Stephen Horenstein
Music, Arts and Society

How I learned to fly

The miracle of flight (courtesy)
The miracle of flight (courtesy)

According to psychologist Dr. Peter Levine when we face danger we have three choices: fight, freeze or flight.  That is to say, we can engage in battle, freeze or run for our lives.  If we fight, we may die. If we freeze, the trauma becomes embedded in our bodies, sometimes for life, and/or we may die.  But if we run (or fly) we may have a chance to escape.

Today I was treated to a rare scene, a fat pigeon ready to fly; I took out my camera, and as soon as I clicked it flew away.  The image was so amazing given the speed of the wings, and just how many wings we saw in that split second.   The bird’s reaction time (he must have heard my breath or sensed my presence) was instantaneous.   He of course had super-bird’s peripheral vision (that’s how they fly so in formation too).

Of late, I feel I am overdue for another news fast, especially with all the (excuse the expression) crap being pumped out in our direction.  For me the Mueller non-report was the beginning of this (I have been depressed ever since), and now, with all the election posturing, I have no energy to fight, I dare not freeze (i.e. feel paralyzed and powerless) for fear of traumatizing myself, so I must proceed with flight.

In my mind I fly far far away.  I listen to my inner ears, my imagined music that does not depend on the dull sounds of my neighborhood.  The composer Anton Webern said that the best performance of his music was in his head.  For me it’s not quite like that, but close.

In my childhood I dreamt I could fly.  I imagined myself soaring over the water by Preston Beach near by parents’ house in Marblehead, Massachusetts; I felt free, happy, carefree.  I ask you all, when did we we become so burdened by our clogged up news broadcasts that we have forgotten how to be childlike?  When have we become so heavy? Is it that we feel obliged to constantly respond to the call of solidarity from “one newscast to the next” (to paraphrase A. B. Yehoshua, who claimed that the result of this stuck state is the impossibility of achieving artistic solitude).

Yes, of late I have felt the need to fly away, from the inside to the outside.  Sometimes I cry of frustration and powerlessness.  Yes, it is our obligation to vote, but can’t we assume that the die is already cast?… i.e. that our country, like a gigantic ocean liner, is tilting solidly to the right, ready to sink from scandal, dishonesty and selfishness.  I then meditate.  I think of all the musicians who found joy in flying through their music.   When we now listen to their sounds, we can fly with them: over, above and beyond.

I desperately want to swim in their music and fly!  I want to fly alongside of the master of flight: Charlie Parker, known as “Bird”.  Bird’s music has never ceased to cheer me up (unless I began meditating on his life, which was tragic beyond belief!).  My mentor Bill Dixon once wrote a piece where all the musicians chanted Bird’s words over and over again: “I don’t know how I made it through those years. I became bitter, hard, cold. I was always on a panic – couldn’t buy clothes or a good place to live….” And yet with such a burden of life, Bird simply grabbed his horn and flew! Like the bird in the opening picture of this blog, Bird the musician was fast, agile and played at inhuman speeds.  Nobody really ever equaled his mode of flight.  It is timeless, eternal, and uplifting.  So that we can be reminded that ultimately our hope is “flight”, the lightness of being—let’s take a break and listen together!



About the Author
Stephen Horenstein is a composer, researcher and educator. His repertoire of musical works has been performed and recorded worldwide. He has been a recipient of the Israel Prime Minister's Prize for Composers and the National Endowment of the Arts (USA) and recently a Mifhal HaPais prize to produce a new album “Sounds of Siday: Side B” (orchestra).. Horenstein's teaching has included Bennington College, Brandeis University, Tel Aviv University, Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance; residencies at Stanford University, York University, California Institute of the Arts, and others. He is Founder and Director of the Jerusalem Institute of Contemporary Music, established in 1988 to bring the music of our time to a wider audience.
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