Reflection: Brazilian Choro Music at Queens College

I love hip-hop; I like pop, alt, and rock; I appreciate classical, and I can, in fact, tolerate country. Ultimately, I’m pretty open-minded, and I’ll listen to just about anything once – anything, that is, except for Justin Bieber.

However, my favorite genre is, and always will be, salsa. La Lupe, Marc Anthony, Celia Cruz, La India, Tito Puente, Hector Lavoe – these are my idols, my teachers.

Salsa, for me, is soul-music – it strengthens me, inspires me, and challenges me. Salsa is my childhood, my grandmother, my summers and my winters; salsa is rose-tone, a trumpet, a fire, and drums, drums, drums. Ultimately, salsa permeates every aspect of my work – it is my cadence, my flesh-rhythm.

Lately, I’ve been exploring other types of Latin music; I want to broaden my horizons. Thus, I’ve dipped my toes into bachata, and I am now absolutely obsessed with cumbia. However, I am woefully ignorant of Brazilian music – or, better put, I was woefully ignorant of Brazilian music until the night of November 20.

Indeed – that night, I attended the Ernesto Nazareth 150th Birthday Tribute, a Queens College Year of Brazil Event. Here, I got a taste of Brazilian music – and what a taste it was!

Ernesto Nazareth. Image from wikipedia.com.

Ernesto Nazareth. Image from wikipedia.com.

Ernesto Nazareth (1863 -1934) was a Brazilian composer and pianist; he is best known for his choro compositions. His influences were many – he drew from African, European, and American traditions.

He served, during his lifetime, at the boundary between classical and popular worlds; now, his repertoire is a critical part of any Brazilian’s musical training. The Tribute, then, was an eclectic mix of Nazareth’s compositions – a primer of sorts on choro, Nazareth, and on the vibrant foundations of Brazilian music.

The New School Brazilian Choro Ensemble was simply fantastic; they played with sensitivity, with silvery quickness and heat. The music is itself fascinating – florid, yet languid, and absolutely ripe with improvisational wit. It is a music of mixing, of webs and crossings and meeting places; it is Brazil as rhythm, as the furtive plucking of strings.

The Ensemble. From qc.cuny.edu.

The Ensemble. From qc.cuny.edu.

On my way home, I wondered: how would I incorporate this beguiling new rhythm into my work? How would it mix with my internal salsa? I am not sure; nevertheless, I am inspired, energized, and excited. Also, I am incredibly excited about the Year of Brazil – there is much, much more to come. To learn more about the Year of Brazil at Queens College, click here; to see a calendar of events, click here.

Choro, like Brazil, and like Queens, is a mixture, a rhythm, and a movement; I, for one, can’t wait to see what’s in store.

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For more information about Ernesto Nazareth, click here.

For more information about choro, click here.

For more information about The New School Brazilian Choro Ensemble, click here.

5 Pointz Is Gone – Is Queens Next?

5 Pointz is gone.

5 Pointz, today. Image from nypost.com.

5 Pointz, today. Image from nypost.com.

White paint, dead art. Gentrification at its finest.

5 Pointz was desecrated as we slept; the words, the colors, and the faces, defiant, were wiped away as we curled into our dreams. We are left with a dry, bleached shell of a museum; we are left with a sanitized emptiness.

The destruction. Image from stupiddope.com.

The destruction. Image from stupiddope.com.

But soon, even this will be taken from us; eventually, the shell will be torn down, and a luxury condominium will take its place. A bruise on top of a bruise.

I’ve lived in Queens my whole life; I’ve watched it grow, change, and ripen.

Now, I am witnessing a sort of disintegration – that is, a wiping away, a banishing of art, of unruliness, and, most importantly, of working class neighborhoods, institutions, and landmarks.

To whom does this borough belong?

I am no longer certain.

* * *

For more information about 5 Pointz, click here.

For more information about the demolition, click here.

Stay tuned: I will be following this story closely over the coming weeks.

Angry? Sad? Unaffected? Have any ideas for action? Let me know!

Reflection: The New Salon at Queens College – Carl Phillips Reading

I love writing. Words, for me, are energy; words are oxygen, light, music, touch. Thus, I write obsessively, read obsessively, and edit obsessively; I pour over every syllable, every metaphor, and every clash of letters. Sometimes, I will even read in my dreams.

Ultimately, I am totally addicted; I am always and already writing. This, for me, is a poet’s life – this is what it means to be dedicated to the word.

However, I am terrified – mortified – of reading my work aloud. This, I believe, is largely due to my infamous shyness; I hate crowds, and I am a poor public speaker. And what, indeed, could be more frightening than sharing your work – your soul! – with a group of strangers? What could possibly be worse? How, indeed, do poets manage?

Readings are an integral part of a poet’s life; eventually, I will have to read. But how will I manage? What will I do? And why should I have to speak, anyway? What is so special about reading a poem aloud? Does anything really happen?

The crowd at Monday night’s Carl Phillips reading was large and energetic – and rightfully so, as Phillips showed us the how, and, more importantly, the why of reading. He taught us the power, the art of the spoken word; he showed us what a reading can be, should be, must be.

Indeed, when Carl Phillips reads his poetry, something absolutely happens; the flesh-tones of the voice mix with the ink, the curves of the written words, and the air of the room thickens; new meanings emerge, and sounds bloom; suddenly, the poem has blood, eyes, a body. This, indeed, is the magic of reading; this is what I had failed to understand.

Phillips has changed my perspective entirely; now, I am fascinated by the prospect of reading. I am even beginning to practice – that is, to mutter poems, to test them on my tongue. I am still nervous, of course; Phillips did not provide me with answers, but rather the sort of questions which are fruitful, which grow and thrive. How can I better myself as a speaker? How can I best perform my work?

At the end of his reading, Phillips began taking questions from the audience; one in particular has stayed with me. The student asked Phillips how he wrestles with the necessity of production – that is, how he manages to keep writing, keep innovating. Phillips answered, in short, that he does not see it as a wrestling or a battle; rather, he sees it as an engagement, a working-together, a project.

This, indeed, is how I will approach reading – as an engagement, as something to be worked with, learned from, and built upon. Now, I will engage with sound – I will add a new, exciting dimension to my work.

* * *

For more information on Carl Phillips, click here.

Phillips’ new book of poems, Silverchest, is out now!

For more information on readings at Queens College, click here! 

Stay Tuned…

Hello all! This coming week, I will be covering two events: the Carl Phillips reading at Campbell Dome, and the opening of The Librarians, a new exhibition at the Queens College Art Center.

Carl Phillips is a brilliant poet; I strongly encourage all of you to go see him! The reading will begin at 6:30 PM. Click here for more information. 

The Librarians will be opening tomorrow as well. Remember: the Queens College Art Center is right in our library, on the 6th floor. Go check it out during a study break!

This week is going to be amazing – I can’t wait to share it with you!

“Lights, Camera, Astoria!” and “Single Stream” at the Museum of the Moving Image

I love books. I live on books. I relish the smell of paper, and I love the dry, soft feel of the spine of an old book. Tablets are, for me, a sacrilege, and, until recently, I rarely, if ever, watched movies.

Now, however, I am absolutely obsessed with film; I want to know everything about it. How are actors chosen? How are scenes filmed? How is everything sewn together?

What, you ask, triggered this new fascination? Simple: I visited the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens. Here, I learned the how, and, more importantly, the why of filmmaking; indeed, I was readily, and happily, converted.

What did I enjoy most? I was absolutely enthralled by the collection of old film-equipment; I marveled at the bulky antique televisions; excitedly, I made my own stop-action films, and clowned around in front of an actual movie-grade apparatus. The exhibit on film in Queens – aptly titled Lights, Camera, Astoria! –  was particularly informative; I really had no idea that Astoria was a cinematic and artistic hub. I was fascinated, indeed, to learn that independent filmmaking has always flourished here; Astoria was, and is, a place of experimentation, rebellion, and vision.

I admit, however, that I was most enthralled by what I first saw – namely, the film which plays on the front wall of the museum’s lobby, right in front of the concierge. I must’ve spent at least half an hour staring at this film; I was in a total trance.

The slow, dry groan of metal; the wail of gears; the pale, sharp crush of glass and plastic and paper. I realize that I am looking at a garbage dump; I really should not be this interested. And yet, I am fascinated; I, with eager eyes, watch the tubes, the pipes, and the devastating elegance of the yellow-streaked forklift.

What makes a work of art beautiful? Compelling? I am not sure. I do know, however, know that this installation – Single Stream – has broken my eyes wide open; it has sparked in me a world, a gray, shifting landscape of thought and imagination and retrospection. What does it mean for a society to produce so much garbage? What is beauty? What is excess? What does it mean to be thrown away?

This museum is an absolute treasure; I strongly encourage everyone to visit. I, for one, will return – that is, once I’ve finished watching my pile of newly acquired movies!

For more information about the museum, click here. Hint: admissions for students is only $9!

5 Pointz to be Demolished?

Art is what we say it is. Art is what we do, what we live. Or is it?

I am not a veteran of the art world; I admit that I am just a beginner. I do know, however, that art is not a spectator sport. Art is something we work at, something we fight for.

So, it’s official: 5 Pointz is now slated for demolition. All of that history, all of that paint and brick and sheer, unadulterated will – all of this, and more, is to be utterly, and thoughtlessly, destroyed. It will be torn down in favor of a luxury apartment complex; we, the people of Queens, will be left with rubble, with the gutted remains of art and work and dream.

5 Pointz.

5 Pointz. Image from www.theguardian.com.

Will we allow that work, that struggle, to be destroyed? Will we be silent as that monument to “everyday” art is taken from us? Will we allow art to privatized and gentrified? Will we allow Queens to be privatized and gentrified?

Art is something we fight for. Or is it?

If you are at all concerned about what is happening to 5 Pointz, get involved: sign the petition, visit 5 Pointz, and talk to your friends. Get involved – some things are absolutely worth fighting for.