M³ Anthology of Writings, Vol. 4
Coordination and Production:
Sara Serpa & Jen Shyu
Editor for Winter Solstice 2021 Cohort:
Collage design by Paula Shocron
Images of the collage by all Winter Solstice 2021 cohort members
Acknowledgments: Special thanks to Nancy & Joe Walker, mediaThe foundation, New Music USA, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Kenneth Rainin Foundation, South Arts, CRS (Center for Remembering and Sharing), Christopher Pelham, Arlene and Larry Dunn, Emily Bookwalter, and all of our individual donors and supporters.
Contributors: Winter Solstice 2021 Cohort
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. Interview with Shanta Nurullah
2. Invocation by Goussy Célestin
3. Embodied Music Makers: We Are The Vessels Through Which Sound Is Made by Naomi Moon Siegel
4. Remembrance by Ruth Naomi Floyd
5. How Far Can Multidisciplinarity Go? by Paula Shocron
6. At Home in the Mystery by Sraya Murtikanti
7. Questions on Identity by Leonor Falcón
8. Seaglass by Francesca Remigi
9. on jazz culture, gender, and vulnerability by Devon Gates
10. No Boundary by Wenjun Wu
11. An alternative language for a musician’s future in kismet terminology by Cansu Tanrikulu
12. Unearthing: The Violence of Care Score by Gabi Motuba
13. What My Teacher Taught Me by Jessica Ackerley
from the editors Sara Serpa & Jen Shyu
2022 was a year of many accomplishments for M³. From our first physical copy of the Anthology of Writings (Volumes 1 & 2): The Art of Being True to our first in-person festival in June 2022 to our first M³ Festival Gala, we were able to support, present and commission 36 artists. That is no small feat!
We are thrilled to end this prolific year with the publication of Volume 4 of our Anthology of Writings. The M³ Anthology of Writings emerged as an experimental idea in response to the urgent need of changing the narrative in our professional world. It was envisioned as a legacy for future generations in which authorship and power shifts towards women and non-binary musicians while decentering patriarchy in music. It is very moving to see the anthologies’ becoming more powerful and impactful with each volume we publish.
For this Vol. 4 music writer Kyla Marshell worked as Development Editor, helping each musician individually develop their ideas and texts. Kyla was also the host of our Gala, presenting our inaugural M³ Lifetime Achievement Award to Shanta Nurullah from our 2nd Cohort. Therefore, for the first time and to complete the circle, we are featuring an interview with Shanta Nurullah, in a conversation with Kyla.
Naomi Extra, who was the Development Editor for Volumes 2 & 3, provided crucial guidance through her writing workshops, supporting musicians in unblocking their creativity with the written word. We are grateful for these collaborations, always learning moments for ourselves as well.
Although the #metoo movement has impacted and shaken the music world with difficult revelations in 2017, the most recent article on NPR about sexual harassment at Juilliard School shows us that there is still much work to be done to provide safe educational environments to women and non-binary musicians. It is troubling still to see institutions accepting sexual harassment/advances as “mistakes” or “just jokes.” M³’s existence was born partially as a response to the institutional failure in providing meaningful mentorship to women and non-binary musicians. Accepting and expanding concepts of gender, race and age equity is fundamental to the advancement of music.
You will be able to find common threads in the texts presented here, written by the musicians from our Winter Solstice 2021. It is hard to ignore that some of these writings that focus on gender issues come from a younger generation, a generation that has found a space to verbalize silences that have been absorbed, disrupting the “peace” that we have accepted as normal for so long. As bell hooks says, “On one hand it’s amazing how much sexist thinking has been challenged and has changed. And it’s equally troubling that with all these revolutions in thought and action, patriarchal thinking remains intact.” There are so many ways to be a successful musician, and this volume is proof of that. We hope you enjoy reading this anthology as much as we have enjoyed editing it.
1. Interview with Shanta Nurullah by Kyla Marshell
“It’s not working for me to try to tell a little bit of the story without telling the whole story.” This is an apt explanation from Shanta Nurullah, sitarist, bassist, songwriter, and prolific storyteller. Born in Chicago in 1950, she grew up in a family of entrepreneurs who escaped Tulsa, OK at the height of the Black Wall Street massacre. From a young age, she says, she internalized that enterprising spirit, forging her own path in music, leading the bands Sitarsys, Shanta Nurullah trio, and ShaZah with her wife Zahra Baker, and starting a record label, Storywiz, which released her debut album Sitar Black in 2017.
In some ways, she didn’t have a choice but to make her own way, as a Black American woman playing blues, jazz and spiritual music on sitar, and raising four children mostly on her own, without financial backing or recognition from the music establishment. However, in recent years, that’s begun to change, with a major award from Chicago’s 3Arts Foundation, and the inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award from M³.
The cellist Tomeka Reid, founder of the Chicago Jazz String Summit and recent MacArthur Fellowship recipient, met Shanta in Chicago and they connected, among other avenues, via the Association for the Advancement of Creative Music (AACM). Tomeka found a symbiosis in Shanta’s practice of playing jazz and blues on a nontraditional instrument, calling her a “pioneer.” She nominated Shanta for M³’s second cohort, saying, “It’s always great to see other Black women who are trying to have lives in the music, and longevity—it’s inspiring that through all the trials and tribulations of life she’s put out a record, and is leading a band. Seeing her doing all those activities is inspiring.”
Tell me a little bit about how you came to music.
My great-aunt on my mother’s side was a classical pianist. She was actually the first of her siblings to migrate to Chicago with dreams of being this great concert pianist. But she was immediately met with closed doors, the racism of the classical music world. So she made her living teaching piano, and taught my mother, my brother and me and the children in the neighborhood. I took piano lessons from her from age of five to 15.
When I went to college and enrolled in private piano lessons during my freshman year, the teacher that first session was correcting everything. Like, I wasn’t sitting right and I wasn’t holding my hands right. I wasn’t playing right. He was basically telling me that everything auntie told me was wrong. And I wasn’t having it. So I dropped his class and that was the end of music for me in college until a little later.
I went to Carleton College and there were only a few Black students at the school at the time, and I was truly miserable and tried my best to get out of there as soon as possible. When I wasn’t able to transfer, I got myself into the India [study abroad] program. I went to India with the intention of doing a political science project. But I heard the sitar while I was there and fell in love with it and just had to do it. It called to me, and I listened.
How did you then end up pursuing music after you returned to the States?
When I left school, I came back to Chicago with the intention of getting involved in the Black Arts Movement. And the entree that I found was the Kuumba Workshop. I was welcomed to the Kuumba Workshop by Val Gray Ward, who was the founder of it. And the format for the theater was that they gave one act plays on Saturday night, and then they would do what they call “the ritual” which was something like an open mic. That was right up my alley since I’d been doing poetry.
One evening after a rehearsal, I gave one of the company members a ride home. She asked me to come inside for a minute. We went into her bedroom and she had an electric bass in the corner. I asked if I could see it, cause I’d never seen or played a bass before. I picked it up, started playing it, and she was so impressed that she gave me the bass and the amp. I went home and played on it all week. Then, in my youthful arrogance, I took it to Kuumba the next Saturday and played it at the ritual. Well, Mama Val said, “That was okay, but you need to take this bass and go see Pete Cosey.” I didn’t know that Pete Cosey was this fantastic guitarist, but he added the electrics to the Muddy Waters Electric Mud album, and he also played with Miles Davis during his electric fusion period. So Pete Cosey gave me my first bass lessons. He said, you need to go see Phil Cohran, one of the founders of the AACM, who had played with Sun Ra. He had something called the Black Music Workshop. So I took my bass and went to Phil Cohran the very next Saturday. And he said, You can come and join my workshop, but do you have any other instruments that you play? I said, Well, I have a sitar at home, but when I left India they told me that I could never really play it, because I had to first study for five years and practice eight hours a day every day, and I haven’t done that. And he said, “Sister, that instrument’s from Africa and so are you, bring it on over here.” And that was all the convincing I needed to just start exploring and express myself.
Something you mentioned in your acceptance speech at the M³ Gala this past year was the belated lack of recognition for your work. How did that lack of recognition feel over the years of doing your work? Did you feel like you were just living your life? Or did it feel like you were working towards something that hadn’t yet arrived?
Okay, so you’ve already seen me get choked up about the subject. Well, living life, especially when there are four children involved, it’s pretty all-consuming. I would say I’ve been fighting to continue to be an artist no matter what else I had to do to survive. I’ve just been determined that I was gonna be an artist of some sort. Thankfully, I stumbled upon this thing called storytelling, because it paid the bills and put my children through college.
Only since I started teaching at Old Town School of Folk Music has the majority of my income been from music. And it’s been a joy to leave the house and put my guitar on my back and walk down the street, thinking, ‘I’m a working musician.’ That’s never happened before for me. Music has mostly been a labor of love. Something that felt like I had to keep on doing. ’Cause I love it so much.
How—throughout all of the years of music not paying the bills—did you maintain a sense of self, or a sense of self-worth? In your speech, you said at times it made you question yourself, like maybe you weren’t good enough. How did you develop that sense of resilience to keep going?
Well, I would create opportunities for myself. I would create situations that would validate myself. I would create bands. I would get with other sisters and create bands, and we would rent out spaces and do our own publicity and create audiences, create fan bases. We would just create situations for people to tell us that we were wonderful. [laugh] And we would make good music. We would build each other up. Not wait for anybody. Even with storytelling, when I made my first recording, which was a children’s recording, I used to say, I stopped waiting for somebody to discover me and I discovered myself.
What role would you say that mentorship has played in your life? Either being a mentor or having a mentor?
Other than Phil Cohran, which was for an extended period of time, most of the mentors I’ve had have just been for a day or a pivotal conversation that just fed me for years.
I was at a storytelling festival once. And the first thing I did when I got on stage was, I dropped the mic—it fell on the floor. Alice McGill came up to me afterwards and said, Do you mind if I tell you something? She said, Never apologize to the audience—you give all your power away. And then she went on to tell me 10 things that I should keep in mind. That was mentoring.
I have mentored storytellers. When my income started going down, because suddenly there were so many Black storytellers, and I couldn’t get a gig, my mother said, “You taught too many people!” But I wouldn’t have done it any other way.
We would bring younger women into the group. We did some mentoring of Nicole Mitchell, who is just off the charts now. And Nicole now pulls us along. She mentors us, so the concept of mutual mentorship, it’s beautiful, it’s wonderful. Zahra, my wife, often talks about our Black superstars who make all these millions of dollars. They had some teachers, music teachers or somebody who encouraged them, and hopefully they’re putting some of that money back. Those of us who are getting older, we shouldn’t still be struggling. There’s not enough reciprocation between those who have “made it,” and those who haven’t.
What role has storytelling played in your life? You mentioned that it paid the bills, but is it something that is its own separate passion for you?
Yes. It turned out to be the thing that I do better than anything else.
Could you describe what a storytelling event is?
I stand up in front of a group. I open my mouth. And I talk. [laughs] I have some instruments with me—mbiras, kalimbas, the djembe. It’s a blend of music and stories. I play music while I’m talking. I tell my version of some African folk tales, and stories that have come to me. I might recite some poetry I’ve written, get people involved in some call and response. I tell some stories that are really serious and make people cry. Do some other things that are really silly. I read the room and try to do what’s most appropriate for the people who are there. I’ve told stories in prisons, hospitals, churches, colleges, daycare centers, on the street, festivals—wherever people gather. And I don’t read to people out of books. I talk, and the stories are in my head. And they’re ideally a little bit different every time I tell them. I blend personal experiences with ancient folk tales, I engage people and enchant people and inspire people and educate them and it’s magical.
What stories do you hope to still tell creatively, or personally? What else do you hope to accomplish in your lifetime?
I hope to do more of what I did at the M³ Festival. I was trying out something new, which was to create a musical bed, so to speak, for more of my stories. More of a blending of my worlds. And I’m writing music and want to do more recordings. There are lots of places in the world I would like to perform. I don’t know how many years I have left, how long my body is gonna hold up. So I want to make the best of however much time I have left. Spend time with my grandchildren and my children. Just live my life. Do some good.
2. Invocation by Goussy Célestin
Photo by Ben Allen, HudValley Photo
Let me be
May I be rooted, like your feet.
May I be uplifted, like your branches.
May I be flexible in the changing winds.
May I be certain
in the rushing waters.
May I drink from the clouds and the sun.
May I offer my neighbors shelter from the heat.
May I be a home for birds that cannot yet fly off on their own.
May I love,
Image by Michael Halbert
May I be strong
May I be the place where lovers offer themselves to one another, carving their initials in the center of the core.
May I be wise like you. Regenerative, with decades of wisdom my ancestors breathe through me.
May I be sweet nourishing sap deep beneath my surface, just within, right under my skin.
May I be stealth.
May I be shade.
May I be love.
May I have a deep knowing that even in winter’s midst, when I am barren of leaves with cold stark skin, the tide of spring always returns.
3. Embodied Music Makers: We Are The Vessels Through Which Sound Is Made by Naomi Moon Siegel
Photo by Rio Chantel
“How do you keep playing this music? How do you stay in it, even when folks treat you like shit?”
I was fed up and tired when I posed these questions to saxophonist Kristen Strom in the summer of 2008. A young faculty member at a jazz camp, I had just walked out of the trombone masterclass feeling exasperated. At that masterclass was a senior trombone teacher who was supposed to be co-teaching with me as a supportive mentor. Instead, like many other times before with elder musicians, he treated me like I was somebody to flirt with and run errands for him, as if I wasn’t a real musician or educator worth mentoring, like I did not belong there except as a sex object/errand girl. After years of internalizing that my musicianship and humanity were not worthy, my experience with him became a tipping point for me. As I walked out of the building in a flurry of frustration, I was fortunate to run into Kris.
She responded, “I only play music with people I can be myself with, people who I love and who love me back.”
When Kris performed, she brought her whole self. She didn’t hold back. She came to play and connect with her fellow musicians. She valued her relationships with everyone on the bandstand, respecting the process of collaboration. I admired her musicality and the vibrant, joyful, present way she showed up every time she played.
When she told me this, I didn’t realize her response would change my life, my way of being in the world as a musician. Her reply became something that I continue to practice today. It is a reminder of how I want to show up as a musician and educator –a whole person honoring the humanity of my collaborators. I had already spent so many years squashing my sense of self to get a gig or try to fit into the music scene. Her words were a revelation.
I was privileged to have access to formal music education most of my life, and yet if anything, my music studies taught me to fracture myself, erase my identity. By and large, our jazz education institutions and mainstream jazz culture devalue whole humanity, which is no surprise since those cultures developed out of the commodification of the music, reinforcing the power dynamics and narrow definitions of personhood from our greater society.
Kris’ reply and way of being helped me remember why I fell in love with playing Black American Music in the first place–the synergistic combination of self-expression with communal creation in an ensemble. Over the years, I had taken for granted the critical fact that being expressive, creative, and connecting with community is dependent on sharing yourself, not holding back.
I started to realize how in college, I had become proficient in hiding in a protective shell, so as to not open myself up to potential flirting or harassment which was present throughout the landscape of our music school culture. I did anything I could to be taken seriously as a musician, except be too vulnerable.
It felt like a struggle to get my teachers to see me as a valid student, worth their time and energy. Faculty members would call me and the other female students in the jazz program “baby,” never seeming to learn our names. There was no gender representation in the faculty, instrumental guest artists, or music that we studied and played. In one way or another, my daily experiences reinforced the ideas that I did not belong, that my cis male colleagues belonged to this music more and their musical voices were more important to cultivate. At a time when I could have been developing my sense of self, I was trained to allow and expect my male peers to take up space while I stayed small.
Studying trombone is a beautiful opportunity to practice being expansive and center body awareness. Instead, to learn air support for my large wind instrument, I was taught to breathe in an overly-athletic way that involved jutting out my belly and had nothing to do with connecting with my body or breath. I was engulfed in a music world that uplifted the product over the process; that valued virtuosic, flashy playing to the detriment of listening and musicality. With so much focus on complexity, density, high range, and fast notes, what was lost was storytelling, expression, collaboration and vulnerability. I am still learning to unravel and unfurl from this imbalanced value system.
Here I was playing this absurdly long instrument and trying to hide at the same time. My body became so contracted as a survival mechanism, that as I began my professional career, I developed nerve problems in my left hand stemming from compression in my thoracic outlet. This affected my ability to play trombone and, not being able to play, I grew depressed which further exacerbated my physical symptoms. I was caught in a downward cycle.
When I first started having issues with my left hand in college, I asked my trombone professor if he had any recommendations. He told me he had a similar problem and got a cortisone shot. A cortisone shot was not a sustainable solution for me as a 20-year-old musician. His response was another example of a missed opportunity to cultivate body awareness, another case of dismissing the process for the product.
What I did not learn in college is that music making is an embodied practice. It involves our whole self. We are the vessels through which sound is made, no matter our instrument or mechanism. And yet, so often we end up splintering ourselves, fragmenting who we are so as to not honor our physicality and boundless identities. There is so much posturing in our music world, so many folks wondering if they belong in the music, that we end up contorting ourselves to fit into an unimaginative definition of who belongs. We improvise in a certain way or for a certain number of choruses to prove ourselves. We play from ego instead of presence and communication. Music has so much more potential than that.
That same summer I had my conversation with Kris, I moved to Seattle knowing nobody in the music scene. I adopted her approach as my own. I would only play music with people with whom I could be my whole, broken, messy self. I would be open and proud about my sexuality. I would invest in developing lasting, nourishing musical relationships, and say no to working in settings where I felt I had to sacrifice my sense of self.
As I began to heal from my nerve problems, I took Alexander Technique classes to reapproach how I played the instrument and not recreate the same issues. My teachers helped me further understand how the tension that we hold in our bodies is translated to how we play our instruments. I feel most present and connected to my music making, myself and my collaborators when I am conscious of my body and breath. Now an integral part of my lifelong journey as a musician and educator includes meditation, breath and embodiment practices.
Terri Lyne Carrington asks the question, “What would jazz sound like without patriarchy?”
I think a foundational part of the answer lies in our bodies. Connecting to our somatic experience allows us to be more attuned to our bodies’ shifts and reactions so we can increase our capacity to make space for a range of emotions rather than bypassing them. We can then cultivate more compassion for ourselves and others, rippling out into a culture that cares for each other, instead of reinforcing a hyper-individualistic state. Body awareness expands our potential to listen, create, and collaborate together. As author and trauma specialist Resmaa Menakem says, “The body, not the thinking brain, is where we experience most of our pain, pleasure, and joy, and where we process most of what happens to us. It is also where we do most of our healing, including our emotional and psychological healing. And it is where we experience resilience and a sense of flow.” My body is the place I want to make music from.
We need music spaces that honor our whole being for folks of all identities. We need music education that teaches us to care for our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual well being so that we can honor our interconnectedness to each other and the planet. Through taking on this whole, embodied, interconnected approach, perhaps as musicians we would then be better equipped to deal with the crises of our time; to process grief, trauma, joy; to address our climate catastrophe and deeply embedded racism. If we could approach music more holistically, perhaps our music would be more creative and powerfully full of expression, listening, collaboration and vulnerability. Perhaps then we could truly honor and further the revolutionary legacy of Black American Music.
4. Remembrance by Ruth Naomi Floyd
“Time” © Ruth Naomi Floyd Images
I entered the airport.
I saw him before he saw me.
My heart leaped.
What a gift just to see him.
His movements – his mannerisms.
I gasped oh so quietly.
Later, I was standing in an elevator.
He walked on.
“Hello,” I said.
He looked at me and smiled.
With his warm, light brown eyes – the same shade I knew and loved
He responded, “Hello, daughter.”
Warm in tone and enunciated in syncopations,
they went right through me.
Tears fell from my eyes.
I told this beautiful African man how he reminded me of my own African American father, who had recently passed. He smiled, took my hands in his own, and said to me, “It is an honor to bring forth the remembrance of your father. I will be your father until we part.”
My hands cradled by the hands of a stranger.
A stranger no more.
For the remainder of that day, I considered this encounter and contemplated the meanings behind Time and Remembrance.
Time gives space for surrendering.
Time gives space for the courage and strength to relinquish.
Time gives space for loss.
The loss of the first man who loved me and the first man I loved.
The loss of being fully seen and known by one whose own blood
runs warm in my veins but no longer runs through his own.
In my music and photographic art, I protest, grieve, and honor the loss of my father. For it was he who first identified me as an artist when I was six years old.
Time gifted me tears of lament and joy.
Time and loss can be revealed on our faces, our bodies, our souls
and our spirits.
Time grants mirrored images to appear and remain.
Death ends life but not Remembrance.
5. How Far Can Multidisciplinarity Go? by Paula Shocron
Photo by Pablo Díaz
How far can multidisciplinarity go? This question focuses on how the different artistic spaces are intertwined. In other words, not to think of them as simply coexisting, but as being affected by each other, creating a vast, multidimensional communal space.
After many years of continuous research, I am convinced that the creative process involves more than one element, and in our being musicians, music is just one of them. Simultaneously we are all multidimensional beings/bodies with all these worlds that configure us.
Decoding layers, letting oneself be touched by words and seeing them sound. Having the experience of the movement of sound, the gesture as creation, the creation as gesture, the image as synthesis of a poem, the choreography of relationships, the choreography of listening. These are all stimuli, or feelings that occur during the creative process, whether the result is purely musical or more performance based.
BODY / RHYTHM – MUSIC / MOVEMENT
Starting from a personal experience as a lifetime pianist, during a tour, I was part of a “concert” at a venue where there wasn’t a piano. I was in New York and in this particular situation I was “playing” with a quartet. The question raised was whether I could still be considered as “performing” in this concert or if my music could be expressed despite the physical absence of the instrument. At the end, the musicians said my musical contribution was there, even without me “playing” a piano.
Gesturality is a set of movements that shape us and are directly reflected in our way of playing an instrument, including the rhythmic aspect, the phrasing, the dynamics and of course, the sound. So what happens when that final destination of the action is not there, when there is no piano? How does music live in the body? Is it possible to see sound reflected in the body, beyond its possibility of making it sound, with the voice, or by generating sounds in the body itself, or another surface, like floor or an object? Is sound “visible” or reflected in the action the body performs?
For many years I have deeply analyzed these many variables by researching, observing and exploring the physical/physiological processes of the body, its biomechanics, its relationship with space, each part in particular, and its function in the overall and in relationship with other bodies.
The human body is a rhythmic framework that works as a whole orchestra, and all of that is available to us as artists. Depending on the instrument we play, it will generate a specific sound and texture of that same instrument. The orchestra exists in our body; it exists right at the beginning. So I ask, what is our choreography? How does our orchestra sound?
In this research, it has been very powerful and impactful to explore the physical possibilities or the subtleties in movement: my muscular tones, my perception of time/space during an action, or in the lack of action, a pause, for example. It became indispensable to practice this, as it eases my relationship with my instrument and provides tools in the field of performance and staging.
This approach contributes to “decompressing” and updating the way of being connected: on one hand, with the practice on musical instruments, and on the other hand, with the creative process, which can often become vicious and neurotic, making musicians feel stuck.
Practicing with our own physicality is a way to distance ourselves from our instrument and return with new information, impacting our artistic process on many levels.
6. At Home in the Mystery by Sraya Murtikanti
Photo by Photo by Bentara Budaya Bali
I did not imagine that I would become
What I imagined was becoming
the best version of myself.
As it turns out,
it was through music
that I could express myself.
It was through music
that I could share what my life means:
More than just being,
but striving to make a contribution.
It’s not that I want to be an adversary,
but to penetrate the boundary of perception
and assumptions not yet tangible.
Moving bit by bit
toward the surface of understanding.
The challenge of making sense
of life’s mysteries
is always present, but beautiful.
But you know this, I hope.
There is an awareness rising toward the surface,
finding its way to the right place.
So many stories, events,
so many insights I’ve had,
flowing all at once. I am happy indeed.
To have such extraordinary experiences.
To greet the mystery of life.
To await the arrival of the unknown.
(Original Indonesian) Keterbatasan sudut pandang mengantarkanku menuju permukaan ruang harmonisasi
Saya tidak membayangkan bahwa diri saya akan menjadi
Yang saya bayangkan adalah saya ingin menjadi
versi terbaik dari diri saya.
Ternyata melalui musik,
saya bisa mengekspresikan diri.
saya bisa memberi sebuah eksistensi tentang diri saya di kehidupan ini.
Tidak hanya menjadi manusia,
namun saya selalu mengusahakan dapat berkontribusi terhadap
kehidupan yang saya jalani.
Bukan menjadi lawan, tetapi ingin menembus sekat persepsi dan anggapan yang belum intim terjamah. Langkah-langkah menuju permukaan nyatanya lebih menantang, sebab dalam ruang dan waktu selalu hadir misteri tapi pasti yang indah untuk diharmonisasi. Apakah sadar? Semoga!
Kesadaran ini sedang menuju ke permukaan. Semakin lama, semakin besar kesadaran itu muncul dan bermuara pada tempat yang tepat. Banyak cerita, banyak pengalaman, banyak pemikiran yang lewat seiring dengan tujuan itu. Sangat senang. Ya. Sangat senang bisa mendapatkan pengalaman yang luar biasa. Pengalaman untuk berada dalam lingkaran sirkulasi kehidupan tersebut.
Misteri yang selalu menghantui diri ini adalah kepastian yang dinanti-nanti. Tidak ada salahnya untuk berpikir atau membayangkan masa depan akan seperti apa, asal kita tahu batasannya. Seperti halnya yang saya lalui.
7. Questions on Identity by Leonor Falcón
“The future of society depends on accepting all identities while recognizing our individualism.” – Amin Maalouf
The omnipresence and obsession with labels in society is a constant source of anxiety for me.
What if I feel lost in a sea of labels to categorize myself? Do I choose a label depending on the situation that I’m in and “chameleonize” myself? Do I have to fit into one category or can I be a mixture? Does being born in a particular country define me? Does being born a woman define me or give me a specific role? What if I defy the expectations of women in certain societies? Does my professional choice define the path I should take in life? What about musicians whose music doesn’t fit into any particular genre? What kind of music do I play? What label do I or others use to describe my work? What is identity? Is it something that you build or are you born with it? Can you modify your identity over time?
These are questions I’ve been asking myself every day for a long time.
I’m a cisgender woman born in Venezuela, with a variety of cultures mixed up in my genes thanks to different immigration waves and the so-called “mestizaje,” loosely translated as “of mixed race,” a common phenomenon in Latin America. I have fought hard to find my own musical voice after rigorous academic training in my youth that didn’t allow for much creativity, the thing I longed for.
I was raised in a very male chauvinistic society, having to constantly fight those uncomfortable moments of “normal” disrespect and abuse towards women. Professional choices and decisions made within the music industry always implied that women were simply not “good enough” to do what men do, and our society (including other women) made sure to let me know. This line of thinking often affected my self-esteem and sometimes made me feel isolated.
Once I left my home country, I suppose out of fear of not fitting in for years, I attempted to conceal my accent thinking it would help me fit into countries whose languages were not native to me. Every time someone asked me, “Where are you from? You have an accent!” I would get frustrated with myself for not being able to blend in. I have sometimes invisibilized aspects of myself that could give others the opportunity to label me because certain labels were connected to stereotypes, being reductive and creating unnecessary obstacles in my path. I’m a string player who doesn’t play classical music (not that often anymore anyway), a woman, Latinx, and a mom.
She probably can’t play jazz because she lacks the needed stamina that only testosterone can give you to sound killing…she probably plays Latino music [whatever that is] very well but she can’t swing…she’s pretty because Latinas are attractive and sexually very open…she plays a stringed instrument but improvises? Did she choose to go on a different path rather than follow a classical music career? That’s probably because she doesn’t have good technique. Can she still play concertos? Because such-and-such string improviser is great but can’t play a Brahms violin concerto…Oh, and she’s a mother? She probably doesn’t care about her career that much anymore, so let’s not call her…
These are real comments that people have said to me and about me and others in this field.
Should one be defined by oneself or by others? Do we need definitions? Who’s asking and why? Why do they need to know whether I am Caucasian, Asian American, or Hispanic on an official form? Is this a manifestation of institutionalized racism–or is it “just for statistics”? For years, a colleague of mine thought my country was in Europe; I’ve gotten several reviews in the past where I’ve been mistakenly labeled as Argentinian. But for a review of my music, is it really relevant to mention where I’m from? Then again, did I get this or that grant or job because someone needed to check a box or because they appreciated my work? Should I feel grateful for the opportunity or frustrated because the work is possibly not the main reason I got a grant?
This is the Big elephant in the room for me and many so-called “minorities.”
In his book Murderous Identities, Amin Maalouf explains his complex identity and makes a good point about convenience being a determining factor when deciding to generalize cultures or different people: “For convenience, we encompass under the same term the most diverse kinds of people and attribute crimes, collective actions and collective opinions to them….Without hesitation, we formulate judgments like this or that people are good workers, skillful or lazy, untrustworthy or hypocrite, proud or stubborn and those judgments end up becoming deep convictions. I know it’s not realistic to expect that all our contemporaries modify their usual expressions, but I think it is important that we are all aware of the fact that these phrases are not innocent, and that they contribute to perpetuating throughout history, their capability of perversion and death.”
Mr. Maalouf’s book focuses on the different wars and violent quarrels between populations that take their identity pride a little too far; pride of belonging to only one race or one religion or culture. However, his point is that not one person is exactly the same even within religions, cultures or races.
I understand how Americans of Latin American descent take real pride in calling themselves Latinos. But in my case and some of my other Latin American immigrant colleagues, this broad term feels a little uncomfortable. All “Latino/a/x” people are not the same.
There are 33 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean today, according to the United Nations. Each of these countries has its own culture, language or dialects, accents, and particularities. Sure, there are similarities between the Venezuelan arepas and the pupusas from El Salvador, and most of the continent’s official language is Spanish, but each country and each region between each country has its own accents and slang within the Spanish language as well as many different indigenous languages. We share part of our histories as Spanish colonies and also our fight to be independent nations, however we each have our own history as well. Venezuelan joropo is similar to Mexican son jarocho, but it’s not completely the same. It’s all 6/8-3/4 but accents are on different parts of the measures, lyrics are about different subjects, the dancing is different and the song forms are different.
The fact that many people don’t acknowledge this, or even try to understand it, is a problem. Out of convenience, or simply laziness, we tend to generalize, but as Mr. Maalouf explains in his book, this is very dangerous. It might seem subtle, but this behavior can later develop into violence when we don’t check our language and prejudices. The more you know about another person’s culture or identity, the more united we are as humans. Ignorance about the other just maintains a sense of separation, a sense of “you don’t belong here.”
As a three-time immigrant, life has taught me to believe in the uniqueness of each individual and to always be curious about where my interlocutor is coming from, not in terms of geography, but experience. You can’t generalize and then expect others to see you as you really are. Adapting and accepting change and differences is my best bet to get through a lot of pain and sadness in this world.
I am extremely grateful for life. I’ve fulfilled dreams I had as a child, have a happy life, great friends, a loving family, and make music that I love. But I never like to get too comfortable with gratitude and always seek to understand more about my surroundings, especially about myself. Life is a constant search and it takes great effort to fight against the predispositions and stereotypes embedded in our subconscious.
Life can be very fulfilling when we take the time to understand, listen to, and learn from and about one another and show the respect we each deserve. It only takes a little effort.
8. SEAGLASS by Francesca Remigi
Photo by Kelly Davidson
I was in an hourglass
locked up by time.
Every second was a weighty grain of sand falling,
blocking me more and more,
I was a wooden puppet
tied up by strings;
if I tried to fight them,
they coiled, clinging more and more.
I was lost in a maze of mirrors
confused by a thousand reflections of me.
Every path I took brought me
back to my beginnings.
Memories and deceptive images
drowned me in a sea of mud.
My breath slipped
and I found myself lying
in an ocean of empty hunger.
Then a hand grabbed me
pulled me through the muck
into fresh air.
Lulled by the peaceful waters,
I opened my eyes;
the sun tickling my cheeks,
blood pumping in my veins once more.
I looked at the image of me reflecting in the sparkling surface,
I was reborn.
9. on jazz culture, gender, and vulnerability by Devon Gates
Photo by Neri Mastriani Levi
“We’ve always cared so much about social justice at this festival,” the announcer guy assured the audience at the dimly lit jazz club that evening. I’m sure he would protest that this was only tangentially related to our group’s name: the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice Quintet.
The two other women of the group and I (the only female musicians to play out of three ensembles that night) gave each other knowing glances hidden behind some fake-ass smiles.
Needless to say, the rest of the night felt like a struggle to get through, our destiny now inscribed for everyone in attendance as the smiling faces of the “feminist movement”…and not much else outside of that.
Not only an indication of how the festival organizers perceived our group that night, the refusal to recognize our ensemble outside of performative nods to vague “progress” felt like a magic eraser.
Our performance – full of original compositions, inventive arrangements and deliberate musical choices that we had put hours of work and thought into – was instantly brushed away like loose pencil shavings, replaced with the label “women’s group.” It was almost as if to everyone (except the women in the audience, who would come up to us later with their almost consolatory well wishes), we could have played nothing at all and still made the exact same impression in their minds.
It was back at the hotel, after this had happened, that my bandmates and I expressed the deep, stinging feeling that although we love this music, the hypermasculine culture that accompanies it often fails to love us back. In this one-sided relationship, we do our part to nurture it by lifting each other up after tough moments, laughing off the little things, and serving as hypewomen to one another’s hard-won victories. And yet, this extra labor still results in far too many nights like this, when the burden feels too heavy to bear, and we think, “Should I quit?”
After years of these experiences, it feels easy to equate “jazz” as an idea with “jazz culture,” so that when jazz culture oppresses us, it can sometimes feel as if jazz itself fails to love us. To be clear, this is not a “jazz has a gender problem” issue – it’s a “jazz culture has a recognition problem” issue. At times, it can feel like jazz does a number worse by not only failing to love us, but rendering us invisible, even when we are right there, living, breathing, and present. Invisible in the way that we are invalidated, taught to invalidate ourselves and each other, and – in perhaps the most egregious way – defined not by ourselves, but by outsiders looking in. Being invisible doesn’t just mean not being seen, but also only being seen for one aspect of your identity or personhood (i.e. “woman”).
When you feel like you can’t be recognized for who you are, it makes it difficult to be vulnerable as a person and as a musician.
I’ve always felt like jazz has the potential to be one of the most liberating spaces – a space that honors freedom of expression, democracy, and liveliness. And when I’m in the middle of a tune, or riding that musical high, I feel like I’m being my most authentic self.
That is what makes it sting the most – when you feel like you just bared your entire soul to a room full of people, showing them who you are in the clearest way you know how, and then they reflect back at you this shallow, grainy, distorted image, like that’s all you are, or who you’re supposed to be. Images like:
“Woman musician” (whatever that means)
“Small girl with big bass” (it’s bigger than everyone who plays it, actually)
“You look so cool/amazing/gorgeous up there playing that big ole bass” (…but how did I sound?)
When people label me these unimaginative stereotypes, even when they do mean well, it feels like taking a magic eraser to the sense of self I’ve so lovingly labored to build, rendering me invisible, and thereby making it impossible to be vulnerable.
This lack of true recognition in what has become jazz culture creates a dangerous feedback loop: when musicians do not feel seen, they cannot share vulnerability, inhibiting relationships and musical creation in the process.
In turn, when musicians feel they cannot be vulnerable, they put up their armor. This leaves collaborators with an incomplete image of each other, hampering visibility and feeding into the cycle of erasure that leaves everyone longing for genuine human connection, experiences, and discoveries.
For “jazzmen” (or “jazzbros,” as my younger friends like to call them) in these spaces, aggression and a sense of rugged individualism are rewarded and encouraged in younger generations as they learn the music (think: playing 20 choruses over “Cherokee” at 400 bpm at a jam). In women, this conditioning manifests itself on the bandstand in self-sacrificing behavior like taking fewer solos, playing it “safe” by avoiding musical risks, or playing softly relative to their male counterparts. While considerate in non-male centered contexts, these things serve to stifle our voices even more in male-dominated playing environments.
The interesting thing about this phenomenon is also that, in my observation, this impacts not only typically marginalized identities (non-male, non-white, non-cis or straight, etc.), but also male musicians. Toxic masculinity also shuts out men from one another, creating social alienation, anxiety, and aggression. My male peers have expressed feeling invisible, anxious, fearful, angry and unheard in jam sessions, even with the seeming privilege they have.
For instance, one close friend has confided in me about the rejection, beratement, criticism, and belittlement he feels when he attends his so-called mentor’s jam sessions, where men “compete” to be the most “killing” player by playing the fastest, loudest, most “burning” solo–at the expense of listening, care, and serving the music itself. Virtuosic performances can bring focus towards the individual in a hierarchical manner that deemphasizes collaborators, making the focus “how do I sound?” instead of “how do we sound playing the music together?”
With the designation of “killing” always dependent on the older “cats” of the community, there also becomes a clear hierarchy that dictates what the music should sound like – and, as the language suggests, the enforcement of these standards can feel quite violent. What might have been meant as a show of “tough love” or a space to cut one’s teeth can ultimately evolve into bullying and emotional abuse.
Over time, we all internalize this abusive mindset, developing a harsh inner critic that constantly compares us to what we “should” sound like, discourages us from taking musical chances, and tells us we are not deserving of a healthy, loving relationship to music, and to each other. Regardless of gender, we all develop an “inner jazzman” that intrudes on us in vulnerable moments – while listening back to ourselves on recordings, in the composition process, and in the practice room – moments when we no longer perceive ourselves from our own point of view, but from the perspective of an imagined, oppressive “other.”
The best jam session I ever had was with a friend who was visiting Boston on a road trip – I called some friends to come together and try out some tunes she wanted to workshop on a Friday evening in chilly mid-April. Despite half of the players only meeting that night for the first time, we were able to find an organic connection – spending half of the session not even playing, but breaking into riveting conversations about our experiences in jazz with masculinity, safe (and unsafe) spaces, and our exciting feelings about being in a non-male centered space that night. And when we did play, it was with laughter and joy, not focused solely on the final product of the tune, but rather opening things up to suggestions, changes, and additions from the group to the piece as well. The openness, collaboration, and listening practices we strove to embody in the breaks before and after playing were alive in the music too, bringing together a group of relative strangers in a way that fostered genuine human connection, and creation.
Even the only male-identifying person there that night told me afterwards that he had never before felt so free and unjudged while playing music in a group like that, and asked me how this was even possible. The hunger for these sorts of loving, nurturing, liberating jazz spaces is here, and has always existed.
In communities like M³ and the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice, writings from bell hooks, adrienne maree brown, and Audre Lorde, and those everyday acts of care from people whom I admire and learn from, I see so many possibilities for what spaces of collective love can look like – even in their imperfections, failures, and messiness. Especially when things feel difficult, and I feel unheard, unseen, and unable to share my authentic self with the music I love, I know that the love I feel in the act of playing, and that which I receive from my comrades, is the real jazz.
Among my mentors, friends, and artistic partners in crime, our pace is steady and grounded – worlds ahead, inhabiting a future under present pretenses that is not just heard but unmistakably and unshakingly felt.
10. No Boundary by Wenjun Wu
The sound of the rain
reminds me of where I began, inside the womb.
Outside, a tire screeches, the city roars
And pain ricochets,
my heartbeat sounding stronger and harder.
They say music is the connection between body and soul,
that first pulse from the universe,
a medium to shout, to rage, to express yourself.
But for me, it wasn’t possible.
The fear in my body tore me apart.
As transgender, this was my struggle
to find that feeling of connection
and resonance with an instrument.
I kept trying different instruments to connect with my body.
Seeking the right feel, the right sound
until I touched the wood,
the shoulder into my life–
the double bass.
Behind my bass,
covering my entire body,
I feel safe.
Hiding the fear.
I love its deep voice, its range, the vibration, the resonance, the feel of the wood.
Its powerful feedback and warmth, from dolorous to expressive.
How its lyrical expression helps bring out my muse.
When I embrace the bass, dance with him,
Swing, sing with him,
I can feel my body and my instrument,
with its shape and beauty,
round with the sound of something deep, profound,
connect with the earth,
each precise rhythm reverberating through the universe.
The fluidity from Yin to Yang,
feminine and male.
It’s given my life a new perspective.
The lock– my body and soul.
The key– my music, at last, singing through the wood.
11. An alternative language for a musician’s future in kismet terminology by Cansu Tanrikulu
Photo by Dovile Sermokas
This is a proposal for you to start looking into the future through alternative mediums rather than a calendar and all the things that turn a calendar into a stressful medium of immutable certainties. Here are some coffee grounds in tiny coffee cups, shaped in strange swirls and dressed up as figures to tell you some potential news in your future that might not be visible from deadlines, travel blocks, visas, work-related emails, promises and expectations. This is not meant to be a spiritual practice but rather a playful take on the tradition of fortune telling from coffee grounds.
For centuries tea leaves and coffee grounds have provided some entertainment and hope to those who wanted to have an idea about what’s coming next. So I picked some commonly noticed shapes and figures but interpreted everything in a musician’s perspective for you. After all, who said your calendar guarantees you a more predictable future when it is just a collection of lines and corners with no magic splashed over them?
Look at this gorgeous moon! This means that your troubles are coming to an end. I’m talking about one of the biggest struggles of all: self-doubt. After years of questioning your purpose and capacity in music, you have realized that the validation coming from your colleagues and your audience and a full calendar of important things to do have mainly shaped your understanding of musical self-worth. But this has always felt like a questionable path even when everything was in a good flow. You are not alone. It took many of us a long time to acquire better strategies for realizing a personal space we can create through our craft that is sacred, safe and purposeful just by existing–where there’s no comparison, no rush and no relentless ambition. You will soon start feeling closer to that space, more content and completely seeing yourself through your own eyes only – with more compassion and patience this time.
A lot of luck is coming your way very soon. This new chunk of luck might not work on the things in the way you imagine exactly but you need to trust the process and watch the magic build up slowly.
Vakit is an elastic unit of time. Seeing a bird in your fortune means that in 3 “vakits–3 days, months or years–you will meet someone who will make you feel more inspired than ever. Maybe it’s a romantic thing, maybe it’s a new mentor, maybe it’s a family member with whom you weren’t expecting to connect anytime soon, or maybe it’s a dog…but in case it takes 3 years maybe don’t hold your breath for now? You probably don’t need someone else for inspiration anyway.
These roads are the layers of a personal journey. It is one of the biggest adventures you will have in the near future. Small developments will get you moving into the direction of slowly realizing big decisions. It will feel risky, but every time you step onto this path, you will walk with more ease. And, at the end of a three-layered journey, you will reach a destination that you previously could have only dreamed of. It’s not clear how much “vakit” it might take–your mission is to trust in your senses and continue.
The second layer of this journey is when you discover that if you have healthier habits to cope with the stress of this profession, you will actually be able to enjoy a longer and more fulfilling process through it. Take good care of yourself, musician. Your efforts are always worth it, but if you are in good physical and mental shape, you’ll be able to appreciate them longer as well.
This is the step you realize that if you don’t see yourself and your work as a part of something bigger than your individual expression, you might develop a sense of being lost more often than usual. Enjoy being a part of a community and the company of your friends, help them flourish, and support your musical family. Pay attention to the history of your craft and the generations of musicians who helped build the legacy. Make those who ignore or deny this legacy realize and learn. Educate yourself and those around you so that all these roads don’t add up into a seemingly lonely journey.
This is the state of creativity and purpose where you have always imagined yourself. It seemed far at first but you are now closer than ever to it. You showed a lot of effort, and the first tries were always the hardest, but now it takes you less time and energy to get into this mind space on a daily basis. You are in your future already, so you might as well enjoy it!
This mountain represents the amount of musicians that don’t get the recognition they deserve and the credit they never get for their work. You are not alone in feeling solitary and unseen. But you will slowly build an even bigger community with strong bonds, common experiences, and boiling motivation to turn the tables. Just give it some time.
A serpent is a test of patience. You will not receive that email. Yes, that email you have been waiting for since forever. You will never receive it. Is it disrespectful? Yes. Is it a modern method of professional torture? Yes. But here you can see these little grains that represent all the other updates in your career–the news/people/updates that you will take in order to start prioritizing people that show you their respect through their communication skills as well. The news that you desperately need and never receive will become good reasons to prioritize the people in your life with whom you can build long-term and reliable connections.
This one means nothing and everything that you want it to mean. We’ve been through three pages of shapes that mean so many things somehow. The point of having some magic in the idea of your future is that it can be malleable and flexible. So if you don’t want this to mean anything at all, then here’s your well-deserved pass to take a break from trying to make sense of things. Maybe it was the rigid, linear and sensible perception of the future that deprived us from the freedom to not put so much stress and significance on every single expectation from it. Hope you can sometimes take a break from days, months and years and live in the magical realms of vakits instead–only if it comforts you more that way.
12. Unearthing: The Violence of Care Score by Gabi Motuba
Photo by Midoli Mahlangu
During the month of March 2020, I was commissioned to co-compose an experimental music piece with a dear friend of mine, Coila Enderstein. We attempted to build an experimental sonic interpretation of the book Sula by Toni Morrison. Coila (who is a wonderful pianist composer whose focus is on creating collaborative and interdisciplinary work based on experimental processes) and I had an in-depth conversation around the text and how to represent the text via audio. The themes we explored were: love, the violence of care and public property versus the public/the world, with our main focus being the Violence of Care. Violence of care alludes to the violence inflicted when one imposes performed acts of kindness/or care on another without the true understanding of the victims environment and circumstances. These performed acts of care end up producing more violence in the victims life.This topic stood out because of how characters imposed ethics with total disregard for the unethical environment they inhabited. One could not pinpoint or ethically justify the faults, errors, wrongs which were done by individuals due to the violent nature of all the proceedings which occurred in ‘The Bottom’ (The Bottom is a place in the novel Sula where the black population lived under unfavorable conditions).
The Bottom is a place occupied by black people. This area was given to them to occupy by the white people. The Bottom is on the slope of a hill where nothing grows due to the harsh weather conditions such as heavy rains which wash away all vegetation, sticky hot summers and strong winds.During the month of March 2020, Coila and I had lengthy conversations on how we could attempt to create an audio map of the ways in which The Violence of Care was represented in the text Sula. The following map was drawn by myself which points to the landmarks in which Violence of Care was experienced by the individuals and by the community of The Bottom.
During the audio phase, the transition from the philosophical into the production of the music was challenging. We needed to establish the musical tools we could utilize to start addressing the philosophical landmarks of the composition. Coila’s medium of composing was mainly electronic software. My medium of composing was Sibelius. With the two mediums at our disposal, we were able to contribute our own individual voices and interpretations of the diagram to the composition. Composed by Gabi Motuba and Coila Enderstein
The themes explored were The Mundane, The Tragic, Confusion and The Impossible.
“The Mundane to The Tragic”
This is a term borrowed from the African American writer Saidiya Hartman which she mentions in her book Wayward Lives. This term is an attempt to understand how black life is susceptible to drastic change at any given moment. This lived condition creates anxiety, fear, uncertainty and violence toward the individual.
Confusion is the state of mind which follows that of the Tragic state of mind. One not being able to make out what exactly has happened or how to reconcile events with thoughts and/or feelings.
The impossible points to the precondition of all the above mentioned conditions. This theme attempts to bring an overarching perspective to the lived experience of black individuals in the world, and articulate why conditions such as The Mundane to the Tragic and Confusion happen on the basis of blackness.
Instructions on how to read the score
Buying bread at the corner shop
Reading a book
Singing a song
An earthquake that leads to many deaths
An untimely death
Not reaching one’s full potential
Headless chickens clucking
Scribbling illegible writings on paper
13. What My Teacher Taught Me by Jessica Ackerley
1. Is it an expectation that music students must travel a path of hazing? I believed it would make me a better musician. I thought that this form of honest criticism was the norm under artistic mentorship. It felt like any sensitivity I took personally from these words would deter me on my professional path and be considered weakness.
2.“I teach you this way because this was the way I was taught.” This is what my former professor said to me as I confronted him in his studio, in tears, after two years of private study. It was the day he received his tenure position.
3.“Honest criticism. Direct Feedback” This is how the exchange is coded.
4.A “critique” of my (poss)abilities as a musician. I paid for this specific education because it felt like a path towards a career in work that I deeply love. He is paid so he can pass along this knowledge.
5. And yet the power dynamics in a teacher/student relationship are acutely unbalanced.
6. If capitalism is based on a construct of growth determined by the quality of exchange from a service provided, why am I ruminating on and questioning the shortcomings in this transaction?
7. It is supposedly “enriching knowledge” that he passed along to me. Or at least that is the service that the University is claiming to have provided.
8. An institution of education providing a “safe space.”
9. He is teaching me the way he was taught. He told me himself. Was it veiled trauma?
10. I often wonder why his words made me feel so small during our lessons.
11. There are multiple ways of feeling small as a student, like the humility of learning a vast and new topic.
12. This particular kind of feeling is different. It is a shrinking of my innards as I sit across from him in our private lesson. Silent. After the words he said to me.
13. Silent. During our composition lessons I sit on the piano bench and he sits next to me, inching to an uncomfortable closeness. “Don’t tell my wife,” he says with a smile. He regularly makes such comments to me and other students.
14. I was quiet for years because of this shame.
I learned over time how to label these feelings.