Andrei Strizek

pianist - music director - writer

Meanwhile, Over on Instagram ...

Downtown Oklahoma City, OK

Downtown Oklahoma City, OK

Tulsa Union Depot, Tulsa, OK.

Tulsa Union Depot, Tulsa, OK.

I won't say that Instagram has become my favored social media platform, but I do know that since starting the Grinch tour, it's the one I've utilized the most. I'm on a few different platforms, and each has its perks and flaws. When I'm out and about in a new city visiting churches and museums and finding random tidbits of trivia, it's difficult to keep up with Twitter. GIFs on Tumblr practically refuse to load on 4G, LTE, or horrible hotel wifi, so I don't really bother. (And using these apps use up my phone's battery pretty quickly.) Instagram, however, is easy to scroll through and catch up on. People post fewer pics than they do tweets. (And I follow fewer people on Insta than on Twitter.) Being away from the hotel room for most of a day means I'm out & about taking pictures, randomly Tweeting (but not following my timeline), and in general finding things out about a new place. Posting pics of buildings, friends, or myself, is relatively quick and easy to do. And it's a great way to find pictures of places in a new city that are worth visiting.

I am also growing to love Instagram more because of the brief moments of creativity it offers to its users. I not only have the opportunity to change filters and saturations to create a different image than originally taken, but I've noticed that, since using it more, I tend to look at things differently. I see buildings and shapes and shadows more through the lens of an artistic photographer rather than someone taking pictures to show the family over the next holiday meal (or one who takes pictures solely of that meal). Playing the same show 10 times a week can be a little monotonous; not being able to bring my keyboard home with me so I can play some Schubert or Bach in the hotel room doesn't help. It's important to find a creative outlet, and as minuscule as Insta may be - and as much as some my think that it's  a purely superficial app - it's become a pleasant little escape for me.

The beginning of a four-show day in Oklahoma City, OK.

The beginning of a four-show day in Oklahoma City, OK.

There's a part of me that wish I were posting more pictures to Instagram. Well, to any site, actually. I've taking a lot of pictures so far, and most of them haven't seen the light of day. Some of them will find their way onto Instagram, Facebook, or my website. Most probably won't. But that's also okay. I enjoy taking photographs, even with just my iPhone, and it's such a blessing to not have to buy all the film that I used to for my SLR back in the in "old days."

Of course, not all my pictures are amazing. Not all of them are posted "Insta"-ly. Obviously I'll post the occasional selfie, since that is apparently a defining feature of this time period and generation. And sometimes I simply feel the need to post something on Instagram because the image is too dark, and that app's filters are the easiest way for me to use to adjust the picture.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not saying my pictures are glorious or that I'm at the level of a professional photographer. And Instagram has its faults: sometimes images are grainy when not viewed on a phone's small screen; the square image can be constraining; images don't appear automatically in Twitter's native apps; the filters and other options aren't as powerful as on other apps, etc. But I enjoy using this a lot more than when I would spend time in a dark room filled with the aroma of chemicals. And sometimes a picture can share a lot more about my adventures on the road than a Tweet or a long-winded blog post (oops).

So if you're looking for where I'll be hanging out the most until the New Year, Instagram is most likely the place you'll find me. It's where I've most thoroughly documented this tour and I don't foresee that changing. In the meantime, below are a few Insta pics I've posted over the last few weeks.

Exploring OKC: Remembering Tragedy

It was a nice, calm spring day. I was in 2nd hour 8th grade social studies class when our teacher, Mr Marty, got a phone call and ran to turn on the TV in the front of the classroom. We were suddenly watching a scene that seemed out of an action film: a gaping hole in a large office building, surrounded by rubble, fire trucks, and rescue workers. I remember being shocked by the destruction to the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, but I don’t remember much else from that morning. The memories of that morning have faded, not only with time, but - as I'm sure it is with many people - with the larger impact of the World Trade Center attacks of 2001.

Almost 20 years later, whatever memories remained of that morning and of emotions came flooding back, though, as I sat in a nondescript replica of a government office, listening to a likewise nondescript, routine water rights hearing take place. 2 minutes into the tape-recorded meeting, there was a large explosion, followed immediately by sounds of chaos and turmoil. Almost immediately after that, a cacophony of reporters, news anchors, sirens, bombarded my ears. It wasn't like I was watching the aftermath of the 1995 bombing again; this time, it felt like I was a part of it. I couldn't tell you the last time I felt such powerful emotions.

The Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum (housed in the former Journal Record Building), taken from the Alfred P. Murrah Plaza - the still extant plaza for the Murrah Federal Building. Photograph by Andrei Strizek.

As I mentioned elsewhere, I’m grateful for the time that we have to explore cities while on tour with the Grinch musical. Our first full week of performances was in Oklahoma City, and there were many surprises in town: a wonderful art museum, the First National Building, the American Banjo Museum, and some great stores and restaurants. Yet I knew before arriving that visiting the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum would be something I had to do, no matter what.

While remembrances of 9/11 are doused in patriotism and nationalism, everything at the National Memorial was very personal. Very Human. The event memorialized is obviously very specific, but there is a larger picture presented here: one of human suffering, of good versus evil, and, most importantly, the ability of humans to come together to collectively grieve and support each other at times of crisis.

We come here to remember those who were killed, those who survived and those changed forever. May all who leave here know the impact of violence. May this memorial offer comfort, strength, peace, hope and serenity.
— The inscription carved on the outside of each gate.

After the shock of "witnessing" the initial impact, the remainder of the museum is much more calm. They chronicle the rescue efforts, memorialize those who died, document how the FBI was able to track down the offenders. It ends with a beautiful view of the symbolic memorial: next to a room that was damaged in the explosion and is kept as it was found, you look out onto the peaceful reflecting pool and Rescuers' Orchard, see the strong elm tree that survived the bombing, and, across the reflecting pool, the 168 chairs representing everyone who died that morning.

The Oklahoma City National Memorial. Photograph by Andrei Strizek.

The Oklahoma City National Memorial. Photograph by Andrei Strizek.

The grounds of the memorial are still and peaceful, even though they're amidst a revitalizing downtown area. Open all day and night, year-round, one gets the impression that this is indeed a place to come and remember and pay tribute to the people who died - many of whom were humble federal government workers, the kind you run into any time you have to fill out paperwork, in countless offices across the country. the kind who come home to their families at 5pm for a night of a home-cooked meal and watching the latest sitcom on ABC. I appreciated that there were no metal detectors to go through. There was no searching of backpacks and handbags upon entering the grounds. In an era of overly-heightened security and fear, this memorial still lets someone come in off the streets and enter unharassed. You can spend time wandering between the 9:01 and 9:03 gates (meant to represent the human spirit before and after the bombing). You can walk up to the individual chairs. You can view tributes left on the chain-link fence, and see a small part of the original building's foundation that is still standing.

From the moment I approached the memorial, I felt that it was done “right,” whatever that may mean. A visitor is given the time and a deserving place to consider that morning, to pay respect to those who died, to recognize the good that can come from a horrific tragedy. Pictures do not do it justice; in a place like this, pictures only serve as a form of meta-memory. Yet that is what I will take with me away from the OKC memorial: memories of an amazing tribute to those overtaken by a large tragedy on that clear spring day back in eighth grade.

There are more pictures of the memorial here. Feel free to share your memory of this memorial or the event down below.

Pax.

Under Construction

I recently transferred my website from Squarespace 5 to Squarespace 6 and then to Squarespace 7 - something that I should have done a long time ago. I'm in the process of reformatting everything and cleaning out some of the clutter that comes with the template provided by Squarespace. Please bear with me as I update everything!

I have some things I'm in the middle of writing, too, which will get posted as soon as I can finish cleaning things up here (and getting the hotel wifi to coöperate).

Exploring OKC: The First National Building

One of the things I like about being in a new city - and that I appreciate about the Grinch tour, having a week in each location - is spending some time exploring, wandering around the city, and seeing what pops up. I'm sure it drives my walking companions crazy, as I pause to read signs and take pictures and espose trivial facts. Heading into our first full week of shows, I knew of a few places in Oklahoma City that I wanted to go to (the Oklahoma City National Memorial, the botanical gardens, Bricktown), but today I stumbled upon the First National Building and its second-floor bank lobby.

I don't know much about this bulding (all I really know is what is on the Wikipedia page...): the third-tallest in the OKC skyline, the bank lobby isn't in use anymore except for, apparently, the occasional party and ball. (Although, based on the shape it's in, I'd imagine it takes a lot to spruce it up. There was also a random Suzuki "Disklavier" piano there, roped off.) It was weird that the lobby was open to the public; no need to sneak past security and climb over fences to visit this place. (Although the esclators had "no public entry" signs posted, but the main staircase is wide-open with nothing blocking entry upstairs.) Practically empty, it still has an aura of its grander days, when it was no doubt full of people tending to their fiduciary matters.

Part of my personal attraction to this space is its Art Deco styling. I'm honestly not sure I'll ever tire of that style of architecture. Built in 1931, it was erected during the beginning of the Great Depression but before the Dust Bowl swept through the Great Plains. The unique tower at the top of the building was an airplane beacon. When it was built, it was the fourth tallest building west of the Mississippi River.

Some of the bars on the teller windows are cracked or missing; some doors are done; the carpet in an office area is shabby; but the marble - which basically covers the entire space, and makes up beautiful columns (and drinking fountains) - still holds its sheen. There are four paintings in the corners: two depicting the land runs in Oklahoma, one showing the Shawnee Trail, and the fourth portraying the Louisiana Transfer, when the area that makes up Oklahoma became part of the United States in 1803. There are numerous "tokens" on the walls of the space. I'm not sure what any of them mean; there were too many for me to look at for later exploration, but based on the paintings, my guess is that they are related to Oklahoma heritage.

Next to the stairs, on the ground level, is a gate that led to where security deposit boxes were held. I'm sure it was better lit in its heyday, but today it looks a little foreboding, like it should be part of a horror film or The Strain. The clock above the staircase is permanently stopped at 12pm. (Or 12am?)

I'm not certain, but I believe the building has normal business hours. (The ground floor has a host of shops and restaurants that are worth visiting.) The building is showing its age and lack of tenants, particularly some of the other entrances, but next time you're in Oklahoma City, take a few minutes to check this area out. It's a unique piece of history in the middle of the city that is working to redevelop and grow.

I have a few more pictures here. If you have any more information about this building, let me know!

Gardiner's Opening Thoughts on Bach

I recently started reading John Eliot Gardiner's Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven - partly because I want to learn more about Bach, partly because I want to read about something other than music from the 20th century, partly because I've always loved Gardiner's recorded interpretations of Bach, partly because I don't know his vocal/choral music as well as his instrumental and keyboard works, and partly because I'm really interested to see Gardiner's interpretation of Bach as a human, and the conclusions he draws ... so quite a few reasons, actually. I'm only on the second chapter (tech week doesn't allow for much down time), but I am already enjoying it particuarly much of what he wrote in the preface, about how we've dealt with Bach since his death:

A nagging suspicion grows that many writers, overawed and dazzled by Bach, still tacitly assume a direct correlation between his immense genius and his stature as a person ... But why should it be assumed that great music emanates from a great human being? Music may inspire and uplift us, but it does not have to be the manifestation of an inspiring (as opposed to an inspired) individual ... Any God-like image that we superimpost on Bach blinds us to his artistic struggles, and from that point on we fcease to see him as a musical craftsman par excellence.

He also goes on to quote from Peter Williams's The Life of Bach, and looks ahead to how he draws information about Bach's life from his (vocal) music. I'll save some interpretations and reactions to Gardiner's writing until I get further in the book, but I already appreciate his attempts to draw Bach out from the Romantic world concept, which still has a powerful hold over how we view classical music and composers. (For something recent on this idea, read Alex Ross's recent article in The New Yorker about Beethoven, who, much like Bach, still has a power over contemporary composers, performers, and listeners - as much his fault and those who helped to create and maintain his myth.)

How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

In one week (!!) I hit the road again with the national tour of Dr Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical. Last year I was the replacement Keyboard 2, and I played about 30 shows in the 3 weeks I was with the show (most weeks we have 10 performances). I'll be on the entire tour this year. I'm looking forward to working with this great team again, and performing this fun and heartwarming show. If you're in any of the cities below, let me know so we can meet up! I'm looking forward to visiting some great cities - many of which I've never been to before!

Fah who foraze!

Carson McCullers on Beethoven 3

"After a while a new announcer started talking. He mentioned Beethoven. She had read in the library about that musician -- his name was pronounced with an a and spelled with double ee. He was a German fellow like Mozart. When he was living he spoke in a foreign language and lived in a foreign place -- like she watned to do. The announcer said they were going to play his third symphony. She only halfway listened because she wanted to walk some more and she didn't care much what they played. Then the music started. Mick raised her head and her first went up to her throat.

How did it come? For a minute the opening balance from once side to the other. Like a walk or a march. Like God strutting in the night. The outside of her was suddenly froze and only that first part of the music was hot inside her heart. She could not even hear what sounded after, but she sat there waiting and froze, with her first tight. After a while the music came again, harder and loud. It didn't have anything to do with God. This was her, Mick Kelly, walking in the daytime and by herself at night. In the hot sun and in the dark with all the plans and feelings. This music was her -- the real plain her.

She could not listen good enough to hear it all. The music boiled inside her. Which? To hang on to certain wonderful parts and think them over so that later she would not forget -- or should she let go and listen to each part that came without thinking or trying to remember? Golly! The whole world was this music and she could not listen hard enough. Then at least the opening music came again, with all the different instruments bunched together for each note like a hard, tight fist that socked at her heart. And the first part was over.

This music did not take a long time or a short time. It did not have anything to do with time going by at all. She sat with her arms held tight around her legs, biting her salty knee very hard. It might have been five minutes she listened or half the night. The second part was black-colored -- a slow march. Not sad, but lik the whole world was dead and black and there was no use thinking back how it was before. One of those horn kind of instruments played a sad and silver tune. Then the music rose up angry and with excitement underneath. And finally the black march again.

But maybe the last part of teh symphony was the music she loved the best -- glad and like the greatest people in the world running and sprining up in a hard, free way. Wonderful music like this was the worst hurt there could be. The whole world was this symphony, and there was not enough of her to listen."

-Carson McCullers, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter

Minnesota Orchestra performing Beethoven's Symphony No. 3, Op. 55.

Playlist w/e 10/12/13

Frank Ocean's Television Debut

This Is Not a One Man Cult

Music is miraculous in that one can say everything in such a way that those in the know can understand it all, and yet one’s own secrets, those which one will not even admit to oneself, remain undivulged.” – Arnold Schoenberg

(Video no longer available)

It was by chance that I had the TV on late Monday night and caught the television debut of hip-hop artist Frank Ocean. Only half-paying attention, I heard Jimmy Fallon introduce his musical guest. I didn’t have time to process the name before the opening organ chords and the plaintive voice of a scrawny 24 year old drew my rapt attention for the next four minutes. On screen was a man expressing his love for another man – the same man who made news last week for the very same thing.

The blogosphere exploded last week when Frank Ocean posted a note on his Tumblr telling a story, from when he was 19 years old, about the love he felt for close friend. This was big news in the stereotypical masculine and somewhat misogynist hip-hop culture (a culture that Frank Ocean has contributed to in the past). And now, we were given the opportunity to hear the words direct from Ocean himself, singing “Bad Religion” in what was apparently a last-minute move by Fallon’s producers.

Image via Wikimedia CommonsBut is that what the performance of “Bad Religion” was about? Most of what I’ve read says that it was. I’m not so sure. Granted, the signs are hard to miss, from Ocean “coming out” last week (he never actually said that he’s gay) to the masculine pronouns. But “Bad Religion” is more than a gay love story. It’s about unrequited love, a near-universal emotion found in stories from Greek mythology to Nicholas Sparks movies.

Maybe we should be ecstatic that we heard a young guy declare, “I could never make him love me.” It’s a sentence that, as a gay man, I can relate to, as I’m sure countless other gay men and straight women can. But unreciprocated love isn’t just an emotion felt by gays or women; the pronouns in this song don’t matter. The universality of the message, the passion of the his singing – the melding of a blues and gospel confessional with contemporary hip-hop – that’s what made Ocean’s performance so noteworthy.

I know there are people who will disagree with me. Hell, there’s even a part of me that wants to exclaim, “Yes! A gay hip-hop artist singing about it on television!” and be done with it, QED. It’s a big moment for our nation and culture. But if we can look past the heteronormativeness in nearly every other love song ever written, we can look past the homosexual subtext of “Bad Religion.” We need to. Our society is no longer one where should have strict divides between sexuality, race, or any other cultural markers.

I can’t predict the future or fight cynicism. Maybe Ocean “came out” last week to generate buzz for his album; it’s likely the album won’t remain on top of the iTunes charts for much longer. But I think that on Monday night we saw the debut of an artist breaking away from his band and from behind the scenes of other artists, and reaching out by telling a story full of raw emotion. Doing so he pulled us into his world, and sometimes that’s exactly what we need music performances to do. Am I naïve enough to think that this performance alone will change our perceptions of homosexuality? No. But it was still a great moment to witness.

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