Composer Autobiographies, Memoirs, Letters, and Essays after 1850

Recently, Professor Anne-Marie Reynolds at Juilliard asked me to do a research assignment: to spend time in the library cataloguing memoirs of composers from after 1850. I couldn't find a satisfactory and comprehensive list of composer memoirs on the internet, so I thought this list might be of help to others. It is by no means comprehensive, but it does contain the autobiographies, memoirs, letters and essays I found in the stacks of Juilliard's Lila Acheson Wallace Library. I've included the Library of Congress call numbers at the end of each citation. 

Please leave a comment if you have suggestions to add to this list!


Adams, John. Hallelujah Junction: Composing an American Life. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008. ML225 Ad18 A3h

Adams, John Luther. Winter Music: Composing the North. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2004. ML225 Ad185 A7w

Amram, David. Vibrations: The Adventures and Musical Times of David Amram. New York: The Viking Press, 1968. ML225 Am76 A3v

Argento, Dominick. Catalogue Raisonné As Memoir: A Composer’s Life. Minneapolis:University of Minnesota Press, 2004. ML225 Ar37 A3c

Babbitt, Milton. The Collected Essays of Milton Babbitt. Edited by Stephen Peles. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003. ML225 B113 A7e

Banfield, William C. Representing Black Music Culture: Then, Now, and When Again? Lanham, MD: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2011. ML225 B224 A3re

Bartók, Béla. Essays. Selected and edited by Benjamin Suchoff. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1976. ML225 B285 A7s

Basie, Count. Good Morning Blues: The Autobiography of Count Basie. Collected by Albert Murray. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 1985. ML225 B292 A3g

Beckwith, John. Unheard Of: Memoirs of a Canadian Composer. Waterloo, ON: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2012. ML225 B389 A3un

Berlioz, Hector. The Memoirs of Hector Berlioz. Translated and edited by David Cairns. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002. ML225 B456 A3m 2002

Bernstein, Leonard. Findings. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1982. ML225 B458 A3f

Boulez, Pierre. Stocktakings From an Apprenticeship. Collected by Paule Thevenin. Translated by Stephen Walsh. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1991. ML225 B664 A7n

Bowles, Paul. Paul Bowles on Music. Edited by Timothy Mangan and Irene Herrmann. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2003. ML225 B682 A7p

Britten, Benjamin. Britten on Music. Edited by Paul Kildea. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2003. ML225 B778 A7k

Busoni, Ferruccio. The Essence of Music and Other Papers. Translated by Rosamond Ley. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1957. ML225 B966 A7l

Cage, John. Silence: Lectures and Writings. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1967. ML225 C117 A7s

Carter, Elliott. The Writings of Elliott Carter: An American Composer Looks at Modern Music. Compiled, edited, and annotated by Else Stone and Kurt Stone. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1977. ML225 C245 A7w

Casella, Alfredo. Music in My Time: The Memoirs of Alfredo Casella. Translated and edited by Spencer Norton. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1955. ML225 C267 A3m

Colgrass, Michael. Adventures of an American Composer. Edited by Neal and Ulla Colgrass. Galesville, MD: Meredith Music Publications, 2010. ML225 C681 A3a

Copland, Aaron, and Vivian Perlis. Copland: 1900 Through 1942. New York: St. Martin’s/Marek, 1984. ML225 C792 A3c

Cowell, Henry. Essential Cowell: Selected Writings on Music. Edited by Dick Higgins. Kingston, NY: McPherson & Company, 2001. ML225 C839 A7e

Debussy, Claude. Debussy on Music: The Critical Writings of the Great French Composer Claude Debussy. Collected by François Lesure. Translated and Edited by Richard Langham Smith. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1977. ML225 D354 A7d

Dohnányi, Ernst von. Message to Posterity. Translated by Ilona von Dohnányi. Edited by Mary F. Parmenter. Jacsonville, FL: The H. & W. B. Drew Company, 1960. ML225 D682 A3

Dyson, George. Dyson’s Delight: An Anthology of Sir George Dyson’s Writings and Talks on Music. Edited by Christopher Palmer. London: Thames Publishing, 1989. ML225 D995 A7p

Eisler, Hanns. A Rebel in Music: Selected Writings. Edited by Manfred Grabs. Translated by Marjorie Meyer. London: Kahn & Averill, 1999. ML225 Ei87 A7p

Elgar, Edward. Letters to Nimrod: Edward Elgar to August Jaeger, 1897-1908. Edited and annotated by Percy M. Young. London: Dennis Dobson, 1965. ML225 El32 A5y

Engel, Lehman. This Bright Day: An Autobiography. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co, Inc., 1974. ML225 En32 A3t

Falla, Manuel de. On Music and Musicians. Translated by David Urman and J.M. Thomson. London: Marion Boyars, 1979. ML225 F191 A7o

Fox, Charles. Killing Me Softly: My Life in Music. Lanham, MD: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2010. ML225 F83 A3k

Glass, Philip. Words Without Music: A Memoir. New York: Liveright Publishing Company, 2015. ML225 G463 A3wo

Gounod, Charles. Autobiographical Reminiscences with Family Letters and Notes on Music. Translated by W. Hely Hutchinson. London: William Heinemann, 1896. ML225 G741

Henze, Hans Werner. Bohemian Fifths: An Autobiography. Translated by Stewart Spencer. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999. ML225 H399 A3b

Hindemith, Paul. A Composer’s World: Horizons and Limitations. Gloucester, MA: Peter Smith, 1969. ML225 H585 A7c 1969

Honneger, Arthur. I Am a Composer. Translated by Wilson O. Clough. London: Faber and Faber Ltd, 1951. ML225 H756 A3i

Ives, Charles. Memos. Edited by John Kirkpatrick. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1972. ML225 Iv3 A3m

Janáček, Leoš. Janáček’s Uncollected Essays on Music. Edited and translated by Mirka Zemanová. London: Marion Boyars, 1989. ML225 J251 A7z

King, B.B. Blues All Around Me: The Autobiography of B.B. King. New York: Icon !t Itbooks, 1966. ML225 K58 A3bl

Krenek, Ernst. Horizons Circled: Reflections on My Music. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1974. ML225 K882 A3h

Mason, Lowell. A Yankee Musician in Europe: The 1837 Journals of Lowell Mason. Edited by Michael Broyles. Rochester, NY: The University of Rochester Press, 1990. ML225 M3814 A3b

Mason, William. Memories of a Musical Life. New York: The Century Co., 1902. ML225 M3818 A3m

Massenet, Jules Emile Frederic. My Recollections. Translated by H. Villiers Barnett. Freeport, NY: Books for Libraries Press, 1970. ML225 M384 A3

Milhaud, Darius. Notes Without Music. Translated by Donald Evans. Edited by Rollo H. Myers. London: Denis Dobson Ltd, 1952. ML225 M599 A3n 1952

Nielsen, Carl. Living Music. Translated by Reginald Spink. Copenhagen: Wilhelm Hansen Music Forlag, 1968. ML225 N554 A7l

Offenbach, Jacques. Orpheus in America: Offenbach’s Diary of His Journey to the New World. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1957. ML225 Of2 1957

Partch, Harry. Bitter Music: Collected Journals, Essays, Introductions, and Librettos. Edited by Thomas McGeary. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1991. ML225 P257 A7m

Penderecki, Krzysztof. Labyrinth of Time: Five Addresses for the End of the Millennium. Chapel Hill, NC: Hinshaw Music, 1998. ML225 P373 A7l

Poulenc, Francis. Diary of My Songs. Translated by Winifred Radford. London: Victor Gollancz Ltd, 1985. ML225 P864 A3r

Prokofiev, Sergei. Soviet Diary 1927 and Other Writings. Translated and edited by Oleg Prokofiev. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1991. ML225 P944 A3p

Reger, Max. Selected Writings of Max Reger. Edited and translated by Christopher Anderson. New York: Routledge, 2006. ML225 R263 A7s

Reich, Steve. Writings About Music. Halifax: The Press of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, 1974. ML225 R271 A7w

Rimsky-Korsakoff, Nicolay Andreyevich. My Musical Life. Translated by Juday A. Joffe. Edited by Carl Van Vechten. New York: Tudor Publishing Co., 1936. ML225 R469 A3m

Rorem, Ned. Setting the Tone: Essays and a Diary. New York: Coward-McCann, Inc., 1983. ML225 R692 A38

Rubinsein, Anton. Autobiography of Anton Rubinstein: 1829-1889. Translated by Aline Delano. New York: Haskell House Publishers, Ltd., 1969. ML225 R825 A3

Saint-Saëns, Camille. Musical Memories. Translated by Edwin Gile Rich. Boston: Small, Maynard & Company, 1919. ML225 Sa28 A7m

Satie, Erik. A Mammal’s Notebook. Edited by Ornella Volta. Translated by Anthony Melville. London: Atlas Press, 2014. ML225 Sa83 A7m

Schoenberg, Arnold. Style and Idea. Edited by Leonard Stein. Translated by Leo Black. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1975. ML225 Sch63 A7s

Scott, Cyril. Bone of Contention: Life Story and Confessions. New York: Arco Publishing Company, Inc., 1969. ML225 Sco83 A3

Seeger, Pete. Where Have All the Flowers Gone: A Singalong Memoir. Edited by Michael Miller and Sarah A. Elisabeth. New York: A SingOut! Publication, 2009. ML 225 Se317 A32w

Segovia, Andrés. An Autobiography of the Years 1893-1920. Translated by W.F. O’Brien. New York: Macmillian Publishing Co., Inc., 1976. ML225 Se375 A3

Sessions, Roger. The Musical Experience of Composer, Performer, Listener. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1950. ML225 Se72 A7m

Shankar, Ravi. Raga Mala: The Autobiography of Ravi Shankar. Edited by George Harrison. New York: Welcome Rain Publishers, 1997. ML225 Sh18 A3r

Shaw, Artie.  The Trouble with Cinderella: An Outline of Identity. New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1979. ML225 Sh26 A3t

Shschedrin, Rodion. Autobiographical Memories. Translated by Anthony Phillips. Mainz: Schott, 2012. ML225 Sh29 A3av

Shostakovich, Dmitri. Testimony: The Memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich. Edited by Solomon Volkov. Translated by Antonina W. Bouis. New York: Limelight Editions, 2004. ML225 Sh82 A3 2004

Sondheim, Stephen. Reading Stephen Sondheim: A Collection of Critical Essays. Edited by Sandor Goodhart. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc. 2000. ML225 So57 R227g

Still, William Grant. The William Grant Still Reader: Essays on American Music. Edited by Jon Michael Spencer. Durham: Duke University Press, 1992. ML225 St54 A7s

Stockhausen, Karlheinz. Stockhausen on Music. Compiled by Robin Maconie. London: Marion Boyars, 1991. ML225 St62 A7s

Stokowski, Leopold. Music for All of Us. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1943. ML225 St67 A7m

Strauss, Richard. Recollections and Reflections. Edited by Willi Schuh. Translated by L.J. Lawrence. London: Boosey & Hawkes Limited. ML225 St828 A3r

Stravinsky, Igor. An Autobiography. London: Calder & Boyars, 1975. ML225 St83 A3c 1975.

Stravinsky, Igor. Themes and Conclusions. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1982. ML225 St83 A3th 1982

Szymanowski, Karol. Szymanowski on Music. Translated and edited by Alistair Wightman. Musicians on Music, no. 6. London: Toccata Press, 1999. ML225 Sz93 A7s

Takemitsu, Toru. Confronting Silence: Selected Writings. Translated and edited by Yoshiko Kakudo and Glenn Glasow. Berkeley, CA: Fallen Leaf Press, 1995. ML225 T139 A7c 1993

Tavener, John. The Music of Silence: A Composer’s Testament. Edited by Brian Keeble. London: Faber and Faber, 1999. ML225 T198 A3m

Tchaikovsky, Piotr Ilyich. Letters to his Family: An Autobiography. Translated by Galina von Meck. Annotated by Percy M. Young. New York: Stein and Day Publishers, 1981. ML225 T22 A5y

Thomson, Virgil. Virgil Thomson. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1966. ML225 T387 A3v

Tippett, Michael. Tippett on Music. Edited by Meirion Bowen. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1995. ML225 T499 A7bo

Vaughan Williams, Ralph. Vaughan Williams on Music. Edited by David Manning. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2008. ML225 V466 A7m

Verdi, Giuseppe. Letters of Giuseppe Verdi. Selected, translated, and edited by Charles Osborne. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971. ML225 V548 A5o

Verdi, Giuseppe, and Arrigo Boito. The Verdi-Boito Correspondence. Edited by Marcello Conati and Mario Medici. Translated by William Weaver. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1994. ML225 V584 C243c 1994

Wagner, Richard. My Life. Translated by Andrew Gray. New York: Da Capo Press, 1992. ML225 W125 A3m 1992

Walker, George. Reminiscences of an American Composer and Pianist. Lanham, MD: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2009. ML225 W152 A3r

Walter, Bruno. Theme and Variations: An Autobiography. Translated by James A. Galston. New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1946. ML225 W172 A3t

Willson, Meredith. And There I Stood With My Piccolo. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009. ML225 W686 A3a 2009

Wolf, Hugo. Letters to Melanie Köchert. Edited by Franz Grasberger. Translation by Louise McClelland Urban. New York: Schirmer Books, 1991. ML225 W831 A5k 199

Program notes for a doctoral recital: Blake, Whitman, and Brass

I'm getting in the habit of writing as much as I can about what I read and sing. For my second doctoral recital at Juilliard, I wrote some notes about the three poets featured on the program and the composers who set them. The recital is September 22, and you learn details by clicking here

This recital explores the words of three writers from three different centuries: William Blake, Walt Whitman, and Perry Brass. While their poetry varies and their idiom is entirely different according to their respective eras, these three men have a significant degree in common. Each occupies a space on the fringes of society, not easily categorized into a particular literary movement, nor accepted broadly for most of their lifetimes, if at all. Some historians might categorize all three as bohemians. Justin Martin defines bohemianism broadly to include “an intense passion for art… a near-pathological fear of conventionality, and a charming insouciance in the face of impending disaster.” The bohemian is the outlier in society, and inhabits the role of the countercultural iconoclast. Moreover, the bohemian’s work creates a relationship between fate and the individuals who contend with it. Although I, and perhaps all three of the poets on this recital, might disagree with such a specific categorization, the context of bohemianism helps to provide a lens through which to understand Blake, Whitman and Brass, and their settings by Britten, Bernstein, Kaminsky, Rorem, and DeBlasio.

William Blake

William Blake

William Blake (1757-1827) wrote his collections Proverbs of HellAuguries of Innocence, and Songs of Experience in a time during which the industrial revolution was changing England with alarming speed. New inventions and public systems allowed for progress but frequently came at the cost of pollution, poverty, and squalor. In his poems, Blake focuses on tragic subjects who are unable to change their fate or alter the steady progress of time. This is perhaps most clearly evinced in this program by “The chimney sweeper,” a child covered in soot and abandoned by his parents in the middle of a snowy field. The boy is not overly bothered by his orphaned state, but carries on with dance and song in the face of misery.

Benjamin Britten’s setting of Blake relies on selection by his partner Peter Pears, who intelligently mixed and matched poems in a creative arc. For much of the cycle, Britten draws on serial techniques to create melody and accompaniment. This is shown most clearly in the non-consecutive proverb movements. From the outset, Britten establishes the proverbs as unfoldings of four-tone rows. The first proverb explores three rows, cycling through all twelve tones. While not every proverb goes through all twelve tones, the basic construction of four-tone rows in groups is maintained throughout these movements. Although the songs are given varied free-form treatment, serialism is to be found in them as well, most prominently the twelve-tone opening melody of “Poison Tree.” This song unfolds into seething counterpoint that climaxes through a brilliantly conceived quasi-passacaglia with the opening melody in the bass. Britten also explores various origins of melodic construction, employing locrian mode in “The tyger,” and whole tone rows in “London.” The final song, “Every Night and every Morn,” floats above a low meditative dirge in the bass and then soars into the upper register while the piano stomps emphatic clusters below. Surprisingly, the song winds itself into an F major completion, which hardly seems final or resolute given the winding passages and serial rows that precede it.

Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman (1819-1892), like William Blake, was an unrecognized writer for much of his life. Until he reached his forties, the poet lived mainly with his mother and brothers in a house in Brooklyn (less than a mile from where I live today), eking out a living as a journalist. His poetry was an avocation and earned a very small following, principally from New York’s budding bohemian movement led by Henry Clapp, who held daily artistic gatherings at Pfaff’s saloon on Broadway. Whitman’s first major collection, Leaves of Grass, contained a section known as “Calamus.” These poems use blatant sexual language and have been controversial for their discussion homosexual love. The Calamus poems are the inspiration for Bernstein’s and Kaminsky’s settings on this program. As a side note, there is some conjecture, most specifically from Thomas Hampson, that “To What You Said” might date from 1871 with the publication of Democratic Vistas.

It was the American Civil War and its aftermath that eventually became the catalyst for Whitman’s legacy as one of the leading voices of the nineteenth century. The War prompted Whitman to move to Washington where he took a bureaucratic post and volunteered in hospitals as an unofficial nurse and deliveryman. His writings from this time and after the war, including Drum Taps and later Specimen Days, contain some of the poet’s most famous poetry, including “Oh Captain, My Captain,” and “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d.” Specimen Days is the source for Rorem’s cycle on this program.

Leonard Bernstein’s Songfest was written for the 1976 bicentennial celebrations, and contained text by American poets representing various cultural traditions and heritages. The original “To What You Said” was scored for a large orchestra. The following year, Bernstein reduced the score for voice, cello, and piano. After an opening bright fanfare in the piano, Bernstein’s setting maintains a steady pulse on middle C, suggesting a heartbeat around which melodic figures rise and fall. The song contains a striking modal mixture of C major and C minor that never appears to resolve, perhaps reflecting the duality of Whitman’s words, acknowledging his love for his comrade while accepting the fact that his relationship will not be accepted in the context of the “received models of the parlors.”

Laura Kaminsky’s settings of the Calamus were premiered in 1992 at Symphony Space. I asked her about her choice of these poems and their directness. She explained that she enjoyed “the declarative nature of the line ‘I am Walt Whitman,’ but also responded to the two texts because of how imagistic and evocative they were, stemming from the first person's perspective; it invites the singer to go deep into the poetry and, hopefully, for the audience to also identify closely with the narrative.” Kaminsky’s writing simultaneously contains momentum and inertia. Passages of quick motion follow pools of sustained notes for both voice and piano. The result is a texture that allows for meditative reflection and attention to text.

If Bernstein and Kaminsky set Whitman’s words through an impressionistic lens, Rorem sets it with startling directness. Rorem wrote War Scenes in reaction to the Vietnam War, and much of that conflict’s turmoil comes across in his composition. After carefully selecting excerpts of Specimen Days and even adding his own original text in one instance, Rorem composed a chilling cycle that transforms the Civil War into a bitingly immediate event. Much of his composition of War Scenes contains sparse writing, relying on extended serial rows in the first, third and final songs. Extended a cappella passages also persist in the opening and closing songs. By contrast, the second song is strikingly tonal and sustained and the fourth song is a demonic waltz, much in the style of Ravel or even Shostakovich.

Perry Brass

Perry Brass

Perry Brass (b. 1947) brings this program into the present day. If Blake and Whitman commented on life from the edge of society, Brass’ experience has been edgier. In his words: “I grew up, in the racially segregated fifties and early sixties, in equal parts Southern, Jewish, economically impoverished… and very much gay.” Perhaps as a result of his decades of involvement in the LGBTQ rights movement, much of Brass’ poetry has focused on issues facing the gay community.

In 1990, Chris DeBlasio selected five of Brass’ poems to create All The Way Through Evening, a personal response to the AIDS crisis and his own HIV-positive status. DeBlasio was a musical jack-of-all-trades, and made a living as a composer, pianist, and singer (including in the Choir of Trinity Wall Street – my own church gig). He shows his brilliance as a composer of art song with this cycle. His connection to the poetry is apparent from his natural setting mirroring speech rhythm. The central song, “An Elegy to Paul Jacobs,” is reminiscent of a French overture with inégale figures throughout the piano part. These figures, a deliberate allusion to Jacobs’ role as the harpsichordist of the New York Philharmonic, are foreshadowed at the end of the second song, “Train Station,” in the vocal part. The final song, “Walt Whitman in 1989” draws upon the experience of the AIDS crisis and connects it, as Brass explains, “with a hidden history of grief and transcendence.” After a quasi-recitative opening, DeBlasio reveals a deep largo closing section with undulating quarter notes in the piano, providing a sense of eternity and calm. Much like Britten’s Blake, DeBlasio’s Brass (and Whitman) resigns himself to fate and emerges to find solace in the productions of time.

Some Reflections After Reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me

There is the strong feeling you get when you read something that you believe to be absolutely true. This strong feeling is even deeper when that true thing you read is something you had not before realized or recognized. In this moment of reading, the dots are connected. What had been a series of disparate points in chaos – a collection of events, problems, items, artifacts, events – become a constellation that makes sense.

I suppose that the great philosophers of the human race are the people who are able to recognize these constellations. More importantly, they are able to present them in a way that is compelling, simple, and concise.

Ta-Nehisi Coates’ recent work Between the World and Me connects the dots. It is a letter to his teenage son, and it is both profoundly personal and vastly national. To me, a white reader, he illuminates parts of the American black experience I never could have known. He also proposes a reexamination of the very framework of American history that the majority of us learn in school. To Coates, America is not exceptional; it is flawed, broken, and has relied since its inception on the control and of black people. Coates uses the term, the “black body,” to a large degree. A proclaimed atheist, he sees no redemption in peaceful resistance to injustice. He finds no martyrdom in the heroes of the civil rights era or in those black people killed unjustly today. Rather, he is concerned with the protection of his son’s mortal black body above all else, and attempts to explain this concern as it is compounded with his fears, challenges and experiences. Coates’ language is brilliant, vivid, and heartbreakingly personal.

Unlike Coates, I come from people to whom he refers as the “Dreamers.” In his construct, Dreamer refers also to the elusive American Dream. The Dreamers are the people “who need to believe that they are white.” We are the people who have been exonerated, who have been protected. We are the ones who walk and talk without fear. We are the ones for whom the American system of benefits has been made. Is it a mistake that many of us live in orderly suburbs, attend safe schools, and maintain our wealth? Is it a mistake that we have been trained since birth to believe that we are white based on specific physical characteristics?

One of the more compelling ideas Coates delivers is regarding the fluidity of the construct of race: “white people were something else before they were white – Catholic, Corsican, Welsh, Mennonite, Jewish – and if all our national hopes have any fulfillment, then they will have to be something else again. Perhaps they will truly become American and create a nobler basis for their myths.” (7). I would like to believe that our construct might change again. It was not long ago that my mother’s mother and father saw themselves, first-generation Polish Americans, as separate from the Italians who lived down the street. It was in recent history that my father’s mother and her sister were taught German by their parents. To me, European heritage is a pastime that other people engage in. I am white and I don’t think much about the meaning of this identity.

Here’s where I get a little more personal:

It was shortly after the Eric Garner and Michael Brown decisions in December 2014 (no indictment for the police officers who killed both men) that I was having lunch with a friend who mentioned how tired he was, as a black man, of explaining and discussing issues of race in America. He expressed that for him, our national conversation no longer hinged on black people leading the discussion. Instead, white people needed to have a coming to terms about what it means to be white. The idea struck me as very important. All I could envision was that to be white meant to be “default” and to enjoy privilege. I believe that Between the World and Me helps me to understand my identity a bit more.

You don’t have to be politically aware to be cognizant of the fact that there is a current of dissatisfaction in America. This dissatisfaction shows itself through many symptoms: with the calls of #BlackLivesMatter and the #AllLivesMatter retort, with acrid debates over immigration, with mushroom clouds of Internet comments and back-and-forth insults, with natural disaster, drought, and impending climate change, with unsustainable war, Washington gridlock and corporate control, and, most of all, with numb indifference. You know there is dissatisfaction. You have a choice in how you deal with this satisfaction. Through engagement? Through political action? Through a regime of self-preservation? Through willful ignorance?

My own usual choice has been to investigate and engage with this dissatisfaction. In the past several years, as police brutality, climate change, migrant crises, and rising economic inequality have come to the fore in my own media space, I have attempted to go through an awakening. This isn’t exactly new for me; I have always been critical of the status quo and have a tendency to question the way things are done. However, in the past few years, the scant sure footing I felt in my pride as an American after September 11 has continued to erode. What’s resonated with me most has been exposure to knowledge about systematic policies of inequality and environmental abuse throughout America. Just as Citizens United stripped our government of democratic credibility, exposés on the history of urban planning policy have undermined notions of equality and fairness. Repeated attention to police brutality cases alongside the uncluttering of data concerning America’s own archipelago of prisons have exposed rampant injustice throughout the land.

Until several years ago (perhaps as late as 2009?) I felt that I was a good white person who tried to do my best to be nice to everyone. Underlying this “goodness” was the belief that I had nothing to do with past injustice. My ancestors didn’t take part in slavery. While there was unfairness in the world, I was not responsible for it, and when it was delivered to someone it was probably just bad luck. This state of thinking fits into Coates’ idea of a Dreamer.

Over the past several years, my Dream state has been pulled slowly away from me. I’m not exactly sure why this is so. Perhaps it is because in 2009 I made a decision to work towards becoming a full-time musician, an occupation which demands that you listen and empathize. Or perhaps it is because I married a man who is not from my economic or racial background. Our conversations naturally drift towards race when it echoes through the news and on social media. We ask one another, “What do you think about the Trayvon Martin decision?” or, “Did you hear about Sandra Bland?” We are bothered by it. And we talk about it.

It isn’t an enjoyable process, waking up from one’s excellent Dream. All my life I have been told that I am exceptional, preordained by a supernatural power with superman hair and Paul Newman eyes. The world is my oyster and I can have all the pearls, I am told. Yes – that is true. But at what cost? And to whose disadvantage? Recently I’ve grown exceedingly conscious of being a part of a system that favors my phenotype appearance over others. My husband and I use it to our advantage. If we want to get good customer service I always do the talking. My big blue eyes, cheerful smile, and up-and-down quintessential American English always do the trick. My husband half jokes that talks like me just so that he might be seen by the same people who see me so easily.

I posted on Facebook shortly after the Charleston AME shooting in May. Here is what I wrote:

Guilt is the wrong word. Shame. That's more what I feel.

I am ashamed of us. That we keep letting terror happen. That we allow so many guns to proliferate throughout our nation. That we change to slowly.

I am ashamed to be White, as long as White supremacists believe they represent me, as long as I am afforded more privilege that others simply because of the way I appear, and as long as our use of language segregates adjectives and nouns according to race.

Some of my friends said that my statement resonated with them. Others shared that they thought my shame was not productive; it seemed that to them, just to be cognizant of my privilege is enough. I’m not so sure. I don’t know what to do now that I am waking from the Dream, but I know it’s necessary to be more than cognizant.

Between the World and Me resonates with me. It astutely and intelligently connects the dots of experience and provides a framework through which to see the injustices of which we are aware. It does not present a solution. But it does give a glimmer of hope. At the end of the work, Coates urges his son to hope and pray for the Dreamers. “The Dreamers will have to learn to struggle themselves, to understand that the field for their Dream, the stage where they have painted themselves white, is the deathbed of us all.” (151) I do believe I have learned this. I just don’t know what comes next. 

New program notes for Winterreise

At what age should a singer perform Winterreise? Conventional wisdom casts the performer as an older man. Indeed, the lyrics and music explore despair and death, tracing the emotional path of a dejected traveler making his way through the wilderness – a solitary Winter Journey. Although they might not have known it, both Franz Schubert and the poet Wilhelm Müller were near the end of their own lives when they wrote the material for the cycle. Müller, whose 1824 Poems from the posthumous papers of a travelling horn-player served as the lyric source for Franz Schubert, died in 1827, the same year in which Schubert completed the cycle. The following year saw both the publication of the cycle and Schubert’s own grisly death at the age of thirty-one.

winterreise house.jpg

Given the association of Winterreise with the demise of these Romantic figureheads, and taking into account its poetic material, it would appear that an interpreter of these songs should approach them with an understanding of mortality. For this reason, age has, for many years, been an unofficial prerequisite for performers of the cycle. In addition, convention has assigned the cycle to men, with far more recordings of the work by baritones and tenors in comparison to their female counterparts.

The first time I performed Winterreise, I was not yet thirty years old. I was lucky enough to have been given the opportunity to sing the cycle in Los Angeles just after my twenty-ninth birthday. I found it to be a fit for me, vocally and emotionally. “But aren’t you a little young to be performing this?” I was asked on more than one occasion. My half-baked response amounted to comparing my age to Schubert’s age when he wrote the cycle. I would also cite a line in the fourteenth song, “Der greise Kopf,” in which the protagonist laments the fact that his jet-black hair is not yet grey with age. My paltry reasoning did not seem to elicit a challenge.

Nonetheless, it is now, several years later that I am more fully aware of why Winterreise speaks to me. It is because of the cycle’s dual focus on nature and mortality. Müller’s poetry pays close attention to the natural world and then seeks to draw comparisons between environmental phenomena and human emotions. The torrent of water under a thickly frozen stream is equated to the fiercely beating heart of the unrequited lover. The brutal stormy gales are representations of anger and adversity in the narrator’s life. And, calmness is an indication of resignation to sadness and death. Schubert’s music underscores the natural images, most notably with the deep searching bass line of “Auf dem Fluße,” the severe blustering passages of “Erstarrung,” “Rückblick,” “Der stürmische Morgen,” and “Mut,” and the solemn measured quietude of “Wasserflut,” “Irrlicht,” “Rast,” and “Wirtshaus,” and “Die Nebensonnen.”

Winterreise reaches its emotional climax in the sixteenth song, “Letzte Hoffnung.” At this point, the narrator stares upwards at the last leaf remaining on a tree. He equates all his hope to this one leaf, and proclaims that if this leaf falls, then all his hope will vanish into the grave. Of course, this leaf, like all leaves, falls. Although Müller casts the leaf as a metaphor for hope, Schubert takes a step further. His falling and off-kilter piano part explores a diminished chord before landing on the dominant. This dominant fails to resolve to the tonic, which sets a pattern for the song in which tonic is eluded and delayed until the final expansive “wein auf meiner Hoffnung Grab,” (“I cry at my hope’s grave”) arguably the most lyrical phrase in the cycle. For Schubert, it is not only hope that dies at this moment. The leaf is a symbol for the composer’s own mortality, with death arriving in a major key - a sweet relief to the suffering of the journey.

During the past three years on December 21, I have performed Winterreise outdoors in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden for Make Music New York. The adaptation is entitled Winterize, and attracts a large and diverse audience. The audience members hold transistor radios that play the accompaniment (performed by my husband Timothy Long), which has been soundscaped (by the composer and sound designer Jonathan Zalben). The event becomes a tour through the Garden, and the fact that the audience literally holds the accompaniment makes the performance a collaborative experience for all involved. The weather for the three performances (December 21 in 2012, 2013 and 2014) varied wildly. In 2012, the air was wet and windy, and the temperature was well below freezing. In 2013, temperatures soared into the 60s. Hats and gloves came off and jackets were opened. In 2014, the thermometer read 30 degrees, but it felt much colder.

melting snow.jpeg

Performing outdoors and allowing the elements to alter the quality of the event helped to highlight the content of Winterreise for all involved. During the two performances with frigid temperatures, the audience experienced a chill that was underlined by Schubert’s music. One reviewer even remarked that, “you have not truly experienced Winterreise until you have stood three or four feet from the singer, his breath visible in the cold.”

For the warm year’s performance, a different idea came to the forefront: although a single day three years in a row can hardly be considered as a litmus test for environmental alterations, the change in temperatures on the winter solstice was a reminder of the variations in weather. It also suggested the presence of climate change and our own impending mortality.

By singing Winterreise outdoors and then bringing it back inside, I have learned to mix the archetypal cycle with a more contemporary telling. The prototypical Winterreise describes a solitary forest at the dawn of the industrial revolution; a lone man confronts nature and ages significantly through the process. Today’s Winterreise must be told with Schubert’s early nineteenth-century world in mind. At the same time, it requires attention to our current winter: erratic and unpredictable, underlining our own fate. In this context, specific age is eclipsed by universal mortality – an experience shared by all.

- © Christopher Dylan Herbert, 2015

Some thoughts about grief on my mom's birthday

My mother, Laura, would be 60 years old today. Exactly 7 months ago, on August 4, 2014, my husband Tim and I were in London. We’d just arrived to visit family there. My brother Charlie called me and told me the news: our mom had collapsed after a very fast and severe headache. Both Charlie, who was home from college, and our dad were there. The news wasn’t good. About an hour later it was confirmed that she had suffered a stroke from an aneurysm and that she wouldn’t make it. Tim and I flew back to New York and went straight to the hospital. Our family said our goodbyes to this indelibly important woman who now lay brain-dead and on life support. We embarked on a journey of grief together.

My mom and first dad with my sister and me in Long Beach Island, NJ, 1984.

My mom and first dad with my sister and me in Long Beach Island, NJ, 1984.

I will always revisit the shock of that moment in London when my brother called. It was a warm day, and Tim and I had chosen to walk to the Thames to meet my aunts, uncle and grandmother at a restaurant. My feet were getting blisters from the flip-flops I had bought a few days earlier. As we neared the Thames, my pocket buzzed. It was Charlie with the news. My sense of reason refused to believe Charlie the first time we spoke. At first I thought he was going to say something had happened to our dog, Pumpkin, who was spending the week with my parents. I couldn’t believe it, and I had to call him back just to hear it all again. Disbelief changed to panic, which changed to anger, which changed to sadness, which changed to frustration, which changed to a combination of all feelings in one. And there I was, on the banks of the Thames, frantically trying to sort out what had just happened, trying to steady myself against this life-altering shock.

Just two days before this, I sat with my mom at my parents’ house. Tim and I were there, as were Charlie, and my sister Sophie and her husband Dan. We talked about what my mom wanted to do for her 60th birthday. To tell the truth, she wasn’t excited about it, and she didn’t want it to be a big deal. We also talked about my parents’ upcoming 25th wedding anniversary. It would have been July 28, 2015. These dates seemed so solid, so impenetrable. But they were so suddenly taken away.

My mom walking with me at my wedding to Tim in 2010. My sister and dad are in the foreground.

My mom walking with me at my wedding to Tim in 2010. My sister and dad are in the foreground.

In the past seven months, I’ve experienced deep sorrow, deep healing, and also, thankfully, joy and pleasure. The first month and a half was mainly an ordeal of exhaustion. I was usually tired and irritable. Around the middle of September I regained some energy and became intensely focused on school (I started a doctoral program at Juilliard around that time). But my fuse was short, and I had a lot of difficulty finding compassion for anyone. In October, my irritability rolled away and I began to feel a consistent anger… not toward my mom or the circumstances, but toward people who wronged her during her life. Although much of if has calmed, some of that anger is still with me now. The holidays, particularly Thanksgiving, were intensely emotional for me. With a new year, a feeling of acceptance arrived; the part of me that was raging against my mom’s death became more docile.

Through all of this, I’ve learned that grief is an intensely individual journey. I’ve also learned that people are usually deeply uncomfortable with grief, whether they are going through it, or whether they are trying to console. I think that this is because there’s often nothing to be done about grief. In our society of doers, we are easily frustrated when there’s no answer and there’s no remedy. Only time rolls on, and time eases the pain.

So today, on my mom’s 60th birthday, I honor her memory, I continue to celebrate her life, and I thank her for all she gave to me.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day

I haven’t written a post on my blog for a while – not since my mother died in August. Since then I’ve wanted to post several times, but I didn’t know how to start again given my loss and grief. I think that writing for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day might be a way for me to start talking again.

My mom died on August 6. Three days after she died, Police Officer Darren Johnson shot Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO. A few weeks earlier, Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo strangled Eric Garner to death in Staten Island, NY. Through the shadow of my grief, I began to see other grief: grief of the families of these men, a nation reeling from hurt and insult, and the grievances of so many of my peers on social media. In the wake of grand jury decisions not to indict Johnson and Pantaleo in November and December, the grief and shock slammed again.

Both of these cases (Brown/Johnson and Garner/Pantaleo) hit a national nerve. It angered many people to see justice applied so unevenly to people of different racial and economic backgrounds. The cases also exposed something very ugly about America. It’s like when you’re in a lush forest and you pick up a rock to discover hundreds of creepy crawly bugs underneath, making you revile in disgust. These cases lifted the rock and exposed our corruption. The problem of injustice in our social fabric is real, and we’re standing right on top of it. It’s just that many of us choose to keep the rock where it is.

In the days following both grand jury decisions, many of my friends expressed their outrage, disgust, anger, sadness, and distress on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. On these networks, my friends of color spoke out mostly. What worried me was the silence of so many of my White friends. Why were they so quiet? Were they not outraged, as I was, that justice was so skewed? Were they not perturbed to see endemic social and economic inequality perpetuated and then played out on a grand scale on our national news stage? Did they say, “Ah well, that’s too bad. What can you do?” Or did they just choose to look the other way?

I don’t have an answer to these questions. But what I gained from asking myself about it is some awareness: awareness that as a White male of significant privilege, I am usually blind to injustice that goes on around me because for my entire life, I have taken advantage of a situation of privilege that was handed to me. I rarely have to ask to receive respect, and I am always given the benefit of doubt.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re wondering, “Wow – it took you a long time to realize that. How ignorant can you be?” right? Unfortunately it’s true. It took me a very long time to realize that I am ridiculously privileged. This is why:

We were taught in school that everything is okay with America. It was the dominant mindset that everyone reaffirmed to me as I grew up, and it’s been my default mode of thought for the majority of my life. In my very White town with my all White teachers and mostly White student body, we studied American history. We spent a lot of time learning about slavery and why it was evil. We also spent a lot of time learning about racial injustice in the South before the Civil Rights Movement. We even discussed the Trail of Tears, the internment of Japanese people during WWII, and the plight of Mexican migrant workers. We understood that inequality is a horrible thing. Units of history and English classes were devoted to the Civil Rights Movement, and we talked a lot about Martin Luther King Jr., and even about Malcolm X.

But you know what? That’s where we stopped. Those people and events were in the past; we were living in a present that was somehow different. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was observed for the first time in January 1986 – that’s when I was in first grade. I always got the feeling that the reason Martin Luther King Jr. got his own national holiday was because he had somehow won equality for America, and that America was better now. The logic then continued that we students (being Northerners and born after King’s assassination) were entirely blameless for past injustice. The intolerance, the bondage, the killings of the past had nothing to do with us. Case closed. What’s even more, I thought, my ancestors had come through Ellis Island. They always lived in the North. They had nothing to do with oppression. The America I knew was now an equal society where each person received equal access to all opportunities. Like Jesus, Dr. King had died for our past sins, and removed the blight of racism from our nation.

I am ashamed to say that I actually believed this… not that I thought about it much at all. I can’t say that my peers or my parents really had much to say about Dr. King. There was a feeling of distance from him simply because he was Black. That’s how much race immediately classifies an issue. We (White people) didn’t want to be invited to the table for a holiday that didn’t feel like it was about us.

That’s where we are so very wrong. It is about us. Martin Luther King Jr. Day is so very much about White people, and more specifically, about the discrepancy between privilege and access. Dr. King’s message spanned beyond the dialectic of Black and White. His call was just as much about economic inequality as it was about racial inequality. Dr. King day is about contemplating inequality in all its forms (racial, economic, gender, sexual orientation, generational, disability, etc.), and then making a commitment to do something positive about it. It just so happens that White people are on the privileged end of the inequality spectrum. And that means that those of us with the most privilege are the most responsible to address it.

So for this Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I’m asking all my friends to join me in remembering the life of a national hero. We honor him for showing us a dream of equality, and we carry on his legacy by acknowledging that we have a long way to go.

And to my fellow White people: Don’t look the other way. Look at the injustice. It’s our problem, too.

P.S. Did you know that four states officially honor Robert E. Lee on the same day as Martin Luther King Jr.? Those states are Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi and Virginia. 

Remembering My Mother, Laura Plimpton

Just a week ago, I learned that my mother suffered a massive brain aneurism. My husband and I were in London when my brother called. We flew to JFK as quickly as we could, and rushed from the airport to the hospital to say our goodbyes. The next day she was taken off life support and died. She was an organ donor, and she has given life to several other people already.

This has been one of the hardest challenges of my life. At the same time, it has provided intense healing and closeness for my family. I am so blessed to have an amazing family, a supportive network of friends, and love from strangers I've never met. I believe that my mother's legacy lives on in the connectivity that we are experiencing as a family.

What follows is the obituary I wrote with my brother, sister, father, brother-in-law and husband. Thank you for reading it and for getting to know a little bit about my mom.


Laura Plimpton died on Wednesday, August 6, at Norwalk Hospital in Connecticut. The cause of death was a complication from a brain aneurism. She was 59.

Laura Dorothy Kostyra, the youngest of six children, was born on March 4, 1955 in Jersey City to Martha and Edward Kostyra. After growing up in Nutley, New Jersey, Laura moved to Florida and then to Westport, Connecticut, where she began to work in catering with her sister, Martha Stewart.

At the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, an actor, Kim Herbert, demanded to meet the person who made the delicious lemon bars served by Ms. Stewart's then-fledgling catering company. That person was Laura. The two were married in 1979. Their first child, Christopher, a Grammy-nominated musician and scholar of Middle Eastern studies, was born in 1980 in New York City. They moved to New Jersey in 1983, and their daughter, Sophie, a yoga teacher and therapist, was born the following year. In 1985, Kim was diagnosed with terminal lymphoma and passed away a few months later.

Laura and her children moved to Weston, Connecticut, and were joined by her mother, Martha Kostyra. Ms. Kostyra, known as “Big Martha,” filled the home with Polish cuisine, passing on recipes for classic dishes such as pierogi (dumplings), golumpki (stuffed cabbage), and babka (Easter cake).

Laura worked alongside her sister for four decades, mainly as a writer for the popular AskMartha radio program and the acclaimed The Martha Blog. In 1989, during a photo shoot, Laura met her second husband, Randy Plimpton, now a real estate agent with William Raveis in Westport and an independent property manager. Laura and Randy were married in 1990. She and Randy cared deeply about the environment and enjoyed summers in Cutchogue, New York, on the North Fork of Long Island, where Randy’s grandfather built a house in 1925. Their son, Charlie, a prolific birdwatcher majoring in wildlife and conservation biology at the University of Rhode Island, was born in 1992.

Laura was celebrated for her curious and loving spirit, as well as her warmth, sensitivity and sense of humor. She was a superb chef, master seamstress, and wonderful mother. She made many of her children's clothes, and always sent them to school with a homemade lunch. Her holiday feasts – fish chowder and French bread on Christmas Eve; Yorkshire pudding and rib roast on Christmas Day – were renowned.

Two nights before her stroke, Laura prepared dinner for her husband, three children and two sons-in-law. Lamb kebabs marinated in yogurt and mint; and, for desert, a lemon-blueberry cream pie. It was a beautiful dinner, full of laughter, during which her eldest son, Chris, a polyglot, recited a recent speech in Dutch, Mandarin, and German. The family, which had been apart for much of the summer, will remember the evening forever.

Laura is survived by her husband Randy Plimpton, and her children Christopher Dylan Herbert, Sophie Martha Herbert Slater, and Charles Edward Plimpton, and her sons-in-law Timothy Long and Dan Slater. She lives on in the hearts of all she touched.

A memorial service will be planned in September, location and date not yet confirmed. In lieu of flowers please send donations to the Westport Public Library, 20 Jesup Rd, Westport, CT 06880, the Weston Public Library, 56 Norfield Rd, Weston, CT 06883 or the Cutchogue Free Library, 27550 Main Rd, Cutchogue, NY 11935

Tim and I got married four years ago. Here we are surrounded by my wonderful family. My mom was so proud.

Tim and I got married four years ago. Here we are surrounded by my wonderful family. My mom was so proud.

Inequality and the Ripple Effect

Something I've been meditating on recently is the importance of actions and deeds and their long-term impact around the world. I've never been one to believe that the actions of one impact the greater good, but I'm starting to think that I was wrong. Is the ripple effect for real?

A particular piece of news from these past two weeks is helping me change the way I think. On July 20, the New York Post reported that the city government approved a “poor door” entrance for a new building on the Upper West Side to be constructed by the company Extell. The planned building follows city rules that allow for verticality and number of units provided that a certain percentage are rent subsidized for lower income residents. This particular building would have 219 units facing the Hudson River, and 55 “affordable” units in a separate “building segment” facing the street. The entrance to these 55 units would be separate from the entrance for the other 219 units. What is lacking from any of the reports I've seen is what qualifies as “affordable” and what the rent will actually be, other than 75% below “market rate”. After a protracted lottery process, who will actually move into these apartments? Does this building solve our nation's affordable housing shortage? No.

However, If this apartment building goes ahead with its side door for low-income residents, then what does it does it symbolize for our city's and nation's values? How will this particular building impact what happens across our city and the interaction between people of different economic backgrounds?

In practice, this building will likely have little impact on the quality of lives of the residents living there. Rich folk will carry on as before, and the “low-income” tenants will carry on as well, with the added bonus that they get to live in a convenient neighborhood. That's the argument that many people okay with this building concept likely will repeat to make their case.

However, it's this segregation between rich and poor that worries people. In our modern first world existence, people pay people so that they do not have to see the grotesque underbelly of our communities. We are legitimately afraid of what our neighbors can do and do do. It's for this reason that we have a police force and a medical corps. It's for this reason that we don't know about orphanages. It's for this reason that we know so little about facilities and treatment for the mentally ill. The wealthy use their wealth to seclude themselves from others. I don't think that for them it's as much about showing off their wealth, as it is more to separate themselves from the rest of humanity. I imagine that if I were wealthy I would do the same.

But here we have this development in the heart of New York City, one of the densest places in our nation. Here, thousands of people literally live on top of one another in a celebration of verticality. One way of looking at this building is that it will actually bring rich and “low-income” closer together. The Upper West Side is extremely expensive, and with the exception of public housing to the west of Lincoln Center and a few other NYCHA buildings, much of this part of Manhattan is a wealthy enclave. Bringing a degree of economic diversity, even if it is somewhat segregated, might create a degree of change.

However, it is the symbol of separate entrances, not equal entrances, that leaves a sour taste behind. If Extell had announced it were building a secondary low-income structure in, say, The Bronx to satisfy its affordable unit requirement, then it wouldn't have made the news. It's the fact that these two entrances are in the same building that makes us uncomfortable. Why? We Americans have bought into a self-identification mythology of equality and justice, even though data prove our fantasy incorrect. To see what I mean, check out this intelligent series by Reuters about rising income inequality in our nation.

I'm no psychologist, but I'd wager that this rich door, poor door building makes us confront inequality in a way we don't want to have to do. I'm not defending Extell and its building as this article by Matthew Yglesias does, but I do think that the building itself is not the problem. The real problem is inequality. The solution lies in what each of us can do to make equality an important political issue in our everyday lives.

Berlin: Nazi Bunker and German Lessons

This past week while in Berlin I took an intensive German course. I've studied (and, to varying degrees, speak) French, Arabic, Hebrew and Italian, but never German, a language I use quite often for singing. I found the course very helpful, mainly because it gave me some grammatical rules and some vocabulary. Now, the man who stumbles through German by feel actually has some rules to back himself up! Please don't ask me about cases or gender, however. I think for now I'll just stick to “die” and make up the endings for “einen/eine/ein/eines” while smiling through my mistakes.

But this post is not about my German course. It's about something I visited in Berlin: The Mutter-Kinder Bunker (or the Fichtebunker) in Kreuzberg.

Berlin is currently a hip, American-infused, trendy city. It was not always that way. Until 1989 it was divided and ruled, in part, by the DDR and its Stasi (look at one of my favorite fims, Das Leben der Anderen as an example). After 1945, it was in a state of turmoil. Thousands of women had been raped by Allied soldiers, over 70% of homes were seriously damaged, Germans fleeing westward from Silesia and other lands arrived as refugees, and many families were torn apart as the result of war. Of course, before 1945, Berlin was the center of Hitler's ascendence, and the city was re-formulated as a utopia of Aryanism and Nazi superiority. In short, Berlin history has been anything but steady during the last 100 years.

Credit:   Lienhard Schulz    

Credit: Lienhard Schulz 

The building I visited is a testament to this instability. Ironically, it is one of the most stable structures the city has to offer. The organization, Berliner Unterwelten (Berlin Underground) runs tours throughout underground locations in Berlin, and the particular tour I took explored a building called the

Fichtebunker. It is a round, squat building that reminds me somewhat of the Park Avenue Armory in New York City, if the Armory were circular. It's massive, and sits back from the road, giving the impression of density and grandeur. Why was it built? It was originally constucted in the 19th century as a gasometer. It held gas that powered the city's lighting system. The Kaiser's wife disliked the look of the building (and others like it) and had a decorative brick wall placed around it. That wall still stands today and is in this photo of Steve Wilson and me standing in front of it.

Steve and me in front of the Fichtebunker.

Steve and me in front of the Fichtebunker.

When the Nazis took over Germany, they changed the lighting system in Berlin from gas to electricity. The massive gasometer was no longer needed, and could be used instead for other purposes. Although the Nazis destroyed the other 3 gasometers in Berlin, they retained this one and converted it into a bomb shelter, for both practical purposes and for propaganda. This was the bomb shelter to end all bomb shelters. Although many other bomb shelters in Berlin were substandard, this one was quite impermeable, and the Nazis would show it off as an example of superior technology and preparedness. It contained a sophisticated ventilation system, at least one diesel generator, an elevator, a furnace system to heat air, and at its busiest toward the end of the war, held 30,000 people – mainly women and children (men were expected to fight to the death against the enemy).

After the war, the converted bunker was in the American district, and was used as a refugee shelter (without andy windows!), an old-age home (without any light!), a homeless shelter (no daylight!), and finally a storage facility. As a storage facility, it was packed to the gills with food supplies for West Berliners who required contingency plans and rations should the Soviets and/or DDR blockade supply routes via the Autobahn to West Germany, as they had during the celebrated Berlin Blockade/Berlin Airlift of 1948-49. After the wall fell, the food supplies in the bunker were, ironically, donated to the USSR which was in need of aid.

Credit: Wikipedia Commons

Credit: Wikipedia Commons

I found the tour really creepy! Why? First of all – the font. Old German font creeps me out. I've never discussed this with anyone, and I'm wondering if people agree. There's something about the sans-serif older German typeface that gives me the heebie-jeebies, perhaps it's my association of it with films about the Holocaust that we watched in school. But beyond the typography aesthetic, the thing that creeped me out was that we were in this massive concrete structure and could get lost inside for a very long time. My innate claustrophobia kicked in, particularly when I imagined 30,000 other people cramped inside. The smells, cries, noise, and fear of people who knew their homes were being bombarded, all felt palpable inside the dank and chilly bunker. It was made even more haunting when we visited one of the bathroom facilities and learned that at the end of the war, women would commit suicide with their children inside toilet stalls so that they could avoid rape or worse by the incoming Red Army. The thought of so much suicide in one place made my stomach turn.

Credit: Berliner Unterwelten.

Credit: Berliner Unterwelten.

As we exited the bunker, the warm and moist summer air filled our lungs and I felt relief to be outside, and at the same time I felt glad to know more about the strange history of Berlin.

Special thanks to Steve Wilson for joining me on the tour and for my friend Laura Bacon who made the recommendation to check out Berliner Unterwelten!

Das große, heilige Cöln

Credit: Raimond Spekking

This past weekend I visited the Cathedral in Köln, Germany, the massive gothic structure that stands out for miles as the principal landmark of the city. The Dom (that's the word auf Deutsch for Cathedral) dwarfs everything around it. When you arrive by train, you leave the station and immediately gaze up to see this remarkable monument of human achievement.

I had visited Köln once before – in 2008 while doing an audition tour in Europe. My husband was joining me for a week and we stayed in a hotel near the Dom and Hauptbahnhof. At the time, I didn't have the perspective to consider the history of the Dom or appreciate it very much. It appeared to me as a sad and blackened hulking mass overlooking a rainy and severe city. I'm glad that we get the chance in life to reevaluate our perspective on places! This time around I was visiting a friend and I got to see Köln as a busy, jovial, liberal and bustling city, with a keen awareness for its history dating back to the time of the Romans. The Dom is the centerpiece of the city, and stands as the symbol for its heritage.

Credit: Arminia

Credit: Arminia

I decided to take a tour of the Dom. It was a small group (seven of us) led in English by a guide who spoke into a microphone that transmitted to headsets we wore. The Dom is quite noisy, and the immediacy of the guide's voice was very helpful. The guide showed us the reliquary – a beautiful jewel-encrusted gold box containing the bones of six men, three of whom are rumored to be the famous three kings of the Orient. While there is no way to prove the veracity of this, the fact that generations of believers have invested faith in the bones' authenticity gives the Dom a great deal of spiritual significance as a pilgrimage site. Without these relics, the church would not be what it is today.

We also learned about the construction of the building; it was a replacement for the previous Romanesque cathedral that stood on the same spot. What surprised me was the fact that the gothic spires of the church were not completed until the second half of the nineteenth century! They rose in conjunction with German unification, as a symbol of the growth of German nationalism. When I learned about this timeline fact, I realized that some of the imagery I used in preparing Schumann's Dichterliebe was incorrect. In song 6, “Im Rhein, im heilige Strome”, Heine refers to “Das Grosse Heilige Cöln”. I always imagined these massive gothic spires as the “Grosse” descriptor. Wrong! The Dom must have been perhaps half the height that we know today, but yet it was such an important pilgrimage site, and such an impressive monument that Heine knew referencing it in his poem would be significant.

Here is a drawing of what the Dom looked like in Heine's time.

Source:  Lithographie "Dom Südseite" von J. Redaway, aus: Robert Batty (1824).   Views on the Rhine in Belgium and Holland  , London.

Source: Lithographie "Dom Südseite" von J. Redaway, aus: Robert Batty (1824). Views on the Rhine in Belgium and Holland, London.

Tamar Iveri follow-up - sexism, anti-female bias, and misogyny

Last week I wrote a piece about the incident surrounding Tamar Iveri, the soprano who issued a letter containing offensive and anti-gay language to Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili via her Facebook page. The news of the language of this letter led to a vehemently angry response by people in the LGBT and opera communities, and ultimately to Opera Australia releasing her from a contract. The point I made in my piece is that while Iveri (and/or her husband) made a grave mistake in her actions, it doesn't serve the greater LGBT community to have her pelted with hateful language. You can read this post here.

In the thousands of comments on Iveri's Facebook page, I noticed two main themes:

  1. anti-female language.
  2. hateful language.

Often the two types of language would overlap. In my post, I dealt mainly with the hateful language, and said I wanted to address the anti-female language at a later date.

This post is my attempt to do so.

I realize that discussing language and sex bias gets me into a treacherous area of discourse, full of emotional responses from everyone who has ever considered the question of language and gender dominance. My opinion of English, as an imperfect system of communication, is that it favors male identity. I realize I'm not breaking ground by saying this. Male nouns are considered neutral whereas female nouns are accessories to male nouns – consider the words “actor” and “actress”, “master” and “mistress”, “male” and “female”. Because of the structure of our language, native English speakers have been conditioned to conform to a male-dominant view of the world. Possibly because of this precondition, it has been much easier to create language that is anti-female than it has been to create language that is anti-male.

If you're reading this, you've likely thought similarly and/or have some well-formed thoughts to augment and/or correct my above statement.

I think that the Tamar Iveri incident is important because it reveals anti-female language so clearly and because it creates a springboard from which to discuss the issue of sexism. I don't know much about the demographics of the commenters on Iveri's Facebook page, but it is safe to assume that they are likely either involved to some degree in the arts and/or opera, or identify as LGBTQ, or both. I'm making a large assumption here, but I would wager that many of these people would view themselves as socially progressive and in favor of equality. So then, why were there so many sexist and misogynist posts against Tamar Iveri? (By the way, here is a great piece by The Guardian about the difference between the terms “sexist” and “misogynist”.) Would there be as many masandrist (that's the opposite of misogynist) posts if a Georgian tenor had made the same comments? Would these people use similar language toward women they know personally? Or do they use sexist language in a particular context of retribution and/or intimidation?

My guess is that we see so much anti-female language thrown at Tamar Iveri because it is so easy to create negativity towards women. In the wake of recent stories including the Elliot Rodger killings in Santa Barbara, the kidnapping of over 200 girls in Nigeria by Boko Haram, and this week's US Supreme Court ruling indicating employers do not have to provide birth control to employees, it is easy to create a picture of a world in which powerful and/or malignant straight men restrict the progress of women. However, I think that straight men are not the only perpetrators here. I think gay men are prone to carrying out anti-female language and action as well. In a lengthy essay entitled The Myth of the Fag Hag and Dirty Secrets of the Gay Male Subculture, Rohin Guha (who identifies as a gay male), posits that as gay male symbols (think of characters in Will and Grace) became normalized in America over the course of the last decade, it became accepted for gay men to consider females as their accessories (and vice versa). He outlines several examples of occasions when gay men sexually harassed women and then used the excuse “it's okay because I'm gay” to justify their actions. (A notorious example is the 2010 incident in which Isaac Mizrahi groped Scarlet Johnansson at the Golden Globes.) Because we gay men are not sexually attracted to women, the skewed logic then dictates that objectifying women is okay. In addition, we gay men might often use misogynistic terms like “bitch” or “cunt” jokingly among ourselves, only to forget what the consequences of these words are in a larger context.

Just last week my husband and I were discussing our own latent sexism. We were considering the word “crazy” and how we often will apply it to women, but not to men. The term, “Oh, she's crazy,” can refer to a variety of actions that a woman might perform. We asked ourselves, if a man performed the same actions would we remark, “Oh, he's crazy”? Perhaps. What we reasoned is that we would likely use a more specific adjective plus an explanation to define a man's actions, such as “Oh, he's irrational and we have to have a discussion,” or “Oh, he's violent and I need to get away from him,” or “Oh, he's insecure and therefore is acting out.” By using more specific language for men, we give more agency to them in our minds, thereby carrying out our own internal and ingrained sexist bias.

I don't know if this example applies to only us, or if other people might have noticed something similar (please leave a comment either way), but I bring it up to indicate that we all have ingrained sexism and I think we need to carefully examine how we use language and what the consequences of our language use has on gender relationships.


Bullying, Witch Hunts and Opera: What Tamar Iveri has to teach us about ourselves

This post is for us in the LGBT community. Please read and comment.

The past few days have seen a mounting imbroglio over Georgian soprano Tamar Iveri. Iveri enjoys an international opera career in lyric soprano roles, and she has performed at a number of important opera houses including The Metropolitan Opera, La Scala, and Vienna State Opera, to name a few. I don't know Iveri's singing, but from her track record, it appears she has had quite a lot of success and has returned to a number of companies, indicating she is likely pleasant to work with.

It seems Iveri has gotten herself into some trouble, however, over an open letter she wrote to Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili on May 17, 2013. It seems that some news travels slowly. It was only this past week -- over a year later -- that the contents of this letter were read, resulting in a good degree of outrage and name calling by the LGBT opera community. The letter (which has been reposted here), is a disorganized diatribe condemning Georgia's growing alliance with the West and asking President Saakashvili to guard against the West's "fecal masses”, mainly referring to gay people. The main theme is that although Iveri has gay friends and family, she believes that if you give them an inch, they'll take a mile. The letter compares marchers in Tblisi's gay pride parade to cancer:

"the fact is that cancer metastases need to be removed in the beginning of the process... If you ignore it today.... tomorrow they will demand same-sex marriages, the day after tomorrow they will require rights for adoption. And I really do not want Georgia, a place that I am always happy to visit, to resemble certain blocks of Amsterdam."

Iveri's nostalgia for the Georgia she knows as a haven for conservative Georgian Christianity is clearly stronger than the affinity she has for her gay friends and family.

This letter was issued via Iveri's Facebook page and sat there for over a year.

Fast forward to June 2014. OUTRAGE. It seems that whoever had read her letter initially built up enough pressure in the press to lead an attack against Iveri, directed mainly at Opera Australia and her upcoming engagement as Desdemona there. The media attention caused Iveri to release an apology and explanation for the letter, which was written allegedly by her much more conservative husband. After a sequence of jockeying and petitioning against Iveri, Opera Austrialia and its sponsors, the Opera released her from her contract just today.

The end.

Or is it? 

There are two things that bother me a great deal about this episode. The first is the role of gender in all of this. Some of the insults that have been hurled at Iveri have been downright misogynistic. Here are just a few of the hundreds of comments on her Facebook page:

The negative anti-female language directed at Iveri is very troublesome and I hope to discuss it at a later date.

The second issue that is bothering me is one of bullying and witch hunting. It was not long ago in major cities in Western Europe and the American Northeast, West Coast, Chicago and a few other locations that gay men and women suffered a great deal of discrimination. We only need to look a few decades ago to be reminded that the LGBT community was the object of bullying on a regular basis. In the US today, we see young people committing suicide because of anti-gay bullying. Just last month a crowd on Atlanta's Metro looked on and cheered as two transgender women were attacked. And let's not forget to look outside the borders of the affluent West. Attacks against gay people are regular in Russia, and anti-gay legislation (often supported by American Christian organizations) is commonplace in Sub-Saharan nations like Uganda and elsewhere in the world.

So what do we LGBT people become if we turn the tables and bully Tamar Iveri? She is such an easy target. Her statements are so stupid and amount to career suicide. But really, if we cast stones, then how are we any better than her? How are we rising above intolerance? How are we LGBT people setting an example of how we wish to be treated?

Here are a few more of the hundreds of negative comments on her Facebook page:

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It seems to me that we humans love to hate people who are easy targets. We all can fall into a mob mentality and rail against someone with increasing scorn; it takes so little effort. If we wish to move beyond this hatred and reach a better place for ourselves, then we need to learn how to view others -- even those who say and do wretched things -- with patience and understanding. This is especially true for those of us who identify as LGBT. We need to serve as examples of the love we wish to see in the world. If we turn the hate back on people like Tamar Iveri, then we are a sad lot of folks indeed.

I, for one, need as much work at this as the next person.

Check out President Hoover’s formality in a letter to his son.  Unfortunately I can’t think of him without the tune “We’d like to thank you Herbert Hoover” coming to mind. 

  ourpresidents : 
  "May you commence today a life as satisfying to yourself as your past one has been to your parents."  
 Letter from Herbert Hoover to his son Allan regarding his graduation. June 17, 1929. 
   -from the  Hoover Library 

Check out President Hoover’s formality in a letter to his son.  Unfortunately I can’t think of him without the tune “We’d like to thank you Herbert Hoover” coming to mind.


"May you commence today a life as satisfying to yourself as your past one has been to your parents."

Letter from Herbert Hoover to his son Allan regarding his graduation. June 17, 1929.

-from the Hoover Library 


Home Sweet Home

Usually plastic and the environment do not go hand in hand, but artist Aki Inomata uses plastic to create an environment for her little pet hermit crabs in “Why Not Hand Over a “Shelter” to Hermit Crabs?” (2009, 2010-2013).

With the help of CT scanning to render a three-dimensional model of an empty shell, Inomata creates her base and then builds houses atop these shell renderings. These architectural wonders mimic the style of popular dwellings, from Tokyo house-style to Paris apartments. 

With these plastic hermit crab habitats, Inomata wanted to explore not only the hermit crab’s adaptability to new surroundings, but how we adapt as well. Immigration, relocation, even acquiring a new identity or nationality is more or less the human version of growing out of a shell, and finding a new one to call ‘home’.

Not only is this series an amazing symbolic representation of our will to adapt, but also a fun way to learn more about the life and physiology of the hermit crab, as the dwellings are completely see-through. Have you ever wondered what a hermit crab’s body looks like inside its shell?

A video of both the hermit crabs in action and how the artist came about designing the shells can be found here.

-Anna Paluch

Next week, on Tuesday, June 17, I’ll perform a reading of Laura Kaminsky's new opera (in progress) entitled AS ONE, with libretto by Mark Campbell and Kimberly Reed.  Also performing on the reading are mezzo-soprano Blythe Gaissert and the Cassatt String Quartet. The piece is presented by American Opera Projects.

The opera is a one-character show about a transgender person’s journey. The character is played by 2 people: a man and a woman. I think it’s a great concept, and it’s been very rewarding to participate in the experience of this piece coming together.  Kimberly Reed and Mark Campbell have created a compelling libretto, based in part on Kimberly’s own experiences (see the trailer for her film PRODIGAL SONS, above), and Laura Kaminsky has set this libretto to music. Laura’s style is honest and bold. She employs a unique harmonic language to bring out the text. I think her use of minor second dissonance is one of her defining compositional characteristics, which makes her writing challenging to learn, but immensely satisfying to sing once you’ve developed a feel for it.

I’m looking forward to working more on this piece in the weeks to come!!


This weekend I read Naoki Higashida’s book THE REASON I JUMP, translated and introduced by my favorite author, David Mitchell.  


It was a very quick and enlightening read. The author, Naoki Higashida, wrote the book at age 13. It is part memoir, part how-to, explaining his world as an autistic person, and suggesting ways that non-autistic people might understand autism and interrelate with people who have autism. Higashida’s words are immensely moving and clear; his writing through David Mitchell’s lens reminds me of that of Thich Nhat Hahn.

The majority of the book follows a question/answer format. For example, he discusses the question, “Why do people with autism talk so loudly and weirdly?” early on, and moves on to others like, “Do you prefer to be on your own?”. The common thread I interpreted from his writing is that he can often be frustrated with his condition, but is immensely in need of love from others and craves to be part of his human community. What is most tragic to him is when people, often out of lack of patience, refuse to understand him. I found some of the short stories he writes between the question/answer chapters to be intensely emotional.

I grew up with an autistic classmate. He often bore the brunt of a lot of jokes and peer abuse, and I can only imagine how difficult it must have been for him in school. I can also imagine that it was frustrating for his parents and our teachers as well, seeing as attention to autism was not particularly heightened in those days. Higashida’s message to us non-autistic people is one of patience and love. He repeats several times, “please try to understand what we are going through”.

That’s a message I will do my best to remember… not just for people with autism, but for everyone.

Finally, many thanks to my friend Luthien Brackett for telling me about this book!

Period Latin Diction

CLARIFICATION: A colleague read the post below and astutely pointed out that it could be interpreted that I am not willing to perform using regional Latin or period regional Latin. That is not my intention or meaning. I have no qualms with commonly used German Latin or French Latin as diction choices, and I am certainly willing to perform in any language or diction style; what I am questioning as a matter of debate is the practicality of period regional Latin diction. Read below and please add your comments!


If you’re a classical singer, you’ve likely sat through some sort of diction class or coaching.  It might have dealt with how to pronounce Italian, German or French.  Why have you spent time on learning how to pronounce the languages you sing in? The answer is simple: you want to sing in a way that would make your declamation as clear as possible to a speaker of that native language. A side effect of learning good diction is that you learn more about the tone and cadence of that language and gain a greater appreciation for poetry and style.

So what happens if you’re singing in a language that no one speaks, such as Latin


If you’ve sung in a choir, you’ve likely had to sing in Latin. You probably learned how to pronounce Latin by imitating the sounds produced by those around you. Eventually it becomes ingrained in your head and you pretty much know how to pronounce Latin. 

Sometimes, you might have needed to vary the pronunciation of your Latin to fit something called “German Latin” or “French Latin.” In the case of the more common German Latin, this might typically involve changing the /tʃ/ to a /ts/ in the case of a written ‘c’. The reason for this? It could have been the way that the composer expected the Latin to sound at the time he published his work.

Why the variation? Before the 20th century, regional differences in Latin were common. An English singer might pronounce Latin differently from a Dutch singer, who in turn pronounced differently from an Italian singer. Because of the Catholic Church’s position in Rome, the Italian dialect of Latin became a default for many. In 1903 Pope Pius X issued a Motu Proprio firming up the ascendancy of Latin as the church’s language. This established the Italian pronunciation as the orthodox option. Thus, musicians will generally interpret pieces in Latin written after 1903 with the “standard” or Italian pronunciation.

But what do you do about music written before 1903, you ask? Often times you use one of the German or French options of Latin if the composer came from a German or French speaking country. Wikipedia has a good summary of the various regional modern Latin sounds in different European regions.  It gets trickier the farther back in time you go, however. Just because Latin might have been pronounced in one way in, say, Paris in 1850, it doesn’t mean it was pronounced the same way in Paris in 1500, when Antoine Brumel was working at the Cathedral of Notre Dame. What about Brumel’s contemporary Josquin, who hailed from the Low Countries, but spent much of his career in Italy? How might he have wanted Latin pronounced?

Scholars have tried to answer these questions. One quite thorough study is by Timothy James McGee, A. G. Rigg, David N. Klausner and is called Singing Early Music: The Pronunciation of European Languages in the Late Middle Ages and Renaissance.  It attempts to give a phonetic key to various periods in different European regions so that singers can apply these phonetics to specific texts. It must have been a massive undertaking to figure out these phonetic rules and then describe them in a coherent way. Another prolific scholar in this field is Alison Wray, whose research ranges from historical linguistics for singers to psycholinguistic theory. Her chapter, “The Sound of Latin in England Before and After the Reformation” from English Choral Practice: 1400-1650 gives specific insight into period Latin pronunciation as indicated from historical texts that were used mainly to teach Latin to scholars. 


Above is just one of many Latin pronunciation charts you can find on line.

My ensemble New York Polyphony consulted Alison Wray on period diction when we were preparing William Byrd’s Mass for Four Voices, Thomas Tallis’ Mass for Four Voices, and John Plummer’s Missa sine nomine, all of which ended up on our CD Times Go By Turns,for which we received a GRAMMY nomination. After adding Wray’s pronunciations to our music using the international phonetic alphabet (IPA), we rehearsed. It didn’t take us long to realize two things about this process: 1.) Period English Latin sounds alien to our ears, and 2.) it would take a lot of time and effort to make all the Latin words sound fluent and compelling within the musical framework that the composers provide. Ultimately, we agreed that period diction would be a distraction from the music, and would also be a risky musicological approach for us to take, seeing as none of us are musicologists or linguistics experts. 

So, should you do period Latin diction the next time you sing a concert of early music? Here’s what I think: NO. I have extreme respect for the well-devised and impressively constructed systems of phonetics developed by scholars like McGee, Rigg, Klausner and Wray. However, these systems are ultimately very educated historical linguistic guesses. Even when you use one of these systems, you’re unlikely to have the time to get everyone in your choir or ensemble on the same page with regards to IPA and pronunciation. Every minute you spend on pronunciation becomes one less minute spent on musical preparation. 


If you want a compromise, come up with a few small rules to flavor the language in a way that hints at the regionalization you want. Start with one of the three main choices: Italian, German or French latin, and then add a few more rules within reason. For example, if you want a period English flavor, change your /tʃ/ to /s/ in the case of the word “caeli”. Or for period Franco-Flemish, change your /u/ to /Y/. By applying a few general and simple rules, you achieve a feeling of the period regionalization without contorting yourself into historical linguistic guess work.

(NB: My opinions are different regarding to the commonly used 19th century German and French varieties of Latin diction. There much more evidence — including recordings — to support these choices, and many singers can shift into these systems of diction with ease.)

Tiananmen - Remembering

I was only 8 years old when Tiananmen Square happened. I remember knowing about the word “Tianamen” well before I understood what had happened there. It is remarkable to me that the significance of the occasion was not really discussed by my parents or my teachers. Perhaps we were too young, or perhaps it was yet another event that didn’t “matter” to us in the US. Or perhaps my teachers and parents didn’t understand the significance of it, just as we didn’t understand the significance of Rwanda, or the USS Cole several years later. If it didn’t happen to white people in a Western nation, then it was not significant for my people, my town, my “culture”. Years later, in 2002, when I actually went to Tiananmen Square, the historical weight of the place didn’t register. Given my upbringing, it’s little wonder why. 


This is me in June 2002 in Tianamen Square. I had just graduated from college and was on tour with the Yale Whiffenpoofs.

Now, I would like to think that I’m more aware of the important events around the world than I was in my childhood. However, significant movements of political injustice continue to escape my attention. Today’s violent protests in Thailand or genocide in the Central African Republic are often far from my mind. What is important - as hackneyed as it may be - is to remember what happened and continue to pay responsible attention to what is happening. Patrick Chovanec’s Twitter feed allows us to remember in a unique way. For over a day now, he has posted minute-by-minute 25 years later photos of Tiananmen. The photos are disturbing, violent, and alien. Take a look:

This is one of many photos from Patrick Chovanec’s Twitter feed.