January is the time for fresh beginnings and resolutions. As we all know, most resolutions get broken by February. But I have one that would be a joy to keep, guaranteed to increase well-being and a sense of community with our fellow humans: attend more live music performances in 2017!
Two of my favorite days in 2016 involved live music events. Both delivered shocks to the system that woke up my heart and mind. Looking back on those performances might bring inspiration for the new year.
Last January, I got trapped in New York City during Blizzard Jonas (also known as Snowzilla). Airports, trains, buses, city streets — all were shut down for days in one of the biggest snowstorms in New York history. I was lucky to be stuck in what is now my favorite hotel in the world — The Library, at Madison Avenue and East 41st Street, which dedicates each floor to a different subject area of books. I was assigned to the Religion/Mythology floor, later switching rooms to the Native American floor.
On my last night, I noticed a concert listing for the Jazz Standard, within walking distance of the hotel. It featured pianist and composer Billy Childs, presenting a tribute to the great singer/songwriter Laura Nyro. I trudged over the snow and was rewarded with a truly memorable evening of music. On the small stage at the club, Childs packed an amazing chamber jazz ensemble and the music was enthralling.
I bought the CD, “Map to the Treasure: Reimagining Laura Nyro” (winner of a Grammy Award in 2015), and played it repeatedly throughout 2016. It was a nice surprise to learn that Billy Childs first heard Laura Nyro’s music when his gifted sister Kirsten played Nyro’s records when they were children in Los Angeles. Kirsten Childs, now an acclaimed playwright, was a Ucross resident some years ago with our Sundance Institute Playwrights Retreat at Ucross Foundation. (The 18th annual retreat begins at Ucross in late January.) Billy and Kirsten Childs have talked of collaborating and my dream is to lure them to Ucross to do just that.
The other joyful musical experience I had last year was in the opposite climate – in Winter Park, Florida, on a very warm October day at Rollins College. I had been spending time with my ailing 96-year-old mother and feeling a little blue. This time the listing I saw was for the celebrated chamber group, Trio Solisti, presented by the Bach Festival Society of Winter Park.
The program included music by Haydn, Brahms and Chausson. I knew the first two names, of course, but I’d never heard music before by Ernest Chausson. (It turns out that Chausson, who was born in Paris in 1855, was on a country retreat when he was 44 and tried out a new contraption — the bicycle. Unfortunately he crashed into a brick wall and died instantly.) His music was transcendent — melancholy and haunting, just what I needed to hear that day. It was a musical performance to refresh the soul and spirit, and I took home another amazing CD that afternoon.
I hope 2017 will hold more magical music events like these, and I wish it for all of you, too. I have already noted on my calendar to attend The Brubeck Brothers Band concert on Feb. 2 at the Whitney Center for the Arts at Sheridan College. Classical pianist Andre Bohren at the WYO Theater on March 2 also sounds promising!
At Ucross, we’re excited that renowned musician and composer Laurie Lewis will be in residence this spring with her collaborator Tom Rozum — they plan to record a CD in our beautiful composer’s studio known as Jesse’s Hideout Two. Another collaborative team at Ucross this spring involves writer Ann McCutchan working with composer Andrew Rudin. Their piece, Purewater, will be performed at the Center for Contemporary Opera in New York this fall. (McCutchan is also writing a biography of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings.) So there is much to look forward to this year — if we keep the proverbial song in our hearts, and make the effort to buy tickets to hear the extraordinary musicians of our time. CDs, satellite radio and iTunes are great — but nothing compares to a live performance!
Sharon Dynak is the president of the Ucross Foundation.