January 26, 2021
The Poetry of Music, the Music of Poetry
"Talking about music is like dancing about architecture." —Thelonious Monk
We at the Witness Project have been invited to share our words on the Minnesota Orchestra’s January 29 concert theme of Heart and Hope. We’re happy to take up the challenge of talking about music and, more importantly, poeting about heart and hope and music.
The home of the Witness Project is the Robert J. Jones Urban Research Outreach-Engagement Center (UROC), located in Minneapolis’s Northside neighborhood. Witness is a community-based initiative to foster creative literary work in a multitude of voices. Those taking part in the program look for ways to begin difficult conversations and work to create an environment where people feel safe to unlock experience and share. A core belief is that while writing is in many ways a solitary endeavor, the building of community is essential to meaningful artistic practice. We think there is value not only in developing an audience for literary work, but in interacting with and getting feedback from that audience. We regularly engage in cross-genre artistic practice and we value collaborations with our friends and colleagues in the fields of dance, drama, visual arts, culinary arts, fabric arts and music. For the third straight year, we’re honored to work “in concert” with the Minnesota Orchestra to create a synthesis of poetry and music.
We’ve tasked ourselves with bearing witness to this moment in history, looking at the world through a musical lens. Anyone who caught the performance of Amanda Gorman, youth poet laureate, at the Inauguration of Joe Biden, may understand the significance of poetry as witness and the power of poetry to heal. Channeling unheard voices, confronting unspoken truths, using well-chosen words to bridge differences and to reach for universal humanity—all this is possible with poetry. Our writers have met this challenge:
by reflecting on the power of music:
Untitled, by Debra Stone
Rhythm is all that matters
bass guitar summons
freeing me from the inside
voice penetrating the body
my heart vibrates to the beat
trilling of the tongue
i try to sing my answer
but my tongue is english
my body moves
Rhythm is all that matters.
by capturing the heart of music:
Music is Love and Life, by Emilié Koritz Elshall
Here on stage once the curtains part
First, silence and thrill of the unknown.
A surprise will be arriving, the audience gently intuits, as do the musicians
As we warm up, here is how it sounds to we playing gracefully-and we listening attentively-
The people singing, breathing the vital breath of Music.
Music on our pink minds, on our blue and red Hearts, on our bodies, on our old and new souls, on our free and unbound spirits
Music wafting through the air, speaking through the soil beneath the edifice where the performance is,
Music like a candle, playful like water.
Beautiful Music-Otherwise known as Love and Life.
Subsequently after the pause, then-it commences
A single, solitary, interesting sound
E or G, La, Mi, a scale native or different from a far away land, with beating drums, with delicate strings, with easy woodwinds, with strong brass.
All of a melody’s romantic notes
Colorful, vibrant, exquisitely written letters of passion moving
Sanctifying space resplendent and Earth too
Making voices of galaxies harmonize
The Milky Way and her acquaintances
In time with the rhythm of a baby’s heartbeat
In the audience.
And with the tune arrives the passing away of all pain and hurt, every sorrow and suffering.
The voice of Love, personified, with kisses and embraces and band-aids.
by allowing ourselves to be transformed:
what if i were to tell you i was a bird? by Hawona Sullivan Janzen
we flapped-drove to the city, then flew-stood
in line until we almost could
not remember why we were there, but
then she squeezed my hand and i remembered
it had been a tough year. Between
puberty and physics
and not making first chair
between a newly diagnosed
chocolate allergy, my viola teacher relocating, and
being stood up for the Sadie Hawkins Dance
there was a cello-playing boy who asked me for my best friend’s
number when i hoped he was going to ask for mine. There were a
few caws and fighting over the crumbs of bread a tourist dropped. And just like that
my best friend was gone.
We’d been planning the trip for weeks. Mom,
i said, i can’t go to the concert now--not with Jesse
But my mother was adamant. Beak folded beneath my wing
i stood there in line at 14
with my mother waiting...
to see Yo-Yo Ma.
When we got to our seats there was Jesse with her dad.
i wish i could tell you that we said we were sorry, but we were birds.
We squawked a bit; cooed, then swayed to the music until the night was done.
by bearing witness to the present:
Music in the Time of Quarantine, Part I, by Nancy Cook
the people come out
on their balconies
one by one or two by two,
like nestlings cracking
out of eggshells.
A handsome youth
picks up his violin;
his father, shirtless
in the spring sun,
Nessun Dorma aria.
Mother and sisters
are in shadows behind,
at the crucifixion. Then
across the neighborhood
of open windows, decks,
and rooftops, listen:
a harmonica, a whistle,
soon a clarinet, drumbeats;
soon, a soprano voice
with wings of an angel,
soon a chorus of voices,
and soon, soon, the music
shall defeat the menace
that confines them.
by remembering the power of music:
Sommerfest, 1989, by Joan Thompson
Emerging from air-conditioned
chill of Orchestra Hall seats,
we're wrapped in perfect
warmth of a July night
calling us to stay outdoors
and giving heart for winter.
Twinkle lights line tiny trees
and stands sell late-night treats.
The drained fountain, a dance floor,
fills with concert goers still floating
to the strains of Strauss.
Summer casual rules the night--
twirling sundresses partner with
short-sleeved shirts and khakis.
As "The Danube Waltz" arches
toward WCCO and IDS,
two couples' perfect steps
stand out--the women
dipping in flowing dresses,
the men in tuxedo jackets and
cummerbunds, formal perfection
above bermuda shorts and tennies--
signs that magic can happen
on music-filled summer nights.
by tapping into its healing power:
Untitled, by Gene Olson
As hard as hope.
Worn to a shine
Weathered to a nub
There is yet this sleeping bit
Huddled shivering in anticipation of mornings promise.
by being empowered:
A Brass Heart, by Tanya Anderson
I am the peacemaker
Sympathetic vibrations of air
With the breath of humanity
Bright and melodic
Each breath a reminder
That we can all play
With diligence and hope
I urge you to play me
Play me with all your heart
Because we are an assembly
Whether you march
Or play solo
When you breathe
Into the soul
Of the brass trumpets
Passed down by generations
We all become energized
Notes of hope
and by offering hope:
Music in the Time of Quarantine, Part II, by Nancy Cook
by day birds rhapsodize
from hidden perches
I dance with shadows on the wall
dance to the sweep of the broom
to the rhythms of a lonely heart
at night wind chimes
enter my dreams
rock me with their easy sway
cast tiny glints of hope
kindled by the ascendant moon