The Other Europeans - an Inquiry and my responses

What follows is a questionnaire I filled out for the Other Europeans Project. I was unaware that my responses would end up published, even posted publicly on a 7 foot by 3-foot poster stock much less! But, I meant what I said. Maybe you'd be interested too, so here it is. It’s in German, so the English translation follows.
Questions are by photographer Frank Burhadrt:
The Other Europeans - Inquiry

Where were you born?
Stillwater Oklahoma
What does „homeland“ mean to you?
It’s where I’m understood. Where the food tastes best and the rhythm of the language is familiar.
- In what ways do you think of yourself – musically and beyond – as an „other“ or different kind of European?
I am an exile. A galutnik (in Yiddish,) living happily and feeling welcomed in someone elses home. I am a Rootless Cosmopolitan, to quote Stalin’s pejorative, invited to many parties, but not a member of the club.
- Until now, have you had any really surprising experience in The Other Europeans project, or has everything gone more or less as you expected?
I tried to enter with no expectations personally. But I have been genuinely surprised at the level of synchronicity and unspoken communication that exists between these groups of musicians.
- When you consider the nations and ethnic groups of Europe politically, socially and culturally, do you see more things that divide them or more that unite or connect them? And: in your opinion, is Germany more „European“ today than 15 or 20 years ago?
As an artist I feel that it’s our inherent job description to help people identify not only with each other as members of a common family, but also our attachment with the ineffable. Like any great truth however, these “National characters,” the identities which help to bind groups of people together for a common good can conversely be manipulated by petty and vindictive persons for agendas of great evil and inhumanity. One of the saddest elements of human nature is that we seem to be able to work together most effectively when we are gathering against some other Tribe: Bosnia, Darfur, Sri Lanka, the news tells the same old story nearly ever day. As an artist I feel very strongly that we are to step into that breach of history before it becomes toxic and harmful. There is a reason why the arts are either suppressed (or go unfunded) in oppressive societies; these divisive leaders know too well the power a single musician can wield as a force for the promotion of goodness and courage to create change.
Germany, among the Nations of Europe, I feel can speak authoritatively to this point having taken the path of destruction and then reconciliation, not only for the communities of Europe that it ravaged in war and conquest, but also with it’s own people in reunification with the East. I can’t really speak to how European Germany is now compared to 15-20 years ago, as I first arrived here in 1991 when the country was attempting to reconnect with half of it’s population after 50’s years of an awkward separation.


- Do you believe that in Europe in 2025, the supposed cultural „differences“ and „otherness“ will be naturally seen as an enrichment, reflection, addition to, self-recognition of one’s „own“ identity, even outside of concert halls?
Well that’s the plan isn’t it? If that isn’t the goal of this endeavor, then why are we even bothering?


- At the beginning of The Other Europeans project the goal was to discover the difference between Yiddish and Roma musical styles and eventually to combine them. What results or insights have you achieved by now, just before starting the last project phase in Summer 2009, following your travels through Central Europe, and after intensive shared rehearsals and performances? From your current point of view, is the question about „differences between Yiddish and Roma musical style“ still the right question to be asking?
Sure it is, but only in the way you note different ingredients that different people use to make the same meal. I’m not certain I’ve been able yet to process all the insights that I have been exposed to. Working through these thoughts and concepts are the fuel for creativity and expression and for me that is best accessed in the moment.
- At the beginning of The Other Europeans project, Alan Bern considered that Jewish musical identity might not be as clear as that of the Lautari Band musicians (we were then using the term „Roma-musicians“ in general for the group).
I agree with Mr. Bern’s assessment. I feel that we Jewish musicians and particular we American born players are fairly well far removed from a cohesive and readily identifiable culture. Half of my struggle in this project has been to clarify what exactly is the Jewish musical identity in fact.
- A): Do you identify with any ethnic community - its daily traditions, customs and culture - so strongly that you can directly draw from it energy and inspiration for your musical work, your sense of identity, your virtuosity and stage presence?
I do indeed. I am a Texan and we present ourselves and interact in a very particular way. I am a product of my surroundings every bit as I am a product of my heritage. At our best, Texans are outsized in contribution and quality. We speak truth to power and do our best to remember we were not descended of fearful men. And, very importantly we dance with women, in public places. OK, it’s a nationality then and not so much an ethnicity. On a serious note my musician friends like to say about my approach to music and culture, “It really is true, that Texan trumps Jew…” (It rhymes in English.)
- For you, is The Other Europeans project more of a (possibly unique) theoretical musical experience or will it have a direct, concrete and audible affect on how you actually play in the future?
Well, all I can say for sure is that my musician colleagues here at home consistently remark that there is a profound change in my performance and musical attitudes since I began my participation in the project.


- Are belief, spirituality, religion a source of energy and inspiration in your daily musical life?
In every respect. These beliefs are strong and strongly personal.
- Do you have someplace that is your own, private place of peace, of retreat, of contemplation?
It happens, but only fleetingly and very infrequently. Only when I stripped away my conscious and material form and am allowed access to the ineffable. This occurs most frequently when I am lost, completely involved within a musical moment.


- To finish, let’s risk taking a look past The Other Europeans project, its musicians and musical styles. Suppose you could have anything and anybody you wanted for a new musical project – with whom and in which country would you like to stand on stage and what would we (the audience) hear?

For me, I would very much like to visit Moldova and if I was very lucky, maybe I could get a chance to play with the lautari there. Both in Edinets with the rustic brass bands and in Chisinau with Marin and Adam in the more modern Lautari style. I think in some ways, I have been preparing my whole life to do so.
For my own musical projects, this may seem strange given this forum, but I am resolved to approach my own American musical traditions of late, but with a new set of ears that I have gained from this project. I am after all, not European myself.