I’m an empath. I look at the destruction that happened in 2017 and cannot remove that from myself. Nothing against people who can, I’m just saying I can’t make any post saying that 2017 was good despite everything that happened. I did have some highlights especially at the beginning of the year, with the premieres of On the Mountains of Orphalese…, LOVE, a Psalm of David, the completion of the 2nd movement of my piano sonata, an Art Song, and now I’m working on a new piece with Ethan Valentin. I finished my website, and did some dedicated research on Middle Eastern Music Theory. I am, of course, grateful for the opportunity to witness so much music with so many wonderful people. But at the same time, there are genocides happening all over the world funded with our money. Native Americans, Palestinians, Rohingya, Puerto Ricans, LGBT+ people all over the world, everyone is bearing the full brunt of white supremacy while America as a whole sits back and lets it happen. You can point to the five marches you’ve been to, but that’s not enough. If you think simply electing Democrats is good enough we’ll never see change. What this also does to folks who do even some of the work (I didn’t do much of anything since I got in Va so don’t consider me an “activist”) is it creates a culture of doom with news of the apocalypse being shared everyday, where I get a little bit more fearful every day I open facebook. While some may be able to ignore the destruction their state is committing, there are many who cannot, and as we recently have seen, are dying from the massive neglect of the populous on humanity.
In 2017, ethics died. I know, it doesn’t make much sense to say an abstract concept has “died” and I often make fun of other folks, mainly musicians who say that stuff for dramatic effect (i.e. contemporary music is dying). But what I mean here is that any value of ethics, an idea of what the right thing to do is, has culturally dropped to the point where it is now rare. In my own family, where I learned about the religious duty to be the best human possible, the idea of devoting yourself to the greater good dwindled into a joke. I would be having a major emotional response to one of the infinite tragedies of this year, only to be ridiculed for having those emotions in the first place. It’s heartbreaking to see people I love who grew up after my family went from lower class to being solidly middle, to grow up believing it’s best to ignore politics. Who look at the work I do, and question it, showing hostility to what they perceive as reverse racism and contribute to this culture of ridiculing the one who cares. I look at them, and I fear that they will hit the point where they are forced to choose between white complacency and resistance, and they will choose complacency. They already choose complacency everyday, but eventually that complacency will demand that all ties will be cut off from the ones who are controversial, the ones fighting, the crazy SJWs who are stupid enough to believe in human rights. For fuck’s sake I have to use my entire arsenal of evidence, reason, and persuasion in order to convince them that racism against our own is even real.
But this isn’t just about me, this is happening all over the planet. Those who care are being punished by a system of power. I used to believe family bonds are strong that they can cut through almost anything. I discovered this year that they are actually kind of weak. Strength in relationships comes from active hard work. If I am doing something that is hurting, or even killing someone I care about, it is my responsibility to stop. So how can you be my friend, my sibling, my lover, if you’re complacent in the power structures that bring us all down? How is it that after Trump was put in the white house, fascism became the newest fashion trend, and Republicans tried to kill thousands of people over and over and over again (and finally succeeded, with delayed effects) it is still acceptable to say “I don’t follow politics” or even “some Republicans are good” (look at way they did…what they’re doing now…it’s not an identity, it’s an active choice).
Here’s the thing about 2018. I don’t want another fucking commission, I want my country back. Any brief success I have as an artist means nothing if my own people are dying and I’m left to mourn alone and in private, while also fearing for my own future. I don’t know if I can ever afford to leave D.C., I have too much mental health damage to really work a full time job while freelancing as a composer. I also don’t know how to expand and network when it’s becoming increasingly obvious that a composer will have to work with folks who somehow still say “not all men”, where racism is about as violent as a far right European political party, and where an opportunity to network will rarely cost less than 50 dollars. And before you tell me writing is resisting, I will say no it’s not. At least not by itself.
I was once asked if I will write an “anti-Trump” piece, to which I responded that my whole existence is anti-Trump. That the simple act of writing music myself is a radical act against Trump. In some ways it is, but it is only effective when followed through with action. Too many composers have taken the current political climate, and capitalized on it. Many are just as complacent as anyone I know, many are flat out racist, many are friends with assaulters, and many have never done anything political in their lives, yet suddenly they write a piece with some cheap dig at the man and think they’re doing something? And worse, that it is put on equal footing as actual activist work?! You can compare any music you want, but resisting power structures can’t happen through writing music alone.
So here we are in the border between two years that will test the patience of humanity. Our survival as a species hinges on whether or not we can get our act together. I know my goals, they’re the same every year, to not accept unacceptable behavior, no matter who it’s from. To do everything I can to help those hurting in my life, and to never let go of my connection with the Earth, knowing it will eventually label me a criminal. And now with a new goal, work with children and help them learn the tools they need to create a better generation of humans. Maybe 2018 will be better, but probably not. And saying it will be won’t help, it almost feels like gaslighting. I know you’re lying, and I would much rather know the harsh truth and prepare for it than to live in ignorance and do nothing. This year will be about healing myself and my community. I want to connect with those who are brave enough to act and spend our time keeping eachother alive as the regime of violence continues to destroy itself, dragging us down however it can.