Album #2 is in the can: an exploration into the world of improvisation through two different lenses – Mozart and Beethoven sonatas (tuned down to 435 on gut strings with fortepiano) on the one hand, and world folk music for violin and percussion on the other. Through masks and more distance than most musicians really care for, we made it to the last take of the record with Leszek Wojcik in the engineering booth. Roger Moseley, a brilliant musicologist and inventive fortepianist joined me as my partner in crime for the first half of the album, while Shane Shanahan, celebrated percussionist and composer, joined for the second. Traversing through two masterpieces of the classical era alongside 13-beat Bulgarian folk tunes and jog-inspired compositions by Shane himself brought about an incredibly vivid symbiosis: improvising in the slow movement of a Mozart sonata somehow inspires how I might unfold an improvised Alap and vice versa. I couldn’t help but think about how such an observation can be useful in navigating life these days…
It is with gratitude to my friend Bill Manning for introducing me to this deeply provocative and important book that I share with you Eddie S. Glaude Jr.’s Begin Again. I imagine many are already familiar with this work, but for those for whom it’s new, it’s a journey through James Baldwin‘s America and how that journey parallels – in many cases far too closely – our America of today. It begs that we take a look at the temperature and attitudes of the 1960s and recognize how little true progress we’ve made as a nation with regard to civil and human rights. It asks the reader – no matter how uncomfortable and sticky it feels – to evaluate their role in our current world, checking privilege, “done good-ism,” and innocence at the door. Glaude even asks us to evaluate our own reflections in the mirror of othering and hate that, until last month, were at the core of our leadership in Washington. This passage, as Glaude paraphrases Baldwin’s approach to his activism and writing, stood out to me above all others:
“…the unexamined life was not worth living. To live and move about the world without questioning how the world has shaped and is shaping you is, in a way, to betray the gift of life itself.”
If I may be so bold, I highly recommend the read, and it’s good to sit in that sticky space while you’re in the thick of it.
And on a mildly related topic, in just a few short days, I’ll be moving to Korea for the year! After what seems like countless emails and visits to the Consulate, an FBI check (phew), the collecting of precious American goodies (Deep River chips are top on the list), packing and re-packing my three overly heavy suitcases, it’s nearly time for me to jump into this new adventure. On sabbatical from Cornell, I’ll be living and working in Seoul, studying ancient Korean traditional music, serving as a guest teaching artist at Seoul National University, spending time with family, and leaning into the culture, language, and daily life on the ROK. Growing up a mixed-race kid in St. Paul, I always felt and identified as Korean, but never had the opportunity to lean deeply into my heritage; it is with great excitement, a bit of anxiety, and humility that I start this new chapter. And, with NY State educators being included in Phase 1B, I’m fully vaccinated from COVID-19 – boy, does it make that 15-hour flight feel so much better.
The question at hand now is what my mandatory 14-day quarantine will look like. All inbound travelers in to South Korea are required a 2-week lockdown upon arrival and though I’m vaccinated and have my own (furnished) apartment, it’s not clear whether or not the folks at ICN Customs will allow me to isolate at home or if I’ll be swept away to a government facility. If it ends up being the latter, just in case I’ve got a bag packed with Trader Joe’s snacks, a 1000-piece puzzle, several books, a yoga mat, and my album edits to keep me from going too stir-crazy. Fingers crossed I’ll be able to go to my apartment, but I’m prepared for plan b too. If 2020 taught us anything, it’s how to embrace uncertainty and be ready for plans a-z. Perhaps the Korean Quarantine Chronicles will have to be the next post here…
Finally, as I find myself doing too often in these posts, we bid farewell to Ms. Priscilla “Percy” Browning, who was a beautiful force of nature, a fixture in the Ithaca arts world, and a dear friend. Percy was known for her love of music and theater, and her philanthropic legacy will live far beyond her years here on Earth. We are so grateful for everything you have left us with, and may you Rest In Peace, Miss Percy!
And as always, photographic evidence of the latest shenanigans I’ve gotten myself into:
Stay safe, happy, and healthy – more to come from the other side of the globe.