Berklee Today

Coda: The Music Goes On

Fred Bouchard
 

America's hour of darkness came during my debut class at Berklee College. We'd been discussing writing about music when the door opened at 10 a.m. and students in 22 Fenway were abuzz with shocked looks, teary eyes, and confused reports of planes crashing into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. What unfolded for me was a lonely, heavy day of brooding and silence amid the drone of news reports and a sad weariness that blocked out the brilliant late-summer sun. Ultimately I sought solace, not information, and lulled myself into a reverie with the music of Duke Ellington and Guillaume Dufay.

American adults can recall only a few other days in American history marked by such communal dismay and grief, days when we can asked our peers, "Where were you when . . . ?” One such occasion was November 22, 1963, when President John Kennedy was assassinated (I was in the University of Kansas library); another was December 7, 1941, when Japanese bombers beseiged Pearl Harbor (I was not yet born).

My cousin, singer/songwriter Sky Cappelletti '92, wrote in tears from Manhattan: "I am very proud of the way my city is coping, caring for one another like one huge family. We have been forever changed. The recent tragedy should inspire those of us who are artistically inclined to express ourselves and our reactions, rather than lead us in its wake to wallow in depression and horror.”

These rare catacylsmic moments of universal horror and shame, distressing and traumatic as they are to live through, ultimately have an annealing effect on our lives, and—sooner or later—our art. Within days of the recent attack, the Internet blazed across the globe with some defiant cartoonist's visual montage of a plan to rebuild the World Trade Center not as twin towers but a fivesome, the silhouette of a hand giving "the finger.” Soon—even if it seems farfetched and unthinkable at the moment—someone will make a film, write a novel, compose a symphony, or stage a rock opera about this heinous attack and its effects. This is the grit in our oyster shell that produces pearls, the filth in which our spores grow into mushrooms.

When faced with massive collective tragedy, the human mind undergoes a series of psychological reactions: first shock, then sadness, outrage, resignation, reflection, and possibly even creation. Those of us who get stuck in one of the early stages of grieving don't benefit from the later stages of healing. Making art through trauma may well also be cathartic (personally as well as collectively), restoring both artist and audience, steeling them against further hurt and reversing the downward spiral. A similar case can be made for working through physical pain by tending a garden, building furniture, playing ball.

Precedents of contending with grief in this way abound in art. The Greek tragedians cast the chorus as the public voice of the Athenian city-state whose citizens—faced with the horror of the murder and incest of kings or the attacks of the Persians on a vulnerable state—react in concert as an individual might, expressing dismay, concern, compassion, fear, yet also an immediate willingness to rebound. Euripides wrote the chorus to intone: "There is in the worst of fortune the best of chances for a happy change.”

Dmitri Shostakovich expressed in music Yevgeny Yevtushenko's outrage at the Nazi pogroms of Babi Yar; Pablo Picasso screamed out at the horrors of Guernica; the loss of friends in the AIDS epidemic was the impetus for John Corigliano's epic Symphony No. 1. Each artist's path differs, of course, and is shaped by the particular event that crashes in on our individual or collective lives and then spurs the artist on to the realization of a creative moment.

In a recent e-release from Vienna, producer Ingrid Karl explained that her Musicon Music Festival would be "an endeavour to make out or make up the new in a time in which, according to Boris Groys, 'All hopes of a new revelation of what lies hidden and of a purposeful process have been laid to rest.'” Yet revelation may well be the culmination, the acme, of the artist's reaction to trauma. Composer Olivier Messiaen, incarcerated during the Nazi occupation, said that he was "directly inspired” by the Bible (the Revelation of St. John the Divine, chapter X), where it states that a mighty angel with a face like the sun and feet like pillars of fire spake thus: "There shall be time no longer, but at the day of the trumpet of the seventh angel, the mystery of God shall be consummated.” His Quartet for the End of Time—eerie, cryptic, gorgeous, defiant—was first performed in Stalag 8-A on January 15, 1941. Messiaen indeed turned his riveting moment into transcendent joy.

Few New York artists live closer to Lower Manhattan's ground zero than pianist Joanne Brackeen, whose flat in Battery Park City is two short blocks from the twin towers. Found practicing her complex, fervid piano lines in a borrowed faculty office, Joanne readily shared her experiences in an amazed, upbeat manner that reflects her passionate, hardhitting musical style. "So many weird things happened to me this past month. Many people visited me for the first time in years—from Utah, Hawaii, Boston, Canada. See this sweater, these eyeglasses? I just bought them Saturday [September 8] at the World Trade Center.”

Joanne's life has been seriously disrupted since that fateful Tuesday. Not only has she been unable to return home, she had not received a word from neighbors or the building management until she heard secondhand news 10 days later about a newly established e-mail hotline for those in her neighborhood. She's camping in Boston with Berklee friends, borrowing clothes and money. "I couldn't get money from my bank because they have no Boston branch,” she remarked with some indignation over a vegan lunch at Bread and Circus. "I don't know yet when 'they' will let me return to my flat. The city is in denial, saying nothing. They want it to look like everything's okay because a five-star Ritz is supposed to open nearby next week.”

Her contact with loved ones is still disrupted. "I got a cell phone in August, and I've been constantly making and getting calls. But phone lines are out. Some people are angry that I haven't called! My daughter lives practically under the towers. No alarm went off that morning in her high rise as she slept through the attack! When she finally got out with just her dog and camera, she was so transfixed by the bizarre sights—totally unlike the TV accounts—that she didn't even run, she just stood there dazed. When she called me, she rattled on like a crazy person for an hour. How can I think about music?”

But Joanne did think about music. In the weeks following the disaster, she played a concert in Boston and flew to one-day clinics and concerts in Savannah and Pittsburgh. She could only play the lead sheets that she had with her, and her regular drummer couldn't get out of New York.

But the music goes on. "If it's a war zone, I just go,” she said. "Music is the essence of life and must be expressed. I got that attitude working with Stan Getz. In 1976 we were on the arts cruise to Cuba with Dizzy Gillespie. We were told that the boat—the first to Cuba in 17 years—might be bombed. Nobody backed down.

"When saxophonist Dave Liebman called to see how I was, he said, 'Joanne, I don't know if I want to get on that plane tomorrow.' I siad, 'Dave, you know you have to. This is what we do.' The arts have been kept down, but now they'll rise up. With the economy gone flat, all we have is the art of living.”

How will all these events ultimately affect her music? "I have no idea,” she said with a keen, matter-of-fact smile. "Come out and see!”

 

Fred Bouchard is a new associate professor in Berklee's General Education Department. He writes about jazz for Down Beat and other publications and hosts the ãCrosscurrentsä program on WMBR-FM 88.1 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Visit his website at www.fredbouchard.com.