My photography has evolved from the hobby of documenting performance and travel into an exploration of identity. As a teacher at a high school, I encourage expression through brave considerations of selfhood, viewed through the prisms of economic, racial, and gender identity. In doing so, it occurs to me that the public school teacher, generally expected to present themselves conservatively, send a confusing message to young artists. My photography is a way for me to challenge my own idea of how I present my truth to the world, an uncomfortable but illustrative process.
I have found that staging “happenings” with teenagers is an extraordinary way to open students’ ears to new forms and concepts of sound. It is very freeing for the students to perform music by John Cage, Philip Glass, Steve Reich, Meredith Monk, Yoko Ono, etc. It inspires important discussions, and yields original works from students that are innovative and moving. A performance we stage annually, called Cage Match, is an opportunity to break free from the rigorous playing requirements of our classical productions and focus more on the equally rigorous demands of expression through sound.
Cage Match Manifesto
Cage Match is a community.
Cage Match is an attitude. It is not measurable beyond experience.
Cage Match is intermedia; the performers like to see what happens when different media intersect. They use found and everyday objects, sounds, images, and texts to create new combinations of objects, sounds, images, and texts.
Cage Match embraces thoughtful reduction. The art is small, the texts are short, and the performances are brief. Within these parameters there is purposeful vastness.
Cage match values both meticulous planning and indeterminacy (leaving things to chance), often both present in the same work.
Cage Match acknowledges that there is poetry in great publicity.
Cage Match is a door to self-exploration and self-actualization.
Cage match dispenses with the fear of judgment. A “just make stuff” attitude breeds quality as often as it does perceived failure.
Cage Match mixes the offensive and the loving.
Cage match believes that art does not harm the open soul.
Cage match seeks to overcome barriers that stand between us and our deepest creativity.
Cage match emboldens the hesitant artist.
I’m Your Venus was a production of many firsts for YNYC. It was our Brooklyn debut (Irondale Center), the debut of our Women’s Ensemble, and our first composer competition that emphasized women composers and poets.
Creation by Marco Brambilla As part of the New Museum Ideas City Festival, Nuit Blanche New York (NBNY) presented Marco Brambilla’s video installation Creation (3D) at the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral on May 3 from 10 p.m. until midnight. Accompanying this epic presentation, composer Christopher Cerrone created an immersive live score featuring performances by Guidonian Hand and Young New Yorkers’ Chorus. Additional visual elements by NBNY further integrated Brambilla’s piece within this extraordinary setting.
My collaborations with photographer Josh Koll are spontaneously staged, and result in visual narratives that express aspects of emergence, whether from an ocean or from the wreckage a burned home, we seek to explore the moment when an innocent confronts the world for the first time.
With our senses turned outward we learn that this is what life is; seeing what is there, discovering what is beautiful.
The Beginning of Curiosity
The most common response my students articulate when describing a performance tour is that “it changed them”. It is an audacious claim, and I would be bashful about it if didn’t know it to be true. I think it is worth sharing what that change looks like from the perspective of a seasoned educational traveler.
In the era of big testing, we are conditioned to accept assessments that demonstrate what students don’t know. We search for holes. We determine deficiencies after the learning is done. In the touring culture, experience is translated to knowledge in real time. Uncertainty becomes practical know-how. Assessment and learning are woven together in such a way that they are indistinguishable.
Turn and face the strange
Our attitudes and opinions are formed using information that we may know, but do not necessarily understand. In the touring situation, understanding occurs after every challenge. Experienced travelers expect to feel anxious and confused from time to time. We feel incapable when we are anxious and confused at home, and we worry that our young artists may be unable to deal with these feelings when they are far away. It is empowering to observe that the students’ strengths are equal to their vulnerabilities. On tour, the challenging moments are the gateway to tremendous personal achievements. Students who struggle with getting their act together in school are often the first to demonstrate their bravery on tour, and students who can take care of themselves in all situations delight in taking care of others. Their confidence is everyone’s confidence.
The power of performance
The students may have imperfect vocabularies to express themselves in foreign countries. This is where the true weight and value of art is realized. The performance tour will be the first time most of these young musicians perform on a stage that is not part of their community. The tour is where music transforms from something they do for school to something they do for life. Music is utilized as a conduit for understanding, with the accompanying benefits of beauty, empathy, and joy. The best thing is that there is no return to normal; music can’t reverse its impact on the students. The students will never again be ambivalent about music and art.
When we travel to countries less fortunate than our own, much of what we take for granted snaps into focus. Seeing hardship is essential for knowing the human condition, and humanity becomes our nation. Teenagers who are in the midst of finding their own identities do so in relation to the cultural norms and expectations around them. When traveling, they realize that those norms are fluid, and are closely related to how one experiences the bounties of life, wherever and whatever they are. Viewing the world in this way changes a student’s perspective and challenges his or her certainties. They learn that etiquette is nothing more than respect, and that respect efficiently compensates for the inadequacies of language. Intolerance caused by ignorance becomes intolerance for ignorance; an invaluable transformation for our future leaders.
The beginning of curiosity
Most importantly, the students learn that this is what life can be. A performance tour is not a vacation; it is hard work. But it is an opportunity to give a rest to our urgency. It is so tiring to always focus on ourselves. With our senses turned outward we learn that this is what life is; seeing what is there, discovering what is beautiful. What is the soundtrack of another person’s life? What are the soundtracks of our own lives? When we consider these questions, we learn what harmony is.
The best thing is that there is no return to normal; music can’t reverse its impact on the students.
Michael Kerschner is a choral educator who has organized and conducted tours to 8 different countries.