians who have recently decided to cancel appearances in the militant expansionist Zionist state:

We call upon your free soul that has been adding uplifting music into this disenchanted world of ours, to join those courageous people of conscience, artists like Elvis Costello, Annie Lennox, Roger Waters of Pink Floyd, Massive Attack, Gil Scott-Heron, Faithless, Carlos Santana, Vanessa Paradis, Natacha Atlas and Devendra Banhart.

And directly confronts the notion of an Israeli performance being appropriate, from a Gazan perspective:

We ask you now, like so many people of your nation have stood with the oppressed in the past, to stand on the right side of history, to respond to our call from the Gaza ghetto to not turn your back on us. If you play in Israel, then we will be a short distance away from where you are playing. But your beautiful tunes will break our wrenching hearts and not sway our souls.

I’ve watched a few of Moddi’s Youtube videos over the past year, after a student turned me on to his art.  Here is what the Gazan suppliants meant when they wrote “your beautiful tunes.”  Moddi, rendering Smoke, with Katrine Schiøtt, in Istanbul:

Moddi’s Facebook response to the Gazans is as poignant and defiant as his song, Smoke:

I have chosen to cancel my performance in Tel Aviv on February 1st. This is without comparison the most difficult decision I have ever made as an artist, and one that hurts almost as much as it feels right.

The reason for my decision is the situation in Israel and the areas it controls. Although music can be a unique arena for public debate, the debate over these territories has been misused for a long time. Discussion and dialogue creates an impression of constant progress. The realities of politics are very different. An example: as we speak, John Kerry is negotiating peace talks between Israel and Palestine, while at the same time Israel announces the construction of 1400 new settlements on occupied land. While everyone speaks about a two-state solution, the constant scattering of the West Bank through the building of new control posts, security fences and walls are making such a solution practically impossible.

The discourse of peace creates a thick veil, concealing the increasingly tighter besiegement of Gaza, the ongoing fragmentation of the West Bank and the continuing discrimination of Arab-Israeli citizens. By encouraging ‘dialogue’ and ‘tolerance’ as ideals, I am afraid that my voice will do nothing but to increase the already dysfunctional divide between words and action in a conflict where no one seems to trust each other’s intentions.

I know that I disappoint many of my Israeli listeners and I am truthfully sorry that it has to stay like this for now. I believe that you will understand, although you might not agree. Again, I encourage you to read Jello Biafra’s article, which provides many perspectives and no clear answers to the questions he has been faced with. Like him, I am overwhelmed by the complexity of the situation. Therefore, I will be going to Israel and to the West Bank to see things with my own eyes, meet some of the people who have joined the discussion and try to understand the situation better.

As long as ‘dialogue’ continues to be a goal in itself and not a means to solve one of the deepest, most intense conflicts of this time, I will not lend my voice to it. For now I’ll keep away, hoping that things can change for the better and that one day I can carry through with my very first concert on an Israeli stage.

Read the rest of this entry →

Saturday Art: Elegy for JFK

1:40 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

The Anchorage Civic Orchestra will be giving our 2013 Fall Concert on November 22nd.  Back in late August, when we began our once-per-week rehearsals, a member observed that our concert will occur on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

The theme of our concert is Four Centuries of American Music, with works written in the 18th, 19th, 20th and 21st centuries being programmed.  After mulling over the idea for four days, I wrote this simple, direct elegy over Labor Day weekend.

The music doesn’t take a point of view in a sense of reflecting my opinions on why or how President Kennedy was killed.  It is merely a civic tribute to the man, and what he gave that day.  The sound track of the Youtube is a MIDI version, created with Finale notation software and Garritan orchestral sound samples.

I will conduct its premiere on Friday, November 22nd, in Anchorage.

Philip Munger (Edward Teller at firedoglake)

Saturday Art: The Joys of Watching Young People Mature as Musicians

1:32 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Dane Breitung acknowledging applause - 3:29:2013 w: ACO

No musician matures by herself, or by himself.  From the beginnings, child musicians search for ways to express themselves from their own hearts and minds.  Even if drawn toward music from within, they usually seek to emulate someone older, though.  Eventually, they gain craft and intricate skills through guidance from teachers, mentors, siblings or parents, and from occasionally hearing or seeing prominent or famous performers.

When I was a kid, my initial inspirations to explore music came from my older sister, who was a serious piano student, and from playing in school bands and orchestras.  Beyond that, it was through being helped by adult musicians who recognized my deep love of music, and helped nurture it, that made a huge difference.  Even though my parents payed for private lessons on brass instruments, I got many hours of free help from adults, assisting me in finding my way as a beginning composer and conductor.

That was over fifty years ago.  Since then, I’ve tried to repay the gifts of curiosity, knowledge and technique they bestowed upon me.  Although I get paid to teach young people about the intricacies and simplicities of musical art, I long ago silently promised those who helped me, to always find the time to help young artists who want or need help, no matter what our professional relationship.

I’ve been fortunate to be able to watch young musicians advance from grade school, through conservatory, and on to professional life, where they, in turn, now teach young people to fulfill their intense love of art.

The biggest challenge for young performers is preparing major solos for performance, or competition.  Whether the kids are eager to dive into the work, or reluctant, there is something there for them to learn.  Helping them assess what those lessons were after their performance can be almost as important as helping them prepare the piece in the first place.  Sometimes it is easier for them to learn lessons from a performance that enhance what they do next, if the performance wasn’t up to their or others’ expectations.

One of the most exciting things for me is to accompany, either on keyboard or as conductor, a young soloist in a performance that sees that person through to another level of understanding, musicianship, or personal satisfaction.  My favorite of all time was perhaps back in 1998.

A fifth grade trumpet player had heard me direct an adult performer in Johann Hummel’s Trumpet Concerto.  The kid came to me a week later, and said “I want to do that!”  I asked if he was sure, and he was affirmative.

A week later, he played it for me.  From memory.

Two months later, when this 11-year-old performed the concerto flawlessly, the audience jumped out of their seats in awe.  I stepped down from the podium and picked him up, holding him up high enough so everyone could see him beaming with pride (and a bit of shock).

Last fall, I directed the same young man, now a college graduate and best young jazz trumpeter in Alaska, in the Haydn Trumpet Concerto.  Once again, the audience jumped out of their seats.  This time, however, I didn’t pick him up.  He’s six feet four inches.  It’d be easier for him to pick me up.

Since September, I’ve been the conductor and music director of the Anchorage Civic Orchestra.  All three of our soloists so far have been high school performers or young adults.  We have more planned, including a new work for Japanese Taiko drum ensemble and orchestra.  Our winter high school concerto competition had two soloists so outstanding, we couldn’t decide which one deserved to win.  Rather than toss a coin, we decided to feature them both.

Here is the younger of the two, Dane Breitung, a junior, performing Claude T. Smith‘s Fantasia for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra a week ago:

Musical performance, like much of art and life, is a continuity of  young people learning to render something inanimate into a breathing, vibrant reality.  All around the world, hundreds of thousands of kids, teens and young adults are struggling to conquer a tricky passage, a new concept, a unique approach to sound.  As much joy as I get from helping such talent and dedication, I do love learning from them that there is such good as this in a terrible world.

Saturday Art: Alice Walker Reads Rachel Corrie

12:29 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Rachel Corrie - February 2003

Next Saturday, March 16th, will mark the tenth anniversary of the death in Gaza, of Rachel Corrie.  Rachel, then a senior at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, had gone to Gaza at the beginning of 2003, to fulfill aspects of her senior thesis.  While there, she became active in efforts by the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), to protect Palestinians from outrages of the Israeli occupation forces.

She was killed by an Israeli Army D-9 armored bulldozer, with two people aboard in the cockpit, one there to drive, the other, to observe.  During the same time period, Israeli forces in Gaza shot and mortally wounded Tom Hurndall, a British photographer, also working with the ISM (April 11th), and mutilated Brian Avery (April 5th), another American ISM activist, in Jenin in the West Bank.  This time period coincided with the American invasion of Iraq – March 19th to May 1st.

A notable aspect of Rachel Corrie’s legacy is the sheer volume of art her life and sacrifice evoked.  Between March 19th 2003 and April 24th 2004, I collected over 160 poems written in the young woman’s honor, and posted on the web, in the English language.  I used two of them in my 2003-2004 cantata, The Skies Are Weeping.  California composer, Paul Crabtree composed another cantata about Corrie, American Persephone.

Corrie’s journals and emails from Gaza became the basis of the most widely viewed and highly regarded work of art about Corrie, My Name is Rachel Corrie.  Written by Katharine Viner and Alan Rickman, the play premiered in London on April 5, 2005, in a highly evocative solo performance by actress Megan Dodds.  Premiered in a very small theatre, it was revived in the 2005 fall London theatre season in a larger venue, and proceeded to win many awards.

The first attempt to produce My Name is Rachel Corrie in the USA, at the New York Theatre Workshop resulted in a cancellation, when the NYTW caved to threats from militant Zionist expansionists. (Incidentally – the article about the cancellation in The Nation, by writer Philip Weiss, and the pushback that writer got in the publishing world for having written so sympathetically about Corrie, and critically about the NYTW, was one of the epiphanies Weiss underwent that led him into new directions, now expressed most fully at his web site, Mondoweiss).

The play has gone on to be performed on every continent save Antarctica, in many languages.

The play was derived from Corrie’s written material with cooperation of the slain activist’s family.  Some of Corrie’s writings had been posted on the web soon after her death.  Some soon became the basis of poems or lyrics.  For instance, the concluding lyric in The Skies are Weeping is my editing (with the Corrie family’s approval) of one of her last emails home: Read the rest of this entry →

Saturday Art: The Sealaska Alaska Native Celebration 2012 – Watch It Live

10:36 am in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Wolf Drum by David Robert Boxley

The Sealaska Heritage Institute‘s Semi-Annual Celebration of Alaska Native song and dance is entering its third and final full day today, in Juneau, Alaska.

(Tune into the webcast here Saturday, and watch these amazing songs and dances live, while you read this arts diary in another window.)

Thousands of dancers from scores of groups have been here since Wednesday, when over a hundred participants arrived by canoe (traveling many miles!), fishing boat, ferry boat, or airplane.  You do not drive to Juneau.

I am here, learning more about Tlingit culture, before I embark upon a musical work in which I hope to tap into this rich, vibrant, changing and growing legacy.  I knew I knew too little before I came here.  I’m beginning to think there is no way I may ever know enough to present this music honestly through my own.

The renaissance of ritual song and dance art in Alaska Native musical culture is a story of resistance to attempts by our federal and state governments and various religions to force assimilation or eradication upon Natives and their ties to their tribal traditions, many of which pre-date the model upon which Western civilizations have been built, by many thousands of years.  If you can eradicate the songs, dances and rituals tied to spirituality of a culture, and make use of its language difficult to achieve, eradication will follow.

In the lower 48 states, this has been achieved 100% in hundreds, if not thousands, of cases.  In Hawaii and Alaska, the first Peoples have been more fortunate, though “fortunate” barely qualifies as a description of what has happened in these two states since the late 19th century.

Alaska Native tribes sought to redress government and religious encroachments all the way back into the early days of our country’s possession of the territory.  The city of Angoon, commemorates its 1882 destruction by the U.S. Navy through song and dance.

The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971 established entities that were supposed to benefit the many tribes, peoples and villages of aboriginal Alaska. Some have been more successful than others.  Few of  these resultant corporations have understood the importance of the arts to language, culture, education and pride as deeply as has the Sealaska Heritage Institute.  The dominant tribes of Southeast Alaska, over which Sealaska Corporation oversees many programs, are Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian.
Read the rest of this entry →

Saturday Art: On the Drawings of James L. Acord

9:47 am in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Scanned Image-35

Over the generations, the Pacific Northwest has produced a number of iconoclastic visual artists.  Perhaps the first to become notable nationally was painter Mark Tobey. He became known as the founder of the Northwest School, initially based mostly out of Skagit County, between Seattle and Vancouver, BC.  The big four of the first generation, Tobey, Guy AndersonKenneth Callahan, and Morris Graves, came to prominence between the two world wars.  They taught or influenced a number of artists who became a second generation, such as Richard Kirsten (influenced by Morris Graves), Philip McCracken and Dale Chihuly.

McCracken’s most important student was sculptor James L. Acord, Jr.  Acord studied and lived with McCracken and his family on Guemes Island in the early to mid-60s.  Among the influences from McCracken Acord brought into his art was an appreciation of how to match dissimilar materials in three dimensional objects of art, and an understanding that drawings can be produced while working on long-term sculptures, so as to pay one’s bills.

Over the 40-plus years of Acord’s serious work as an artist, he created thousands of drawings.  Many are not more than refined sketches, with coffee, beer or whisky stains around their edges.  Others were minor masterpieces of intricacy, virtuosic pen and ink hatchwork and shadow play.

Here are two sheets from Acord’s 1981 notebook related to a hero, taken down by nuclear radioactivity that he copied and mailed to me then:

Acord Sleeping Hero study 1981

Acord Sleeping Hero study 1981

Zipper detail: Read the rest of this entry →

Saturday Art: Garfunkel and Oates – “Save the Rich”

10:19 am in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

I first got turned on to Garfunkel and Oates here at fdl back in 2008, when a commenter linked to one of their early songs.  Soon afterward, their song about Pat Robertson and Proposition 8, Sex With Ducks, became their first big Youtube and internet hit.  Their early work as a singing group was markedly low tech and low budget, with Ricki Lindhome (Garfunkel) playing a cheap electric keyboard and Kate Micucci (Oates) playing ukelele.  They were gifted with a sense of self parody from the beginning.  With Sex With Ducks, they began producing fairly slick music videos that not only are more expensive to produce, they sometimes parody such videos made by others.

The “official video” of Save the Rich does just that – it parodies such iconic music videos as We Are the World.  Here is the official version of Save the Rich:

Saturday Art: The Anchorage Youth Symphony Performs My Wild Coast

1:03 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Ice sculptures and Wild Coast Poster @ the PAC

On March 6th, the Anchorage Youth Symphony gave the premiere of my newest orchestral work, The Wild Coast, as part of their Winter Concert.  Their director, Linn Weeda, commissioned it last summer for the March concert, and for their upcoming June 2012 European Tour.

It is a difficult work.  The kids in the orchestra – some as young as 14 – worked very hard to pull it off.  I wasn’t able to attend the premiere, as I had to rehearse my own (at least  for now) orchestra, the Anchorage Civic Orchestra, that night for a concert we performed on March 10th.  But I did get to watch and listen to their dress rehearsal on the 5th.

I wrote about this music here back in November, right after I finished writing the piece.  And I posted a Youtube I made of the MIDI version of it,  with sampled electronic sounds emulating orchestral instruments, rather than real people.

Here’s a link to that post.

And here’s the Youtube of the electronic version:

We can’t embed audio players at MyFiredoglake, so if you want to hear the Anchorage Youth Symphony – real people! – perform it –  you have to go to this link to do that.

Please go there to hear these talented young people.

A few people have asked why I wrote such a difficult work for kids.  My response is that the music is about an amazing physical and mental feat of endurance by two young people.  To do it justice, the music had to present enough challenges to demand remarkable efforts from the young people in the ensemble.

Erin McKittrick contemplating crossing Icy Bay, November, 2007.

Erin Looking Over Icy BayNovember 2007


Saturday Art: John Adams’ Controversial The Death of Klinghoffer Opens Today at the English National Opera

2:37 am in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

I. Derided by notable music historian Richard Taruskin in a  New York Times essay famous among new music writers, as an opera that “cater[s] to so many of [Western Europeans'] favorite prejudices — anti-American, anti-Semitic, anti-bourgeois –” and by Leon Klinghoffer’s daughters Lisa and Ilsa as “exploitation of our parents and the coldblooded murder of our father as the centerpiece of a production that appears to us to be anti-Semitic,” San Francisco composer John Adams‘ second opera, The Death of Klinghoffer, may be his greatest achievement.

Commissioned in 1989 by a consortium of five opera companies in the U.S. and Europe, some of the companies reneged when they realized the controversies the resultant opera had brought about.  Since then, most of the opera’s productions have been met with combinations of  demonstrations, dueling op-eds in the news, and fairly large audiences, as Adams’ music is some of the most vital now being written or played.  Had the controversies and accusations surrounding this music drama been attached to a lesser composer, it would have ended any possibilities of future commissions, fellowships and awards.  Fortunately, John Adams was too famous, too honest and too candid for this to have been the result.  Alice Goodman, the work’s librettist, was somewhat less well-known, so wasn’t let off so easily:

Goodman and the rest of the creative team – composer Adams, director Peter Sellars and choreographer Mark Morris – had expected, and perhaps even courted, controversy. (They were, after all, following their 1987 triumph Nixon in China, another opera based on a news event, albeit a much less provocative one.) Adams had been disappointed that the world premiere weeks earlier in Brussels had been so tepidly received. The reaction in New York more than compensated: it proved a devastating shock.

“I couldn’t get work after Klinghoffer,” says Goodman. “I was uncommissionable. John was almost uncommissionable.” Adams’s next work was a violin concerto. “No words,” says Goodman. [emphasis added]

In 2001 the Boston Symphony had scheduled the Choruses from The Death of Klinghoffer for its 2001-2002 season.  It was cancelled: Read the rest of this entry →