This week is the run-up to CCCC,so writing teachers across the country are working on panel presentations, workshops, and other activities related to that annual meeting-- and arguing about how to make CCCC and NCTE more politically active for social justice. Some prominent members of CCCC have announced they will not renew their memberships over what they view as the C’s refusal to stand up for faculty rights in the Salaita case, among other things. I’m attending the meeting and will be writing more about that in coming weeks.
But this week it was refreshing to turn down the volume, ignore the media frenzy over Trump, and go to New York for some outright joy. I was in town for a meeting (of course!), but also to see/hear the Kronos Quartet at Carnegie Hall. Stepping into Zankel Hall on Saturday night was like stepping into a rather large family love fest: the sold-out audience swirled down the aisles and into their seats in anticipation. This was a youngish crowd, and all around I met smiles and greetings—as if we all knew one another. What we all did know, of course, was Kronos music, and we certainly got that in spades. The quartet played some brand new pieces that are part of their Fifty for the Future project, a joint program between Carnegie Hall and Kronos to commission 50 works (25 women and 25 men—and that got applause!) over five years. All of this music (the first ten commissions will launch on April 15) will be open-source: free and open to musicians all over the world to use and play for free. These new pieces were deeply thrilling, full of such complex musicianship that it was hard to imagine they were being presented for the first time ever. There were older pieces as well, including Pete Townshend’s rip-roaring “Baba O’Riley,” that brought us all to our feet. And their encore—Geeshie Wiley’s “The Last Kind Word”-- is one of my all-time favorites. While introducing it, Kronos’s David Harrington said the quartet felt it was about time that the fabulous sound of this ignored and long-forgotten Black woman’s music played at Carnegie Hall.
So, a great night was made even more special by the fact that next door, youth choirs from around the country were performing. On the way out, I passed crowds and crowds of them in their black suits and long royal blue dresses, triumphant and cheering each other after what must have been a hugely successful evening. Seeing these throngs of young people, happily dressed to the nines and celebrating their music, brought another surge of joy and of thankfulness for music. As we all know, art has this great gift to give to all. Kronos believes that music can heal, can bring people together, can reach across boundaries and barriers of all kinds. Today, we need that kind of gift more than ever.
[Photo: Kronos Quartet by Radek Oliwa, on Flickr]