When Hurricane Sandy hit Red Hook, Brooklyn in October, 2012, it upended my life. I was fortunate, compared to many: I was alive, uninjured, with an apartment to which I could return and a professional life that was mostly intact. But, as you probably know if you’re reading this, the devastation to the New Amsterdam warehouse was extensive, all but shutting down our operations for a month and slowing us to a crawl for the months that followed. The floodwaters ruined much of the work we’d put into the raw space over the previous summer and fall, destroying infrastructure and equipment and files and much, much more.
When the New Amsterdam warehouse was hit, so was I, and not just through my close affiliation with the company. Since May, when we moved the offices to Red Hook, I had been renting part of the space from New Amsterdam for use as a music studio, rehearsal space, and storage area. In October, that storage area was filled with an enormous amount of my gear, as well as boxes and shelves of books, scores, files, and personal effects, far too much to move it all upstairs, and as it turned out, with four feet of floodwater, even putting the expensive items — amps, synthesizers, turntables, and much more — onto three-foot desks was completely ineffective. I had never been good at getting rid of things until October, when I was forced to get rid of most of the things I own.
November and December were months of cleaning and discarding and assessing. It was a difficult period and caused me to question some of my decisions from the previous years. When I began my new ensemble in 2011, The Yehudim, I did so with the knowledge that it would be a challenge to assemble all the keyboards, amps, and other gear that I would need, for rehearsal but also just to try out ideas and create music for the ensemble. When Sarah, Bill and I were discussing getting the warehouse space, we knew we’d need additional tenants in order to make the space financially viable, and so I saw a doubly-beneficial opportunity, helping provide income to New Amsterdam while also challenging myself to take the risk of incurring a significant cost, one that would only be justified if I actually used the space to create something otherwise impossible.
Once I decided to take the space, I began filling it with gear, getting everything that I needed to put on a show with The Yehudim. This was an elaborate process, undertaken over time, as I scoured CraigsList and eBay for deals. We used this gear for two shows in 2012, at Crossing Brooklyn Ferry and the River to River Festival, and I felt confident that the decision to take the space was justified by that experience and what it suggested for the future. When Sandy destroyed the warehouse, taking much of my gear with it, it caused me to question that decision, and to wonder what would become of The Yehudim. Should I cut my losses? Without a space, and with thousands of dollars in lost gear that I’d need to somehow replace or somehow live without, what did it mean to have a money-losing ensemble that could only afford to perform a few times a year, if that? I had enough else in my life — New Amsterdam, and Ecstatic, but also plenty of other composition projects, and NOW Ensemble — that I did not need The Yehudim in order to have a rich musical life. At least on paper.
The Yehudim is a storytelling band and the stories we tell are Biblical ones. Our first story is that of Sh’lomo, King Solomon, who was given the wisdom to lead his people and the purity of purpose to build the Holy Temple. That structure gave a physical locus to a previously wandering people, anchoring them in a specific location that from that point onward became central to their spiritual ethos. As it turned out, the next portion of music that I was set to write for The Yehudim was the music that somehow represented Solomon’s construction of the Temple — a music of building. That thought crossed my mind more than once as I was working in the warehouse, seeing its past incarnation as a working music space at the same time that I was experiencing its then-present incarnation as an early-stage reconstruction project. As we rebuilt, I realized that there was a cathartic opportunity that presented itself on the horizon, a looming metaphor that I could hang onto while knocking down drywall and scrubbing floors. I am not Solomon and the warehouse is hardly the holy Temple of the ancient Jews. But to write music of building and to perform it in the newly-rebuilt space — this image has driven me, giving me hope and cause for optimism over the past 6 months.
With that in mind, it is my profound pleasure to invite you to visit the New Amsterdam warehouse at 98a Van Dyke St. in Brooklyn, NY, on Sunday, May 19, for a performance by The Yehudim. This is not a formal concert; in fact, everything about it will be informal. The space is not “done” and neither is my piece, Sh’lomo. Both are profoundly works-in-progress. But it’s time to get the rest of this music out there, and I can think of no better occasion than as part of a “thank you” to the hundreds of donors, volunteers, and supporters who have helped to bring New Amsterdam back from the brink and our space — lovingly dubbed Van Dyke Park — back into use. Starting in the afternoon, we’ll hold an open house so that you can see the space (check the NewAm website for details, closer to the event). You’ll be able to check out the Red Hook neighborhood that we call home, a neighborhood which is very much “open for business” and is beautiful in Spring. We’ll have some light refreshments and at around 6 PM we’ll kick things off with the debut performance by one of New Amsterdam’s newest and most exciting bands, called No Lands. Then I’ll present a set by The Yehudim, including a selection of new material. Due to the constraints on available space, even in our massive warehouse, we’re asking that you please RSVP by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
I hope that you’ll join me in celebrating how far we’ve come. Thank you all for your support throughout this process.