“A lot of why I’m a singer and why I love vocal music is because I get to tap into these saturated emotional states,” Tara Khozein says. “For me, the only reason to sing something is if you’re in a state that words alone can’t express.” Khozein has taken this powerful ethos and applied it in her own contributions to Finding Refuge: Art Songs For Syrians in Exile, a collaborative song cycle project created alongside composer Grisha Krivchenia.
This coming together of talent represents a rather interesting end product—a contemporary composer with varying influences and an ultimately original sound (and ideals) melding ideas with a singer who we’ll call “weird,” for lack of a better term (Kohzein is trained, so don’t be upset—she just doesn’t stick to plain old straightforward vocal work is all).
Don’t let any of this information dissuade you, though, because these musicians are both quite accessible. Not only are Khozein and Krivchenia masters in their respective fields with countless hours, projects and performances under their belts, but you may have already seen some of these songs performed, both at a fundraiser for the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (moas.eu) at DIY space Radical Abacus (radicalabacus.com) called Refuge, and a similar event at the Railyard Performance Space benefitting Mercy Corps (mercycorps.org), both of which occurred last year.
We can technically call the song cycle “classical music,” though, as Krivchenia wisely puts it: “If classical music is going to survive, it has to be a living tradition.” In other words, he’s taking cues from the grand classical tradition, just not emulating it outright; nor does he adhere to the stuffy nature for which classical music is sometimes known.
Finding Refuge itself is his brainchild, born of a Washington Post article he came across that detailed the Syrian refugee crisis from the perspective of the Syrians themselves. “It followed these families around as they made their lives in other countries,” Krivchenia says. “Their actual words, their quotations … were really moving [and] you get some sense of what their lives are like.” He then took the stories and converted them into poems that quote extensively from the refugees.
The song structures came together quite quickly. “It all happened within a couple hours,” Krivchenia explains. “I woke up the next morning at 4:30 and by noon I had all the ideas down, either recorded roughly or written, [and] it’s the refugees telling their stories.”
The album, currently in progress, comes next. Krivchenia and Khozein tapped local musician/producer Jono Manson for help. Rather than record at Manson’s Kitchen Sink Studios, they set up shop at local nonprofit, the Academy for the Love of Learning in the Seton Village area outside town. “They have a piano that Grisha really likes and it’s a beautiful space, so we sort of built a little recording studio out there,” Khozein says.
At this writing, Krivchenia and Khozein are continuing the recording process, and they’ve turned to crowdfunding to help with its completion. Interested parties can visit the Kickstarter campaign to donate towards the $4,100 goal and, if all goes according to plan, the finished record should be available sometime this spring.
In the meantime—and especially given the hotly contested sanctuary status of American cities of late—it would probably be good for all of us to remember the situation in Syria. Yeah, this is just a music column, and I’m not aiming to get super-political, but I would point out that tragedies such as the refugee crisis or Standing Rock seem to have become almost passé in the minds of many. Krivchenia and Khozein continue to shine a light on this very important issue, and help is obviously still needed.
Can you think of a better way to achieve more awareness and maybe even enlighten the masses than original music? Of course you can’t.
To donate, visit: kickstarter.com.