Open Studios Shows Artists are Scientific Too

Open Studios Shows Artists are Scientific Too

OP-ED

Open Studios Shows Artists are Scientific Too

Yasmeen Tajiddin

November 2019

Nobody says she was born a chemist, but somehow, if you’re an artist or a singer, people assume you were born with that talent. 

Going into my Playwriting class, I thought it was a class where I would be comfortable. I took Intro to Creative Writing last semester and wrote a couple of scripts for an acting class. How hard could it be?

The answer? Really, really hard. Every week we talked about another aspect of playwriting that I had not considered the week before. What are the characters’ relationship to the setting? What is the visual language of your play? What is each character’s personal ideology and how do they clash? And my personal nightmare: what does your character sound like?

Apparently, everyone can’t speak like me, so I had to think more actively about how people speak. Every YouTube hair tutorial became a lesson in the use of “like.” Every idiom I unconsciously use on a daily basis became an important choice in my writing. Eavesdropping became research in the ways people speak. All these moving pieces had to boil down to seven to ten pages every week, each script better (I hoped) than the last.

            Vocal Ensemble, on the other hand, was something I knew I would be terrible at. My only experience with reading music was playing cello in the 5th grade, and I have to concentrate embarrassingly hard to hit all the notes in “Happy Birthday.” There was a lot of room for improvement.

Eavesdropping became research in the ways people speak.

On one of the first days of class, the professor stressed that we needed to do vocal warm-ups every day. Similar to my experience in Playwriting, I found there were so many more elements that go into choral performance than just hitting the notes. While it isn’t the common understanding, people who can sing well study. Rather than a thing you’re simply good or bad at, a singing voice can be developed by regularly “exercising” it. Sure, someone can be born with a good singing voice, but if she doesn’t know how to shape her mouth for certain vowel sounds, or how to control her breath for higher or longer notes, or where to place a note for the best resonance, she won’t be nearly as good as she can be. I, like most people, did not know all these elements went into singing, let alone what they meant. The reality is, every piece of music is dissected and analyzed before it is fit to be performed in front of an audience. 

We don’t often think of artists as scientific or meticulous in terms of their processes. But when an audience hears a polished choral performance or a scene from a play, they are actually hearing the hours of work that went into each performance. The recent Open Studios event helps demonstrate that fact: for our thirty-minute Open Studios singing performance, for example, we spent an hour and a half each week of the semester learning and refining the same four songs. By the time we performed, I felt like I was taking a test I’d studied for extensively. It felt like a relief to put our final product in front of an audience and hear positive reactions; simultaneously, performing reminded me of sections that I still needed to work on.

Photo Credit: NYUAD Arts & Humanities

 

Like STEM, writing and singing demand extensive research, studying, and practice. A very small portion of artistic skills are innate. So while I did think I was a good writer who could improve, I now know how and what to improve on. And while I’m not the best singer, I know that I can get better and sing something harder than “Happy Birthday.”

Yasmeen Tajiddin is a creative writing student with a minor in Arabic at NYU Abu Dhabi.
FURTHER READING
LITERATURE AND
CREATIVE WRITING
LITERATURE AND
CREATIVE WRITING

The Boss Protocol

The Boss Protocol

MUSIC

The Boss Protocol

Goffredo Puccetti

December 2018

Francesca looked surprised. 
I had to explain:
— Look, we are going out this weekend so the apartment is empty, right? And this friend of mine is coming to Paris on his Moto Guzzi and he needs accommodation so I told him he could stay at our place.
— Ok, then, but who is he again?
— Massimo, I met him at the Moto Guzzi gathering at the Stelvio in July.
— Do you know him well? Is he someone we can trust, a nice person, I mean?
— Of course I know him well, very well! 
And then I think I paused for a while, as I realized that I barely knew Massimo.

I knew he had a Moto Guzzi. Good. A Moto Guzzi California. That’s very good.

But I suddenly realized that I only met him for a couple of hours in a bar full of motorcyclists, and that was months ago.

Still, here I was, ready to give him the keys of my apartment.

Why was I so sure I could trust him? Well, I think it was because of Springsteen.

Bruce Springsteen in concert.

Photo credit: Goffredo Puccetti.

That was the main topic of my one and only conversation with Massimo. He loved rock (good), he loved Led Zeppelin (excellent) and he loved Bruce Springsteen (perfect). Now, I am not saying that it is a particularly intelligent thing to do, to let people in your house just on the basis of their musical tastes, but that is more or less what I did. And, when Springsteen is in the mix, that’s almost an infallible recipe for trust.

I am confident that there must be a considerable number of Springsteen fans who are actually very bad people (especially among those who praise Working on a Dream, never listened to Darkness on the Edge of Town, and refuse to admit that Devils & Dust is a pain in the neck), but I am still impressed by the number of long-lasting friendships that were sealed in my life because of a smile or a nod to some music in the background.

That’s what Springsteen means to me nowadays: it’s a test.

Again, most definitely not scientifically sound, arguably quite idiotic, but this “Boss Protocol” is something that I keep using from time to time. Kind of a compatibility test, you see: imagine we are at a party, and I’ll propose a toast to “‘tramps like us,” and you’ll see me scanning the room for the segue: “baby, we were born to run.”’

That’s what Springsteen means to me nowadays: it’s a test. I know beautiful people who put pineapple on their pizza and lovely human beings who happen to disagree with me on which one is the best TV series of all time (Fawlty Towers, obviously). Someone who is very dear to me never liked Frasier. Some of my best friends ride BMWs, and I’ll even add that I have excellent relations even with people who prefer Starbucks to Italian espresso. But the circle of friends to whom I relate when we discuss San Siro 1985 (Can you? Can you? Massimo was there, you see?) or what Nils did to the guitar part in “Youngstown” on the Reunion Tour …  well, that’s a more restricted club. You see, it’s not all the time, it’s not with everybody that I ask myself: Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true, or is it something worse?

Trailer for Springsteen on Broadway film.

Source: Netflix.

Time to end these notes. My dear reader, in case you have not been lucky enough to be a Springsteen fan, here my heartfelt and very Googleable wish for you:

Maybe you’ll be out there on that road somewhere
In some bus or train traveling along
In some motel room there’ll be a radio playing
And you’ll hear me sing this song.
Well, if you do, you’ll know I’m thinking of you and all the miles in-between
And I’m just calling one last time not to change your mind,
But just to say, I miss you baby, good luck, good-bye, Bobby Jean.

Goffredo Puccetti is Assistant Professor of the Practice of Visual Arts at NYU Abu Dhabi.

Springsteen on Broadway, shot during the singer’s sold-out run in New York, airs on Netflix starting December 16.

FURTHER READING

LITERATURE AND
CREATIVE WRITING

ARTND ART HISTORY

Electra Street Playlist No. 7

Electra Street Playlist No. 7

ELECTRA STREET PLAYLISTS

No. 7

November 2015

“I Danmark er jeg født,” written by H.C. Andersen, performed by Isam Bachiri

Many Danes will cite H.C. Andersen’s 1850 song as the quintessentially Danish song, but when Danish-Palestinian singer Isam Bachiri sang a cover of “I Danmark er jeg født” (I Was Born in Denmark) for a 2007 tourism campaign, the song took on another dimension: It became a statement about what it means to belong and an anthem of pluralism: It is possible to be Danish at heart whether or not you were born somewhere else, have foreign roots, or in my case live abroad.

“Jeg ved en lærkerede,” written by Carl Nielsen, performed by Kim Larsen

The soundtrack to my childhood, “Jeg ved en lærkerede” (I Know Where There is a Lark’s Nest) brings back memories from morning assembly at my primary and middle schools. Morgensang (morning song) is a tradition still practiced in many Danish schools, where the pupils assemble before the start of the their classes to sing in the day. I loathed it when I was younger, as did my peers (it was ‘uncool’ to sing along), but now, I realize how many of my primary and middle school memories are tied to those morning songs.

“Om Lidt,” written and performed by Kim Larsen

If ”Jeg ved en lærkerede” was the soundtrack to my middle school years, “Om Lidt” (In a Moment) was the anthem to the end of my middle school years. Appearing on Larsen’s aptly named albumForklædt som voksen (Disguised as an Adult), “Om Lidt” captures the angst of realising that an era is coming to an end. I remember listening to this song on my brick of a computer, tears in my eyes, when I got home after the last day of middle school and felt as if my world had ended that morning when I said goodbye to my friends, to my world as I knew it back then. I still listen to it at the end of every semester.

“Ik Neem Je Mee,” written and performed by Gers Pardoel

I arrived at a boarding school in Maastricht at the height of this song’s popularity; the local radio played “Ik Neem Je Mee” (I’ll Take You With Me) at least twice per day. I did not speak a word of Dutch, but like my peers, I could at least mouth along to the chorus. “Ik Neem Je Mee” is hardly a musical masterpiece, but the memories I associate with it – screaming “ik neem je me-e-e-e-eee!” as we rushed through breakfast at 7:30 AM before pedalling to school on a bicycle with two flat tires to take our mock exams – make it the soundtrack to two of the happiest years of my life.

“Barbie Girl,” written and performed by Aqua

I loathe “Barbie Girl” as strongly as I imagine Spanish people loathe the Macarena and Brazilians loathe “Ai Se Eu Te Pego”, but “Barbie Girl” is so closely associated with Danish music I have come to associate it with home, much to my chagrin. When I hear it now, I keep my feelings to myself and nod along when someone tells me with subdued laughter that I should be proud of this late-90s Technicolor kitsch masterpiece.

Danmark, nu blunder den lyse nat,” written by Oluf Ring, performed by Kammerkoret Musica

Since leaving Denmark for Maastricht four years ago, I have only been home over the winter and summer breaks. Therefore, the Sankt Hansaften (St. John’s Eve) celebration on summer solstice has taken on extra significance for me, to the point where I refuse to leave the country in late June. When my family and I sing “Danmark, nu blunder den lyse nat” (Denmark, the Light Night is Fading Now) around the Sankt Hansaften pyre, we may not sound as melodious as the choir in this recording, but the occasion is just as solemn and beautiful as this song.

“Under stjernerne på himlen,” written by Tommy Seebach, performed by Rasmus Seebach

You can find higher-quality recordings of “Under stjernerne på himlen” (Under the Stars in the Sky) on YouTube, but this live version was filmed in my hometown in 2012, when Seebach, then the biggest name on the Danish music scene, came to Kolding. “Under stjernerne på himlen” was the last song he sang that night and arguably the most moving one. A cover of his father’s original, Rasmus Seebach dedicated this song to his father’s memory – a beautiful gesture, since his Tommy Seebach’s original recording of the song never charted well, while his son’s cover peaked at number one on the Danish charts.

“En lærke letted,” written and performed by Mads Nielsen

Like “Jeg ved en lærkerede,” “En lærke letted” is a song about a lark, but Nielsen’s lark is a metaphorical one: Written after the Danish liberation on May 4th 1945, the song marked the end of five long years of German occupation. Beyond its political significance, “En lærke letted” is a beautiful song about communities and the moments and feelings that bind us together – aptly, because Nielsen intended for the song to be sung out loud. While nationalist groups have abused “En lærke letted” by claiming it as a statement on racial purity and radical difference, “En lærke letted” is about love of one’s community and peers more than it is about love of country. Most of all, it is a song of and about beauty.

“Bibo No Aozora/04,” written and performed by Ryuichi Sakamoto and Jaques Morelenbaum

Not a song about my home, but a song from a movie that makes me feel at home. “Bibo No Aozora/04” accompanies the final scene of Alejandro Iñárritu’s Babel, and whenever I hear the song, I see the Tokyo skyline and the beautiful scene that ends Iñárritu’s film. Beyond its function in the movie, I have embraced “Bibo No Aozora/04” and given it a function in my own life: Whenever I arrive in a new city or country for the first time, I listen to this song as I land and feel a unique sense of calm that prepares me for the experiences to come.

“Green Eyes,” written and performed by Coldplay

Though I now recognise it as the best song Coldplay has written, “Green Eyes” was not my favourite song when I first heard it. When I listened to A Rush of Blood to the Head, on which album “Green Eyes” appears, I would skip the song. It took falling in love with someone who considered “Green Eyes” not just the best song on that album, but also the best song of the millennium, before I gave it a second chance. As I listened closer to the lyrics, I heard how wrong I had been to skip the song and put it on repeat instead. We called it ‘our song’, and to this day, it retains that special place in my life.

FURTHER LISTENING

PLAYLIST

No.6
Justin Stearns

PLAYLIST

No. 5
Ken Nielsen

PLAYLIST

No. 4
Grega Ulen

Electra Street Playlist No. 6

Electra Street Playlist No. 6

ELECTRA STREET PLAYLISTS

No. 6

November 2015

FIVE SONGS FROM A SHIFTING SENSE OF HOME

The Grateful Dead, “Uncle John’s Band”

My parents met on a blind date at a Grateful Dead concert; I listened to the Dead a lot growing up.

The Band, “Daniel and the Sacred Harp”

I spent many hours as a teenager trying to figure out the lyrics to this one.

Silvio Rodriguez, “La maza”

As a seventeen year old I spent a year as an exchange student in Ecuador — a different home — and discovered another world of music, Silvio Rodriguez was a gift.

Die Toten Hosen, “Hier kommt Alex”

This is what happens when you’re in high school in Switzerland and you experiment with listening to German rock/punk.

Nass al-Ghiwane, “Fine Ghadi biya Khoya”

Over the years Morocco became another home to me —  this band from the 60s is often compared by Moroccans to be in stature like the Beatles in Europe.

Justin Stearns is Associate Professor of Arab Crossroads Studies at NYU Abu Dhabi.

FURTHER LISTENING

PLAYLIST

No.7
Nikolaj Nielsen

PLAYLIST

No. 5
Ken Nielsen

PLAYLIST

No. 4
Grega Ulen

Electra Street Playlist No. 5

Electra Street Playlist No. 5

ELECTRA STREET PLAYLISTS

No. 5

November 2015

My earliest connection between home and music are songs like “Jeg er Zigeuner [I’m a Gypsy].” My mother’s family of the traveling people identified with these songs in their combination of schlagerand Weltschmertz. I still know this song by heart.

Soon, though, my tastes changed, and the dream of fleeing home became stronger than the desire to stay. Connected. Savage Rose’s “Wild Child” helped me do that.

“Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” by Eurythmics has a special sense of home for me. I was 18, had just moved to Lithuania, fallen in love with an American, and Eurythmics on repeat was the soundtrack to that year of displacement and love.

“Sweet Dreams” was my way into that relationship. “Thorn in My Side” was my way out.  But, after all, I got what I deserved …

Some Other Songs

Marianne Faithfull’s “Vagabond Ways.” Because I know, somewhere, maybe, that my roaming ways are more than a fear of home.

Could also be combined with her cover of Lennon’s “Working Class Hero,” because I’m still not quite sure that up there on the hill is home to me.

Monica Zetterlund and Bill Evans: “Some Other Time.”  Because when home is everywhere and, maybe, nowhere—“some other time” becomes a way of living. And just because Zetterlund was a fantastic jazz singer.  When I’m homesick for a by now imagined Scandinavia, Zetterlund’s album with Bill Evans, Waltz for Debby, is on repeat.  Remember, folks: time is racing.

And, finally, Janis Ian’s “Lover’s Lullaby” because the “The moon was made for wakeful boys /to keep the night away” and because sleep in so many ways is where we might be most at home.

Ken Nielsen is Senior Lecturer and Associate Director for the Writing Center at NYUAD.

FURTHER LISTENING

PLAYLIST

No.7
Nikolaj Nielsen

PLAYLIST

No. 6
Justin Stearns

PLAYLIST

No. 4
Grega Ulen

Electra Street Playlist No. 4

Electra Street Playlist No. 4

Lollobrigida_performs_at_Weekend_Media_Festival_2009

“Home” for me evokes a certain consciousness that dates from before my move to Abu Dhabi. Leaving home meant leaving behind not only my family’s house and my hometown, but also, in a way, my mother tongue. Therefore, I have selected Slovenian music, or songs by musicians and bands at least partially Slovenian—both “evergreens” (as we call the legendary classics) that I grew up with, and contemporary tunes by my friends and musicians who I have great respect for and whose concerts and performances have punctuated my youth. The songs take me back to the memory of home they helped shape—my formative years in Ljubljana as it was then, filled with family and friends.

1. Marjana Deržaj: Poletna noč

2. Elda Viler: Lastovka

3. Svetlana Makarovič: Bifejska rastlina

4. Melodrom: Preden grem naprej

5. Lollobrigida: Stroboskop

6. Vlado Kreslin & Severa Gjurin: Abel in Kajn

7. N’Toko: Slovenec sem

8. NAPRAVI MI DETE: Gorska

9. New Wave Syria: Let It Out

10. RondNoir: Monsun

 


Grega Ulen is a member of the NYUAD class of 2017.

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