I began drafting this as I flew in the air between Boston and Chicago.
What a nice thought that is. This was written from neither here nor there. The air between Place One and Place Two is the locality in itself. To be in One, the Other, Both, Neither. What a nice thought.
We tend to deal, especially in discourse, in duality. But perhaps that’s not the way to go.
There is no “yin,” no “yang.” Just a conglomerate “yyianngg.” If black-and-white and white-and-black are fused, then what color are we left with? Gray?
This gray area is the area I occupy, in the air between one home and another, one residence and another, one affiliation, one identity, one tax code, and another. This is also the color and area I occupy as a discourse-eur in music. Gray, gray, gray. In the air and gray.
As the brilliant pianist Glenn Gould once said, “For every silver lining, there is a cloud.” There’s nothing wrong with clouds—they’re really quite wonderful things.
So, as we speak, I’m watching the identity of a cloud lose its form, its very nature. Even a cloud can grow further nebulous. Even the obscure obscures further still.
Am I nebulous to you? Every sentence felt sunny and crisp to write. So how is it I am not clear? Antoine de Saint-Exupéry says it well: “Le langage est source de malentendus.” (“Language is the source of misunderstanding.”) Misunderstanding starts with language, and I’m afraid it has begun.
So, here I am, in the air, in the midst of an ever-more-obscure, wet, rainy cloud, writing to you about Music and Place. What is the music in what I say? I am a musician, and that is the music in what I say. I write to you as a musician, in a musical way, and so music, music, music, is in what I say.
This is about Music and Place as much as Gray is about Black and White.
My personal history tells me Place is disappearing. I am half Irish and half Chinese. I speak neither Chinese nor Gaelic, and I have never been to Ireland or China. I must wonder: What makes me a part of a culture—the sound of my name, my lingual abilities, the shape of my eyes? All seem like convoluted tools of measurement. Yet they are the tools we use at the borders of our countries. They are the tools we use to grant or refuse residency or citizenship.
Same goes for our locally subsidized arts agencies. Grant eligibility requirements trace along those same cultural borders. For every gray cloud, there is a Black-and-White lining.
If I was offered Irish and Chinese citizenship today, I would not accept, not for personal reasons, but rather, out of disrespect for the nationalistic platform of the offer. What right do I have to Chinese or Irish government funds?
I have a friend who learned to play certain tuplets in Holland, and so he counts them in Dutch.
I learned harmony from a Russian teacher with a textbook in Russian.
I matured as a musician in the anomalous, bilingual city of Montréal.
I have been deeply moved by musicians from all over the world.
Perhaps the Irish and Chinese ought to subsidize my endeavors.
It seems there are two ways to negotiate our complex, diverse, and global web of music-making: Either jockey the heck out of everything, as if it is all free gain, or retreat to the rooted, familial plane, and herd with your local community.
A long while back, I wrote a post on my blog entitled “Light enough to be swayed, deep enough to be rooted.” These words take new meaning here. Locality, as a musician in the U.S., is exactly this. Like a pianist playing counterpoint, the opposites must be balanced—a harmonious inner locality must find resolution in oneself. I read once in a composer biography that one builds a home wherever one may happen to be, not in the place, but in the music itself. (I can’t remember from which composer’s biography I read it—does its location really matter?); I couldn’t agree more with the sentiment. I float around my own atmosphere—my home in music—neither here nor there, from neither here nor there, in a colorful, gray cloud that finds form, loses it, finds form, loses it…
Andy Costello is a concert pianist, composer, writer of words, and reciter of texts. He was a visiting artist with the Boston Conservatory for 2013-2014, and is the founding pianist and director of the newly formed Morton Feldman Chamber Players. Costello frequently performs in Montreal, Chicago, New York, and Boston. He currently lives in Chicago, working as a freelance accompanist and piano teacher.