Welcome back to The Rest
"we were people who loved music, who were not bothered as long as we heard its copper ore."
When I started this newsletter a little over a year ago, I thought I would post weekly, using this as a space to sort out my relationship to music in relation to various structural problems laid bare by the pandemic. But a few weeks after I started, I developed a hole in my head, and that altered my relationship to everything.
Thank you for your patience with me since then.
In the scope of “things that can go wrong requiring brain surgery” my condition was mild. The hole in the base of my skull was repaired skillfully by a team of surgeons with tiny hammers and drills. My recovery was steady, I was well supported by friends, colleagues and family. I slid back into work, and then since all my work was online one thing slid into another... One year later, the only signs of what happened are the numbness in my left upper lip, and my inability to cry out of my left eye.
My relationship to everything (and by everything I mean my mortality, the climate emergency, millions of people killed by Covid and viral misinformation, rising wealth inequality, white supremacists rewriting history, as much as whether or not and how I practice the viola) makes me need this newsletter more. Writing is difficult. It’s awful, hard work, but it remains the best way I know to make meaning from my experience. And right now, I need this meaning in order to remember the teachings I’ve been given, to demarcate the ground upon which I stand, and to make better choices about how to best offer what I have to offer, in the places where it can be most useful.
I need to make good choices, because there’s never any shortage of good places to spend my time.
Since I last wrote here, I joined the Coordinating Circle of SCALE/LeSAUT, a new initiative mobilizing the Canadian arts and culture sector in the climate emergency. As part of my work on the NEA Research Lab on Sustainable Entrepreneurship in the Performing Arts (a mouthful; we’re rebranding) I’ve been interviewing the musicians of New World Symphony about their futures and the futures of orchestras. And with support from the MAP Fund and the Canada Council for the Arts, I’m finishing my nonfiction book version of Tar Sands Songbook, and getting ready to launch the first of my pipeline performance tours this summer.
What I’d like to do with The Rest
you were saved not in order to live
you have little time you must give testimony
— Zbigniew Herbert, “The Envoy of Mister Cogito”
I intend to spend my time on this newsletter wisely. I’d like my writing to help me become more clear about how and where to spend what time I have. The climate of emergency that surrounds me tells me I need to be clear on what my work is, why I am doing it, who I’m holding space for, and to whom I’m in service. I need the needle of a moral compass, a magnetic North.
Music is a sturdy compass, and it’s for that reason that I launched a new class at The New School called Climate Crisis: Music, Nature, Culture. It’s a course I’ve long wanted to teach—a class not just for musicians, but for people who love music and life on this planet. It’s for people who want to move music from the periphery to the center of the climate emergency and who aren’t afraid to prune away our ripest, most cherished myths about music in the process.
At heart, the class is a thought experiment. If music is a human universal, and if all humans are musical, then how can music move the needle on climate action?
The class is for you, too. Over the next twelve weeks, I intend to share my lecture notes, readings and assignments in weekly posts, and host discussions in the comments. My hope is that I can use this space—the newsletter—to expand upon and amplify the work we do in the classroom, and that by the end of 12 weeks, we are in a different place than where we began.
“we were people who loved music”
The pianist lifted his hand like an axle and the singer skinned the angles of the road. We moved east, we were people who loved music, who were not bothered as long as we heard its copper ore.
—Sean Singer, “B Sharp Blues”
I’m starting this class with more questions than I have answers. I don’t intend to “solve for” the future of music in the climate emergency. What I do intend is to open a space where we—people who love music—might interrogate how the structures at the root the climate emergency (colonialism, capitalism) and climate inaction (a decaying democracy, the capture of government and media by corporations) are also the structures keeping musicians from doing music’s work in the world.
So, welcome. And thank you. Leave a note in the comments: something about where you are right now, something about a place you identify as home, something about a song you’re singing to yourself. I’ll be back by midweek with the post for our first class.