I’m writing this on Thursday, December 10, 2020, as this terrible year slowly begins to wind down. Like many of you, we here at CMC BC have been so busy responding to the urgent crisis that overtook us all at the beginning of the year that it is perhaps only now that we may catch our breath and reflect on the road since traveled. With the advent of the Holidays we hope, like you, to find time for rest and repose and repast that will aid both that reflection and renewal.
It was Heraclitus who observed with such brilliant insight into the nature of reality that change itself is the only constant. And that kind of change, the kind we’re used to — the gradual but continuous evolution of the world — its modernization, for lack of a better term, is one thing. But sudden, disastrous, calamitous change? That is another beast to ride altogether. That kind of change is epic. Epochal in nature. We are witnessing history itself. The end of an era, along with the concomitant dissolution of certainties we have all long held dear.
And while we can see the glimmer of hope, faint but beginning to glow in that far-off new dawn sky, it is, as the Marxist philosopher and revolutionary Antonio Gramsci observed, precisely at these historic moments of inflection when “the new is not yet born, and the old is not yet dead, and in the interregnum, that a variety of morbid symptoms begin to appear.
Which is where we found ourselves in this terrible year. A year in which the bills for decades of neglect have come due. COVID has ravaged not just our families and friends and fellow Canadians but indeed the world, targeting the weakest and most marginalized and vulnerable among us.
I should hasten to note that I write this from the comfort of my living room, where I am so grateful for and very aware of the privilege afforded me of working from home, while others must work on the front lines to make my life possible. These and other forms of inequity in our society have been exposed and laid bare for all to see.
The blinders have been torn from our eyes when it comes to the horror of the Residential Schools, a euphemism for nothing less than organized cultural and racial genocide. We have learned from our friends in the Black Lives Matter movement how far we are here in Canada from any notion we once held about our moral superiority to the U.S. The reality of systemic racism throughout our own history and thriving in our present rebukes us.
Corporate destruction of the life systems and the planet that sustains them, our very own Garden of Eden, continues unabated. Connected to this, there is a disgraceful level of extreme poverty and addiction which people find discomfiting when confronted with their visible results on the streets of our cities, and yet not so discomfited we have been willing to tackle the root causes and the rampant money-laundering of billions of dollars through our systems each year that allow it to continue.
COVID has exposed it all, because in the face of this epidemic we are all vulnerable. Not equally vulnerable, but as close to it as we’ve ever come. There is no safety even for the wealthiest and most privileged among us.
So where is the hope in this Jeremiahan screed? The hope lies with Heraclitus and the fact that change is constant. The current situation, dreadful as it is, is transient. And hope lies with an insight offered by former city councillor Gordon Price, who once remarked that resistance to change increases exponentially in reverse proportion to the degree of change. For it is precisely during these times when epochal tectonic plates of the past and the future crash up against one another that change, fast change all at once, is uniquely possible. The kind of change that’s needed to right so many historic wrongs.
Here at home we are promised a new societal compact, that seeks to drastically reduce inequality and address systemic racism alongside the toxic legacy of our colonial history and its tragic burden on First Nations and their people, whose traditions of environmental stewardship for the land, equitable sharing of resources, and centrality of culture, are now so badly needed. (Even down to our south we see the potential for renaissance, a renewal of purpose and decency and a willingness to embrace that better future, however frail that awakening might be.)
So where does this leave the Canadian Music Centre in BC? With hope. We have learned this year not just of the awful. We have also learned about how much we love and depend on and need each other. We have been reminded many times of the innate kindness and generosity and goodness of people here at home and around the globe.
We have learned how critical the relationship with audience is to all creators and artists of all kinds. A relationship which has been so monetized and corporatized as to leave us completely blind to its true, innate, and critical value -— which is a relationship based on love. Love of art form. Love of performance itself. Love of shared emotional and physical and intellectual experience.
When New York City Opera closed its doors for the very last time, this is what Verlyn Klinkenborg wrote in The New York Times:
“What’s been lost? For one thing, the audience, soon to become a memory, like City Opera itself. What keeps a cultural legacy like City Opera alive isn’t the archives or the recordings or the institutional history. It’s the audience members milling about in what used to be the New York State Theater, waiting to take their seats, living in anticipation of spending more nights like the ones they’ve already spent watching City Opera performances. The audience is continuous from season to season, not the productions. And now that audience — the one that gathered for the things City Opera did so well — has been disbanded.”
It is my hope we can all together rediscover that joy in a relationship not commoditized but rather prized for its emotional meaning and content. And it is my hope that the arts, in addition to rediscovering the true meaning and value of their audience, can also discover renewed purpose in helping lead the charge towards that better, brighter, more brilliant future. As the recently deceased civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis stated unequivocally: “Without the Arts, without music, without dance, without drama, without photography, the civil rights movement would have been like a bird without wings.”
So let’s seize the opportunity this season of so many different and vibrant festivals of light offers, to reflect on the year we’ve all survived together, and renew ourselves so that we can emerge in the new year that now beckons (blissfully replete with promise thanks to the vaccine already being distributed) and strive to become those wings of a more just, equitable, inclusive, and vibrant future. “The great danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it,” Michelangelo reminds us, “but that our aim is too low and we reach it.”
Thank you for all of the support and kindness and generosity you have shown the Canadian Music Centre this past year. Thank you for your kind words and messages encouraging us to go on. Thank you for being there for us when we’ve needed you most.
We look forward with hope to being together with you all again, in real time, in the same space, sharing the same exquisite and transformative experiences and laughing and sighing and crying and exclaiming with joy in those revelatory new performances and experiences to come.
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