Past to “Anywhere”
written by Olivia Davis
GLFCAM Arnold and Babette Salamon Fellow, Cycle 10
I looked at an old photo, framed by wood the shape of a star, as if conveying an aged wish made once upon the first time it was seen. “Star light, star bright…” The photo was of my brother on mandolin, my dad on guitar, and me, a very little girl, clapping my hands and singing.
I recall the warmth, happiness, and joyous memories and feelings of my youth. Music often filled the house: I remember records of Michael Jackson, Eric Clapton, and many others getting played; my brothers learning guitar; my mother’s singing; my nightly lullabies. When I was very young, my grandmother would play piano on her upright at home. Outside in the backyard of my grandparents’ homes, tall pine trees jutted, and Oregon wilderness whistled its tune.
My family thrived in the arts in different ways, and that made its way into my genome. My father was a graphic designer; my mother, grandmother, and great grandmother all painted; my great grandfather played violin for live radio; and my grandfather and father were in bands, my father having toured the west coast. My mother enjoyed doing arts and crafts, which fostered my love for visual arts. When I was a child, I would wake at six in the morning, ready to begin drawing, begin painting, begin creating. When I was in middle school, I would enjoy writing. With my mood-setting music on, a piece of thought-provoking visual art in front of me, I would write fictional stories, working them out meticulously, deconstructing tapestries, eventually one story reaching well over 200 pages. The arts for me as a child were what I ate, drank, dreamed. That sentiment never changed. The art of creating was the blood in my veins.
But the path that leads us anywhere is never straight. In the fourth grade, I didn’t know what my “anywhere” was going to be, but that fate was entangled with a girl named Brittany. My teacher had me tour the new kid, Brittany, around the school. We immediately became best friends. Brittany had the two of us join an after-school strings program in which we played violin. Sadly, she moved away a year later. If it weren’t for her, I would never have begun playing. During my high school years, I became an assistant teacher for the same program. Ultimately, I chose to go to college to study violin performance.
It was during my high school sophomore year that the second principal event would happen leading me to my fated “anywhere.” A late-night errand with my father ended in a horrific car accident. It was followed by recurrent nightmares for months. Though having never composed before, I begun composing following the accident—a therapeutic act, and release of emotions. Though traumatic both physically and mentally, my father and I made it through alright, and I am thankful to this day that the accident happened. It was part of my path to “anywhere,” after all. During my second year of undergrad, I added composition as my second major. “Star light, star bright…”
My path has been full of a variety of influences and artistic endeavors. I have spent a great amount of time studying and performing Early Music, growing up in the city that birthed the Oregon Bach Festival. A majority of my undergrad was spent as concertmaster of an Argentine Tango orquesta típica, playing in concert and for live dancers. I performed new music in numerous ensembles as both violinist and violist, as well as co-founded two: one in my undergrad, Ova Novi Ensemble, which performs works by female and female-identifying composers, and one in my masters, prismatx ensemble, which pairs new music and new visual art. To this day, I am an active performer and visual artist. My family’s past is my own, vivified through paint, charcoal, manuscript paper, violin, viola, piano. When I sit down to play piano, I pull out the book that once belonged to my grandmother. When I play from this book, I feel her dancing around me as the waves of sound bouncing off of every surface, my skin, hair, clothes included, and I am dancing with her. Every chunk of DNA, molecule of my being, blood cell, protein, neuron, sings my past and my future.
My mother once said to me that when I was learning to walk, I ran first instead. “You’re always the kind of person who wanted answers,” she said. I was always one step ahead, because I always needed to solve everything faster than the problems arose. “So you’re gonna solve everything in one afternoon,” she told me. When I was little, waking up at six a.m., I was determined to solve art. In doing so, I was unaware that I was not only solving art, but that art led me to a deeper understanding of life. Ever since those early mornings, the significance and synthesis of the arts would be a constant. I would come to be influenced by my encounters with poetry, music, as well as other visual art. Imagism, Expressionism, Realism and Fauvism all spoke to me deeply. My path to “anywhere” was fed by a growing body of knowledge fertilized by the fine arts. The “anywhere” I was running to on this not-straight path would come to encompass another significant event: the Gabriela Lena Frank Creative Academy of Music. “Star light, star bright…”
I was privileged to be part of Cycle Ten of the Gabriela Lena Frank Creative Academy of Music in which the focus was art song — a mode of expression of compelling multi-medial symbiosis with which I now had the opportunity to acquaint myself. Residency one of Cycle Ten, with mentors Jessica Rivera (soprano), Matthew Worth (baritone) and Molly Morkoski (piano) was a renewing of an aged wish made once upon a time — a testimony to it. The warmth, joy, and kindness I could recall from my childhood I saw in the Academy and its reception in Boonville, CA. As I got to know the town and its residents, everyone I talked to, from shopkeepers to bartenders, waitresses, librarians, all spoke with such high regard of Gabriela and the Academy. Excitement was palpable in Boonville, garnered by local Academy events, outreach, and new visitors to the city (including staff, musicians, composer fellows, etc.). To see the impact the Academy had on a local and international level has been wonderfully inspiring. I was humbled to be part of it.
During my short time there, I could feel the arts flourishing. The atmosphere was inviting and open. Everyone was giving of themselves, their time, their knowledge. The experience was extraordinarily fulfilling both musically and artistically, even life-changing — to a degree on many levels. I returned home more conscientious of lifestyle choices that affect our earth and its health (the earth has an “anywhere” too, of course). The relationships I made I treasured. We all came from vastly different walks of life, and brought unique perspectives. All those involved with the Academy were passionate about creating something bigger than themselves. In each person’s eyes were their “anywheres” being sung. For that moment and extended thereafter, all “anywheres” would sing pasts and futures in unison, dancing the art of life.
I am an artist: a composer, performer, drawer, painter, creator. I compose for numerous reasons, as I perform for numerous reasons. I am moved by people, by humanity, the arts, and the unknown. Music can ask and answer questions in different ways for different people, and it is wonderful it has the ability to change the world, however small or big that change may be. The Gabriela Lena Frank Creative Academy of Music is part of that change — a path to “anywheres,” enabling people of diverse backgrounds to have a vital part in that change. I am grateful to be part of it, running toward something greater.
“Star light, star bright,
first star I see tonight,
I wish I may, I wish I might,
have this wish I wish tonight.”
Olivia Davis grew up in Eugene, OR where she began her studies in violin performance at the age of nine years old. She attended the University of Oregon where she received her B.M. in Violin Performance and Music Composition in 2013. Learn more on Olivia’s bio page.