Immigrants created American music. A new festival tells their stories.
Mar 9, 2019-
What do migrants bring with them? On a one-way trip to an unknown new life, perhaps they might pack money, documents, clothes, some small keepsakes. Invisibly and intangibly, they also carry cultural memories: the lullabies their parents sang, the dances they tried at a wedding, the best way to cook a chicken. On new territory, those memories become a link to home and also, with any luck, something to share with the neighbors.It’s the American story, repeated with countless variations for each new arrival; it’s also a hot-button subject in politics worldwide. And it’s the theme for ‘Migrations: The Making of America,’ a citywide festival that gets into gear this weekend, with Carnegie Hall at its center along with more than 75 partner organizations around the city, including the New-York Historical Society, the Irish Arts Center, Harlem Stage, the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, El Museo del Barrio and the Vietnam Heritage Center. The festival encompasses dance workshops, panel discussions, and walking tours of Harlem along with concerts large and small.
“So many different cultures and so many different ethnicities want to tell their story,” said Clive Gillinson, the executive and artistic director of Carnegie Hall. “It tells you something about the potency of the subject.”
Carnegie’s own programs focus on three historical migrations to and within the United States: the Irish and Scottish influx in the 18th and 19th centuries; Jews arriving from Russia and Eastern Europe from the late 19th century until the 1924 National Origins Act set quotas on immigration; and the Great Migration of 6 million African-Americans from the South to northern industrial cities. British Isles immigrants brought a repertoire that seeded Appalachian and country music. The Jewish contingent brought essential songwriters to Tin Pan Alley and Broadway. And the Great Migration disseminated blues, jazz, gospel and the other glories of African-American music.
When you consider that “some of the most sublime inspirational art you could ever imagine” came out of appalling situations, Mr Gillinson said, “I think it tells you a lot about what human beings are able to do in transmuting some of the most painful and hardest things in life into something that can actually uplift everyone.”
The far-reaching jazz pianist Jason Moran and the opera-trained mezzo-soprano Alicia Hall Moran, his wife, along with guests from jazz, rock, gospel and classical music, address the Great Migration in a Carnegie Hall concert on March 30 titled ‘Two Wings.’ Its foundation, the Morans said in a phone interview, is the book The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson, who will appear. Songs on the program like the spiritual ‘Two Wings’ and the blues ‘Route 66,’ buoyant as they seem, are nonetheless about escape.
“The root is sheer terror,” Jason Moran said. “It’s people having to retreat, people having to hide, people having to gather what few belongings they have and do some real improvisation and go to some other city— only to get to that city and discover some other trials later on.”
Jewish heritage and its American evolution will have a flagship concert on April 15. ‘From Shtetl to Stage: A Celebration of Yiddish Music and Culture,’ produced by the author Seth Rogovoy, gathers classical musicians (the violinist Gil Shaham and the pianist Evgeny Kissin), klezmer musicians (the clarinetist David Krakauer and the trumpeter Frank London, the show’s musical director), singers and actors to explore the Yiddish theater and its extensive influence. At Zankel Hall, the klezmer clarinetist and mandolinist Andy Statman will lead his trio on March 14, and Michael Feinstein will perform ‘The Great American Jewish Songbook: Kern, Berlin, Arlen, Rodgers and More’ on March 27.
The Scots-Irish facet of the festival begins March 9 with a dedicated segment of ‘Live From Here,’ the American Public Media radio show hosted by the eclectic mandolinist and songwriter Chris Thile. “I was a bizarre choice to host this one, seeing as I’m a Southern California boy with no detectable Scotch-Irish heritage to speak of,” Mr Thile said by phone. (Most of his ancestry is German.) “But in another way, it makes a lot of sense, because it’s about how much influence those migrations have had on American culture and American life.”
He added, “Music and the artistic benefits of an ethnically diverse society are undeniable. This country would be nothing without all of the various peoples who are here. What would we have, musically speaking, had we just kept this place all to our initial selves? To say nothing of the fact that it wasn’t ours to begin with.”
On April 6 at Zankel, the festival will present the Gloaming, a quintet of Irish and American musicians who merge deeply traditional Irish fiddling and singing with daring, often luminously introspective harmonies and arrangements. To Martin Hayes, a fiddler from County Clare who founded the group, the Gloaming continues a century-long dialogue between Irish music and its American diaspora, restoring some of the subtleties that were discouraged by the limitations of early recordings and the guitar-strumming enthusiasm of the 1960s folk revival.
“There is a thread of unacknowledged, deeper emotional expression that got ironed out of the music in some ways,” Mr Hayes said. In the Gloaming’s music, “Lots of things can happen, but the only rule is that they actually amplify and develop the innate feeling that happens inside the melodic structure.”
Meanwhile, the melting pot continues to simmer. The Migrations festival has embraced a series now in its fifth year at the Flushing Town Hall arts center: Global Mashups, which presents double bills of musicians from disparate traditions for an audience that comes to dance. Dance steps are taught before the performance, and after each group plays its own set, they jam together—an accelerated version of American music’s cross-pollination. “By the end of the night, you’re not a stranger any more,” said Ellen Kodadek, the executive and artistic director of Flushing Town Hall.
This year’s lineup begins March 9 with the category-defying Hazmat Modine—a blues-rooted group that can swerve into New Orleans brass-band jazz, ska or klezmer— and Falu, a singer born in Mumbai who will be performing music from vintage Bollywood films and from Holi, a Hindu spring festival of renewal and forgiveness.
Falu represents the 11th generation of a family of Hindustani classical musicians; she immigrated to the United States 20 years ago, and studied Western songwriting at Berklee College of Music. Her Indian-rooted children’s album, Falu’s Bazaar was a nominee at the most recent Grammy Awards. “My purpose in making Falu’s Bazaar was to keep the tradition living,” she said. “To give everybody who has immigrated, who has a different culture to latch onto, who has some story to tell, to give validation that your song matters, your story matters.”
She has no qualms about the cross-cultural jam with Hazmat Modine. “Music is the most unifying power,” she said. “We’re going to bring people together.”
— © 2019 The New York Times
Published: 09-03-2019 09:50