Music for change – reflections on 2019

As 2019 draws to a close and I reflect on the past year, I realize that so many good things, both musical and otherwise, have come about. While I am grateful for that, I find that my music has become more and more informed by the times we find ourselves in, where the world seems on the edge of threats that are as great, if not more so, than anything experienced since the great wars of the last century.

Perhaps there is little that musicians can do to alter what is to come – after all, we are not leaders of powerful nations or corporations with vast resources – but, then, perhaps there is, within our own framework, a lot we can offer. It is music, after all, that is the most potent of artistic vehicles for effecting the emotions and altering the way people think and feel. And we musicians, through our art, can express something direct about such critical issues as global warming, human dignity and human rights, war and peace.

My own recent work has certainly been effected by a strong desire to create music that does more than entertain, but moves people to think about the urgent problems all of us face today. I was very grateful that over the course of this year I was able to work with wonderful musicians towards fulfilling this ambitious goal, recording several orchestral works – Pavanne to a World Without War, In Praise of Reason, The Four Elements (a song to the earth for viola and orchestra) – and an album of string quartets including Afterwards, there were no more wars and Dreaming of a Better World.

My recent orchestral works are also reflective of this intention – a violin concerto, Gaia’s Lament, composed following Greta Thunberg’s recent visit to the United Nations; Declaration of Peace, for chamber orchestra (which was premiered this year in my home state of New Jersey and received a second performance in Philadelphia); my song cycles for soprano and orchestra Everything Passes, setting several Zen poems and Against War, setting seven powerful anti-war poems gathered from an anthology called Poets Against the War; and two ‘nature’ symphonies, Summer and Season of Rain.

On a smaller scale, Border Crossings, for 2 violins was composed to support Concerts for Compassion as they bring music to refugees around the world; The Children are Crying and The Children are Still Crying, both for saxophone quartet, were composed in protest against the current administration’s crimes against humanity along our southern border; and chamber setting of poems by Rose Auslander and Selma Meerbaum-Eisinger were composed as a reminder that the Holocaust is not forgotten – and its repetition possible given the rise in populism across the globe.

Although a steady diet of world news can lead to a sense of despair about our fate, music is a saving grace – and through my music, I strive to be optimistic that our better nature will prevail.