Thanks again Kevin Joest for writing these questions and writing “Thoughts and Prayers” We can’t wait to release this piece and share it with you. Just a reminder, a portion of proceeds from each purchase of the track will be donated to certain organizations fighting gun violence. We will announce those organizations soon.
1. Tell me about the process of learning the piece and any special techniques or mindsets you had to use to play this piece in particular, both from a nuts-and-bolts aspect and a subject matter standpoint.
This piece was the first piece with electronics where I had to perform with a timer to make sure all of the speaking and playing sections were appropriately timed with the track. I think I’m now at a point where I may not have to do so, but I had time stamps, like 1:05, written above certain sections of music where I wanted to make sure I was with the track. Since there is no click or rhythmic aspect to the electronics, keeping a strict tempo was very important for me so I definitely practiced internalizing the tempos of each section so I would finish the phrase in time. In the sections of the piece where I play along with Obama’s words, it was always very difficult to perfectly match his phrasing, so I would practice saying the sentence aloud with Obama and then the more I had that down, I knew it would be easier to play it.
In terms of the subject matter, the piece has some really tough quotes in it. The line about congress not acting after all of the kids were shot at Sandy Hook is a really rough one to hear and whenever I get to that part of the piece I always feel pretty dark. It was sometimes draining to practice the piece for so many hours and listen to the track, in a time when there have unfortunately been several other incidents since Kevin wrote the piece. I also keep in m ind that this might not be something that people are ok with hearing – depending on their own experience with gun violence. While there aren’t any gunshot noises in the piece or anything that may be alarming in that way, the subject matter could be very triggering so I always make sure I describe the content of the piece before I perform it. There’s always a certain air change in the room after I finish, where I feel like people are processing what they’ve heard and still figuring out their own perspective on it. I try to let that be and not rush into the next piece. I did do one performance of the piece where there was a Q+A afterwards and it was a nice space for people to talk and ask questions about the piece as well.
2. What does gun violence mean to you and why do you feel strongly about it?
Gun violence is unfortunately all too common in this current time period. We shouldn’t have to worry about something happening in a church, school, grocery store, work place, community center, and so on. Personally what is so frustrating to me is that in many of these instances, we hear about how the shooter was reported to their school, or the parents did know about the behavior issues, the FBI was informed about the person, and/or the person was already banned from entering the building. Yet these things are happening. From our own culture with the media (movies, video games etc) and perhaps the lack of mental health resources and awareness, I know this only unfortunately contributes to the problem. At the root of it for me though are the actual gun laws in place and our politicians efforts and non efforts to do anything about the issue. Hearing about all of the “thoughts and prayers” floating around after each tragic event just got me more and more frustrated – because just saying that (or tweeting it) wasn’t actually doing anything. It doesn’t change the laws – or prevent more of these things from happening. It’s the laziest way of attempting to care about the issue, it makes me angry, and it inspired this piece!
3. What are your thoughts on being a performer in the 21st century, especially in terms of interpretation of specifically political works as well as works that are more abstract but might be “politicizable” if that’s even a thing?
I think as musicians in this current time period we are both extremely lucky but also continuously facing new challenges. To me, being a 21st century musician means that we are given the freedom to create our own art, program our own concerts, and make our own musical and social contributions to the world. We aren’t tied down to a King / Queen’s Castle to perform fanfares when requested lol and as a freelancer, I’m not in an orchestra every day or in another group where I am not able to speak out about certain issues. There are many musicians in the top 40 pop world who are making (controversial) art contributing to conversations about race, sexuality, politics, etc – and I think since the election, it is being done more and more in the classical / new music world. With that being said, I don’t want to live in a world where all music is political and always trying to convey a message or convince people to act a certain way. It is refreshing to lose yourself in something musically and not necessarily feel a viewpoint from the experience.
In terms of performing political works, I realize that freelancing in NYC I am in a bit of a bubble when I perform political works. I personally haven’t felt any resistance from playing pieces with a political or social message but I realize that probably would be different outside the city. In terms of pieces that are more abstract and not necessarily political, I feel like this is almost the best way to go about it – because the listener almost doesn’t realize what is happening until the end. Conversations and exposure to other viewpoints is so important, but can be difficult when we are going into something knowing the opposite perspective ahead of time and may feel turned off.
I am working on a piece by JacobTV called “Close Fight” where the video features an interview with two boxers. I have known about this piece for a while and always admired it – for both the groove and the interesting dialogue. I never thought that it had a political or social message until I was planning this show and some of the words stuck out to me. One of them says, “I’m not saying it was fixed… it’s always the more politically connected fighter that gets the close decisions, and this was no different.” The interviewer asks “isn’t this part of the game?” and then the boxer replies, “It is part of the game but is it right?… Does it mean that everybody should stand back and not fix it?… I feel like I’m the only one that ever talks and opens his mouth” Thinking about the election and other social issues, this quote had a whole new meaning to me and I feel like it describes my responsibility as a musician in the 21st century – to fight for what I believe in and speak up when necessary. That can be as simple as music education in schools, fighting sexism in the women’s brass world, honoring more music by women and non-binary composers, and creating concerts for communities that aren’t as fortunate.