This week's edition of the ASCAP Deems Taylor Virgil Thomson Award winning program Between the Keys commemerates the 17th anniversary of the 2001 September 11th attacks with a unique work by The Classical Network's Artist-in-Residence, composer/pianist Jed Distler, his 50 minute "110 for 911," for speaking pianist and electronics. Mr. Distler is both pianist and speaker in this archival recording from its world premier performance on February 16th 2003 at West-Park Presbyterian Church in New York City.
"In 2002 Steve Zeitlin, folklorist, writer, cultural activist and founding director of City Lore initiated what he called the 'Crisis' poem project, which symbolically reconstructed the Twin Towers in the form of words," Distler explains. "Two 'poem towers' resulted, each with 110 lines, representing each tower's 110 floors. Word Tower One was open to anyone wishing to contribute, while Word Tower Two was a result of 110 invited poets and writers contributing one line each to create a collective poem, curated by the poet Bob Holman."
"Bob and Steve contacted me in the spring of 2002, inviting me to incorporate music within Word Tower Two. At that time I was involved with what I call 'piano theater," writing works where one spoke text from the piano, and also incoporating electronics. During the composing process I worked with my colleague and friend, the writer, filmmaker and theater director Arnold Barkus, who actually helped me shape my performance at the same time that I was madly scribbling the music on paper in face of a looming deadline! I must say that composing and working on the performance at the same time wound up proving beneficial in many ways."
As host, writer and producer of Between the Keys, Distler usually offers a wide variety of music, genres, artists and topics each week. Although he occasionally airs his own compositions and piano performances, this is first time that he's devoted an entire episode to his work.
"It may not be what 'Between the Keys' listeners expect," Distler says, "yet since this episode occurs on the anniversary of a profoundly tragic milestone that affected all who remembered it and who suffered as a result, I felt that it was important to make a statement. After all, the first line of the Word Tower Two poem reads: 'In times of crisis, poets use words. Find some.' "
"I'm not a poet, but I'm proud that I was able to come up with music to reflect on this period of time. And I remember thinking about the words encircling the face of Pete Seeger's banjo, and how stirring they were then, and how sadly vital they are today: "This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender."