Nei

•May 28, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Nei.

After watching on average two Bollywood films per day for seven days, I gathered a few words: Me, tum (I, you), ha (yes) nei (no), babuji (daddy?), oh piar (love), that comes up a lot, dost (friend), Hindustan (obvious one there). I am going to convince myself that it’s some kind of progress in my Indian conditioning. Still no clue how to write these things down (I’m not sure that’s ever going to be possible).

I’ve become a Hindi movie addict and I’m wondering if this disease will ever be cured. I’m not sure I can go back to American Cinema again. It’s too down to earth. I need people believing in eternal love at first sight, marrying without ever having kissed and singing about almost anything (including but not limited to looking pretty, loving, dancing, India, loving, women, men, loving, did I say loving?) at 2am and other odd hours and places (you name them).Why I need these things is entirely up for discussion. Or not.

When did this romance with Bollywood begin anyway? I’m half Indian – never lived in India. Don’t speak a word of Hindi (I lie I know those words that I mentioned up there. Ha.) let alone Tamil (my father’s language) and I haven’t been there in twelve years. I guess there are things that are just embedded in you? DNA drilled I suppose.

I’m fascinated by these movies. The dresses, the colors, the spectacle, the suffering, the dancing, the passionate scenes of “they almost kissed” but never did (actually did some rather more indecent things like grab her by waist!). I’m starting to feel that if I’m going to watch a movie for three hours, it’s got to have it all – that is Bollywood formula all.

I am also a big fan of lost causes – or things that are not in vogue (at least in the eastern hemisphere): classical music, cats to name a few. Maybe I feel special ‘cause I like these movies, and I like that feeling a lot. Maybe. (I am an only-child)

I’ve been thinking about making my own Bollywood film, since the dream of becoming a Bollywood actress seems very far-fetched. Extremely. I’ve been thinking a lot about becoming one (not only to be able to meet Shahrukh Khan, that is of course a given) but also because I think I would perhaps be quite good at it. I would especially like a job where I get to do thousands of dance routines (really?)

In any case, none of this seems feasible at all, at least not right now, but the movie plot and story, seems like something that could be accomplished.

I learned a new word today (thanks to an amazingly intelligent young friend of mine) solipsistic. Why, as he said, would anyone want to watch my film, (or read this for that matter) is yet to be found out, but – I feel something must be done to express my love for Indian cinema. Artist that I am. I’ve decided I will start here. Writing my Bollywood story. Someday.

There is no place like home…except when it’s under a communist regime. A story of Venezuela…

•December 29, 2009 • Leave a Comment

I’m actually wondering if I should invest time in writing about the venezuelan tragedy… First of all, no one’s going to read this post really; second of all, Venezuela is over satiated with political talk — I believe in part it’s all the talking that started this disaster in the first place; the talking and talking and the doing nothing, that is.

I’m also not accustomed at all to this blogging business. I must admit that it’s a pitfall on my part, I am an absolute tech lover — as far as an artist, female person can be a tech lover (of course). However blogging didn’t come naturally to me, as I decided to invest my young adulthood and teenage years in music (which I do say seems fairly intelligent, I am a musician after all.)

But perhaps I should let english readers know… those people who are curious as to who is Hugo Chavez, and what exactly does he want, and what are his plans and ideals, and more importantly what has become of this country after his 10 + years of political domination, the perspective of a Venezuelan, half indian, almost american person…

I have been asked this question many times and I always have the same answer.

Has Chavez’s government had a positive effect on the country? Not in regards to his government, but yes in regards to the awareness of the private sectors and the middle class, of the situation of the marginalization of the venezuelan lower class population.

What does this mean in real terms? That Chavez is more of a high-pitched fever, than he is a deadly disease. Venezuela, a “rich” oil country, has had populist governments throughout it’s democratic history and they all have tried to gain the hearts of the venezuelan people (the poor majority) by keeping them poor but giving them enough so that they don’t feel the need to work. This has lead to a government-pampered population who doesn’t pay taxes and expects the government to feed, clothe and educate them. So oil, seemingly a blessing, has been made into a curse.

Great thoughts on music… Karl Paulnack

•December 28, 2009 • Leave a Comment

“One of my parents’ deepest fears, I suspect, is that society would not properly value me as a musician, that I wouldn’t be appreciated. I had very good grades in high school, I was good in science and math, and they imagined that as a doctor or a research chemist or an engineer, I might be more appreciated than I would be as a musician. I still remember my mother’s remark when I announced my decision to apply to music school—she said, “you’re WASTING your SAT scores.” On some level, I think, my parents were not sure themselves what the value of music was, what its purpose was. And they LOVED music, they listened to classical music all the time. They just weren’t really clear about its function. So let me talk about that a little bit, because we live in a society that puts music in the “arts and entertainment” section of the newspaper, and serious music, the kind your kids are about to engage in, has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with entertainment, in fact it’s the opposite of entertainment. Let me talk a little bit about music, and how it works.

The first people to understand how music really works were the ancient Greeks. And this is going to fascinate you; the Greeks said that music and astronomy were two sides of the same coin. Astronomy was seen as the study of relationships between observable, permanent, external objects, and music was seen as the study of relationships between invisible, internal, hidden objects. Music has a way of finding the big, invisible moving pieces inside our hearts and souls and helping us figure out the position of things inside us. Let me give you some examples of how this works.

One of the most profound musical compositions of all time is the Quartet for the End of Time written by French composer Olivier Messiaen in 1940. Messiaen was 31 years old when France entered the war against Nazi Germany. He was captured by the Germans in June of 1940, sent across Germany in a cattle car and imprisoned in a concentration camp.
He was fortunate to find a sympathetic prison guard who gave him paper and a place to compose. There were three other musicians in the camp, a cellist, a violinist, and a clarinetist, and Messiaen wrote his quartet with these specific players in mind. It was performed in January 1941 for four thousand prisoners and guards in the prison camp. Today it is one of the most famous masterworks in the repertoire.

Given what we have since learned about life in the concentration camps, why would anyone in his right mind waste time and energy writing or playing music? There was barely enough energy on a good day to find food and water, to avoid a beating, to stay warm, to escape torture—why would anyone bother with music? And yet—from the camps, we have poetry, we have music, we have visual art; it wasn’t just this one fanatic Messiaen; many, many people created art. Why? Well, in a place where people are only focused on survival, on the bare necessities, the obvious conclusion is that art must be, somehow, essential for life. The camps were without money, without hope, without commerce, without recreation, without basic respect, but they were not without art. Art is part of survival; art is part of the human spirit, an unquenchable expression of who we are. Art is one of the ways in which we say, “I am alive, and my life has meaning.”

In September 2001 I was a resident of Manhattan. That morning I reached a new understanding of my art and its relationship to the world. I sat down at the piano that morning at 10 AM to practice as was my daily routine; I did it by force of habit, without thinking about it. I lifted the cover on the keyboard, and opened my music, and put my hands on the keys and took my hands off the keys. And I sat there and thought, does this even matter? Isn’t this completely irrelevant? Playing the piano right now, given what happened in this city yesterday, seems silly, absurd, irreverent, pointless. Why am I here? What place has a musician in this moment in time? Who needs a piano player right now? I was completely lost.

And then I, along with the rest of New York, went through the journey of getting through that week. I did not play the piano that day, and in fact I contemplated briefly whether I would ever want to play the piano again. And then I observed how we got through the day.

At least in my neighborhood, we didn’t shoot hoops or play Scrabble. We didn’t play cards to pass the time, we didn’t watch TV, we didn’t shop, we most certainly did not go to the mall. The first organized activity that I saw in New York, that same day, was singing. People sang. People sang around fire houses, people sang “We Shall Overcome”. Lots of people sang America the Beautiful. The first organized public event that I remember was the Brahms Requiem, later that week, at Lincoln Center, with the New York Philharmonic. The first organized public expression of grief, our first communal response to that historic event, was a concert. That was the beginning of a sense that life might go on. The US Military secured the airspace, but recovery was led by the arts, and by music in particular, that very night.

From these two experiences, I have come to understand that music is not part of “arts and entertainment” as the newspaper section would have us believe. It’s not a luxury, a lavish thing that we fund from leftovers of our budgets, not a plaything or an amusement or a pass time. Music is a basic need of human survival. Music is one of the ways we make sense of our lives, one of the ways in which we express feelings when we have no words, a way for us to understand things with our hearts when we can’t with our minds.

Some of you may know Samuel Barber’s heartwrenchingly beautiful piece Adagio for Strings. If you don’t know it by that name, then some of you may know it as the background music which accompanied the Oliver Stone movie Platoon, a film about the Vietnam War. If you know that piece of music either way, you know it has the ability to crack your heart open like a walnut; it can make you cry over sadness you didn’t know you had. Music can slip beneath our conscious reality to get at what’s really going on inside us the way a good therapist does.

I bet that you have never been to a wedding where there was absolutely no music. There might have been only a little music, there might have been some really bad music, but I bet you there was some music. And something very predictable happens at weddings—people get all pent up with all kinds of emotions, and then there’s some musical moment where the action of the wedding stops and someone sings or plays the flute or something. And even if the music is lame, even if the quality isn’t good, predictably 30 or 40 percent of the people who are going to cry at a wedding cry a couple of moments after the music starts. Why? The Greeks. Music allows us to move around those big invisible pieces of ourselves and rearrange our insides so that we can express what we feel even when we can’t talk about it. Can you imagine watching Indiana Jones or Superman or Star Wars with the dialogue but no music? What is it about the music swelling up at just the right moment in ET so that all the softies in the audience start crying at exactly the same moment? I guarantee you if you showed the movie with the music stripped out, it wouldn’t happen that way. The Greeks: Music is the understanding of the relationship between invisible internal objects.

I’ll give you one more example, the story of the most important concert of my life. I must tell you I have played a little less than a thousand concerts in my life so far. I have played in places that I thought were important. I like playing in Carnegie Hall; I enjoyed playing in Paris; it made me very happy to please the critics in St. Petersburg. I have played for people I thought were important; music critics of major newspapers, foreign heads of state. The most important concert of my entire life took place in a nursing home in Fargo, ND, about 4 years ago.

I was playing with a very dear friend of mine who is a violinist. We began, as we often do, with Aaron Copland’s Sonata, which was written during World War II and dedicated to a young friend of Copland’s, a young pilot who was shot down during the war. Now we often talk to our audiences about the pieces we are going to play rather than providing them with written program notes. But in this case, because we began the concert with this piece, we decided to talk about the piece later in the program and to just come out and play the music without explanation.

Midway through the piece, an elderly man seated in a wheelchair near the front of the concert hall began to weep. This man, whom I later met, was clearly a soldier—even in his 70’s, it was clear from his buzz-cut hair, square jaw and general demeanor that he had spent a good deal of his life in the military. I thought it a little bit odd that someone would be moved to tears by that particular movement of that particular piece, but it wasn’t the first time I’ve heard crying in a concert and we went on with the concert and finished the piece.

When we came out to play the next piece on the program, we decided to talk about both the first and second pieces, and we described the circumstances in which the Copland was written and mentioned its dedication to a downed pilot. The man in the front of the audience became so disturbed that he had to leave the auditorium. I honestly figured that we would not see him again, but he did come backstage afterwards, tears and all, to explain himself.

What he told us was this: “During World War II, I was a pilot, and I was in an aerial combat situation where one of my team’s planes was hit. I watched my friend bail out, and watched his parachute open, but the Japanese planes which had engaged us returned and machine gunned across the parachute chords so as to separate the parachute from the pilot, and I watched my friend drop away into the ocean, realizing that he was lost. I have not thought about this for many years, but during that first piece of music you played, this memory returned to me so vividly that it was as though I was reliving it. I didn’t understand why this was happening, why now, but then when you came out to explain that this piece of music was written to commemorate a lost pilot, it was a little more than I could handle. How does the music do that? How did it find those feelings and those memories in me?”

Remember the Greeks: music is the study of invisible relationships between internal objects. This concert in Fargo was the most important work I have ever done. For me to play for this old soldier and help him connect, somehow, with Aaron Copland, and to connect their memories of their lost friends, to help him remember and mourn his friend, this is my work. This is why music matters.

What follows is part of the talk I will give to this year’s freshman class when I welcome them a few days from now. The responsibility I will charge your sons and daughters with is this:

“If we were a medical school, and you were here as a med student practicing appendectomies, you’d take your work very seriously because you would imagine that some night at two AM someone is going to waltz into your emergency room and you’re going to have to save their life. Well, my friends, someday at 8 PM someone is going to walk into your concert hall and bring you a mind that is confused, a heart that is overwhelmed, a soul that is weary. Whether they go out whole again will depend partly on how well you do your craft.

You’re not here to become an entertainer, and you don’t have to sell yourself. The truth is you don’t have anything to sell; being a musician isn’t about dispensing a product, like selling used Chevies. I’m not an entertainer; I’m a lot closer to a paramedic, a firefighter, a rescue worker. You’re here to become a sort of therapist for the human soul, a spiritual version of a chiropractor, physical therapist, someone who works with our insides to see if they get things to line up, to see if we can come into harmony with ourselves and be healthy and happy and well.

Frankly, ladies and gentlemen, I expect you not only to master music; I expect you to save the planet. If there is a future wave of wellness on this planet, of harmony, of peace, of an end to war, of mutual understanding, of equality, of fairness, I don’t expect it will come from a government, a military force or a corporation. I no longer even expect it to come from the religions of the world, which together seem to have brought us as much war as they have peace. If there is a future of peace for humankind, if there is to be an understanding of how these invisible, internal things should fit together, I expect it will come from the artists, because that’s what we do. As in the concentration camp and the evening of 9/11, the artists are the ones who might be able to help us with our internal, invisible lives.”

“The Way to Love” by Anthony de Mello

•December 28, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Such are the words of the wise, those who have lived, loved and died. Anthony de Mello was a Jesuite priest from India whom I admire immensely.. This is a long quote from his book:

“Now think of yourself when you were called good or attractive or beautiful by someone. Either you hardened yourself because you really thought you were ugly and you said to yourself, “If you really knew me as I am you would not call me beautiful.” Or you opened yourself to the words of that person and you really thought that you were beautiful and you allowed yourself to be thrilled at the compliment. In both cases you were wrong, because you are neither beautiful nor ugly. You are you. If you get caught up in the judgments of people around you, you are eating the fruit of tension and anxiety, because when today they call you beautiful and you are elated, tomorrow they will call you ugly and you will be depressed. Therefore the proper and accurate response when someone calls you beautiful is to say, “This person given his present perception and mood sees me as beautiful, but that does not say anything about me (it says something about him). Someone in his place and depending on his background and mood and perception will see me as ugly. But that again says nothing about me.”

How easily are taken in by the judgment of other people and then form an image of ourselves based on this judgment. In order to be truly liberated you need to listen to the so-called good and bad things they tell you, but to feel no emotion at the feedback any more than a computer does when data is fed into it. Because what they say about you reveals more about them than about you.

As a matter of fact you also have to be aware of the judgments that you make about yourself, because even those are generally based on the value systems that you have picked up from the people around you. If you judge condemn, approve, do you ever see reality? If you look at anything through the eye of judgment or approval or condemnation, is that not the major barrier to understanding and observing things as they are in themselves? Take the time when somebody told you that you are very special to him; if you accepted that compliment then you ate the fruit of tension. Why do you want to be special to someone and to submit to that kind of approval and judgment? Why not be content to be you?

When someone tells you how special you are, all that you can accurately say is: This person given his particular taste and needs, desires, appetites and projections has a special desire for me, but that says nothing about me as a person. Someone else will find me quite unspecial and that too says nothing about me as a person. So the moment you accept that compliment and you allow yourself to enjoy it, you will give control of yourself to that person. You will go to great lengths in order to continue to be special to this person. You will be in constant fear lest he meets someone who will become special to him and thus you will be dislodged from the special position you occupy in his life. And you will be constantly dancing to his tunes, living up to his expectations, and in doing so you will have lost your freedom […] Suddenly fear comes into your life, fear that image will be destroyed, and if you seek fearlessness and freedom, you must let go of this. How? By refusing to take anybody seriously when they tell you how special you are. The words “you are special to me” simply say something about my present mood regarding you, my taste, my present state of mind and development […] What you may enjoy is my present interaction with you, not my praise […] because if you enjoy the image I have of you, I will control you and you will be afraid to tell me the truth, to do or say anything that would damage the image that I have of you.[…] You have lost the freedom to make a fool of yourself, to do or say anything that will spoil the image. You have lost the freedom to make a fool of yourself, to be laughed at and to be ridiculed, to do and say whatever feels right to you, rather that what fits in with the image others have of you. How does one break this? Through many patient house of study, observation, awareness, of what this silly image brings you. It gives a thrill combined with so much insecurity and unfreedom and suffering. If you were to see this clearly, you would lose your appetite to be special to anyone, or to be highly regarded by anyone…