Saturday, November 12, 2016

I Argue You Thee That Love Is Life

One of the most insightful and wise people I know, as he encouraged me to follow my dreams to make recordings, once told me that rather than thinking of recordings as definitive documents of an interpretation of a piece, I should regard them as snapshots in time.  To think of them as a freeze frame of an artist in a particular moment.  When viewed this way, it alleviates one of the feeling of pressure to make the absolute and to create perfection.  It frees one up to hear a recording as one would look at a picture of oneself from many years past.  We see the beauty and innocence (and sometimes folly) of youth.  We see how we are still the same person, yet evolved and changed.

Sifting through the selection of videos of American songs recorded live at a salon performance presented by San Francisco Performances at the Hotel Rex in January of this year, I find myself looking at all of these songs through a slightly altered lens after the events of this past week.  I had originally planned these programs as part of an expression of patriotism and love of country as we walked through a transition to what we all naively thought would be a giant step forward for us as a nation.  Now, in the wake of the results of this past Tuesday's election, I find myself looking at some of this music with slightly different eyes.

One of these songs that I programmed back in January was an incredibly beautiful setting of a poem by the great American poet Emily Dickinson, written by Jake Heggie - a man whom I consider to be a good friend as well as a deeply heartfelt and thoughtful composer.  When we filmed our performance of this piece earlier this year in San Francisco, I had a much more personal take on this poem, thinking more of a romantic love of one person to another.  After witnessing the anger of the majority that voted for progress as many protest through the streets of America's biggest cities, I wonder if Emily Dickinson's words also resonate on a broader level.  Seeing the numerous accounts of the rising voice of bigotry and xenophobia that has seemingly felt legitimized by Tuesday's election results, I wonder if the love that Dickinson is talking about is perhaps a different, greater kind of love than just the love of one person.  Perhaps she is talking about an unconditional love for all our brothers and sisters?  And perhaps, at the end of the poem, when she says that she will have nothing but suffering if the object of her affections doubts her unconditional love, is she presciently touching on the feeling those of us who voted for progress feel right now?  For it is clear that so many of our brothers and sisters doubted our love for them this past Tuesday, and because of their choices which resulted from that doubt, we now have nothing to show but grief, anxiety and fear.

Whether she meant it that way or not, it is difficult for me not to see it through this new lens after all that has happened this week.  Regardless of her meaning, it is vitally important now, more than ever, that we remember Dickinson's argument that Love is indeed Life.

I will perform the song again live on WFMT on November 21st.  When we perform the piece that night, it may not sound incredibly different from this performance below recorded in January. But inside my heart, my feelings about it are not quite the same.


Jake Heggie
That I did always love
from Newer Every Day

TEXT (Emily Dickinson)

That I did always love,
I bring thee proof:
That till I loved
I never lived enough.

That I shall love alway,
I argue thee
That love is life,
And life hath immortality.

This, dost thou doubt, sweet?
Then have I
Nothing to show
But Calvary.


CREDITS
Nicholas Phan, tenor
Robert Mollicone, piano

recorded LIVE at SF Performances Salons at the Rex, January 28, 2016

Executive Producers: Nicholas Phan, Philip Wilder

SOUND:
Producer / Recording Engineer: Lolly Lewis
Recording assistant: Emma Logan
Mastering / Mixing: Piper Payne, Coast Mastering

VIDEO:
Cinematography: Catharine Axley, Kristine Stolakis
Editor: Catharine Axley

This project is a fiscally sponsored project of FRACTURED ATLAS.
To find our more information and to make a TAX-DEDUCTIBLE 
donation to support the continuation of this project please visit:

Thursday, November 10, 2016

River of Progress

Like a great many people I know, I woke up yesterday morning with the heaviest of hearts.  It was easy in the post-election haze of shock and awe to feel depressed and defeated.  Even the journalists on every news network I watched Tuesday night (and I checked in with all the major networks across the spectrum) seemed somewhat bewildered, confused, and...well...low-energy, to say the least.

It's an extraordinary thing that America chose to elect a man who received no endorsement from any living former president nor any major news publication...a man who was endorsed by the KKK.  It's an incredible thing that America chose to elect a man with absolutely no political experience who unleashed and rode a tidal wave of misogyny, bigotry, and xenophobia to our nation's highest office.

In the wake of that, when viewing it from that perspective, it's easy to feel disgusted, despondent, depressed and like one wants to give up.  I understand that the Canadian immigration website crashed under the deluge of traffic it received Tuesday night, and scrolling through my Facebook feed yesterday morning was like a visual depiction of grief and all its stages - most prevalently anger.

During the administration of President George W. Bush, many Americans with whom I was close (including my partner at the time) were desperate to ex-patriate to Europe, where life seemed better and people seemed more accepting.  I believe the Canadian immigration website was getting a lot of traffic back then, as well.  Yet I never, ever had this inclination, despite the fact that I was frequently working in Europe for extended periods back then.  I was adamant about staying in the US, and proudly being an American despite the jokes that I should pretend to be a Canadian citizen during my foreign travels.

I believe that America is beautiful, and I am proud that it is my home.  Not only is it a stunningly beautiful country in its landscape and natural wonders, but it is a country founded by a handful of visionary geniuses (who were riddled with all the flawed trappings of human genius) on the principle of Freedom.  Part of the beauty of that freedom is that our wonderful land is a place where truly all voices can be heard - most importantly those of dissent.  We witnessed the humbling power of that beauty yesterday, when a strong and vocal minority of the electorate raised their voices of dissent and swept a terrifying, seemingly despotic man whom they felt represents their ideals into power for at least the next 4 years.

The river of progress is a winding one that, just like rivers in nature, sometimes winds back upon itself.  In a strange twist of history, a vestigial institution of a time when our founding fathers felt that both one's genitalia and the color of one's skin determined suffrage was the quirk of our voting system that empowered this minority of voters.  The Electoral College, which was established in lieu of a direct, popular vote as a compromise to appease the slave-owners of the South, empowered a minority voice of dissent against the future legacy of our first black president and the possibility for a woman to finally break the ultimate glass ceiling in America.



I think that it is important to remember that while rivers may wind back on themselves occasionally, and sometimes narrow almost to streams, they always continue to flow.  The analogy makes me think of yet another beautiful, American creation: Charles Ives' setting of Robert Underwood Johnson's poem The Housatonic at Stockbridge.  The river of progress is, like the Housatonic of Johnson's poem, sometimes "overshy" and sometimes "masks its beauty from the eager eye".  But I do believe it will continue to carry us ever onward, and that this week's shocking result is just a "restive ripple" which encourages a "faster drift". I hope it is a wake-up call for us to try to extricate ourselves from our liberal echo chamber and truly hear this voice of dissent, as Michael Moore was encouraging us to do back in July.  I, like the narrator in the poem, "also of much resting have a fear", and I look forward to following this river "to the adventurous sea" that lies beyond, no matter how seemingly meandering its path.

We must remember that we are the voice of the majority of the popular vote that chose progress.  As a result, no matter who is our president, progress was made, and progress will continue.  Perhaps taking confidence in that, we can continue to appreciate the terrifying beauty of our right to Freedom of Speech and listen to these voices of dissent with a bit of compassion, hopefully enabling us all to find a path forward...together. 





Charles Ives
The Housatonic at Stockbridge


TEXT (Robert Underwood Johnson)


Contented river! In thy dreamy realm
The cloudy willow and the plumy elm:
Thou beautiful!
From ev'ry dreamy hill
what eye but wanders with thee at thy will,
Contented river!
And yet over-shy 
To mask thy beauty from the eager eye;
Hast thou a thought to hide from field and town?
In some deep current of the sunlit brown
Ah! there's a restive ripple,
And the swift red leaves
September's firstlings faster drift;
Wouldst thou away, dear stream?
Come, whisper near! 
I also of much resting have a fear:
Let me tomorrow thy companion be, 
By fall and shallow to the adventurous sea!

CREDITS
Nicholas Phan, tenor
Robert Mollicone, piano

recorded LIVE at SF Performances Salons at the Rex, January 28, 2016

Executive Producers: Nicholas Phan, Philip Wilder

SOUND:
Producer / Recording Engineer: Lolly Lewis
Recording assistant: Emma Logan
Mastering / Mixing: Piper Payne, Coast Mastering

VIDEO:
Cinematography: Catharine Axley, Kristine Stolakis
Editor: Catharine Axley

This project is a fiscally sponsored project of FRACTURED ATLAS.
To find our more information and to make a TAX-DEDUCTIBLE 
donation to support the continuation of this project please visit:
https://www.fracturedatlas.org/site/fiscal/profile?id=10592

Thursday, November 03, 2016

By Turning We Come Round Right

This being a presidential election season, I took up some American songs this past year, performing and curating American-themed programs in Chicago, Washington DC, Istanbul and San Francisco this past year.  The theme I chose for many of these concerts, specifically those in Chicago and San Francisco, was something I loosely titled, American Spirit, focusing in on the American pre-occupation with faith and spirituality.

When thinking about the United States’ beginnings, we often think of the Pilgrims, whose famous meal with the Native Americans they encountered upon landing here we attempt to recreate every year at Thanksgiving. These pilgrims represent the two basic principles upon which the United States’ foundation is based: the search for both economic and religious freedom.  Ever since, Americans have been pre-occupied with their relationship to a higher power - whether it be the New England Transcendentalists seeking God in Nature, Joseph Smith translating the golden plates of the angel Moroni and founding the Mormon Church, or the political rise of the religious right.  I, myself, in true San Franciscan 'spiritual' fashion own no fewer than three yoga mats.

While faith and religion have played a fundamental part in the evolution of American identity, American composers have developed a distinctly unique relationship with these topics in contrast with their European counterparts.

What we now generally define as ‘Classical Music’ has its roots in the religions of Europe. Its earliest forms were composed specifically to augment religious rites, and eventually evolved into integral parts of worship. When we think of the great European composers, much of the music that deals with the topics of faith and religion is composed in a religious context—the many masses, cantatas, magnificats, te deums, requiem and passion settings that we know and love today. While there are, of course, exceptions to this generalization (Handel’s oratorios, for instance, which were composed as a practical and more economic replacement for the London opera productions that were becoming increasingly too expensive for him to mount), most of these pieces were composed for specific religious services and intended to be performed as part of the worship service. 

In contrast, much of the music written by American classical composers that deals with faith and spirituality has been written in a distinctly secular context. Even Bernstein’s Mass is a theater piece, juxtaposing the formal ritual of the Mass with texts by Bernstein and Stephen Schwartz that challenge the religious teaching of the mass. The American composer generally only encounters this subject in the form of an artistic meditation on faith and belief, in a way that in recent years has become in fashion to call ‘spiritual’. These American Spirit programs explored some of these meditations.

The concept of what it is to be an American has loomed in my mind ever since having the honor to represent the United States at the BBC Singer of the World competition back in 2003.  The competition is a sort of vocal olympics, and walking into the lobby of my hotel in Cardiff, seeing the American flag hanging amongst the other flags of the other countries represented that year was the first time I really had ever considered what it was to be a representative of the United States and to be an American.  As the bi-racial child of an immigrant who grew up in the very white and black midwest, I had always felt a bit of an outsider in America.  Yet it was in that moment that I realized I am very much a part of the history of the great American cultural melting pot.  I've considered the many facets of what that means ever since, and performing these programs over the last year has been a wonderful deepening of that epiphany that I experienced so many years ago in Wales.

As we push through this final week of this wretched election cycle, I leave you with one of the songs we performed at the Hotel Rex for San Francisco Performances back in January: Aaron Copland's beautiful arrangement of the Shaker tune, Simple Gifts.  The words from the middle section of the song take on a different meaning for me now, after all the baseness and drama of the past few months of this fraught presidential contest: "To turn, turn will be our delight, and by turning, turning, we come round right." After all of the spinning we've been through as these campaigns have waged their wars against each other, I do hope that next Tuesday, we do actually come round right, so that we can, as the song says, "find ourselves in that place just right...to be in the valley of love and delight."



arranged by Aaron Copland
Simple Gifts from 'Old American Songs'

TEXT (Shaker Folk Song):

'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free
'tis the gift to come down where you ought to be
And when we find ourselves in the place just right
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gained
To bow and to bend we shan't be ashamed
To turn, turn will be our delight
'Till by turning, turning we come round right.

'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free
'tis the gift to come down where you ought to be
And when we find ourselves in the place just right
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.


CREDITS
Nicholas Phan, tenor
Robert Mollicone, piano
recorded LIVE at SF Performances Salons at the Rex, January 28, 2016

Executive Producers: Nicholas Phan, Philip Wilder


SOUND:
Producer / Recording Engineer: Lolly Lewis
Recording assistant: Emma Logan
Mastering / Mixing: Piper Payne, Coast Mastering

VIDEO:
Cinematography: Catharine Axley, Kristine Stolakis
Editor: Catharine Axley

This project is a fiscally sponsored project of FRACTURED ATLAS.
To find our more information and to make a TAX-DEDUCTIBLE 
donation to support the continuation of this project please visit:
https://www.fracturedatlas.org/site/fiscal/profile?id=10592

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Sneaking a Peek



Here is a second preview video for Gods & Monsters!  This video is a film of us recording an early complete take of Gustav Mahler’s haunting song, Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen from Des Knaben Wunderhorn.  As this is a peek of one of our early complete takes of the piece, it is not a perfect performance! But it gives you a great preview of the kind of album that Gods & Monsters is turning out to be and what the recording process was like up at Skywalker.  

To those of you who have already specifically donated to this project - thank you so much from all of us on the Gods & Monsters team.  It means the world to us to have your support behind this project, making it possible for us to usher it through it’s final stages towards its release this coming January on Avie Records.  If you haven't had a chance to donate yet - there is still time to pre-order your copy of the album, as well as make a tax-deductible contribution to the project.

Hope you enjoy!  Again, many thanks!

____________________________________________________________________
Gustav Mahler
Wo die shönen Trompeten blasen from 'Des Knaben Wunderhorn'

Nicholas Phan, tenor
Myra Huang, piano

LIVE full take from 'Gods & Monsters' recording sessions at Skywalker Sound, August 9, 2016 

GERMAN TEXT:

Wer ist denn draußen und wer klopfet an, 
Der mich so leise, so leise wecken kann?
Das ist der Herzallerliebste dein,
Steh auf und laß mich zu dir ein!

Was soll ich hier nun länger stehn?
Ich seh die Morgenröt aufgehn,
Die Morgenröt, zwei helle Stern,
Bei meinem Schatz, da wär ich gern,
bei meiner Herzallerliebsten.

Das Mädchen stand auf und ließ ihn ein;
Sie heißt ihn auch wilkommen sein.
Willkommen, lieber Knabe mein,
So lang hast du gestanden!

Sie reicht ihm auch die schneeweiße Hand.
Von ferne sang die Nachtigall
Das Mädchen fing zu weinen an.

Ach weine nicht, du Liebste mein,
Aufs Jahr sollst du mein eigen sein.
Mein Eigen sollst du werden gewiß,
Wie's keine sonst auf Erden ist.
O Lieb auf grüner Erden.

Ich zieh in Krieg auf grüner Heid,
Die grüne Heide, die ist so weit.
Allwo dort die schönen Trompeten blasen,
Da ist mein Haus, von grünem Rasen.

ENGLISH TRANSLATION:

Who is then outside, and who is knocking,
Who can so softly, softly waken me?
It is your darling,
Arise and let me come in to you!

Why should I stand here any longer?
I see the dawn arrive,
The dawn, two bright stars,
With my darling would I gladly be,
With my heart's most beloved!

The maiden arose and let him in;
She welcomed him as well:
Welcome, my beloved boy,
You have stood outside so long!

She reached to him her snow-white hand.
From afar a nightingale sang;
The maiden began to weep.

Oh, do not cry, my darling,
Next year you shall be my own!
My own shall you certainly be,
As no one else on earth is.
O Love on the green earth!

I go to war on the green heath,
The green heath that is so broad!
It is there where the beautiful trumpets blow,
There is my house of green grass!

Translation copyright © by Emily Ezust,
from the LiederNet Archive -- http://www.lieder.net/


CREDITS
Executive Producers: Nicholas Phan, Philip Wilder

SOUND:
Producer / Recording Engineer: Marlan Barry

VIDEO:
Clubsoda Productions (http://Clubsodapro.com/)

This project is a fiscally sponsored project of FRACTURED ATLAS.
To find our more information and to make a TAX-DEDUCTIBLE 
donation to support the continuation of this project please visit:
  

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Things our Fathers Loved

One of the other recording projects I'm currently working on is producing art song and vocal chamber music content specifically for YouTube.  The initial material that was recorded for the first stage of this project is from a salon concert I gave as the resident artist for San Francisco Performances earlier this January.  As tonight's final presidential debate looms, the subject matter of the program we recorded feels very timely.  The program was built from CAIC's 2015 Collaborative Works Festival, which explored America's relationship to faith and spirituality through music.

That evening in January, we began the program with some songs by Charles Ives, a visionary composer whose music still sounds so fresh and current today, despite the fact that it was written 100 years ago.  A true patriot whose music is steeped in the history of New England and the United States, one of his signature techniques was his ability to conjure up nostalgia and memory by creating aural snapshots of the past.  He did this by employing a pastiche technique, incorporating quotes from a number of popular tunes and hymns, seamlessly weaving them together, creating something that sounds entirely new and remarkably unique and individual.

In his short, 105-second song, The Things our Fathers Loved (a setting of one of his own texts), there are countless numbers of popular American tunes and hymns quoted, including Battle Cry of Freedom, Dixie, and Come Thou Font of Every Blessing, just to name a few.  The song weaves all of these tunes together quite elegantly at first, creating a sense of wistfulness for a golden age past.  Gradually, though, the tunes begin to collide with one another, and the voice and piano start to drift in different directions tonally, creating a slight sense of chaos and cacophony.  It is as if the present moment, being the sum of all things past leading up to now, is a bit of a messy jumble, the simplicity of yesteryear a distant memory.  The song ends beautifully, but in a quite unresolved way.  The story is unfinished, the future is both uncertain and unwritten.

Looking ahead to this evening's debate and considering just how acrimonious, sensationalist and low-brow this whole presidential election cycle has been, Ives' song about the continuing clash of the conflicting forces of American history (the song begins with a quote from the unofficial anthem of the Confederacy and then quotes a popular Union tune just 12 measures later!) feels eerily prescient.  It's almost as if he understood the timeline and progress of American history and politics as one of continual conflict, with the hope for growth through some sort of resolution of these opposing forces.  The sense of panic and instability he creates at the song's climax where the piano and voice are in very different tonal worlds, with no seeming relation to each other and both at a dynamically loud peak, feels not unlike the mood right now when thinking about the dirty mud-slinging and ideological conflict that pervades American politics today, in which presidential candidates can't bring themselves to be good enough sports to, at the very least, shake hands at the beginning of a debate.




Charles Ives
The Things Our Fathers Loved

TEXT (Charles Ives)

I think there must be a place in the soul
all made of tunes, of tunes of long ago;
I hear the organ on the Main Street corner,
Aunt Sarah humming Gospels; Summer evenings,
The village cornet band, playing in the square.
The town's Red, White and Blue,
all Red, White and Blue; Now! Hear the words
But they sing in my soul of the things our Fathers loved.

CREDITS

Nicholas Phan, tenor
Robert Mollicone, piano
recorded LIVE at SF Performances Salons at the Rex, January 28, 2016

Executive Producers: Nicholas Phan, Philip Wilder

SOUND:
Producer / Recording Engineer: Lolly Lewis
Recording assistant: Emma Logan
Mastering / Mixing: Piper Payne, Coast Mastering

VIDEO:
Cinematography: Catharine Axley, Kristine Stolakis
Editor: Catharine Axley

This project is a fiscally sponsored project of FRACTURED ATLAS.
To find our more information and to make a TAX-DEDUCTIBLE 
donation to support the continuation of this project please visit:
https://www.fracturedatlas.org/site/fiscal/profile?id=10592

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Storytelling



What are songs but stories set to music?  Whether they are confessional stories of the self or telling any variety of narrative, songs are tales spun to music.

Back in February of 2009, I had the privilege of participating in one of the Marilyn Horne Foundation's National Artist Residencies in Oberlin, Ohio.  These residencies consisted of a full recital on the local presenting series (in this instance, the Oberlin Conservatory's Artist Recital Series), preceded by a couple of days of outreach performances, taking art songs into the local schools.  The most challenging and rewarding part of this week in Ohio were these outreach performances.  My pianist colleague and I performed in classrooms filled with children as young as 5 years old - 1st and 2nd graders.  We were limited to only art song - no opera arias, no crossover repertoire.  The task of presenting the songs of Robert Schumann and Benjamin Britten to these young people was a daunting one - how does one hold a child's attention with this music?  It was a transformative experience for me (one which I blogged about at the time), and it revolutionized my approach to performance ever since.

At one point a few years ago, I was seeking programming advice from one of the artistic planning directors at Carnegie Hall, when he told me something that reminded me of that experience with those children back in 2009.  "When it comes to art song, you have to remember, there really is NO standard repertoire," he said.  It was a liberating reminder, making me remember that any song repertoire will be falling on ears as fresh as those young schoolchildren back in Ohio.  The same techniques apply, regardless of one's audience - one has to mine every detail, and pretend that they are telling a tall tale to a group of children around a campfire.  No stone must be left unturned, and every colorful extreme must be brought to life.

As a child, one of the first books I remember falling in love with was a copy of D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths. I’ve been fascinated with tales of the legendary and fantastic ever since.  As more and more children have entered our lives, most notably Myra's two daughters and my niece, storytelling has become a greater part of our personal lives, leading us to this fun Gods & Monsters program that is so full of musical imagination. One of the most astounding aspects of these powerful musical miniatures is the incredible amount of color and atmosphere they lend to these stories, so that each song becomes an epic tale of almost cinematic proportions.  


I found myself standing in front of an audience full of fresh ears yet again last Friday in Washington, DC.  Myra and I took our Gods & Monsters program out for its maiden voyage in public, as part of a benefit concert for a fantastic volunteer organization called YSOP.  Standing in front of an audience of YSOP's many supporters who there to support their efforts, and experience a new musical experience; some of the young people that YSOP engages in community service projects, and some homeless people who are the beneficiaries of YSOP's programs, I felt not unlike I did standing in that Oberlin 1st & 2nd grade classroom seven years ago.  It was a thrill to be able to pretend that we were all sitting around a campfire, with Myra and I telling them tales of kings, knights, witches, gods and monsters in as much vivid detail as possible, seeing everyone's eyes brighten as their imaginations fired up just as much as ours were.

Myra and I at the YSOP benefit recital last Friday in Washington, DC.

There's still a couple of weeks to pre-order your copy of Gods & Monsters, as well as make a tax-deductible contribution towards underwriting the final stages of the project before its January 2017 release.  Pre-order your copy and make a donation HERE!

Nicholas Phan Recording Projects is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non­profit arts service organization. Contributions for the charitable purposes of Nicholas Phan Recording Projects must be made payable to “Fractured Atlas” only. Any contribution above the value of the goods and services received by the donor is tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.   

Sunday, October 16, 2016

#ThisIs2016 - Asian-Americans Respond



Sometime in early January of 2001, as I was beginning to consider my post-college options, I went out to Los Angeles to visit a Chinese-American soprano friend and meet her voice teacher, whom she had been raving about since moving out to SoCal.  She felt that she had revolutionized her vocal technique, opening up new horizons for her.  This voice teacher was a visiting voice teacher for the apprentices out at the Santa Fe Opera every summer and was equally impressively connected elsewhere throughout the United States, maintaining a studio filled with young, successful and (most importantly) working singers.  During my visit, I arranged to have a lesson with this esteemed pedagogue, as I knew the next chapter in my studies was approaching, and it was an important time to consider every option before me.

During the course of an hour-long lesson at this teacher's home studio, she told me that she admired my voice and my singing, and then offered a few technical tips, which I found quite helpful and interesting.  My friend sat on her couch as we worked, attentively observing the session.  Towards the end of our hour, the teacher asked me: "Your mother is Greek, right?  What is her maiden name?" I replied to her seemingly strange question, and she repeated my first name combined with my mother's maiden name a few times.  "That sounds great!" she exclaimed, clapping her hands. She then shared with me her final piece of advice for our hour together: "You should definitely change your name to that, so when you start doing all of these important competitions, people won't think you're just another dumb, Asian singer."

While I have lived a privileged life in music and opera since then, and I try to focus on the many opportunities that I have been granted and positive experiences that have filled my life, I have felt a tiny bit of discomfort as the dialogue about race relations has intensified over the past couple of years, with subjects as wide-ranging as the #BlackLivesMatter movement, the lack of diversity amongst the Saturday Night Live cast members and staff writers, to the debate over the Metropolitan Opera's decision to not put dark makeup on the Russian tenor performing the title role in their production of Verdi's Otello last season.  Let me be clear that I believe wholeheartedly that it is fantastic that we are having these discussions about racial inequality and bigotry so openly now - black lives matter. They matter a great deal. My level of discomfort only stems from the temptation to frame these discussions in simple black and white, when in reality, we live in a world of technicolor.

One of the most striking anecdotes in the NY Times video above is the story Dorothy Hom relates about her white husband not realizing that she is not white.  Once, discussing the lack of racial diversity in the opera world and the struggle of the African American opera singer, I was told by a colleague in a moment of heated debate that I cannot understand their struggle, because I can pass for white.  Yet, I don't pass for white.  As a bi-racial person, the most common question I hear upon meeting someone is "what are your origins?".  I obviously take pride in my ethnic origins (as evidenced from the title of this blog), but that stems from my ownership of being "other" when it comes to the "Race or Ethnic Group" section of a voter registration form.  Yet despite the fact that the "other" box is the best option I can choose when encountering the race/ethnicity choices on a form, there is this sense that people don't view Asians as people of color, who grapple with issues of prejudice and bigotry, and a history of struggle and oppression within the United States.


In the very first joke of the cold open of the October 9 episode Saturday Night Live (a show which endured harsh criticism a couple of years ago for its lack of diversity), new cast member Melissa Villaseñor says, "I am the new Hispanic cast member, and tonight I'll be playing Asian moderator, Elaine Quijano, because...baby steps".  Baby steps, indeed.  I am so happy to see this piece being done by the New York Times, bringing us into the dialogue.