Promoting a concert involves constantly answering the “Who, What, Where, and Whens” of basic journalism. Rarely does it successfully answer the most important question: Why? So without further preamble….here I go:
Why write a piece about The Frustration of Stop and Go Traffic?
That’s a pretty easy question to answer for this concert. I’m writing a piece about traffic because Anne Wilcox submitted that idea during our #YourWishIsOurConcert campaign, which was an opportunity for Spectrum to listen directly to audience members and connect with them during the writing process in the spirit of encouraging community engagement. Speaking of community engagement, there’s an even more important “Why?” question to ask:
Why should anyone come to a concert and experience the performance of a piece written about traffic?
The frustration of being in stop and go traffic is something that almost every person experiences and for many of us, far too often. In a traffic jam, we are all stuck together sharing an unpleasant phenomenon that is bigger than all of us. In fact, we are only experiencing it BECAUSE we are all together! Yet, amidst the aforementioned shared experience and togetherness, when we are stuck in traffic we are hugely alone. We are locked in metal enclosures, observing a me-vs-the-world attitude, willing to sacrifice anyone else’s needs just to get a couple meters closer to our destination. We are engaged with many other drivers and yet they start to disappear as people and become obstacles to our self-centered goals. So, why experience a piece about traffic? Because it’s time to sit back for a few minutes and contemplate this shared human experience (and if that’s sounding a little bit like a personal definition of art for this chamber-jazz composer/ casual blogger right here, then you would be correct).
My piece explores the personal emotional and psychological roller coaster of a rush-hour commute home: A theme of steady movement is interrupted by stops at the mental states of anxiety, frustration, and rage. On this imaginary commute, our commuter naturally gets swept away on a day dream of greener pastures somewhere between the states of frustration and rage. And as mundane as it may sound: ultimately our commuter does arrive home. Albeit, an arrival made bitter-sweet by the awareness that she has just over 12 hours until she does it again.
The main reason that I was inspired by Anne’s suggestion in particular is that it’s such a ubiquitous, every-day experience. Today traffic, and tomorrow, maybe something bigger… Allow me to tell you an example (if you’re not in the mood for my typical ramblings about feelings, feel free to skip ahead to the conclusion. You’ll know it because it starts with “In conclusion”):
I have a friend from university with whom I spent almost every day for one summer. That year, when we returned back to school in our separate programs, we lost touch a bit. After what was a relatively long period of long-time-no-see we finally had a chat. She mentioned that she had been seeing a therapist for a few reasons that she briefly discussed. In all the time that we spent together we had never talked about those sorts of things and I didn’t know what to say or how to support her. That said, there were many things that I could have related to if I had had the ability to do so. A couple years later, I ran into her at a concert in which I was performing some original music. After the show, she told me with a heavy sincerity that there was a sadness in my music that had especially touched her. I knew exactly what she was referring to, and although many different people would gather different meanings from the same pieces, I understood that that particular quality would stick out to her because she could relate to it. In that moment of musician-audience connection I felt that we finally began to share the understanding and empathy that I had been unable to provide before.
Why experience a piece about traffic? Because one day it’s traffic, another day it could be anger, another day apathy or melancholy, and another, existential query. If we can turn these things from something that we experience in isolation to something we share with others, our community, our friends, even strangers, even everyone (!) we might cultivate more empathy and humanity in our lives. We also might start to feel less frustrated… Maybe the next time you are stuck in traffic you’ll be aware that your very personal roller coaster is occurring so very personally in the very person right next to you on the road. Or at least a chamber-jazz composer/casual blogger can dream, can’t she?