Come Up for Air
Music & Lyrics by Bernie Zelitch
Making our mark
2020 has been a whirlwind, to say the least. Carduus' regular season had been shut down, but it hasn't changed who we are as artists. We’ve long been “music nerds” sharing powerful music that's deeply connected to multiple facets of our humanity. Our first response to the myriad of chaos and heartbreaks out there was to seek community. We met over Zoom and found solace in discussing and sharing music that helped us process the pandemonium. It was obvious from meeting our own members that we had to keep going and creating together. We need each other. From how best to avoid COVID-19, to marching with BLM protestors, to the everyday panic of financial security, we wanted to recognize that people still work in tandem to make the world a better place.
We want to tell people, “Hang on. Gather your family, friends, loved ones, therapists, and whoever is important to you, and pull through this together.”
Then a longtime collaborator of Carduus, Bernie Zelitch, approached us to share his musical response to 2020. His desire to offer a timely reminder that things were well before, and that things would be well again resonated with us. “Come Up for Air” tells a journey of inundation, fear, self-realization, of help offered and accepted, of partnership and support, and of kindness that transcends.
We hope “Come Up for Air” inspires you with strength to persevere. Keep our gift going by ordering a copy of “Come Up for Air”. Carduus and Bernie are dedicating all proceeds from this project to Boston Children’s Chorus because we believe the work they do with underserved children, through the power of music, continues to pave the way for everything we hope for in our future.
Carduus Marketing Director
Wei En Chan
Writing "Come Up for Air"
In late March, I sifted through my creative “compost pile.” That’s my rejected music and lyrics ripe for self-plagiarism.
A piece titled "Come Up for Air" landed there months before. Running through it now, it seemed sunny but bland. But I liked the title and reimagined for a few moments.
Those moments pulled me somewhere, where I remained. Who was the singer really supposed to be and to whom were they really singing? I inhabited the song for weeks, even when not actively entering notes or words in the score. Daily, a problematic measure or word resolved in my head minutes before waking up or during my daily run.
As news of the pandemic invaded my musings, the song shifted to a sadder, darker place. The singer became a depressed person, out of luck and asking for help. Maybe the help was not there and maybe the singer still prevails. I know about depression firsthand, but this song seemed only marginally autobiographical. I played it for my wife, Karen. She thought it may be about a depressed country. People were desperately seeking help from health professionals and leaders who were falling short. People were facing isolation, fear, and suddenly, even a reckoning with the country's original sin.
I am both the text and music guy. That helped the song morph to its intended place. At every turn, the changing text and music informed each other. There were surprises to me which, to paraphrase poet Robert Frost, may offer surprises to the listener. For instance, after being in a bright, major key for a long stretch, it climaxes briefly to a dark, minor key to remind us of the beginning’s urgent plea for help. Responding to friends’ feedback, I also dialed down the complexity, offering more musical repetition and more clear lyrics.
I was delighted that Carduus agreed to bring this piece to life as they have several others of mine. They are highly talented and able to reach their own emotions to share with an audience, who will yet experience their own.
Composer & Lyricist
Hello, dear choral nerds - this is Carduus' director Holly Druckman. I hope that you and yours are staying safe and healthy during these difficult times.
Like all of you, I'm trying to adapt to this strange new reality we find ourselves in, which brings up anxieties old and new for me. We are all grappling with the coronavirus disaster, and the economic and social inequality that it has laid bare. We also seem to be at a moment of reckoning against the scourges of US police brutality and systemic racism.
On a more personal scale, the COVID crisis has also led several arts organizations – including Carduus – into an existential crisis. We can’t perform in front of large audiences, or even in large ensembles. And as a conductor, it’s especially hard not to take social distancing kind of personally. Singers and instrumentalists are able to practice and record on their own, but my practice is by its nature collaborative; it’s impossible for me to practice and perform far away from my Carduus family. Simply put, I miss my friends.
During challenging dark times, I tend to question myself in an undermining way, and become insecure about the choices I've made in my life. Why make music at all? Couldn’t my labor and talents be better spent in a way that yielded a more tangible benefit to more people? And yes, I recognize that we should never value our worth by the amount or kind of work that we do, and also that my struggles with anxiety and depression cause me to be insecure and despairing at times. But still - the questions linger. But there is a genuine and honest answer to the "why music" question for me.
The most meaningful times in my life have been brief moments in concerts, when I make eye contact with a musician, and we smile and shape a phrase together; or those times when a chorister will write to me to say that I gave them a way to express feelings of joy or grief. Collaborative music-making connects us to our own feelings, and to the feelings of others; it turns us into better people; it makes us more empathetic and more humane; it helps us to help each other. Of course, I don’t mean to say that music-making is a panacea for society’s ills – we can’t fight fascism and racism with minor seconds and picardy thirds – but like protest, like community service, music performance is a form of love-in-action.
This is what makes me certain that “Come Up for Air”'s message will resonate with listeners right now. This year that we're living through is truly traumatic. We may be grieving without knowing why, or without knowing that we're grieving at all - but we are all grieving. I believe in music’s power to console: not only for the performer, but for the listener too. We can’t compensate for everything that’s been lost, but I hope that this piece brings you a small measure of consolation. We all need love and support from our families and friends, and to be a support however we can during these times; we all need to take the time to "come up for air".
Sending love and strength to you all,
Why Boston Children's Chorus
I’ve worked with Boston Children’s Chorus for the past 5 years: playing piano for many of their groups’ weekly rehearsals, frequent community performances, and regional and international tours.
I could talk at length about BCC’s importance to the Boston community: how they provide musical training and ensemble experience to children who don’t have access to those resources, how they draw on diverse musical traditions that reflect the community, how they wrestle with difficult social issues and spread messages of hope in their concerts.
However, what I’ve found particularly beneficial is their use of communal music-making to break down social barriers - barriers that tend to keep people from crossing them and forming relationships with anyone outside of their own group. Beginning in elementary school, children from across greater Boston come together at least once a week to sing and learn and build connections with each other. These children are from families with varying economic, racial, religious, and political backgrounds. By the time they reach high school, the children (and their families) have developed strong, lifelong friendships with each other, tearing down those invisible but powerful social barriers to create trust and understanding, not just tolerating their differences, but embracing them.
We at Carduus are dedicating proceeds from our latest project to BCC’s mission. You may support BCC’s mission by making a direct donation to BCC or through purchasing a copy of “Come Up for Air” from our website!
BCC is so grateful to Carduus Choir and composer Bernie Zelitch for generously offering to donate all the proceeds from their "Come Up for Air" Project. For more info on Boston Children's Chorus, or to learn more about how you can support our exciting and inclusive music program for the children of Boston, please reach out to our Director of Development, Jude Bedel, email@example.com.
Anne Fanelli, Andrea Wozniak
Burcu Gulec, Jenny Herzog
David Mather, Sam de Soto
Elijah Botkin, Chris Talbot
Audio/Video: Peter Atkinson
Conductor: Holly Druckman
Artwork for videos and "Writing Come Up for Air" are sourced from "Choreography" (2020) by Karen Rovner