Gabriela Montero

Honorary Consul, Amnesty International; Citizen; Musician

Thank you, Joyce, for inviting public contributions to this probing question.

In asking it, you provoke two implicit questions of relativity: what is chaos, and what is peace?

Invited to do so by your italicized you, I can begin by rephrasing the first of those two questions: what is my chaos?

I am sitting in my dressing room. It is ten minutes before going on stage, where I will try to lose myself in the sublime, human code of Mozart's Piano Concerto No.24. My phone dings. I open up an incoming message from my closest childhood friend. I download a picture attachment. Staring back at me, Banquo-like, is her 76-year-old father. Family, to me. Half of his face has been filleted open, the gruesome consequence of a savage machete attack outside his home in the lawless, chaotic hell that is Caracas, Venezuela. City of my birth.

“Ms. Montero, this is your five-minute call.” I can't breathe, in my chaos.

My chaos is the chaos of an entire nation, beaten downwards over the past 18 years into a Dantesque inferno of murder, starvation, deprivation and the endlessly horrific consequences of state-engineered, societal collapse. It is a version of chaos that few western concert goers will ever have to experience. I hope.

My chaos is not the Trump-Russia scandal, or the Muslim travel ban, or even the threat of another Bataclan or Nice. They are, of course, profound concerns. My chaos is an inbox full of tears, the cries for help of the abused and voiceless of my country, Venezuela. My chaos is Christmas time spent online crowdsourcing, not to fund a creative music project, but for blood. Human blood. O negative. Chaos is hunting for blood donors 5,000 miles away to give blood on Christmas Eve to my dying friend because promises have been so chaotically broken by men so wicked they can not be described with words alone.

What is peace, in such chaos?

Venezuela’s regime-funded, state-propagandized musicians have proved over the past decade or so that it is a grave mistake to confuse “peace” with “relief”. Relief is the fleeting, transient reward of the opiate, administered in the absence of peace, because of the absence of peace. It washes over us in a moment of distraction, even transcendence. It gives us permission to forget. It even uncouples us from our conscience. A convenient uncoupling. And when the music we love finds itself packaged as a mind-altering opiate, it is reduced to nothing more than a numbing narcotic, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”. Without value.

“Peace” is something more complex, more subtle, more elusive, less attainable than relief. At its core is the very conscience that defines our humanity.

In 2011, I had a choice to make. I wanted to compose a work for piano and orchestra. I could write either a harmonious narcotic or a dissonant polemic. Since a narcotic would only provide fleeting relief, and "peace" was my ultimate objective, I wrote a polemic, "Ex Patria".

Music is a language, and, like all languages, it's role is to describe and codify the entirety of the human experience, it all its joys and tragedies. Its job is to reflect who we are right now, as people, as a society, and not simply to indulge us in abstract fantasy about the better version of ourselves. If what we see in that reflection does not please us, then we should be urged to begin the conversation about change. But truth comes before change.

I am not the first composer - or writer, painter, pop-artist or poet - to understand that the way to change society is not to intoxicate ourselves against its malevolence, but to describe it, and by describing it, to comment on it. "Ex Patria", then, is a portrait of a society in dis-harmony, whose musical collapses and relentless usurpations tell us the uncomfortable story of a brutal kleptocracy and the ugly thuggery of dictatorship. It is a piece of musical journalism, not an ibuprofen.

It is not intended to bring the listener peace, but to initiate the processes of peace. It is intended to disgust you, to lead you to an activism that insists on peace for others. For that is my peace -- the knowledge that I have served my conscience, that I have done all I could to bring lasting peace to others.

For relief, we have Jack Daniels.

Peace and love to all.

And so I ask you:
In the midst of chaos, how do you find peace?

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