Open Studio with Jared Bowen

S9 E35 | FULL EPISODE

Frontline Songs, Beethoven in Beijing, and more

Healthcare workers team up with a country music songwriter to create music based on their experiences during COVID-19 in "Frontline Songs." A new documentary, "Beethoven in Beijing," airing this weekend on PBS's Greater Performances, about the history of how classical music is beloved in China yet struggles in the United States, and another look at "Hype Man," a play at the A.R.T.

AIRED: April 16, 2021 | 0:26:47
ABOUT THE PROGRAM
TRANSCRIPT

>> BOWEN: It looked a lot like therapy.

>> Yeah. >> BOWEN: Was it therapy?

>> Yeah, it became therapy.

>> BOWEN: I'm Jared Bowen, coming up onOpen Studio:

we'll go inside a songwriting session where,

for frontline workers, music is medicine.

>> My goal with you today is kind of get what's going on

and find a common thread that you all share.

>> BOWEN: Then how Beethoven helped U.S. diplomatic relations

with China thaw.

>> Suddenly there's an orchestra from America

playing beautiful music.

It was so shocking for us

to hear this live sound that transfixed us.

>> BOWEN: AndHype Man--

a play about race that only grows timelier.

>> ♪ I came up dirty, they don't want me to shine ♪

A hype man, it's the energy.

Like it's the tour guide for the song, or for the culture,

or for the experience.

So you help people and you lead them in,

you tell them when to chant,

when to feel free to dance, and move.

It's a celebration of the music.

It's a celebration of life.

It's a celebration of, like, the situation.

>> BOWEN: It's all now onOpen Studio.

>> BOWEN: First up, for well over a year now,

healthcare workers have been battling through wave after wave

of pandemic surges.

But, with vaccinations underway,

they can begin to process the year that was.

And for small groups around the country,

they're doing it through song

by teaming up with some of Nashville's

most esteemed writers.

>> It was a tough year.

>> BOWEN: This is a moment

to heal the healers.

Five members of the Emergency Department

at Boston's Brigham and Women's hospital

gather on Zoom to write a song.

>> And what my goal with you today is... to do is to

just kind of get what's going on

and find a common thread that you all share.

>> It was really heartbreaking too.

>> BOWEN: In a two-hour session, they'll revisit

what they ultimately describe as the darkest, most uncertain

year of their lives.

>> It just keeps going.

>> BOWEN: Contending with the virus that ripped

through their E.R.

Walking them back through it

is Nashville-based singer-songwriter Mary Gauthier.

>> What's it been been like?

And... and, um, just kind of throw some...

some words out or experiences out.

>> It was a year of a lot of dualities.

It's like, you know, we were close,

but we were supposed to be alone.

>> Fear.

I had a lot of fear.

I remember walking up the hill some days and think,

you know, "Give me the courage to get through this day."

>> I think a lot of us are, in some ways, kind of sad

by the fact that it may not ever go back to normal.

>> Now that is a great place to start.

I really resonate with "will it ever be normal again?"

>> BOWEN: In short order, it pours out--

the memories, the feelings, the pain.

>> Basically, my job as a songwriter is to tap into

what they're feeling, individually and collectively,

and put that into a song.

>> ♪ Burned out, scared, I couldn't slow down ♪

>> BOWEN: The effort is called Frontline Songs,

and since September, has been happening across the country,

as small groups of first responders

and healthcare workers process the pandemic in music.

>> So the process is really

therapeutic in the sense that people are coming together

as a group.

>> BOWEN: A physician specializing in trauma,

Dr. Ron Hirschberg is one of the co-founders of Frontline Songs.

>> We find that when

someone's words are reflected back to them,

and there's that validation

through a song can be powerful.

>> I always say that songs are what feelings sound like.

>> BOWEN: After decades of recovery, songwriting,

and nine studio records, Mary Gauthier is a living testament

to the power of music.

When we're dealing in trauma we can feel very removed.

>> BOWEN: Well, what is it

that music can do to help on that front?

>> Melody is so powerful, I think it comes...

into our ears and then radiates through our heart and soul.

I think it's a matter of feeling seen.

>> BOWEN: Back in the songwriting session,

the memories continue, and begin to coalesce.

>> We all experience the hero aspect of it in the beginning,

but then after a certain number of months when everyone

got used to it, we then became, like,

people who were exposed to it all the time.

And so you wanted to change your scrubs just so that you

if you left the hospital people wouldn't look at you and say,

like "Oh, are you carrying it or do you have it on you?"

>> So let me see.

"They called us heroes,

"we were looked up to and revered,

"and then we were looked at as contaminated,

removed and feared."

>> BOWEN: It looked a lot like therapy. >> Yeah.

>> BOWEN: Was it therapy? >> Yeah, it became therapy.

>> BOWEN: We spoke with chief resident

Dr. DaMarcus Baymon after the songwriting session.

A sometime songwriter himself,

he says the process was a revelation.

>> But then to really step back, and say, "Oh, my gosh,

"I didn't know you experienced that,

like I experienced something similar."

And connecting to that just made me really appreciate

how hard it is to wake up every day,

be a great human, and be a great colleague,

but then also have your own, you know, personal experiences.

(strumming guitar)

>> BOWEN: That is a refrain Gauthier has heard before.

She collaborated with war veterans for her 2018

Grammy-nominated album Rifles and Rosary Beads--

stemming from the similarly minded program,

Songwriting with Soldiers.

>> ♪ Morphine dreams

>> BOWEN: How did that begin to shape

your approach to this

and what you really gleaned from that?

>> I think learning how, how to listen,

learning how to not insert myself in the story,

I have no more experience as a soldier than I do

as an emergency room doctor.

>> BOWEN: Does it ever become hard for you to have to

ask these questions?

>> There's a line.

I can tell, um... by feeling it out,

where to go and where, where to be really careful.

>> BOWEN: 45 minutes into the session,

Gauthier grabs her guitar.

She thinks she has enough of the lyrics to introduce a melody.

>> ♪ We were looked at as contaminated ♪

♪ Removed and feared

No, I don't like that.

I don't want, like, too earnest.

I'm going to try something else.

(strumming guitar)

I kind of like the strummy,

going at it little... with a little bit more

than the pluckety-pluck.

Does that sound okay?

>> I love the stronger.

I think we're strong people, and yeah.

We're a zippy group in the emergency room.

(strumming guitar forcefully)

>> ♪ And springtime's upon us

>> BOWEN: And then suddenly-- a tailwind.

An anthem emerges as the group steers the song

into a hoped-for return to normalcy.

>> ♪ And we wanna know

>> I was listening to her, you know,

play the chords and she switched it up and she really found,

I think, the essence of what we were all looking for

but didn't know.

And that was her brilliance.

>> BOWEN: In under two hours, the group finishes the song.

>> ♪ Loved ones at the bedside

>> BOWEN: Like other Frontline Songs,

it's been recorded by Gauthier to live online for the public

and to be an enduring marker for its cowriters.

>> You know, for me, even if I have to cry or get through it,

it is a way for me to really identify and process

how I'm feeling and say, "This is my experience at that time."

>> ♪ There's normal

♪ Coming soon

>> Wow. >> That's really nice.

>> I think Miranda Lambert would do a great job with it.

>> BOWEN: Next, during the Cultural Revolution in China,

violins were smashed and classical music scores

were burned.

But after President Nixon's historic 1972 visit,

Chairman Mao invited the Philadelphia Orchestra to China

to re-introduce classical music to the country.

The story is told in the new documentaryBeethoven in Beijing

airing this weekend on PBS'sGreat Performances.

Take a look.

>> Here we are,

the Philadelphia Orchestra,

on the front page ofThe People's Daily,

and it was just an incredible...

realization that what we were doing was in fact very historic.

>> BOWEN: Jindong Cai, thank you so much for joining us

from California, welcome.

>> Thank you.

Glad to be here.

>> BOWEN: Well, let's start with the Cultural Revolution.

For people who don't know what it is,

it's certainly not what it sounds like.

But you grew up in it in China.

What was happening?

>> Well, Cultural Revolution, it's usually referred to

from 1966 to 1976.

Ten years of turmoil in China.

And anything old, anything foreign, were forbidden.

That including classical music.

>> We were told by the pianist who played with us in concert

that he wasn't allowed to play Chopin in public.

He was not allowed to play Liszt in public.

>> Many lives were destroyed,

particularly the lives of artists

and intellectuals.

There were a lot of deaths.

I don't think anyone knows the real number,

but estimates range from the hundreds of thousands

to over a million.

>> So, for example, in the first few years

of the Cultural Revolution,

in Shanghai Conservatory,

there were 17 professors committed suicide.

>> BOWEN: So, as this film documents,

then all of a sudden in the 1970s,

it cracks open and classical music changes when you have

this orchestra from Philadelphia come to China.

So what was it like to suddenly have this music present?

>> Suddenly there's an orchestra from America,

plays beautiful music-- Beethoven, Mozart.

It's just so refreshing for us

and just so shocking for us to hear this live sound.

That transfixed us.

>> On the anniversary of Beethoven's death,

the Central Philharmonic performed

Beethoven's Fifth Symphony

and the last two movements were broadcast

on nationwide television.

So for music lovers, that's the real end

of the Cultural Revolution.

That's when they knew it was over and it wasn't coming back.

You could play Beethoven again.

>> BOWEN: Well, as is stated in the film then, and even now,

culture is entwined in politics in China.

What was it that Mao was recognizing about music

that that had to return?

>> Early on Mao realized arts and music,

it's important for the politics.

Even in 1940s

he gave a talk to the artists

and the cultural workers to say

art had to serve the politics.

So that, I think that influenced generations

of artists and musicians.

>> BOWEN: Including yourself, especially as

diplomatic relations thawed, and you landed here in Boston.

What was the opportunity that you had?

>> Yes, well, after the Cultural Revolution,

when China reopened and we started to have some

like foreign musicians, orchestra to visit China.

My deepest memory was in 1979

when I was a freshman in college.

And that year a few foreign orchestras visited China.

That including the Berlin Philharmonic

with Karajan conducting

and Seiji Ozawa with Boston Symphony.

So those two orchestras really did profoundly affect

my basically music learning and my career.

>> BOWEN: I heard Seiji Ozawa in particular.

What was it about what you saw and heard that day?

>> Seiji Ozawa, he move every part of his body.

And it's just inspirational to me.

And I was just shocked,

and just transfixed by his...

and the way of presenting the music, and the way

of he communicate with musicians and the way musicians

came back to communicate with him.

And I remember

that was he conducted the Chinese orchestra,

the Central Philharmonic,

perform the Beethoven Ninth Symphony.

It just gave everyone...

it's an emotional just experience

I won't ever forget.

>> BOWEN: And you met him that day.

>> Oh, yeah.

So, so after the concert, I...

just holding the program and I'm thinking,

"Should I jump on stage or not?"

(Jared laughing) But, in the end,

I decided to jump on stage.

I jump on stage, and went to him,

and asked him to sign for me.

And after he signed, I still have the program today,

and to... you know, on my possession.

So this experience definitely affected me tremendously.

And I decided if I want to study Western music,

I need to go to America.

If I want to study conducting, I need to go to Boston.

I need to really to experience this in my own.

>> BOWEN: Well, I guess this will just be

the namedropping interview,

because then you study under Leonard...

So we should mention that you come here,

you go to N.E.C., New England Conservatory,

and then you study under Leonard Bernstein.

What was that experience?

>> Yeah, I came to New England Conservatory in 1985.

On the third year, I had a chance to go

to Tanglewood in the summer

to study in the Young Conductors program.

And then Leonard Bernstein came for two weeks,

and he taught us.

And I, you know, when I studied I remember I studied

the Brahms Second Symphony with him.

So then the first time when that came up after the study,

after the class,

I just call my parents and told my friends,

"I just studied with Bernstein."

(chuckles)

So, so that's...

it's how, you know, profound I feel.

And I also think, you know,

you learn from a master like Bernstein,

you don't just learn technique.

You learn him as a person.

As a musician.

So that... it really influenced me tremendously.

>> Philadelphia Orchestra has an incredible following in China.

I saw the Philadelphia Orchestra concerts in China

in the early '90s.

I still remember them.

>> That concert was listened to

all over the country

and the estimate was that 80 million people heard it.

>> BOWEN: So there's a question, kind of a pivotal question,

that's trotted out in the film that's been echoed here.

Can China save classical music?

Is it up to China to do that at this point, given its support?

>> Every time when I went back to China

I feel the music world is vibrating.

And, you know, every year

there's a new professional orchestra being created.

And it's a new opera house being created.

And also, I will say half of the piece of repertoire,

the orchestra, and the operas performing are new music.

So the music of today.

And that is the thing I think China

can contribute to the development

of classical music.

>> BOWEN: Well, Jindong Cai,

thank you so much for being with us today.

We really appreciate it.

And congratulations on the film.

>> Thank you so much.

>> BOWEN: Shirley Temple's debut 87 years ago and A.I. as art.

It's time now for Arts This Week.

On Sunday, take a walk with Artists and Ancestors.

12 members of the Stratton Players

play Fitchburg residents from the 19th and 20th centuries

who made an impact on the arts.

On April 19, 1934, Shirley Temple broke out

in her first feature-length film,Stand Up & Cheer.

Only six years old, Temple would appear in ten feature films

by the end of that year.

>> ♪ Who's that bunch of personality? ♪

>> BOWEN: Tuesday, watch artist Matthew Ritchie's

The Invisible College: Color Confinement.

The multimedia piece explores different dimensions,

and is inspired by M.I.T. research

in artificial intelligence.

Stream the first night of Celebrity Series'

Stave Sessions Festival Wednesday.

For performances by classical music group Sybarite5,

and Cristina Pato,

she's a master of bagpipes

and a classical pianist.

Visit the Worcester Art Museum Thursday to experience

What the Nazis Stole from Richard Neumann

(and the search to get it back),

a new exhibition featuring 14 paintings

from the Austrian doctor's collection.

They've been reunited after a 75-year search.

>> They don't know us!

Because if they did...

...they wouldn't kill us.

♪ Hit me with a handshake

♪ What?

♪ Hit me with a handshake, y'all ♪

♪ What?

Ha-ha.

Tonight's show, make some noise.

>> BOWEN: That's from a newly filmed adaptation

of the playHype Man presented by Company One Theatre

and the American Repertory Theater.

It's a drama about three friends who are about to get

their big break with an appearance onThe Tonight Show.

But the group becomes divided over whether they should use

the moment to fight for social justice.

Ahead of its world premiere in 2018,

I spoke with its director and star.

>> ♪ I came up dirty, they ain't want me to shine. ♪

>> ♪ No, no, no.

>> ♪ Listen, they ain't want me to shine. ♪

>> ♪ Just tell 'em, tell 'em. >> ♪ Trying to stop me, but

>> ♪ But what? >> ♪ It's my time

♪ 'Cause I grind hard, I'm a rhyme god ♪

♪ Can't see me on the mic or the iPod... ♪

>> BOWEN: Kadahj Bennett, as we just saw, you are Verb.

>> Yes, I am. >> BOWEN: And Shawn LaCount,

you are the director ofHype Man.

Thank you both for joining us.

Shawn, I'll start with you.

So, to get straight to the plot, you have these artists

who have... just as they're about to go

have their big break onThe Tonight Show,

they learned about the shooting of an unarmed Black teenager

shot 18 times, and they have to decide

whether or not to useThe Tonight Show

as their platform to address this.

What is the central issue being mined here?

>> First of all, it's a play with music.

It exists in this Break Beat Play cycle

that Idris has created, Idris Goodwin.

The central issue, I think, has everything to do

with the Black Lives Matters movement.

Issues and concepts of allyship,

and who's responsible to step up and say what.

Um, who has that responsibility, those loyalties,

I think that's a big part of what I think

the piece is about.

>> BOWEN: Kadahj, you are an artist.

I mean, how do you look at this?

Is, as... because there is division among the group,

we see in the piece,

about whether or not you use this moment to address this

or you take the moment

to simply be the artists that you are.

>> Yeah, I think it's really interesting, um,

especially in the times that we live in now, right?

Your art can be about whether or not

you want to use it to build a community,

or if you want to build your brand, right?

If you want to get money, or if you want to make change.

And I feel like, uh, this play,

it's very... powerful, how it plays around

with that concept of, like,

where do you draw the line between doing art

and making sure it's a vessel for positive change,

or doing art to make sure you can feed yourself

and have clothes on your back?

>> BOWEN: So, how do you begin to...

I won't say... I won't ask you for the answer,

but how do you begin to answer that question?

>> I don't know.

I feel like it depends on where you stand in the community,

and how close you feel to a situation, right?

I feel like Verb is very, very close to it,

because he's a member of the streets.

He's very about people, he's about the movement,

about action and doing it, right?

Whereas the idea of Pinnacle, I feel like it's climbing up

and making sure we're hitting the right benchmarks,

and I want to be successful, and I got to shine,

and everybody's been doubting me this entire time, right?

So there's not anything wrong

with either one of those stances, but when,

when it hits ground zero, it's, like,

how are you going to react if it's close to you?

>> BOWEN: Shawn, in your capacity

as leadership of Company One Theatre,

how do you look at where and when artists

should weigh in?

And there are people who say that artists

should just do what they're good at.

That they shouldn't, as I think Idris has said,

swerve into the political lane.

>> Right-- the Company One Theatre, we really sit

at kind of that intersection of social change and art,

and it's my opinion that the artist's point of view

is, should be, really, a vehicle for change.

For me, the entertainment piece of it

is important, but it's secondary

to what we can do with the opportunity,

with an audience, with that live dialogue.

>> BOWEN: How do you look at what these artists have to do

if they don't stand up?

I mean, are they just doing what they should do,

in taking their career to the next level,

by appearing onThe TonightShow?

Does it have to come with making a statement?

>> I personally, I agree with Verb, right?

And the choice that he makes.

It's nothing verbal, necessarily,

they're not saying anything when they do the performance.

It's just, like, an act.

And I feel like sometimes, change or protest

or progress, it takes time,

and it can be something little, right?

So when, when you are using that platform

to go up there, if you are wearing a pin,

or if you are doing something that does spread awareness,

to allow the conversation to happen, that's...

that's just as good as actually saying something.

If you have this platform and you don't address anything,

then, that... you're just as bad as the people

who are, like, hurting people, I feel.

>> BOWEN: Do you know if Idris Goodwin--

again, the playwright--

looked at other celebrities, other artists,

and what they have or haven't done

in the last few years in creating this piece?

>> Yeah, absolutely.

That was part of our conversations

in the development of the play.

Um, he looked very specifically at a white rapper, right?

That's an important piece of the puzzle,

a white rapper, a Black hype man,

and a mixed-race DJ, female DJ.

And I think it was, uh, a B.E.T. episode,

after... I think it was an awards show,

after Trayvon Martin? >> Yeah.

>> And someone stepped up

and just basically said, "Are any of the white rappers

going to step up and say anything," right?

And there are a handful of white rappers

who are deeply engaged in conversations around race,

around music... >> And who are, like, protesting

and doing things of that nature.

But there are others who, like, you ask them the same question,

and they're, like,

"That's not my thing." >> Right.

>> BOWEN: How is hip-hop the backdrop here?

>> It's the music of the culture, right?

And, like, even right now,

hip-hop is the most popular music in America.

It's our top pop music, right?

So I feel like that's really where it needs to come from,

and that's where it stems from.

Originally, hip-hop was about the people speaking up

about injustices, right?

And so I feel like it's a great way for the play

to tackle that, to talk about the roots of hip-hop,

and how it might have evolved today,

and how can we go back and return to those roots

to use that to help out the present situation?

>> BOWEN: And where is hip-hop today?

I mean, it's not fresh anymore.

It's not... it's not... it's not the little fledgling.

It is... it's fully grown.

It's an adult, it is... it's an institution.

>> Yeah, and with that, there are so many different branches

on the tree of hip-hop, right?

And there are so many different communities

and genres of hip-hop.

So, like, it's... I feel like the more time goes on,

it's harder to try to put a giant blanket

over the genre itself.

Because there is, like, trap music, there is boom bop,

there is conscious rap, there is hip-hop in China

that is, like, going on, where all these, like...

So every culture is absorbing it, and putting

their own spin on it.

So I feel like hip-hop is just a global thing

for the people now.

It depends on how use that as your vessel for change.

>> BOWEN: Well, it seems in light of that,

that there are so many branches,

that one of the themes in the show, as well, is,

when is it culture versus a cultural product now?

Again, by virtue of the fact

that it has matured. >> Yeah.

>> BOWEN: How do you... how do you address that, Shawn?

>> When is it culture or when is it product?

That's interesting.

Yeah, I mean, I think it's that whole question

of what is authentic, right?

In any medium.

I think that one of the things

Idris does beautifully here...

and this is the whole Break Beat Play cycle,

which is made up of three plays,

and it's similar to August Wilson's play cycle.

Different times, different time periods

in American culture, all through the lens of hip-hop.

Years ago we did a play called How We Got On of his.

And it really broke down, like, how beats

and the music of hip-hop was made.

This play does a very similar thing

in terms of rhymes

and the actual role of the hype man, right?

What does it mean for those flourishes?

It compares it to James Brown's hype man,

Bobby Byrd, right?

It compares it to those orchestra musicians who,

you know, they just hit those cymbals twice at the end, right?

And they're... you can't finish the song without them, right?

And so that kind of authenticity is what we're talking about.

>> BOWEN: What is the hype man?

>> The hype man is... it's the energy.

Like, it's the tour guide for the song,

or for the culture, or for the experience.

So you help people, and you lead them in,

you tell them when to chant, how to figure out the words,

when to feel free to dance and move,

how to enjoy themselves.

I feel like it's... it's a celebration of the music,

it's a celebration of life, it's a celebration of, like,

the situation.

>> BOWEN: All right, well, Shawn LaCount, Kadahj Bennett,

thank you so much. >> Thank you, Jared.

>> ♪ I came up dirty, they ain't want me to shine. ♪

>> Yeah, tell 'em.

>> ♪ Was livin' grimy, now your boy he do shine ♪

>> That's right, now.

>> ♪ Yeah, I made it, your boy he do shine ♪

♪ I said I shine, shine, shine, shine, P! ♪

>> BOWEN: And that is all for this edition ofOpen Studio.

Next week: the sculpture of Mel Kendrick.

Plus, the directors of the Oscar nominated documentaryCrip Camp.

>> It would be important

for non-disabled people to understand about disability

as like a full, 360 human experience.

>> If you don't demand what you believe in for yourself...

...you're not going to get it.

>> BOWEN: Until then, I'm Jared Bowen.

Thanks for joining us.

As always, you can visit us online at GBH.org/OpenStudio.

And you can follow us on Instagram and Twitter

@OpenStudioGBH.

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