For Good Measure, by Ensemble for These Times (E4TT)
Episode 10: Gabriela Lena Frank (part 2)
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In this week’s episode, we talk to Gabriela Lena Frank about what keeps her up at night, being both an environmentalist and composer, and her “Composing Earth” project. If you enjoyed today’s conversation and want to know more about Gabriela Lena Frank, visit https://www.glfcam.com/people/gabriela . Parts of this episode originally premiered on Jun 21, 2021, found on Youtube, click here.
This podcast is made possible in part by a grant from the California Arts Council and generous donors, like you. Want to support For Good Measure and E4TT? Make a tax-deductible donation or sign up for our newsletter, and subscribe to the podcast!
Intro music: “Trifolium” by Gabriela Ortiz, performed by E4TT (Ilana Blumberg, violin; Abigail Monroe, cello; Margaret Halbig, piano), as part of “Below the Surface: Music by Women Composers,” January 29, 2022
Outro music: “Lake Turkana” by Marcus Norris, performed by E4TT (Margaret Halbig, piano), as part of “Alchemy,” October 15, 2021
Transcription courtesy of Otter.ai.
Producer, Host, and E4TT co-founder: Nanette McGuinness
Audio Engineer: Stephanie M. Neumann
Podcast Cover Art: Brennan Stokes
Interns: Roziht Edwards and Merve Tokar
[INTRO MUSIC] Welcome to For Good Measure, an interview series celebrating diverse composers and other creative artists sponsored by a grant from the California Arts Council. I'm Nanette McGuinness, artistic executive director of Ensemble For These Times. In this week's episode, we continue our conversation with Gabriela Lena Frank, who we spoke to in June 2021. [INTRO MUSIC END] You speak passionately about the environment, what do you think that artists role is in using their voice for change? What keeps you awake at night right now?Gabriela Lena Frank:
Well, what keeps me awake at night right now is the threat of a really bad fire season. And California is drier than ever than before. We didn't have a really wet winter. And my husband and I have been working feverishly over a number of years to protect our property. So have spent most of the money that I make as a as a composer, hardening the property as they say, which is thinning out the forest. And we put a new stucco exterior on the main house to make it resistant, it fires to come to our door. And we have many tanks, a watered all over we just put in a big pond and it's endless. And I've learned how to chip dead branches and wood and in use a string Trimotor. I mean, it's just, it just ongoing. You pick up skills as you need to when you finish the cornerstone on what the car prescribed fire burns, and we're out of prescribed fire burn season now, but this is intentional fires what the Native Americans used to do, and it keeps the forests healthy. But it also makes it more difficult for fire to become truly destructive. So we are constantly in planning mode. And this is what keeps us up at night. As far as the role of the artist in being piloted a conversation about climate change. We're, we're very good at performing and telling these stories. And of course, we can do that more we can commission work that are about the climate crisis and try to get away from I think a couple of generation of works that were very well intentioned, but perhaps not taken seriously. If you write another symphony that sounds like the rainforests, it's almost a cliche that you're going to hear the chirping of insects and the rustling of the wind and the dewdrop dance, you know, it's just so people roll their eyes, and they don't take it seriously. And I think it takes time, just as it takes time to become an environmentalist. And to really accept that we have all played a role in our lifestyle choices in getting to this dangerous place. takes time to find your angle and about how you're going to tell your stories. I started a project at the Academy called composing Earth, which is one of our commissioning projects. That's a two year commitment on the part of our alums that choose to join it. We just started it this year, the whole first year, my alums meet once a month. And there are a sign books about the climate crisis and articles, documentaries that we watch, and it's kind of like a book club. And the group of pen composers and I and a couple of my staff people we meet and we just talk, and each week, a composer on Wednesday. So we get when today sends out a little letter or a little update about what they've been doing what have they been reading something they think will be interesting to the rest of the group. And I encouraged them to read, clarify, which is climate fiction, from our colleagues in the area of literature about how they are often using a dystopian but sometimes a utopian model for where we can go. So this way, they have a whole year gestation to find the angle in and one of my composers is going to write about the fact that she comes from a mining generate a mining lineage in in her family and she's going to wait about the miners and another composer who's Iranian is going to pull on nine century Persian techstep predicted the climate crisis. I mean, it's pretty amazing how much knowledge we already have and how much life experience we already have that pertinent and I think this is what's going to be compelling and moving for an audience. The other part, of course of the coin is our lifestyle. And I would even say that at this early point, this is the most important part to focus on, which is the day of the jet setting. Artists has to end that has to be over and I say that somebody that got on a plane a lot. I don't like flying but I did it and And we have to look at other models for being in this is where people feel like a deer in the headlights, once you start thinking about not being able to travel for your gigs, people start thinking through to the solution. And it's understandable, it seems completely insurmountable to have a career without being able to fly everywhere. But there is no music on a dead planet. And that is there is an organization by that name. And so we want to model at the Academy different ways in which the carbon footprint could be much more minimal than it is now and yet go deeper in our music making and making connections with within the musical community but the non musical community as well.Nanette McGuinness:
You sparked a number of thoughts for me that I wanted to mention, in terms of clarify climate fiction. I'm a speculative sci fi fantasy reader from age 12 on a friend of my parents gave us a stack of analog magazines. I don't know if you know that. It's science fiction. And I read it for years. But the speculative fiction world has been predicting this issue for decades. It's not a big surprise. It's really a situation of Palooza, Schorsch. And the only thing that's good is that people are finally paying some attention. Have you thought about sharing any of the material with the general public?Gabriela Lena Frank:
I think our attitude was actually just get it out there. We give the syllabus to anybody that wants to look at it. And it's it's just a small one. You know, it was designed by our in house scientists who's also working with us on this. That's an interesting idea. We do have a climate class that we're leading in June that's open for the larger public has a weekend virtual retreat. And my tank of voters will be special guests. At the end, don't they'll be there for the whole weekend. But they will be talking about what it's like to go through this grief to go through the fears that they have, because we do talk about that as well. So that's, that's our most public offering at this time with that, but this is only your one for us. And who knows what, what shape it will take in year two and year three, according to what our in house scientist says and some others that I've talked with, we have all the technology that we need today, to go green, all the technology, we have all the money, we have everything, we have all the knowledge that we need, we just don't have the will to change, we don't have enough will. And that is also we sometimes pointed fingers at the corporate organizations, the corporations that are polluting, and making it very difficult to make the lifestyle changes, but the artists have to have to make the change to we can't do it alone. It's really hard for an emerging composer to go to a presenter and say, I don't want to be present for my premiere. They're trying to get their career going. And it's hard for them to say, Can I stay home? Can we work virtually? Can I get readings with the work in progress? Or can you pay more money for me to travel by Amtrak and get a sleeper cabins, I could travel for two or three days to get to the premiere and come home. And even with the rising prices of flights right now as the pandemic is beginning to ease up, train travel and comfort is quite expensive. So it's a little easier for somebody that has a higher profile professionally to ask for these things. And even then it's really not guaranteed. But it is very frightening and very hard for an emerging artist to do. So presenters need to be part of this conversation. It's it's in this model of all of us being part of the conversation is necessary when you look at professors, they're supposed to fly internationally present papers, instead of doing it virtually. But they need to present those papers in person, because it looks better for their tenure profile. So the university, the larger entity needs to be part of this conversation. It can't just be individual actions. So it's going to take a lot, it's going to take a lot and unfortunately I'm of the view that we'll have to suffer a bit more, unfortunately. And in the meantime, try and weather through more fire disasters, more floods, more directional wind storms, more pandemics, which is a sign of environmental crisis before people will really realize, you know, gosh, we're losing lives and livelihoods and many billions of dollars and it would be better for us to change direction. And we'll see when we get there.Nanette McGuinness:
Yeah, it seems that especially with COVID, which we all could see coming and all the environmental disasters that Mother Earth is rising up to protect herself. And we had better pay attention if we want to have something left for the future, that these things are kind of a wake up call for humanity that we are in the wrong mode and that we have to pay attention. [OUTRO MUSIC] Thank you for listening to For Good Measure. And a special thank you to our guests Gabriela Lena Frank for joining us today. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe to our podcast by clicking on the subscribe button and support us by sharing it with your friends, posting about it on social media and leaving us a rating and a review. To learn more about E4TT Our concert season online and in the Bay Area, where to make a tax deductible donation, please visit us at www.E4TT.org. This podcast is made possible in part by a grant from the California Arts Council and generous donors like you. For Good Measures produced by Nanette McGuinness and Ensemble For These Times and designed by Brennan Stokes, with special thanks to audio engineer extraordinaire Stephanie Neumann. Remember to keep supporting equity in the arts and tune in next week "for good measure." [OUTRO MUSIC END]