UM YA YA, DEAR FRIENDS FROM THE HILL!
Now that you and your loved ones have thawed out, I can guiltlessly send you warm greetings from Los Angeles
You knew me when I looked like this (dear Lord). But hopefully you won’t hold that against me.
I’m reaching out because I’m working on something that may interest or even involve you. If you have a few minutes (and are willing to grab your readers), please indulge me the following post.
Get comfortable. It is Anna Karenina-ian in length.
As you may know from seeing our lives unfold on social media, I and my husband have spent the last decade building a concert series, called Canvas. Originally just a way to connect with our neighbors in Amsterdam, Canvas has now offered twenty nine programs in our home theater (what we call “The Lab”) to nearly two thousand different people. Over one hundred musicians, artists, craftspeople and scientists have participated (including two Oles: Jeremy Frank ‘97 and Heather Johnson ‘94). Four of our programs have gone on to perform in concert halls, schools and community spaces across the United States.
Here’s a promo reel from our 25th concert celebration:
Our programs are best described as EduTainment - like Ted Talks, as a concert.
Within a live performance, we share ideas about how music interacts with art, history and even science. With a unique position as both an arts and education entity, we became a 501(c)(3) Non-Profit Organization in 2018.
Let’s go back to 2007, shall we?
I was ten pounds lighter. Jim and Pam were still just secret crushes. Obama was campaigning for president. And Dave and I learned from our landlord that our cherished 400-year-old home in Amsterdam had been a place of resistance during the Second World War.
Although all of those truths were deeply important, the last one stopped us in our tracks.
“A place of resistance? Like Corrie ten Boom’s Hiding Place? What, exactly, happened here? Did they get caught?” The questions we asked of Jan the Landlord were many. We learned from him that the resistance activities in our home included making false identification papers, storing illegal weapons, and hiding Jews.
It’s not every day you learn you are living inside a monument
Our home was only two blocks away from Anne Frank’s notorious hiding place, so the history of resistance was certainly in our per view. But to know that Nazi soldiers had knocked down the same door that we opened every day, that weapons had been stored where we kept our suitcases, and that terrified Dutch Jews spent moments in this home, looking for refuge, was a stunning revelation for us.
To further explain the impact, my husband is Jewish. His great-grandparents were killed in the Holocaust. His grandfather was responsible for getting himself and three young siblings out of Germany in 1939. So this history, in many ways, was our history.
The first few days after learning about the history, I would catch myself just staring. First, it was down the hallway toward the front door, imagining Nazis banging down the door. Then, it was the walls of my music studio, where Jews had been hidden.
I couldn’t shake it. I was completely enveloped in the imagination of what had been.
The start of a life-impacting project
The energy behind our revelation turned into action. I spent months studying Dutch War history and combing through photos, films and letters in the Dutch National Institute for War Documents. This resulted in our creating an original 30-minute memorial film played live to picture called Meeting the Ghosts. It was part of the Canvas line-up in 2008.
Seven years later, after moving back to Los Angeles, I revisited the project in honor of the 70th anniversary of the end of WW2. In so doing, I learned that pieces written by Dutch Jews who were suppressed by the Holocaust had come to the surface in recent years. With blessings from two Dutch historical institutes, Canvas was granted permission to perform four of these pieces as part of Meeting the Ghosts. Three of which would be the American premieres.
We brought Meeting the Ghosts to a synagogue in Denver. They raised nearly $25,000 in three months to support us and to use our program as a fundraising opportunity for their education initiatives. They offered Meeting the Ghosts free of charge to the community at large. They hit capacity with 600 audience members. Four of whom were Holocaust survivors.
I had the opportunity to speak about our program to elementary and middle schools in the area. I will never forget the sight of 300 middle schoolers looking up at the picture of Leo Smit - a youg Dutch composer who was killed at Auschwitz - listening intently to my performance of his sonatine. Could Leo have imagined this would be his story? Children on the other side of the world, decades later, praising his beautiful work and talking about the importance of standing against hate…?
And now, back to 2019
I wish I could say that Meeting the Ghosts was just a phase. A nice little project that we could retire, having felt good about sharing it with a few audiences.
But then, there was Charlottesville. And Pennsylvania.
And a rise in hate crimes. And way too many hints at rising xenophobia.
Marginalization. Propaganda. Violence. All condoned by our nation’s leaders. Are we pointed towards re-learning the same awful lessons we neglected eighty years ago? There is increasing depth to my frustration and fear over what is happening in our world today.
My engagement with the history of the Holocaust has not allowed me to rest. At the encouragement of our leadership team and others impacted by Meeting the Ghosts, Canvas made the decision in January 2018 to put new programming on hold and focus solely on how our project might positively impact a broader audience.
Shortly thereafter, we put Meeting the Ghosts in front of a focus group of Hollywood writers, directors and producers. We asked how we could best position the project to create relevance to current events. The consensus was for us to spend less time on the history of the War itself, and focus on the musicians in Amsterdam.
What were their stories? What happened to them? And how did their music survive?
We also realized that, if we want our project to impact thousands of people, the quality of the content and its presentation deserved to be world-class. We couldn’t treat this as “just” a Lab program. This new concept would take time, money and the pursuit of opportunity.
In twelve years of operation, Canvas has done many things. But developing one project at a scale and budget that is 1000% bigger than all the rest…? This is new.
For most of 2018, I wrote / re-wrote / scrapped / did more research / REPEATED. The goal was to develop a workable concept to pitch to foundations, grants and private donors in 2019-2020. With great enthusiasm, I am ready to share that concept with you here.
The program is called Mokum. ‘Mokum’ is a Yiddish word meaning “home” or “safe haven.” It has also been a long standing nickname for the city of Amsterdam. Mokum is a 70-minute live performance piece that will feature animation, voiceovers, and vintage film and photographs. Like Meeting the Ghosts, the score will be played live to picture, and music written by suppressed Jewish composers will be performed throughout.
The program will be available for two different types of musical ensembles: 1) a small chamber group (five instrumentalists) and 2) a full orchestra with featured soloists.
We are in the process of developing educational tools that will direct students toward greater understanding of Holocaust, the root causes of World War 2, and how what we know of the past might inform us about today’s political climate.
The scope of what we want to do is big, folks. Bigger than anything we’ve done before. But we believe in it. And we know we can do it.
Great, Lynn. Nice project. But why are you telling me about it?
I am reaching out to you about a unique opportunity. No, not Amway. But like Amway, what I’m asking of you just might prove mutually beneficial.
Tell the Stories Tour
We’ve learned over the years that something really special happens when you bring people together in a home or intimate space to hear music, learn together, and share the magic of a moment with your community. That specialness is our heartbeat. The beauty of shared memories is why Canvas has enjoyed such a wonderful life thus far.
The estimated cost to complete Mokum and go out to public stages with it is $150,000. It will take us a year to get there, at least. But we know these stories have value now. Today. We don’t want to put the stories and music of Mokum on the shelf while we’re working to secure funding for the bigger production.
We are embarking on a short-run American tour to share and promote Mokum. We are hoping to stop in five metropolitan cities, providing shows for audiences of 20+ people at a time. The program will be 45 minutes long, featuring myself at the piano, a violinist and (optional) cellist, plus a means to project a digital film.
If you want to get it done, give it to a busy person
I appreciate fully how, as a person with visibility in your community, you are likely slammed with commitments. Not to mention friends, family, and blocking out two days in October to camp out for Christmas Fest tickets.
That said, we want to make saying ‘yes’ to this as easy as possible - including the possibility of working it out with others. We are looking for like-minded folks who would be interested in any of the following:
hosting an evening of Canvas in their home or small performance space
being a part of a team that hosts Canvas
sharing contacts of locals who might be interested in attending Canvas
becoming part of an “on the ground” team of supporters for when Mokum returns as a large performance
introducing us to people in other areas of the U.S. who might be interested in this project
Should you accept this mission, the next steps are:
secure a date (minimum of two months in advance suggested)
talk through by phone the overall gist of the gig
get access to our online host tool kit (marketing materials for email, print and social media; timeline of “when” to do “what”, performance space requirements and details)
I am completely biased telling you that being a part of Canvas is life-giving. But it is.
It’s learning, listening, laughing, eating and drinking with people. (Basically, it’s like church without the robes, paper bulletins and lingering guilt from sinfulness.) And if you’ve felt anything like I have in recent months, it is healing to be in the presence of like-minded folks who also want to care for all people. Even those whose experiences are unlike our own. That music can have a hand in that is just a bonus.
Beyond that and feeling good about honoring the music of nine people who didn’t get the life they deserved, as we are a non-profit organization, a portion of whatever expenses you or your group incur will be a tax write-off.
Congratulations! You made it!
Well folks, you stuck with me to the end. That was a lot, wasn’t it? Thank you for taking the time to read this. Just sharing this project with you here is a gift. If you don’t have the time or interest in pursuing this any farther, there are absolutely no hard feelings. I wish you continued success and joy in whatever you’re doing.
If our project interests you and you’d like to talk about working with us on a stop in the Twin Cities, I’d love to speak with you! Please email me at your earliest convenience at firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a phone call.
Wishing you all the best,
Lynn Hutchinson (‘96)