What role can classical music play in america, year 2019?
Pianist Miki Sawada travels to all 50 states with a piano in a van, performing for free in community gathering spaces, and documenting the strengths and charms of American life discovered along the way.
Gather Hear Tour’s mission is to bring high quality live classical music to communities across the country, especially in rural areas where access is limited.
The goal is to tour all 50 states in this time of deep division, when we can’t help but feel that there is no shared humanity across the nation. We believe classical music has a special power to connect us through an elevated and moving experience; we need to harness that power now to begin to truly understand and listen to each other.
Gather Hear Tour cherishes the relationships with individuals and communities it creates, and the strengths and charms of American life discovered along the way. It documents and shares its stories and findings through a YouTube vlog series, on Facebook, and on Instagram.
“As a classical concert pianist, I’ve always felt some discomfort when looking around a traditional concert hall. Why is it often the case that either I’m completely surrounded by a sea of gray hairs, or a house of empty seats? If this art form is not speaking to the majority of today’s population, why am I choosing to dedicate my life to it? How can I have more positive impact on the world around me? There must be a better way forward.
And then came the 2016 presidential election and the accompanying feelings of depression, desperation, and fear. My first question in its aftermath, as a non-American living in the US, was whether I should continue to live here. My immediate answer was yes; I am grateful for the opportunities granted me here and I love this country, despite all of its ugly problems both past and present. Then followed the perennial question - What can I do as a classical musician during this time?
Now was the time to act. I took a step back from the topics classical musicians usually obsess over - aesthetics, skill, prestige, masterworks - and thought hard about what’s at the core of classical music. What makes it so special? The answer: the power to connect everyone that is in a room together, gently but insistently encouraging us to listen deeply, moving us through our emotions and senses, helping us find our humanity in the process.
Well then, why should this magical power be constrained only to concert halls? By keeping the music in concert halls for the sake of acoustics and tradition, it seems to be excluding a lot of people. I started fantasizing what would happen if I drove around with a piano in a van, placing classical music in spaces that people love to hang out in, curating it in such a way that everyone had an entry point into this complex but beautiful music, and doing it all around the country as a tool to get to know people and places I may never get to know otherwise. Only a crazy person would think to do that.
And so that's what I’m doing, starting with Gather Hear Alaska in 2017 followed by Gather Hear West Virginia in 2018. At the end of this 50-state journey, I imagine the map of the United States lit up with hundreds of pinpoints scattered about - these are the places I’ve played in, where I’ve connected with individuals and communities. All those points will then be connected by a dense network of lines, as I physically travel from one place to the other. Not only that, but also as I share my journey with an online following, collaborate with local and national organizations, and pave the way for other artists to follow my route. After all that, the network over the map will be so dense and bright that we won’t be able to see state lines anymore.