On Sept 8 I had the pleasure of producing/performing in another fantastic Con Vivo Music concert: Art Politic. The concert was a program of modern chamber music composed in response to sociopolitical issues, including the Attica Prison rebellion, murder rates in Chicago, the Iraq War, a letter by J.S. Bach to his city council, and what it means to be an American. We had a unique 8-person ensemble of voice, violin, cello, saxophone, guitar, bass, keyboard, and percussion.
Staged in the Council Chambers of Jersey City’s City Hall, this concert featured Frederic Rzewski’s Coming Together, a minimalist beat-driven composition that sets text from a letter by Sam Melville in May of 1971. Melville was a prisoner at the Attica Correctional Facility in Attica, New York. His letter talks of “the inevitable direction of [his] life”, hinting at things to come. In September of 1971, the Attica Prison rebellion took place, where 1,0000 prisoners took control of the prison, held staff hostage, and demanded better living conditions and political rights. After four days of negotiation (with some demands met), the state police took control of the prison, resulting in at least 43 deaths, including that of Sam Melville.
Paired alongside the Rzewski was the world premiere of Kevin Clark’s Census Americans, a new piece inspired by Coming Together. Census Americans has an ever-changing text, gathered live during the performance from the twitter bot Census Americans, which tweets descriptions of real Americans every hour using U.S. Census Bureau data. The musical material draws on protest songs written by labor activist Joe Hill, and the structure of Rzewski’s Coming Together. This combination of descriptions of modern Americans and protest song reminds us that a key part of what it means to be American is to constantly strive for positive change.