for Ear Taxi

Em is for…

This city is good at festivals. The Humanities Festival is expanding more rapidly than my neighbor’s alarmingly healthy kombucha colony, so the big-shouldered presence of EarTaxi is a natural fit here in Chicago. Augusta Read Thomas credits a fascination with empathy as a major inspiration for this undertaking. Empathy among fellow performers, between audience and composer, empathy for people caught up in circumstances unimaginably remote from our own—but I’ll also tip my hat to those who can conceive of festivals of any sort. They are the souls drawn to the huge potential of tuning a multiplicity of thinkers by means of a shared experience.

I attended a Humanities Festival event earlier this year, presenting the author of H is for Hawk, Helen Macdonald.  Helen’s vivid memoir shares the process of training her goshawk, while concurrently grieving the loss of her father and grappling with ever-present artistic aspirations and doubts. At one point, she attends an opening by an artist who has made extensive use of footage of the endangered California condor. She considers:

I think of what wild animals are in our imaginations. And how they are disappearing – not just from the wild, but from people’s everyday lives, replaced by images of themselves in print and on screen. The rarer they get, the fewer meanings animals can have. Eventually rarity is all they are made of. The condor is an icon of extinction. There’s little else to it now but being the last of its kind. And in this lies the diminution of the world.

You may suppose I’m winding up for some pitch about supporting the arts; another resuscitation of an endangered species. But if you’re reading this program, you know very well how vibrant and healthy new music in Chicago is. I actually want to flip Helen’s lament, and rejoice with you in being here, at a time and place that are adding meanings to what we are. By attending this festival, we are exponentially augmented, thanks to a rich medium of diverse creativity. These composers and performers have imagined you for months now; empathizing with their future audience has shaped every detail you experience over these four days.

And you’re even better looking than I expected.