Synopsis“Sidewalks” is a performance project consisting of a 40-minute live multi-media presentation of John M. Kennedy’s composition. Written for an instrumental ensemble with voices and media, the goal is to perform the work in six regional venues in Los Angeles County. Audience members will be engaged in the performance through preconcert workshops that will invite members of the community to perform in one of the six “Drum Circle” sections, and/or assist in preparing a performance video representing the neighborhood and environs. These sections and workshops will introduce various cultural elements of the locale that will be explored through sound.
OverviewThe title and concept stems from the 1961 book by Jane Jacobs, “The Death and Life of Great American Cities”. Insight into the work can be gleaned from this quote, “The scenes that illustrate this book are all about us. For illustrations, please look closely at real cities. While you are looking, you might as well also listen, linger, and think about what you see”. Here Jacobs laments the dismantling of aspects of urban life that have cultivated the interactions of people in a neighborhood. What she specifically points to is the elimination of sidewalks, the pedestrian thoroughfares that allow city dwellers to experience those different from themselves as they traverse neighborhoods for shopping, catching the subway, or just taking a stroll. An element that is lost with the sidewalk is the development of empathy for the other, an understanding of how we all can live together in a symbiotic social arrangement. Since 2017 and the social upheavals that ensued, I sought to address these concerns in a work, and thus came the idea of “Sidewalks”.
Taking the audience through a series of neighborhoods of the region, the work begins with a repetitive clapping-stick rhythm of native Tongva people. This acknowledgment of our native peoples continues with “I Seek, A Place” and then to the first Drum Circle, where sounds of the Middle East (Riq), the Asian Sub Continent (Tabla and Baya), and Africa (Djembe) emerge. The next section uses video, live ensemble and fixed media to reflect on the Asian communities and the loss suffered during Lunar New Year celebrations in 2023. We continue the walk to the Mexican-American neighborhood of Boyle Heights with, “East of the Los Angeles River”, written by local spoken word artist The Bus Stop Prophet who beautifully describes the culture at a time when gentrification threatens generations of families. After a third drum circle of djembe, cajon and conga, the work transitions to local Blues Artist Scott Detweiler’s “The Elephants Cousin” in spoken word with hybrid jazz and blues gestures. The final section incorporates pre-composed and improvised gestures on a graphic score by William Roper. The beautiful hand-drawn graphics in this score, projected on screen, commemorates the artist’s youth in the African-American/Asian neighborhood of West Adams.
The work was premiered in April, 2023 as part of the 75th Anniversary of Cal State LA. This formal concert setting did not allow the community engagement component to be included. The samples below illustrate how the pre-composed sections of the work express specific communities through sound, sight and text.