On the Practice of Art and Life

3.10.17— after the shooting in Las Vegas

When were you first conscious about the news? I think it was in 4th grade when Iran held hostages and the presidency changed from Jimmy Carter to Ronald Reagan. I do remember the cold war as a child because I often had nuclear war dreams. That was definitely elementary school.

Certainly by the time I got to 7th grade I was having opinions about things. My mother told me that I shouldn't criticize Reagan because he was our president. I think that was the same year he was shot and all the classes in school watched the news together. We were confirmed in 8th grade and I know we were starting to have pretty strong ideas about what was right in the world...

(thank you Kevin Maly for instilling that in us. I truly believe that our confirmation class, which didn't make very many lifelong Lutherans did make many thoughtful humans)
... because by then I was thinking about the hypocrisy of church. And using that word.

So when does it become appropriate to talk to children about events of evil? Is shielding from that knowledge keeping them in a bubble? Is it possible that we can because we are white?

I have to ask myself these questions because I've got a stable of kids coming through my doors this afternoon (yesterday everyone was off) and we talk about difficult things. They bring them up-- it's not my lead. But they do trust me to explain things they won't ask their parents.


When I play, there are ghosts.
Of the memories of lovers
long lost.
Of the composers who's hands
first touched these notes.
Of the thousands and millions
of players who have grasped
at the keys.
And I am with them,
grasping at memories of
pain and failure
and fleeting moments of perfection.
When I play, I can't shake the ghosts.
They are with me always.
Hands and hearts haunting
my own, echoing all the
music that has been before.
Sometimes I wish I could lose them
so it could just be
the music, the piano, and me.
But I know in my heart
that the music is the voice of ghosts.


On the end of the drum corps season
As the season progressed, instead of feeling a growing sense of involvement in the making of the whole, in being involved in a true ensemble, the endless repetition took me out of what we were creating as a whole. I know repetition is necessary for good performance, for a performance that envelops the audience and makes them involved and a part of the whole. But I felt its loss. I got the adrenaline high off of the act of performing, but there is not time for moments that give you goosebumps (frisson). You are too engaged in the details of the doing.

As I think about performance outside of drum corps, I realize that this is always true. We rehearse and rehearse the magic out. We pick and choose what will effect the audience and act the part, giving them our frisson. The moments of WOW. The real 'standing o'. But we've rehearsed them all out of feeling them ourselves. Most of the time.

There are magical exceptions: when you have that connection with the audience and together you breathe. Together your heartbeat races. Together you sigh the last note and suspend it between you.
But this only happens when all conditions are perfect-- including absolute mastery of the music. You have rehearsed the hell out of it. You have mind enough to let your body play without conscious thought. There is no more 'needing to remember' or worrying about 'that bad place'. You are on autopilot enough to step back and FEEL. To manipulate the energy flying between you and the audience. I would think this would be easier in solo performance than ensemble. In ensemble, everyone must feel this simultaneously. That feels almost impossible to me but I know it isn't. Only the masters have this with any regularity.
The rest of us must content ourselves with Gifting the audience with what we wish we could feel, knitting together the specks of insight we've had in the endless repetition of rehearsal. In the end, we, the performers, are less involved, less a part of the whole. The magic lives for the audience. We must focus on remembering everything we have repeated in the sweaty and frustrating process that is rehearsal. We must hope that we are able to Gift.


On September 11, we were Pamplona tracing the route the bulls take when they run. We ate fantastic sandwiches and drank great beer. It was only on the morning of September 12 that we figured out anything was wrong.

There was a lot of panic as we tried to piece together what we could find out, which wasn't much. Eventually we met up with my brother, as planned, and got caught up on news before we went for dinner with him to a magical restaurant outside of San Sebastian that you'd never find unless some local brought you there-- Which is how we'd found it. Dan knew a lot of Basques from his rowing adventures around France and Spain. The whole party was extremely international.

We ate the most magnificent grilled sardines on the planet, had magical Basque salad (it wasn't anything odd: just lettuce, tomatoes, onions. but someone those Basque salads made our best and fanciest salads taste like cardboard), and drank Basque cider, so potent, you have to pour it at an arm's length so that it could get a little air.

What I remember about that night was how magical it was. But also that I was sitting around a table talking with people who had had terrorism in their lives for generations. There are no public bins in the Basque Country-- or Northern Ireland-- Or Scotland-- Or France because of the very real risk of bombs. As people from the US, we'd lived in a bubble and the bubble just broke rather loudly. But I never have been able to shout and rail against this act of terrorism because really it had just made us a member of a group who's members come from most of the rest of the world.

I can't wrap myself in a flag and rend my garments when I know what's happening in Palestine. Syria. Greece. Turkey....(and the list goes on and on and on) I can't claim a greater sense of loss because of the actions that happened on one horrible day in the US. I remember the others displaced by violence, unable to go home. I remember the child soldiers, now grown, who are having trouble learning to live as adults. I remember the people who leave for work in the morning not knowing if they will have a home in the evening-- living like that day in and day out, year in and year out.

And sometimes the sadness that brings up cripples me. Right now I'm not thinking about New York. I'm thinking about all of those people that are affected by something like it right now. If we Never Forget, let it be that we never forget the pain of loss and that we remember it when we look at the face of a refugee who needs help.

We flew out of Amsterdam on September 15-- the first day the flights were moving again. It was chaos and there were a lot of big people wrapped in riot gear carrying machine guns. It made all of us tense. Someone on my flight started flipping out and acting extremely erratically when we eventually got on board. This increased the tension for the rest of us. One middle aged white woman traveling alone started to cry and was invited to come and sit next to a large black man who comforted her. That normally would not have happened, but it did, and it was beautiful.

We flew through the plumes of smoke in New York and landed at Washington Reagan. We were met by a wall of American flags and my dear Aunt Betty who provided the both of us with flags (which shortly afterward got subtly put in storage). On Sept 11, she had been playing golf and the plane that went into the Pentagon flew right over her.

These crimes were real and horrifying. The death count considerably higher than the death count of the Basque freedom fighters or the most recent surge of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. I absolutely do not want anyone to get the impression that I don't understand that. I do. We Americans just have a brilliant ability to shroud ourselves in patriotism, thinking that we've had it worse than anyone else, ever, and this justifies war that started in 2001 and hasn't ended in 2017.

Instead, I offer a proposal that on September 11 and on all days thereafter, we acknowledge and mourn for all acts of terror perpetuated by anyone, anywhere. That we reach out to our global human family and hold each other when the pain gets to be too much.