Friday, April 06, 2018


Wednesday night emerged as an epiphany as I attempted to deal with the challenges of a profound   transformation that began prior to and during my time on Jeju Island,  a magical isle off the coast of Korea that has been s source for recovery and well-being for more than a thousand years.  A major area in the west and south of the island, along the Pacific Ocean side is an area known as Seogwipo, named for Seobul, an emissary of the Emperor of China, who was sent to Jeju to find plants that could bestow well-being and eternal life. The Emperor was Qin Shi Huang who unified the Chinese Continent (BC 221-BC206).

It would be fascinating to to understand how Seobul's presence transformed Jeju and Korea during his visit. Not only is Seogwipo (gwipo refers to eternal life) named for him, but the capital Seoul is derived from Seobul. His impact was pervasive and metaphysical. His journey to Jeju brought this remarkable Island to the attention of the world as a pristine paradise favored by divinity. His quest had such impact that his name continues to enrich the manifestation of a spiritual presence in Jeju that remains palpable.

A year ago, I knew nothing of Jeju except that one of my most inspiring graduate students was studying at NYU on leave of absence from her school in Jeju where she had been teaching for several years.  The year of 2017 was a year of change, it was to be my last year of teaching at NYU as I would go on sabbatical in my final year.  It would also be the final year for EXPANDED MUSIC and IMPACT, our international workshop which had just passed a decade of collaborative new multimedia creative work of international participants.

I wondered what I should do on a sabbatical as an octogenarian. My professional life had been creating and developing new programs for the department. The end of my sabbatical would mark 50 years of involvement with NYU Steinhardt Music and Performing Arts Professions that began with some exploratory discussions with Jerrold Ross in 1968. Leaping back to 1968, when my multimedia opera ROTATION premiered, I had made a commitment to education as my life pursuit, even though I would continue to make music by exploring and making music by sharing collaborative process in a number of settings. But now, as I break from academia in my final year at NYU, all options are open, if only I knew what they are.

Admittedly, as I approached my final year of IMPACT I was already exhausted from the academic year and anticipating moving out of my office and removing the accumulation of half a century. In many ways 2017 was IMPACT's most ambitious year, and the framework was more intimate. Several colleagues who had helped found IMPACT were no longer involved.  But our multimedia Internet2 production BE-ING had infused tremendous creative energy among our graduate student staff. In addition we had creative new staff on the IMPACT Team, including a brilliant young man who had started as an IMPACT participant and risen over the years to visual director. From the first time I met him at IMPACT, I regarded him as a child of the new century, a true multimedia artist. This final year he returned as production coordinator. As it turned out, it may have been an even more inspiring year than our tenth-year celebration.

Yet, as we prepared for IMPACT during May 2017,  I had no sense of where I would be or what I would do during a terminal sabbatical that would sever my professional activity from New York University. Clearly I sensed then, and continue to anticipate a turning point. Structurally it is to be a crucial juncture mandated by academic procedure. Spiritually it may require yet another renaissance...

How many renaissances . . .
How many times
Will the silence invite me
To the feast?
I toast to festivals of years. . .
Here's to the painful isolation,
Here's to the innocence
Now lost. . .
Here's to the quiet wonder
Here's to the mystery of awe
To chaos on the edge of order . . .
Too soon
The days of opportunity dissolve,
The inward possibilities remain inert,
And all that might be and might have been
Is gone.
Yet, what is emerging is not like the past... the days of opportunity are not dissolving. The inward possibilities are bubbling up from the depths and taking shape. "What might be" is evolving into a vivid presence. None of this might be happening had it not been for an encounter with an unexpected stranger.

Saturday, January 20, 2018


Soon I will have completed about 50 years of contact, planning, and implementing a new idea for an academic structure. My work shifted from composer to creating curricula anticipating the media and technology explosion that began around 1968. Now, in September of 2018 that chapter of my life at New York University will come to a close.

I am somewhat surprised to still be here, because in my fantasies, I always thought I would have been gone from this existence by now.  I speculated over time when the end would come. In my teens, my heroes were Gershwin and Mozart. Both died at 35. I said to myself, "Fine, I will live passionately and when I'm 35, I'll be gone.

But when I turned 35, I was surprised to see I was still around. What should I do? Plan my life for retirement? But frankly at 35, I was in the maelstom of sweeping academic and administrative changes at the university. In addition, I was in the midst of sponsoring an on-campus festival and symposium in collaboration with Keyboard Magazine that introduced to the world the new breed of low-cost synthesizers that led to the revolution of musical practices and styles of the 70s. We turned the entire Education Building and Student Union into rooms that hosted manufacturers and their equipment, and artists in special workshops, with performances by luminaries, in what was later named Loewe Theatre, each evening of the three-day extravaganza.

Since I was sill around, I thought maybe the end woud come at 50, then at 60, and then surely at 70, so I never really planned for retirement. But as 80 approached, I began to realize maybe I wasn't going to die in the job.  Is there life after 80?

One of the joys of working in such a dynamic department where we had managed to attract so many energetic and visionary faculty was my relationship with the Music Therapy Program when I served as Chair. I had helped the former Chair in setting up the new program, and we brought in a talented and visionary person to lead the program. As consistent with our other programs, our Music Therapy departed from the prevailing model in Academia, so much so that we left the existing association and created a new one. This was through the initiative of my mentor and Chair, Dr. Jerrold Ross who had been responsible for bringing me to the department to develop new and innovative programs.

During my tenure as Chair, Barbara Hesser, our new Music Therapy Program Director initiated retreats in the Catskill Mountains on Panther Mountain near Phonecia, New York. My first experience with the retreat was so memorable that I composed an interactive ensemble piece based on the happening of that week together with so many creative artists.

I travelled to the retreat with colleague and philosopher, David Burrows, whose book Time and the Warm Body, remains one of the most original treatments of Time that I have encountered. I remember him saying, "John, these people know something about making music that most of us do not know or understand."

The Panther mountain facility was beautifully designed and we lived in dorm style rooms. We could make our own meals or purchase simply-prepared snacks or meals. We had to clean up after ourselves, and there were many rooms where we could separate in various configurations as needed and congregate together as a group. There was no set agenda, except to share and to have conversations and mini-sessions that were like informal workshops.

Deep in the forest was a Sanctuary shaped somewhat like a teepee. A large circular building narrowed like a funnel as you looked upward, culminating in an opening at the top where you could see the sky, or stars at night.

On the first night we gathered in the sanctuary. Those of us that had instruments brought them and put them in the center. We gathered into a large circle so that everyone could see each other and the instruments in front of us.

In the sanctuary, in the middle of the forest, underneath a starry sky, we sat in deep silence. After a while, Time became irrelevant. We no longer sat in silence... we communed in silence and communed with silence. I became deeply aware of our breathing. It was almost as though we were all drawing the same breath. After more than an hour I could hear a low voice intoning a sound as though breath had discovered tone. Gradually everyone joined.  Toning began to follow contours, and then melody emerged, almost as though this communion had summoned the power of music. For the next two hours there wonderful textures, melodies, emotions created as an ensemble, but punctuated with solos, duos, trios, and other configurations expressing full joy and utter despair, pain and gladness, anguish, and delight. The improvisation created its own form and after about two hours, it returned to silence. We sat again in the circle, silent, but somehow wholly fulfilled. After a few moments we began to talk and share our experience.

The retreat was all about making music together spontaneously and then sharing our work from the past year.  Everyone was exhausted from the demands of rigorous programs in the different parts of the world, so as we shared and interacted, we found that the process we were undergoing Became a profound healing experience.

From this experience, the idea of ARC (ARTS RECOVERY COLLABORATION) occurred to me as a possible focus for what I might implement in the future. An Arc is a symbol of connecting. Maybe it is ARTS RENAISSANCE COLLABORATIVE, or ARTS RENEWAL COLLABORATION... but the idea of reaching out and connecting with colleagues in the arts at the end of the year to celebrate and recover seems like something worthwhile to do, taking my inspiration from what I encountered in Phonecia almost 40 years ago.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018


From the first moment I learned of Haiku, I felt a connection with Matsuo Bashō, one of Japan's greatest authors. This Christmas I received a volume of Bashō's middle and late periods, if one can call them that, since it appears that his progression toward his rich mature style was steady and uninterrupted, even though it came at great personal sacrifice. The volume is The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches.

As was the practice of the time, a poet's work was created on journeys undertaken for the sake of creating.. I felt a parallel with the volume I received and Robert Pirsig's Zen in the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.  This sensitive and thoughtful translation is by Nobuyuki Yuasa, and covers the major three journeys of Bashō.

Perhaps it is the notion of the journey that most attracted me, because I had not realized the context of Bashō's poetry before. From this reading I understand also that poetry was often a collaborative process. Disciples accompanying the master would contribute poems and often suggest lines to the master. But also there are deliberate sacrifices that must be made to undertake such journeys into a wilderness... usually by foot, but at times the terrain could be so challenging a horse would be necessary.

In my journeys, I have been aware of the spiritual quest that has always defined the issues of awareness and noticing. Listening and noticing---intimate encounters with being that provides glimpses into the nature of existence as we embrace appearances masquerading as reality.

In following Bashō's journey, I became aware that the haiku and at that time hokku, was an evolving form, and the 5-7-5 syllable form was not the only syllable structure prevalent. Nobuyuki Yuasa prefers the four-line form which seems to better fit the poems as written by Bashō. Especially since poems always appear in the context of prose passages.  Scholar and translator Yuasa comments:
First, the language of haiku, based on colloquialism, and in my opinion, the closest approximation of natural conversational rhythm can be achieved in English by a four-line stanza rather than a constrained three-line stanza.
Bashō took his name from the tree of that name after one of his disciples presented him with a stock of a Bashō tree. A Bashō is a species of banana tree. Bashō remarked "I love the tree for its very uselessness."

As many who know me have observed I have given much thought to issues of madness, and making moments tangible and retrievable through poetry. Poetry is the essence of intense noticing. This seems to be confirmed by Bashō:
What is important is to keep our mind high in the world of true understanding, and returning to the world of our daily experience to seek therein the truth of beauty. No matter what we may be doing at a given moment, we must not forget that it has a bearing upon our everlasting self which is poetry.
In The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Bashō  undertakes a journey to what is regarded as the unknown forces of the universe in order to be the poetry that makes the world profoundly eloquent. Having composed a song this summer, "If This Be Madness", I wrote:
If this be madness,
It sets me free,
From all the sadness
That once was me.
But is it madness
To look with love
Beyond the limits
That we’re made of?
We each have madness
Somewhere inside…
 A touch of genius
From which we hide
Perhaps its madness
Or just naive
To want to live my life
As I believe…
And even now I hear
A distant song
I know it’s somewhere near
Where I belong
And even now I see
That I must go
There’s a different me
And there are worlds
I’ve yet to know!
What a revelation it was to come upon this poem by Bashō:
With a bit of madness in me,
Which is poetry... 
And so I seem to have come full circle as I continue my journey of 81 years, remembering that as a child, the essence of the world was its poetic presence.

Monday, January 08, 2018


Going quietly into the night, NOHO STAR shuttered its doors forever on New Year's Eve, 2017. There was no fanfare, and the lack of public outcry was disappointing.

I learned of the proposed closing from Ted Coons, a colleague of mine at New York University over breakfast early in December. I was saddened that the owner George Schwarz's son had decided to close both neighborhood fixtures, NOHO STAR and TEMPLE BAR after more than 30 years in order to convert the building to rental property. George passed away December 14, 2016.

Adding to my dismay was that I was scheduled to leave Manhattan for Asia before the closing. I never heard if there was an appropriate wake to mourn the loss of the NoHo Star. I saw many celebrities there during my 30 plus years of using this landmark bistro as my true office, with countless meetings with students, meeting with colleagues, meeting with artists in planning sessions, Many a project was launched over breakfast, brunch, and dinner.

NoHo Star opened after I had been with NYU for about 17 years when NoHo Star opened at 330 LaFayette Street. I saw the transformation of the area south of  Houston Street into SoHo in the late 70s. Before that it was an industrial area filled witth factories and industrial sites, warehouses, and various tradesmen.

This was a block from where I lived, and I watched artists tranform the area by invading on the weekend and using factory spaces to perform and exhibit exper innovations in technology that were experimental artwork, much of it using technollogies begun in alliances with scientist and artists in the 60s in New York, It was a time of Happenings. Everything was free and in the moment. I remember wandering around the warehouses and coming upon works such as a darkened room filled with low and high frequencies and fluctuating projections on the wall. As I grew accustomed to the dark, I saw the artist on the floor hooked up to biofeedback.

I remember how quickly artists were replacing factories and warehouses with lofts and studios. Then, quite suddenly, the area was officially dubbed SOHO, and the area hurtled toward gentrification. Now all the artists have fled and what is left are upscale stores and businesses, with Apple occupying the old Post Office Building on Prince Street.

SoHo --- because it was South of Houston Street, but also it borrowed cachet from the area in London which was also Soho and known as an area for the music, theatre, film, the arts and the pornographic industry.

I always had the fantasy that when George Schwarz acquired the building just north of Houston Street, he dubbed his eatery The NoHo Star, and inspired the christening of those few blocks north of Houston as NoHo.

It is sad to witness the death of an era in NYC which was such a mecca that it drew so many artists from the midwest and around the world, including me. Unfortunately Manhattan has been captured by a strict business mentality where the arts have a place only if they are part of the establishment. The artists have left their strongholds of SoHo and Tribecca and headed to Brooklyn, where there appears to be a renaissance in all aspects of the arts. Yes, there is a revival of young artists in te Lower East of Manhattan that is gathering momentum, even though the city politics and institutions are rigged against them.

The closing of THE NOHO STAR is the dissolution of a giant star. In my small universe, NoHo Star was a massive star, perhaps its debris of a supernova will seed new generations from the many projects and ideas hat were created through casual and not-so-casual meetings of creative people discussing, creating, and launching new ideas over coffee, tea, and the tasty fare from morning on into the night.


As it happened during the holidays, the Camiellias of Jeju were reaching their peak. It seemed appropriate to visit Camellia Hill, a wonderful theme park which, because of Jeju's temperate climate, is open year-round with different species of flowers peaking in the changing seasons. Arriving a few days before the New Year, we found the camellias in full bloom, white and red camellia trees lining our path as we wandered through  the thick growth to encounter many surprises along the way.
There were shops, coffee houses, green houses, statues, a Japanese garden, storybook characters and icons scattered throughout the terrain. As we walked I was
reminded of the 19th Century Parks in Europe and England designed deliberately as adventures. Paths would wander and then abruptly turn and you would unexpectedly see a waterfall towering above you. Central Park in New York City was originally designed using that concept. The surprises of Camellia Hill were similar, as the growing shrubs were so thick that many things were obscure until you would enter a clearing and there would be a Greenhouse thoughtfully laid out with many species of flowers and trees and even moss. 

Further on you might see a coffee house and restaurant and then  wander through a Japanese Garden, beautifully sculpted, coming upon an exquisite Japanese Bonsai Tree near a rock formation called Crouching Dragon. The garden invites meditation, maybe a place to return to when there are fewer people. The Crouching Dragon    seems to be sleeping. I noticed that the English sub-title beneath the Korean name was "Couching Dragon,"---a typo or merely descriptive of a lazy dragon in the afternoon sun? The afternoon unfolded like an adventure, perhaps emulating the great English Parks of the 19th Century.

Finally we found ourselves in front of an elegant greenhouse, and on further investigation discovered it to be a coffee house still decorated for the holidays and almost gleaming inside from the afternoon sunlight pouring through the glass.

Here we were in the midst of winter, but on an idyllic adventure that might be typical of a Spring day elsewhere. A few days later I would be waking to see a blanket of snow on the farmland outside my window.

Thursday, December 28, 2017


Just a short drive to the Jeju coast in Seogwipo is the mountain SangBanSang which was once the peak of Mount Halla and was separated by a cataclysmic event that caused it to land by the ocean. Because it was the peak of Korea's tallest mountain, it possesses a powerful energy and spiritual presence that inspired the founding of a revered Buddhist Temple, Sangbanggulsa Temple. 

 In a reconnaissance maneuver to scout the terrain before winter solstice, I journeyed with friends along the coast leading to SangBanSang, coming upon countless coffee houses and hangouts where any aspiring Hemingway would be honored to linger to observe and write unpretentious masterpieces of humanity encountering the world, inspired by the sun and sea, with a beautiful terrain so breathtaking that one can hardly believe the whole thing is not simply a fantasy. I resolved to sometime return to Zen Hideaway to resume the writing I used to do in the coffee houses of New York City.

Arriving at the foot of the mountain, we found a multilevel approach to Buddha and the Temple, and through some mysterious means found ourselves having tea with the Temple's Buddhist Monk who revealed an inspiring voice as he shared his chants with us.  His voice had such resonance and depth, and I felt as though we were touched by some ancient miracle as he brought the sound into our presence as though summoned from some cherished sanctuary.

All of this was just to see if, indeed, the stories about the mountain being the site of a sunrise vigil to welcome in the New Year were true. They were --- we will return to SangBanSang to welcome in the new year 2018.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017


Apparently this will be my 81st winter solstice. One might think in all these years some of the mystery would be gone, but the mystery deepens. It deepens because there is no true repetition. The absence of repetition is something we seldom notice because we are so captivated by its illusion. Music delights us when we hear the refrain repeated.... the familiar returning. We scarcely notice the illusion that Time affords us. Each repetition is tempered by time. We are older, even thought it be seconds later, and that repetition invades time as a new entity, stamping the moment with its presence, even as we are shaped by the time that passes. Even though the earth is spinnng its predictable course around the sun, the sun is traveling around the galaxy and is in a new place. Time teeters on the edge of discovery, and we are in a different energy.

We also alter the moments by the space we occupy. Our changes may be subtle or dramatic, but they never repeat the past. As the human race, we share some vision of the future. We see a scintillating panorama of things to come...of machines obedient and serving us like slaves... of an increasing, never ending projection into a future where we control our destiny. But if we are to believe artifacts and remnants from the ancient earth, there were greater dynasties than ours that have vanished...
leaving behind faint echoes of civilizations that once flourished and have fallen to some cataclysmic ending.

Recently I listened to Diana Krall's "Let's Face The Music and Dance," a masterpiece in sound and interpretation.  I detected in the arrangement and improvisation more of an encounter with the universe, with entropy and with a moon that is widening its arc around the world until it spins out of earth's orbit to some distant destiny. There is a sense of cosmic inevitability about the arrangement that moves from a simple beginning to an ending that is like the running down of the cosmos...

Perhaps Irving Berlin meant this simple lyric would mask a deeper meaning... the law of entropy demands we pay the price of existing in before our fling draws to a close, we will have to pay the piper, so to speak. There are no free rides....

Ms. Krall starts with a simple dance rhythm, nice and casual, but then a note of caution, a sustained string sound has a slight foreboding tone:
There may be trouble ahead,
but while there's moonlight and music and love and romance,
let's face the music and dance.
But we try to ignore those signs of impending disaster... the music is playing, and yes, we will have to pay for our putting off the inevitable, but this the time to celebrate while we can... let's get the most from this moment:
Before the fiddlers have fled,
before they ask us to pay the bill,
and while we still have the chance,
let's face the music and dance.
Reality interrupts the party... the universe is running down and the moon is pulling against the earth, intent to follow a different journey... the counter melody moves away from the main melody
Soon, we'll be without the moon,
humming a different toon,
Then the orchestra and improv become more complex in texture, and we hear a kind of wistful orchestra as we become aware that the end may be near:
And then, there may be tear drops to shed.
But we realize we have no control over the future or our destiny:
         So while there's moonlight and music and love and romance,
                 Let's face the music and dance.

        Soon, we'll be without the moon,
        humming a different toon,
        And then, there may be tear drops to shed.
       So while there's moonlight and music and love and romance,
                 Let's face the music and dance.
                          Let's face the music and dance...
                                  Let's face the music and dance.              
                                         Let's face the music and dance...
                                                Let's face the music and... dance.
The repetition is incessant and sad, but also resigned to the beauty of the reality that reluctantly all things come to an end...  each repetition becomes fainter and fainter as the universe comes to its treacherous demise...suddenly Ms. Krall abruptly breaks the texture with an almost passionless utterance of "dance!" and the music seems to end teetering on the brink of chaos... a brilliant rendering starting simply and unraveling as time goes on in the song... music can be a comforting companion in a journey through Time.

REPETITION...  "Let's Face The Music and Dance" has been repeated many times over the years since Irving Berlin penned this song 81 years ago when I was born in 1936. All through those 80 trips around the sun, singers such as Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, and Frank Sinatra have charmed fans with their versions which voiced the reluctance of two lovers resigned to an unknown fate... and then the song repeated in a new era, wiser in the understanding of our place in the universe, Diana Krall reminds us that we should relish "our place in the sun" while we can... just Face The Music and Dance...

And so this solstice is our romance with humanity's journey with the sun and our hope that the sun will continue to sustain us for another season... a ritual since before Stonehenge and now in a few days on Sunrise Mountain on Jeju Island.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017


Last October... as autumn ebbed away with slight invasions of winter... as a Saturday sun defined a golden afternoon, I meandered through Poet's Walk overlooking the Hudson River where Washington Irving once walked and is said to have been inspired by the distant Catskills to write Rip Van Winkle. It was a perfect autumnal evening with the waning sun settling in the west. Below, the Hudson detailed itself in elegant silence, and clouds interpreted the sky with glowing gestures of drifting calm.

Now in the waning hours of 2017, I walk along the beautiful vistas of Jeju Island, which erupted into being eons ago in the Yellow Sea. Looking north, I know the morning calm of mountains of Korea are somewhere beyond the horizon. To my right, Japan silently waits for my attention, and to my left the vast mystery of China calls me with a voice I remember when I was a child discovering that continent in my father's library.

In some way that I cannot understand, this island has emerged as the center of the universe and my mind leaps light years in all directions. What began as a poet's walk along the Hudson has become a greater walk among the stars. Perhaps the most elegant aspect of the island is the magnificent changing skies providing a panorama of changing cloud-formed constellations. I see the sun painting such bold, and sometimes delicate, streaks of light, igniting a spectrum of colors, never repeating and endlessly changing. At night, dwarfed by the surrounding oceans, the island glows in the moonlight and silence is the music of darkness. And in the silence I hear the music of myself.

Monday, September 25, 2017


Time has a way of continuing to unfold. It is the most compelling dimension we encounter. It is the consequence of of a moment of revelation in awareness ignited with a sense of IS-NESS. We have been trying to understand ourselves in relationship to Being and Time, Time and Being, (as Heidegger framed the dilemma twice in his life).

In eight decades, the procession of events has been defined somewhat angular on what I sensed as an upward trajectory. This metaphor is probably common to us all. Does the trajectory now tail off and curve back toward the earth, or does it continue and escape gravity, spiraling toward unknown destinies?

That is where I am today, as I look to know where Wyzard Ways now wanders, for I sense it more as a wandering than a zooming.  Free of the gravity of my past life, I now float freely toward some unknown destiny. The all sounds much too grand for what emerges as a quiet, more reflective drifting to new ways of BEING and MEANING. 

I look to being in a place where I can comprehend where I have been and what that may actually represent as experience, as a sense of reality. Language begins to fall short of discovery. 

Monday, February 13, 2017


With noted Avantgarde-artist Clayton Patterson serving as Presenter, the 2017 Acker Awards Ceremony was warmly acclaimed by a packed audience of fellow artists and arts enthusiasts. It was more of a happening than a ceremony.  Initiated on the West Coast, and named after novelist Kathy Acker, the East Coast Acker Awards in 2013 was founded by Clayton as a means of documenting the extraordinary artistic activities in the lower east side of New York. Clayton champions and celebrates the leading edge of artistic development that has long been identified with the East Village.

As described on HOWL ARTS: (updated slightly)
The ACKER Awards were created by Alan Kaufman in San Francisco and Clayton Patterson in New York. Patterson and friends pay tribute to members of the avant-garde arts community who have made outstanding contributions in their discipline in defiance of convention, and to those who have served their fellow writers and artists in outstanding ways. The Acker Awards are named after novelist Kathy Acker, who in her life and work exemplified the risk-taking and uncompromising dedication that identifies the true avant-garde artist.
Each recipient receives a commemorative box that contains original art works and mementos created by some of the 40 winners. Each year the box,includes booklets, bios and  original works of art and ephemera. Previous boxes have contained a signed and numbered papier- mâche potato by Hapi Phace, a sculpture by Tom Otterness, a handmade book by Edgar Oliver, and other specially-created art works.

Flanking Clayton Patterson's stage presentation was the celebrated Phoebe Legere,  musician and multiform artist, serving as MC of this event that had elements of spontaneous combustion. The energy of the artists and the audience was palpable, immediate and free spirited.

The evening was laced with impromptu performances, witty and insightful comments from Phoebe and Clayton, with an air of celebration in understanding that this event helps create and maintain community among a wide range of arts and generations from young and aspiring to venerate veterans who have established identities and domains through many struggles and challenges.

Many in the audience were former winners of the Acker Awards, suggesting that Clayton Patterson's vision of establishing a strong sense of community through the awards has become manifest,  It is a monumental achievement to put together these awards, prepare the  commemorative boxes,  hire a hall, advertise and stage the event. Kudos to Clayton Patterson.

Even more impressive of this community of village artists is the diversity of practices, preferences, and artistic collaborations/creations spanning almost seven decades of explosive creativity. At one point when Lincoln Anderson and his work with The Villager was announced, Clayton took a moment to remind us that the Villager is on-line, and that its presence on the Internet makes it equal to all other publications in visibility. He noted that this publication is a record of the work of the community, urging that everyone add to the record by commenting on articles and postings.

This was an awards evening worth noting for the city, for the artists represented by these awards are carving out new terrain that resonates with change and the creation of new work.



Tuesday, January 17, 2017


Just when I thought that for me at eighty there were no more rebirths of imagination... no bursts of creativity, I am awaking to a new world and noticing the beautiful sounds, the beautiful moments that need to be stamped with the permanence of celebration by turning Time into an ally of preservation. We have the capacity to capture Time in the bottle of creation, transforming the moment into an enduring presence.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016


Keith Patchel's new opus, The Plain of Jars, based on a novel by the same name, premiered at The Medicine Show Theatre December 10th. This performance was a significant cultural event that should be noticed and honored, if only for the spectacular talent involved in the production that was created from scratch over a 12 day period. If Rossini remarked that it takes "about 21 days to make an opera," making this new work sets a new record. Patchel's work defies classification, as it might be described as a docudrama, musical play, or opera.  Patchel's background as a film composer is evident  as he has created a tapestry where the music flows without interruption, sometimes as the dominant feature and other times as commentary on the scenes of intrigue, exploring the motives of political characters and agents involved in the bombing of Laos during the Vietnam War.

The "Plain of Jars" is a garden-of-eden-like place in Laos that was life sustaining  for Laotians, who led a simple, peaceful life until their homeland was used by the US to test new weapons and bombing strategies during the Vietnam War.

Besides the Laotians, the cast of characters includes JFK, played by Robert E. Turner, Nixon, portrayed by Timothy McCown Reynolds, LBJ acted by Jon L. Peacock, and Henry Kissinger, depicted by John Hayden. Patchel's treatment of the characters satirizes them in the light of their criminal and covert actions, with the exception of Kennedy regarded as the hope of change for the direction for the country. Turner's stately and passionate enactment of JFK provided a stark contrast to the political trio who plot the death of Kennedy. In addition to the rich diversity of these characters, two CIA cohorts (played by Sayaka Aiba and Clare Francesca) add to the scheming and deceit, playing a critical role in persuading the politicians to use the Vietnam War to test new weapons.

The Laotians are performed by Sayaka Aiba, Clare Francesca, Jialin Li, and Xi Yang, and their opening scene of the tranquility of the Laotian natives was serenely projected with their melodic lines interweaving and overlapping, shimmeringly mystical. 

The scene shifts to the White House with JFK and the political trio in which the killing of Kennedy to prevent the withdrawal of US troops from Vietnam establishes the symbolic presence of his spirit. Patchel's conception of having JFK portrayed an an African American is an inspired gesture and Robert E. Turner brings a sense of dignity and destiny to the role. It stands in stark contrast to a CIA-directed White House and State Department intent on using the "falling domino" theory as an excuse for the war.

The trio of conspirators, provided a bitingly satirical commentary, and each actor emerged sharply etched as a caricature deeply embedded in a personal grasp of the demeanor and rhetoric of politicians caught in the web of their own deceit. Timothy McCown Reynolds was brilliant in capturing the expressions and blustering mannerisms of Nixon. John Hayden's Kissinger was covertly evil in his quest for power and posterity, a stunning range of characterization. LBJ was indeed "with heavy heart" as possibly the most powerful and reckless of the trio, but traumatized by the enormity of his transgressions against America and Vietnam. Vietnam was a force that spiraled out of control and each response only made matters worse. Peacock's characterization was accurate, revealing a troubled LBJ who could not overcome his own tragic flaws.

There are two extraordinary scenes that seem to transcend the structure: a "Death Dance" danced by Robert Turner, Cantata Fan, and Sayaka Aiba, an eloquent gesture mourning the death of Laotians. This was a powerful moment, abstract but also immediate and irrevocable.

The concluding scene of the opera is the final aria of Gaia (Yang Xi), a powerful apotheosis of the Laotian pride whose survival in the world exacts a justice, a redemption for having endured the slaughter of innocence. The pride and purity of the Laotians remain untouched. The aria begins in the symbolic demise of Kissinger, Nixon and LBJ entombed in the giant Jars of the Plains. The music celebrates triumph of Laotians over evil. In many ways, the structure of the work is a series of climaxes, each surpassing the previous. Yang Xi's musical sensibility and strength of interpretive expression uses her remarkable voice to shape each nuance and climax demanded in this powerful and expressive aria.

Patchel's music unfolds as a continuous tapestry of sound embellished by live instruments performed by Kento Iwazaki (Koto), Cantata Fan (Pipa), Alan Gruber (violin), and the keyboard manned by the composer. Their presence as a substantive texture, provided an unfolding spontaneity.

Adding to the ambiance of the evening was the wonderful set created by Alexis Kandra, simple, but enriched with the nuance of an primeval space invaded by the technology of 20th Century war... the giant jars on the Plains ultimately serving to entomb Kissinger, Nixon, and Johnson, indicted for their crimes against humanity.

A highlight that must be noted is Clara Francesca's solo "This is the only war we've got..." Her performance was powerful, Brechtian, yet bitterly poignant, confirming the opera's pervasive tone as satire. Perhaps the strength of libretto is the tension between the gentle presence of the Laotians and the sharp, caustic satire enacted with such brilliant individuality by Reynolds, Peacock and Hayden. 

The Plain of Jars theatrical premiere created an unforgettable quality for New York City on December 10, and 11 by bringing to our attention a regrettable and shameful time in American history.  The opera focuses on the violence in Vietnam and the culpability of the United States. Even though video footage of the bombing and violence in Laos was included in scenes, the libretto did not explore the atmosphere in this country that was violent, explosive and cruel, with riots, demonstrations and killings of innocent protestors.

Patchel is to be commended on creating a work that reminds us that Time does not erase such moments, but elevates them to renewed significance as we discover new meaning ifrom events of the past.

Sunday, September 11, 2016


Songs of Sorrow,
      Songs of Hope

       Seven for Nine Eleven


September morning---
 Clear and calm …
 Streaking, screaming jets
 Collide with the crisp serenity,
 Crushing the dreams of thousands
 Of world citizens
 In one prolonged
 Agonizing instant---
 Altering perceptions and events
 In a tangle
 Of terror,
 Toppling towers,
 And barbaric entombment


 All the fallen heroes
 Rushing to rescue
 Innocent victims of violence…
 Trapped between their selfless bravery
 And fanatic hatred
 Focused on annihilation
 Of all hope and happiness…

Gone in the momentous collapse
 Of monuments and unsung miracles…
 All the fallen heroes,
 Mourned and remembered,


Bewildered with rage 
 And weeping,
 We gather and huddle
 In streets and parks,
 Embracing strangers, 
 Posting our private grief
 On walls and chain-link fences…
 Coming together in the spirit 
 Of ourselves
 As though this magnitude
 Of love
 Could stifle and smother
 The animosity,
 The atrocity,
 That has befallen us.


Weep, world…
 Many lost their lives today.

Weep for clashing cultures
 Exploding on the world.
 The eleventh of September
 Collides with human destiny…
 Ending all innocence
 And immunity.

Weep, world,
 Weep in sorrow…
 Many lost their lives today…
 Yet, beneath the smoldering debris,
 A new spirit struggles to erupt.

 A fragile experiment,
 Begun in a time
 When humanity defied tyranny
 And sought a sanctuary
 Of liberty…

Once begun,
 There was no assurance
 It would survive…

Even now
 Tyrants and barbarians
 Threaten the frangible frame of freedom.


 We will not die---
 There is a gentle presence
 That gathers strength 
 In our awareness---
 Through all the adversity,
 Through all the tears,
 Through all that perished
 On that frail September day,
 We find the substance
 Of ourselves
 Embedded in all who have gone
 Before us…
 Grasping intangible threads 
 Binding us...  

 Celebrate the loved ones
 We have lost…
 Celebrate the right to sing
 Of one another…
 Cherish the links
 Connecting us…
 To dare to dream,
 To seek to hope,
 To make festivals
 Of images and sounds
 Leaping like magic
 Across an electric consciousness
 Like shooting stars
 Across the cosmos 
 Confronting chaos 
 With the simple song of ourselves.

© Copyright John Gilbert, September 12, 2011, 

Sunday, August 07, 2016


ROTATION performed its final Off Broadway tryout in BlackBox Theatre on Washington Square on Sunday, August 9.  This multimedia opera by John Gilbert was premiered in 1969 and was included in Stewart Kranz's epic 1971 book Science and Technology in the Arts. The work is decidedly contemporary in tone, eclectic, but also distinctive in achieving a personal style in Gilbert's libretto as well as his music. Besides the convincing and expressive musical performance, perhaps the most distinctive element is the extraordinary production directed by Clare Hammoor and choreographed by Lisa Naugle, with media created and mounted by installation artist Diarmid Flately, including special images by Evelyn Walker.

ROTATION features an extraordinary cast of five singers and two dancers. According to his Manifesto written in 1968, one of Gilbert's goals for this work was to achieve independent theaters of text, music, action, media, and dance which interact in a dynamic fluctuating context. In his program notes, Gilbert notes that the setting is something like Greenwich Village in a distant or timeless future. As one of the characters, Julia, observes, "This is a very strange place."

The work begins with a quiet opening in which the dancers create the space that is quiet and contemplative or comic and dazzling, a magical but ordinary setting that seems to be waiting for something. The Critic, sung convincingly by baritone Suchan Kim, lays the groundwork for what is to follow by sharing with the audience that he knows everything and he will guide them with his keenly analytic mind.

As the Critic exits, Merculian, played by veteran opera performer and song stylist, Ulrich Hartung introduces himself to the audience as Merculian the Merchant selling his "odds, and ends." Hartung possesses a strong classic presence, and he communicates a wisdom always couched in a sense of humor that he shares with the audience.

Lost and seeming to wander into the space is Julia, a runaway who first is at odds with Merculian, but accepts him as merely an old man with a cart of junk. Played by Julie Song, Julia is an innocent who searches for some meaning for her life by discarding her past. Ms. Song has a very clear voice that  is sometimes quite intimate, but also often projected a commanding and strong resonance.

With commotion and screams of "Merculian, what have you done with it!"  renowned opera diva Oksana Krovytska,  erupts upon the stage as Cassandra, the Witch, and Merculian's companion and collaborator.  Ms. Krovytska's voice is rich and vibrant. Although she usually plays the more dramatic diva roles, her experience and insight fashions a comic role that could become classic. The collaboration of Hartung and Krovytska create Merculian and Cassandra as a quintessential paradigm, vintage and primal. At times, Hartung achieves a Hans Sachs grandeur, while Krovytska creates the realm of a witch with compassion, humor, and understanding. They perform some remarkable duet passages and imbue the setting with a sense of mystery and discovery.

Christopher Sanfilippo, tenor, suddenly interrupts the mystique of the moment as he struggles with the Critic who has stolen one of Brian's poems, and begins to read it mechanically. Brian grabs the poem from the Critic who sneers, "Can You Do Better?" Deliberately reminiscent of the scene in Wager's Die Meistersinger when Walther sings the prize song,  Brian sings perhaps what might be regarded as the only full-length aria in this chamber opera.  Sanfilippo's passionate delivery reveals a voice with rich texture that includes elements of contemporary musical theatre. His sense of pace and shaping the climax was impressive. Sanfilippo revealed strong acting background in manifesting a deep sense of humor while in the midst of extremely dramatic moments. His comedic work helped reinforce Hartung's tragicomic eloquence.

In general, the musical scenes, ensembles, solos are truncated and interwoven in an intensely intimate tapestry of interaction with dancers, and media directly engaged in the action or sometimes commenting, or entering and leaving in contrapuntal fashion.  Every character has distinct moments, but the work is rich with miniature duos, trios, quartets, double duo's laced throughout the work.

Flatley's media is abstract and painterly, but often with a stunning presence of a "universe uninvolved with us."  Evelyn Walker's added images are evocative.  Flately has created a multiscreen texture requiring precise image projection and timing. Into the abstractions, Flately captures the action unfolding onstage and projects it to different screens in the theatre, an extraordinary technical effect.

Hammoor's direction is deft and pragmatic, creating moments for characters to grow into the action and blocking.  His setting is functional and comedic, allowing ample space for the media while maintaining a careful balance with the physical presence of objects and set pieces. An added touch is The Young Boy played by Nathan who mysteriously moves in and out of the fantasy.

Naugle's choreography is evocative, and perhaps the most critical and difficult of the separate theaters acting independently. Dance is the one constant that never changes in terms of presence and requires continual attention to details of consonance and dissonance. Theoretically, this presence can interact with the actors and action, and with more time they might have achieved greater cohesion. The dancers, Tal Etedgi and Jacqueline Shannon, weave a tapestry of mystery and coherence, as they establish their identity as the gatekeepers.

There are several highlights worth mentioning: a masquerade scene led by Cassandra and Merculian to seduce and persuade the hapless young couple ending with the explosion of a perpetual motion machine, and a stunning climax to the opera in which the characters sing the quintet "We Require the Masks." In this moment this disparate group of characters bond into an ensemble powerful, eloquent, and memorable.

The star of this opera is the music. Musical Director and Pianist Stella Chiashan Cheng led an inspired ensemble of Zack Hicks (fl/cl), Jordi Nus (vln), and Jiafan Shi (vc).  The original score included analog tape cues which have vanished. Synthesist and Audio Engineer, Tate Gregor recreated the tape cues in consultation with the composer.  The instrumental score was arranged by John Russell Gilbert, assisted by Sean Shiwon Kim and the participating instrumentalists.

Stella Cheng's musical direction was rich and insightful and extremely responsive to the many changes in tempo, dynamics, and emotional range. Given the context and limits of this Off Broadway trial run, the result was a rich and powerful musical event.

ROTATION explores the meaning of life with humor and skepticism, but also with passion and verve. It is highly compressed with all the elements of grand opera on an intimate scale. The work is also about energy and recycling, and the adventure of discovering who we are and who we might become.

                                                                                           ... George Grisham

Tuesday, August 02, 2016


After a long drouth, I wonder where I lost the way. As I awake, so many things are going on that I am bewildered by the activity. I hear myself saying things as though I was overhearing me from the next room.

There is so much activity. There is so much energy from around the world, gathered into this place. When I was last here, in the shadows of Wizard Ways , I was writing stories that had begun a year ago after IMPACT 2015 started to dissolve, and I recovered from a deep silence inspired by the vision of a new discovery, a new awareness. In that space, I felt the connection to the source of all creating, coming out of the silence, from the zero state to indescribably incandescent decibels of beauty.

But then I started to disappear. Becoming invisible was a slow journey out of myself. Although I had many stories in my head, none of them could find their way to my fingers and the keyboard. As I looked in the mirror I noticed I was fading. There were the poems that called to be published and I had a favorable experiment on FaceBook, creating poems in the fiery chaos of a rhythmic shift that reverberated with a deep and infinite shudder, an echo of the universe erupting into being.

Phaedrus stood in the shadows and watched, he strode the corridors of silence and listened.

There was the miracle of concinnity, the mingling of gathering energy that would propel an emerging vision of our immediacy in this moment of the world.  In the fading days of summer, our intuition seemed to engage a new awareness of who we are and how we make the quality of discovery become a shared reality.