On my flight from Seattle – and I apologize to the world for my enormous carbon footprint to receive this award in person – I read an essay by novelist Anthony Doer called “Thing With Feathers That Perches in the Soul.”
The title comes from the lines of an Emily Dickinson poem, which said, “Hope is the thing with feathers – That perches in the soul – And sings the tune without words – and never stops – at all.” Members of Chamber Music America, you are that hope.
The essay goes on to tell the story of the first house built in Boise, Idaho 150 years ago. It still stands. And the original owner’s things are stored at a nearby museum. From this, the author weaves an emotionally rich story of the pioneers. He concludes the essay with his love of story.
“What does not last, if they are not retold, are the stories. Stories need to be resurrected, revivified, reimagined; otherwise they get bundled with us into our graves: a hundred thousand going into the ground every hour.
“Or maybe they float a while, suspended in the places we used to be, waiting, hidden in plain sight, until a day when the sky breaks and the lights come on and the right person is passing by.”
Like Anthony Doer, our ensemble uses our talents to create and perform site specific music inspired by stories of place – The Panama Hotel where items remain abandoned by Japanese Americans unconstitutionally incarcerated during WWII, the Duwamish Tribal Longhouse where the descendants of Chief Seattle still await the unfulfilled promises made to them in a treaty with the United States 160 years ago, the University of Washington where a black jazz saxophonist named Joe Brazil introduced jazz to the School of Music curriculum in 1968 and experienced the crushing blow of institutional racism, Seattle’s Central District where black sculptor James Winston Washington lived and worked, infusing his stone with the self-taught creativity of freedom.
The music I compose includes space for improvisation, so that the musicians can tap the American genre of jazz – linking reflection upon the past with the immediacy of playing by ear. And through this American musical tradition, we expand on stories of American social justice, social equity, creativity, and artistic expression.
Thank you Chamber Music America and ASCAP for recognizing our programming.