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Archiving Amram: The Beauty of Now
This month the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts celebrates composer David Amram with three free public programs: a screening of the film David Amram: the First 80 Years – April 26, 1 p.m.; A walking tour of Lincoln Center and other nearby cultural landmarks with David Amram, co-hosted by sociologist Dr. Audrey Sprenger and author William Morgan - April 26, 3 p.m.; a concert of Amram chamber music, performed by current and former members of MET Opera Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic – April 29, 6 p.m.
In the following blog post David Amram shares his hopes for the upcoming programs.
As the end of April draws near and the New York Public Library of the Performing Arts prepares to celebrate the acquisition of my entire life's archive with three events, I actually feel like it is the beginning of a new era in my life.
While I am excited to join others in looking back at my past work, I hope these events will also be a celebration of today’s New York City and all the good things that are happening at this moment. I hope these events inspire all who attend to work harder than ever to make an even better future.
In 1957 when Jack Kerouac and I did the first public jazz/poetry readings in New York City, Jack said that while we were influenced by great events of the past, like Homer singing poetic history on a boat in ancient times, or Slim Gaillard and Charlie Parker sharing stories and music in some forgotten bar in the early 1940s, we always have to remember each time we perform poetry and music together to celebrate the NOW!
Charlie Parker gave me the same advice. I met Charlie Parker in 1952 when he came down to my basement apartment in Washington DC, after playing the Howard Theater. I asked him what it was like to have his song "Now's the Time," which he had recorded in 1945, become so much more popular seven years later. Charlie Parker seemed to understand that I was only 21 and that seven years was a full third of my entire life, and therefore a very long time for me! He told me, "It still means the same today as it did back then. Now's the time, and now will always be the time, because now is the right time."
So as I look at my own archive spanning many years, and when I look at the fresh glowing face of my seven month old grandson, and when I decide to call a dear friend and realize they are no longer here, and when I hear broadcasts of my music and realize some of it was composed over fifty years ago, and when I feel that I am growing older, I think about that eloquently titled Miles Davis classic ....So What?
The Library’s Amram celebration this April won't be just a trip down memory lane. All the treasures of the past will be on display to encourage all who come to celebrate the BEAUTY of NOW, because that's what I’ve tried to do in all my work.
Like all my fellow brother and sister senior-boppers, I appreciate anyone’s deference and respect, but “age before beauty” is not a theme in my chamber music concert at Bruno Walter Auditorium on April 29th. Nor will age interfere with the joy of the urban hike we will take after the screening of the film David Amram: The First 80 Years on the afternoon of April 26th.
Any old classic car that still runs is judged by its performance and what it makes you feel like to be in it, driving with the top down, and checking out what is happening all around you, rather than being fixated on what the speedometer tells you is the mileage.
My hope is that when a 22-year-old comes to the screening of the film, or joins us for the urban hike to see some of my old haunts from the past 60 years in NYC, or attends the concert of some of my own favorite chamber music pieces from 1958-2014, all or any of these events will make them want to go home and DO SOMETHING THEY HAVE DREAMED OF DOING AND DARE TO DO IT!
And when their career councilor tells them that they are already too old, that there is no market for what they hope to share with the world, that they have no credentials, no valuable contacts, and that they are wasting their time, I hope they will respectfully analyze all this advice and then....HANG OUT WITH SOMEBODY ELSE!
I hope that these events at the Library encourage young artists to follow their own unique path, because I’m profoundly grateful for the encouragement I received from some adventurous elders when I was young. They asked me what I dreamed of doing, and I mapped out several seemingly hopeless and contrasting routes I wanted to take on my life's journey.
Those radically diverse paths included:
- Being a composer of classical music for the concert hall, even if no one was interested in what I was writing.
- Spending time accompanying folk, jazz, and world music artists on any of the instruments and genres of music I was learning every day.
- Creating music to enhance the live performance of spoken poetry done by friends of mine, and doing it in some kind of concert form, in addition to the usual performances at bring-your-own-bottle parties at painters’ lofts, coffee houses, friends’ apartments and park benches.
- Conducting symphony concerts for kids and their parents that included all the diverse musics from cultures here in the USA and all over the world, alongside the traditional masterworks of Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart.
- Introducing the French horn as an improvising instrument of jazz and sharing the philosophy of jazz with every classically trained musician to make them feel at home when daring to make up their own music on the spot.
- Most importantly, using sincerely created music to generate a universal soul connection, where all the world's people could tune into that spiritual space, where we see that we are all each others’ friends and neighbors, no matter what our differences may sometimes be.
When I would discuss these assorted career death wishes with my more adventurous elders, many of them would often tell me what they had learned from pursuing their own impossible goals.
What you do to pay your rent has no bearing on your value as an artist. In our society, what you deserve and what you get have nothing to do with one another. Therefore, follow your career death wishes to the max! Enjoy every minute while you are doing it, and share whatever blessings you acquire on the way with others.
And no matter how hard and hopeless and exhausting it may be to maintain your concentration on what you are trying to accomplish, always pay attention to what OTHERS are also dreaming of doing and encourage them to hang in there. There are enough greedy, narcissistic, abusive, disrespectful, megalomaniacs. That’s an overcrowded field and a non-growth industry, so it is better to take a different path.
It is an honor, 48 years after Leonard Bernstein chose me as the New York Philharmonic's first-ever composer in residence, to return again to the Lincoln Center and be at the New York Public Library of the Performing Arts to celebrate the Then and the Now with a new generation, in these three free events. And being in the company of all the great musicians who are performing my music for these events is more than anything I would ever have dared to dream would ever become a reality. I am grateful for these blessings and hope to share them with everyone who comes to visit the Library.