Arise, Cry out in the night

Norbert Palej is a real treasure.

We had a really moving concert with Polycoro on the 9th of November. It hit close to home for me, thanks to Norbert Palej’s wonderful work – Arise, Cry out in the night. It was written as a commentary/memorial of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, and was commissioned by the Elmer Isler Singers.

This work carries with it a deep despair, desperation, and hopelessness that can’t be ignored. To hear the cries of those voices speaking in terror from beyond the grave is more than haunting. It is scarring. There are many fine composers in the world, but Norbert manages to hit me in deep places in a unique and individual manner. His ability to attach emotional meaning to music is profound, and I’m grateful to him for continuing to share his gifts.

All that was left to the people living in the Warsaw Ghetto was to choose how they would die, for death was surely imminent. The poetry and conduct of the people there speaks to that incredibly clearly. They fought, bled, and died as heroes.

It is a completely tragic coincidence that this is happening all over again. This is NOT in the rear view mirror. It is happening Right Now. In Hong Kong.  

People are dying right now, today, for the right to vote, for fair treatment, to protest police brutality. The government has responded with force. The Police has threatened to use deadly force, and have begun to use it with increasing frequency.

Don’t fool yourself. Don’t look away. Don’t dishonor these heroes that way. Even if we can’t do much, we mustn’t allow this to go unnoticed or unspoken.

Arise, Cry Out in the Night. 

What does music ask?

Dayna, my wife, was here for the weekend, and it felt incredible to share a part of our  musical future together. It has made me muse for some time about the nature of the life we have lived together. Dayna is a singer who saw my value, and her decision to sing at St. Matthias was the start of a new chapter in my professional life. Lucky for me! It was fitting to have her with me, and felt so good to see her get the first taste of this new chapter.

The question it made me pose today is : what does music ask? I can only talk about what it asked of me. It asked me to sacrifice. To give my time, my energy, my love, and my devotion to it. My violin teachers, Konstantin and Donna, taught me that I would have to slave if I wanted to have a career. They were right. Music has asked me, again and again, to go past myself, embrace a precarious life, and to consistently be the best version of myself. I do my best to listen. I do my best to heed it when it calls, and to go where it beckons. That has led me to a special place, a place I’m lucky to be.

There were a few times I considered quitting because the price was very high. And each time, someone appeared to encourage me. Christopher Jackson taught me how no musical effort is wasted. Patrick Wedd taught me to see the value in my work instead of the flaws. Those lessons helped me to endure, to be patient, and to continue on, and I hope they can help you too.

I don’t know if I live up to their standards. I don’t know what they would think if they heard my work today. I think they would tell me that it doesn’t matter, that it is up to me now. That I should make the most of today, and to go where music beckons.

Gratefully, I say yes.

My top 5 lessons

I was one of the lucky ones. I had music teachers very early on, and grew up in the home of a music educator who was a high calibre performer herself. Those music teachers taught me the importance of learning well for public performance, and here are a few of the favorites.

Lesson #1 – Take small bites.

Don’t try to manage too much at once. Assess and accept, and keep working patiently.

Lesson #2 – Get it Right.

Ability is determined in the practice room, if you are willing to stay long enough to only get it right.

Lesson #3 – Be efficient and adaptable.

Yeah, that might count as two, but they are related and worth putting together. If a struggle is encountered, then figure out how to learn it as well and as quickly as possible. Make a game of it, work it into the muscle memory, and eliminate doubt.

Lesson #4 – Trust

Trust in the preparation – and make sure you did enough of it.

Lesson #5 – Don’t sweat the small stuff. 

The more amplified the success and failure, the harder life is. Sometimes, for whatever reason, performance can be better or worse than usual. Cool it and keep perspective.