Sarah Tiedemann, is Artistic Director of Third Angle New Music and a flute and piccolo player with the Oregon Ballet Theatre Orchestra. We talked about how she and other artists are getting through the pandemic; what non-Portlanders should know about our hometown; and how predominantly white arts organizations can help tell the stories of marginalized communities in an ethical way. Episode photo by Jacob Wade.
About Sarah Tiedemann
Sarah Tiedemann currently serves as Artistic Director of Third Angle New Music and Second Flute/Piccolo of the Oregon Ballet Theatre Orchestra. She has performed across North America, Europe, Australia and China with groups including the Swedish Radio Symphony, Royal Stockholm Philharmonic, Norrköping Symphony, Oregon Symphony, and Boston Philharmonic, and at festivals including Chamber Music Northwest, the Britt Festival, the Astoria Music Festival, and the Summer Institute for Contemporary Performance Practice (SICPP). A contemporary music specialist, Sarah has appeared with Third Angle, Cascadia Composers, Northwest New Music, and Boston’s Callithumpian Consort, and her world premiere performance of Derek Jacoby’s Flute Concerto was broadcast internationally on WGBH’s Art of the States.
Welcome to More Devotedly, a podcast for people who see the arts as a force for positive progressive change. I’m Douglas Detrick, this is Volume IV, episode 7.
By now you’ve seen the pictures and the videos of the mob of insurrectionists who stormed the US Capitol on January 6th. This insurrection represented the consequences of four years of lies climaxing with a final big lie, that the election was stolen. And it proves that the anger and hate that the President has been stoking wasn’t just harmless posturing.
The racism, anti-semitism, and xenophobia that the mob openly displayed is bad enough. Attempting to undermine a free and fair election is bad enough. But for the president and his allies in congress to encourage insurrection is unthinkable and inexcusable for public officials who are sworn to uphold the constitution.
The fallout from this event will rightly take much of the nation’s attention for the coming days and weeks, but as the heat of this moment fades, we’ll be left with the same questions as always—in my life, with the resources that I have as an artist, what should I do now?
I know that sometimes I think about the work I’m doing—this podcast, my music, my work as a nonprofit leader—and it feels very inadequate compared to the problems the world faces. Something that has helped me in moments like this, and is helping me now, is to remember the core values that I try to embody in all of my work. If you’ve never tried to write yours down, I encourage you to do so, it’s a difficult but worthwhile endeavor.
Here are values I wrote down about this podcast about a year ago:
Be creative, be supportive, be honest, and take a stand.
For me, having a set of core values gives me a foundation on which to build my artistic practice and to integrate it the rest of my life. It reaffirms that principles matter during this unprincipled time. With this podcast I hope that I can help listeners to see their own work with new eyes, to take it seriously, and to use the power that they have as an artist to build momentum for positive change.
My guest this episode is Sarah Tiedemann, who is Artistic Director of Third Angle New Music and and flute and piccolo player with the Oregon Ballet Theatre Orchestra. We talked about how she and other artists are getting through the pandemic; what non-Portlanders should know about our hometown; and how predominantly white arts organizations can help tell the stories of marginalized communities in an ethical way.
I’ve admired many of the projects she has developed as the Artistic Director of Third Angle New Music here in Portland, and it was fun to talk shop about the details. But I thought that her perspective on politics, informed by experience as a campaign staffer, was particularly informative for a More Devotedly episode. A core part of her political identity is as a political moderate.
I thought that was a little surprising given that she also said that she quote “has no problem with socialism” unquote. I think it means that she holds some policy views far to the left of a Blue Dog Democrat like West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin for instance, but sees herself more interested to work with the Joes Manchin of our world than to disown them. Her story about her father’s views changing near the end of his life are a vivid illustration of that.
I’m a lot like Sarah in that way, and I see my role as an interviewer on this podcast like that as well. I’m trying to understand how people see the world. I wouldn’t always approach a problem in the same way they might, but I think it’s incredibly valuable to have deep conversations with the goal to explain and understand the values of different individuals who represent diverse range of communities in unique ways.
We talked before the storming of the Capitol and as I listen back to the interview now, I’ve had to reconsider the conversation in the context of this question—in the face of this kind of rage, what can artists do? I think Sarah offers some compelling answers to that question that may guide you forward. Or, maybe you’ll hear something that you think is complete nonsense. Either way, I hope that you’ll hold to your own principles, express your ideas with honesty and integrity, and move forward in a way that makes our world a better place.
Here’s the episode.
Douglas Detrick: [00:00:00] Sarah Tiedemann, welcome to More Devotedly. Let’s just start with the way I’ve been starting with most of my guests over the last six, seven months is just that, you know, general check-in with you about how you’re doing as we’re going through this pandemic.
Sarah Tiedemann: I’m actually doing pretty well. I’m an introvert. I think a lot of us who are artists are closet introverts. We seem very extroverted when we’re performing and then that it’s not actually the case.
Douglas Detrick: Yes, I can, I can relate.
Sarah Tiedemann: So I like keeping to myself. I like working from home. yeah, I’m doing pretty well.
And, and my favorite thing is kind of having a new box to work from, and then figuring out how to work around it, or dissolve it as it were. So I’m doing pretty well. My husband plays with the Oregon symphony, so they’re off right now. And he’s actually, he loves woodworking. So he is now working for a really good company that builds like fancy decks and fences and he’s outside.
And so, yeah, we’re, we’re doing things a little differently, but. [00:01:00] All things considered. We’re doing quite well.
Douglas Detrick: I have to ask about that. Does he see that as a temporary move to be doing woodworking?
Sarah Tiedemann: he really likes it. Obviously. He also really likes playing the trombone. So when the symphony goes back, I think he’ll be really excited about that. We have 116 year old house, and so there are always lots of projects at home, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he keeps it up, at least as a side hustle.
Douglas Detrick: Sure. Yeah. some of those folks that are like, Oh, I’m getting this other job in woodworking or whatever. And, you know, they had this kind of side hustle maybe that they had developed just in their spare time for some people that’s like. Oh, happy like side thing, and it’s going to be a temporary thing. I think for other folks it’s going to be, it’s going to be a permanent shift.
Sarah Tiedemann: Yeah, I think so. And I know for myself, you know, it’s, I don’t know if you’re finding this, but it’s extremely difficult to motivate oneself to practice. You’re not going to be doing it so [00:02:00] much and playing so much in front of people. So I really, my interest is kind of shifted as I’ve gotten more into the audio and video editing, which is not necessarily my favorite thing to do, but my interest in like installations and electronic music has been growing some, looking at taking some classes to kind of expand that side of my skillset.
Douglas Detrick: Yeah. I’ve seen some of the video projects that Third Angle has produced and that’s been really interesting. I can relate. I’ve been doing more audio and video production too, because that’s how, my organization is delivering artists projects to our audience right now.
And it’s been interesting because there’ve been things that I thought turned out really well. And I was like, Oh, that sounds pretty good. And I produced the whole thing, and then there are others that they were like, Oh, that didn’t turn out so well, and that has everything to do with my inexperience. And so that’s been cool. And I, you know, so it’s interesting to hear that from you as well. But I, I wish you luck kind of pursuing those new interests. I always think that like whenever there is something that [00:03:00] expands our universe, and that can just be, you know, mentally or whatever, but whenever one of the things get bigger, that can be a great thing. Though, I think that it’s also important to recognize that for a lot of people, this will shrink their world, and it’ll take a long time to recover from that. And that’s something we need to keep in mind.
Sarah Tiedemann: One thing that I’ve been feeling in all of this is that I don’t want to do a less satisfying version of what I would have done in person. I don’t personally, enjoy playing on live streams so much. So I’m trying not to make myself do that just for my own artistic wellbeing.
And I know some people love watching them and I know some people are just over looking at a screen for anything. But kind of setting that as a boundary for myself has made me be more creative. Like they did this John Luther Adams video concert in air quotes. But it involved a pretty elaborate, video production to [00:04:00] accompany this, electronic, acoustic and electronic bass that he had written, And that made it feel like a different animal.
And we also filmed the different pieces from different angles in the venue. So it wasn’t just looking at the stage. so yeah, finding the opportunities in all of this I think is important and actually kind of rewarding. And I think that’ll get carried forward a little bit into our future.
Douglas Detrick: Why don’t we move on and talk a bit about portland. Three or four months ago, it was kind of planning on what I would try to be doing with this podcast over, the months leading up to the election. I had a lot of ideas. Some of them were very [00:05:00] complicated and I ended up going for the simpler one which was just to interview a lot of people in Portland. Because Portland was also in the news, kind of at a national level. Right. So, and there’s been, you know, Portland has always been this place where. There’s a really strong kind of left-wing activist, community that has been here for decades.
And, and that continues today and that’s, and we definitely are seeing that now over the last few months and even up to right now. And we can maybe talk about that a little bit, but so then it’s also, you know, kind of that reputation has also been this kind of like symbolic thing for like a lot of people.
You know, right-wing folks that are looking at Portland and thinking of it as this like socialist trash heap, you know, and like, and when in reality it’s like, well, yeah, there’s that and there’s all this other stuff too. And, and so, you know, of course I think it was a little bit in reaction to that. I wanted to just kind of talk to people here in Portland and, and give Portland [00:06:00] artists as many opportunities as I could to tell people who maybe aren’t here. what Portland is really like, you know, from your perspective in your words. And so I thought I would, you know, extend that opportunity to you and just see if you could kind of comment on that, you know, living through Portland as this place, that’s kind of has this spotlight on it, that it’s kind of a bad faith arguments about what this place is really like. how would you describe it in your own words to say like what Portland is really like for you?
Sarah Tiedemann: Well, I actually grew up in Hillsboro in the eighties. So, I’ve seen many iterations of Portland, I think. And there are definite threads that have run through all of those decades. an interest in environmentalism, kind of this free spirited, independent open-mindedness, That takes shape in very different ways.
When I was a kid, that looked sort of different and I wasn’t in Portland [00:07:00] proper, so that probably looked even more different than the suburbs, which were sort of not rural back then, but on the outskirts of the suburbs, for sure.
Douglas Detrick: So Hillsboro is a, suburban Washington County and which is, you know, kind of a suburb to what Northwest of Portland, right. Or
Sarah Tiedemann: Sometimes
Douglas Detrick: Yeah,
Sarah Tiedemann: West Northwest something.
Douglas Detrick: have that information, but anyway, but that’s just a little context for folks who don’t know.
Sarah Tiedemann: Yeah. And it had, I think there are a hundred thousand people who live there now, and it was, you know, 25,000 people when I was a kid and there were few stoplights and big fields between Hillsboro and Portland. So, that area was definitely more conservative.
I grew up Republican. My family actually wasn’t, much to their chagrin. I decided I was very Republican for awhile. And then I lived in, in Sweden, in my mid twenties. So I’ve kind of seen both sides of the political spectrum and I think those both exist here even [00:08:00] now. People seeing Portland from afar, I think get some, different ideas about what it’s like, because the artists here who are producing music, TV shows like Portlandia, that a lot of the more visible people tend to be more liberal.
And then the news obviously wants to make everything look very dramatic all the time. So, it looks like there are some extreme left-wing socialist –I don’t have a problem with socialism actually, but, far left-wing folks. And then there are far, far right wing folks and those people are definitely here.
I consider myself. Sort of moderate in the way I think. It’s very Oregonian or I’m somewhere in between a green party member and a libertarian. And I think that’s sort of in the spirit of Oregon, you know, we were the first, I think we, we passed the first bottle deposit bill [00:09:00] here.
Our beaches are public lands because they declared them a highway to prevent them from becoming privatized. So we’re independent minded. I think that trickles into the arts, but you know, we’re just a bunch of normal people, who I think are maybe more committed to taking care of other people, in a lot of ways and, and especially the environment, but, you know, we have the same stuff going on here as everywhere. We have homelessness problems and people on both sides who are arguing with each other. And it’s just a hard time for everybody, but it’s not as extreme here as people think.
Douglas Detrick: Yeah. I mean, I think that’s, that’s certainly like the first response is like I mean, come on people it’s like, we’re all just like people walking around here, you know, maybe there are like, more folks that we would consider on the left wing here, and maybe they’re a little stronger, a little more active and a little more organized, but that happens [00:10:00] everywhere.
I mean, there’s, there’s a, there’s a tradition of that anywhere you in any certainly any city. And I think that, you know, there’s also a very, there’s a strong tradition of right-wing activism too, but I wonder, you know, if you kind of then go deeper than that and you think about, okay, like that’s my first response,it’s like everybody calm down. Things are not like nearly as dramatic. There’s not a, there’s not a war going on on the streets of Portland by any means. Yeah. if you look deeper at Portland and kind of down to like individual folks that, you know, and organizations that are at work here, what are some trends that you see and how, how are people reacting to that dynamic of misperceptions about Portland, perhaps, how are people actually behaving here?
Sarah Tiedemann: One thing that I think is, is an interesting thing to look at. Obviously I’m an artist, so the artistic side of things interests me, but, I think it’s sort of, a microcosmic example, in the arts community. I see a lot of them were, I guess, niche [00:11:00] areas of the arts collaborating a lot, finding points of intersection, whether that’s visual arts and music or dance, but even, even just within different genres, I see more points of intersection and I think that’s sort of trickling up, into the larger art groups over time.
and I think that kind of Idea of an independent groundswell that then influences what’s happening at the upper levels of our government, of our arts organizations, of our, you know, other community organizations. I think that’s one of the defining factors in what makes Oregon, Oregon, and particularly Portland, cause obviously this is my main base of knowledge.
Douglas Detrick: right. Sure. It’s always got a hard to compare to other places that we just don’t know. And then there’s also that, that media lens that. You know, it kind of [00:12:00] comes down to what people decide is worth covering and what’s not. And, and so, so often worthy things go unnoticed.
Sarah Tiedemann: Yeah, exactly. And I think, arts organizations, have sort of taken it upon ourselves to fill in a lot of those gaps. I know growing up in Hillsboro, you know, which is, I think 20 miles West I had no idea of a lot of the things that were happening in Portland, I think I, and a lot of white people and a lot of suburban people were sort of blissfully unaware of the challenges people were facing throughout Oregon and, and in the city. Like, I didn’t know, growing up that my idea that Oregon was such an inclusive place because you know, we’re in the North and slavery was never illegal here, but it was actually illegal to be a black person and live here. And that has progressed into its own different forms. At [00:13:00] this point, you know, we had, we’ve had red lining. We’ve had just general racism. I mean, I grew up in the eighties when the skinheads were hanging out downtown and you know, we’re as an organization at Third Angle, we’re trying to raise awareness about that for people who’ve grown up here.
And also for all these new people who are moving to the area who have no idea what’s happened here before, who just think they’re, they’re embarking on their journey to liberal mecca. So we’re doing this large scale, for us it’s huge, chamber opera that we’ve commissioned from Darrell grant, who’s an amazing local jazz pianist and composer.
And that, that has gotten bumped that was supposed to happen last April and it’s rescheduled for next fall. And we’re making some adjustments to make sure that that can happen. But It’s chance for us to shine a light on redlining and gentrification and, and what the black experience is like, [00:14:00] particularly in our town.
But I think it will translate outside the area. And, you know, that’s the kind of trickle up idea that I’m talking about. You know, the awareness I think, is coming from people committing to giving a platform to others who, who might have stories that haven’t been told before.
Part 3Douglas Detrick: let’s talk more about that. So to give a little bit of context on this project it’s one I’ve been really interested in since you guys announced it, Like a year ago, more than a year ago, and hopefully you’ll get to do it this spring. But this is so as you said a chamber opera by Darrell grant with libretto by Anis Mojgani, right? so it’s a chamber opera about the Albina neighborhood in Portland. Can you give a little more about that?
Sarah Tiedemann: Yeah, absolutely. So it’s funny. We went to Darrell, wanting to work with him and we said, Darrell, [00:15:00] do an opera. And he said, absolutely not. Why would I do that? And then thought about it a little more. And you know, he’s sort of up for anything. So The, the Genesis of this project has a lot of, it’s been driven by him and, and his desire to sort of take ownership of this art form that has traditionally been very white and European.
And he is working with a libretto by Anis Mojgani, as you mentioned who has Oregon’s poet Laureate. And we have a wonderful. Director Alexander Gideon. And so, you know, we have an all black creative team which I, I don’t recall that happening in Portland much ever. And we’re, we’re doing this show in the neighborhood that is about it includes a cast of four black vocalists.
All with very, very different voice types. You know, we have jazz influenced [00:16:00] people and then we have a singer who’s performed in the Met with more of an operatic background. We have, you know, someone who can kind of sing anything who does gospel like a boss. So there are sort of different parts of the black experience present in this, there are different representations of music that is meaningful to the black community. And, you know, we want this to connect with the folks in the neighborhood. We do want, obviously the white people who might not know about the situation to become more familiar with the community that’s been affected and also with why we have responsibilities moving forward.
But for context, a little bit more, the Albina neighborhood is in North Portland. And we had really, we as a community prior to me, me being around, but Portlanders Had some really horrible redlining practices and in the black community was really centered in this [00:17:00] neighborhood.
And they’ve kind of been shoved around as the neighborhood has gotten more, I hate this word, but in also in air quotes, desirable for white people moving in who have really driven up property rates . There’ve been instances of housing there sort of being Repossessed by the state, you know, declared a loss and then families are kicked out of their homes.
And there was a large section of the neighborhood torn down for an interstate project, which is also where they put the big stadium or the, my beloved Portland Trailblazers play. So I think a lot of people here are like, I was historically where they have no idea what’s gone on. They, they don’t understand what’s still going on, I would say. And we just really, we want people to feel heard. And you know, we are a largely white organization. We really diversified [00:18:00] our, our roster of artists lately, but we also just, it’s important to us that we make space for other people to tell their stories without inserting ourselves too much.
So we’re handling a lot of the production and we’re definitely giving input, you know. Third Angle, like one of the main things we can contribute is just our experience in creating these kinds of big outside of the box events, productions multidisciplinary collaborations, all that. So we just want to help. We want to help make the world better.
Douglas Detrick: I have a couple of questions that I wanted to ask you about that. I heard a little bit of some actual feedback that you’ve gotten so far, you can talk about that, that would be great. And take that the next step further and just talk about, as a kind of predominantly white organization and and you’re handling this story, that’s about the black experience in Portland and one that’s especially traumatic and, and How, you know, what what’s, what’s your responsibility there.
[00:19:00] And, why are you doing it? Is there a wrong way to do it? Is there a right way to do it? What have you learned so far? I think whatever, you know, whatever comes to you right now, as, as things that are worth sharing, I would love to hear that.
Sarah Tiedemann: Well, I think the wrong way to do it would be to just decide what we think the problems are and how they should be fixed and artistically what that looks like and not do enough listening in the process which is why we’re excited to work with the creative team that we’re working with. we’ve also been having Listening sessions these kind ofstorytelling sessions where we’ve been out in the community at the, like the Martin Luther King junior school with neighborhood members talking about their experiences growing up there and living there and going through this whole gentrification process.
So I think, listening is sort of at the root of all of our world’s problems right now. And this is just another example of, of a place where it’s important. By and large, [00:20:00] the response we’ve received has been really positive. I think there will always be people on you know, both sides of this who are going to be wary. Our black communities stories have not been told and not been told in their own voices.
And so I can understand any wariness about a largely white organization or historically I would say largely white Organization telling those stories and what that’s going to look like. And you know, is this another case of like white people owning our experience and benefiting from it?
And then on the other side, you know, there will always be people who don’t think that things like, I hate the saying, but our identity politics should be in the arts and we should just be making music and we should butt out of everything else . Though we’re, a new music organization, so we always say, if we don’t get at least a few complaints about [00:21:00] every show we put on, we did it wrong. If anybody complains great, there will always be people I think, who are not satisfied with how we do things like this, even when we’re really trying. And I think. You know, that’s a really important I would say impediment to a lot of the work that needs to be done.
I know I, as a white person get very paranoid about making the problems worse about upsetting people. I just don’t like to upset people in general. And I think white people can tend to view the black community as this monolith and think, well, I’m trying this and I’m working really hard.
And people are mad at me and telling me I’m doing it wrong. Well, yeah, some people are gonna think, whatever you do is wrong and some people are gonna love it. And. At the end of the day, you just have to listen a lot and, and live by your own conscience. And I [00:22:00] think if you’re listening enough, then that conscience gets more and more informed.
But it’s always going to be a process of upsetting some people, listening before you make the art and also listening after you make the art to places where people didn’t feel represented or didn’t feel, I don’t know. It just didn’t like what you did. And then learning from that for the next project, there’s never going to be some point where we get to the goalposts and okay, we are making art that is woke and everybody loves it. And everybody’s happy with us. This is just not how any of this works.
Part 4 Douglas Detrick: a project that my organization, Portland jazz composers ensemble did a couple of years ago and we, we had that experience where we were working with us kind of a story [00:23:00] from Oregon’s African-American history. And as we had our very first opportunity to have a public event, which was a kind of a forum with our mostly black artistic team. And there was one person who was, you know, she was directly connected to the story.
And had been there. She was part of it, lived through it. And, but had also done a lot of research to kind of try to document it, and at first she was very unhappy with the fact that we were approaching this project. And I think she was very mistrustful at first. And it’s a very long story that I can’t, I can’t even begin to tell all of it right now.
But what ended up happening at the very end of the project is that she actually became part of the project and that was, that was great. And I think it was the right thing to do that we kind of brought her in, but it did kind of alienate another black person that was [00:24:00] involved with the project who then felt pushed out . because they were two black people that were both very connected to the story in a personal way, and had both done tons of work to document it and to kind of bring that story to the wider, you know, kind of both statewide and national attention. And it was really hard. It was the hardest situation I had ever dealt with. I mean, the only one that comes close is what we’re going through now where I’m kind of dealing with things that I’ve have been super challenging.
But so I guess, I guess what it brought to mind for me when you, when you were talking about this idea of listening, is that probably, you know, and, and I would, I would agree that I learned the same lesson that like. Just because you’re trying to do this work, isn’t automatically enough. I think you have to work really hard to establish a set of principles that you’re working from.
It’s like, well, why are we doing this? And as that criticism comes in, or even that praise comes in, it’s like, well, are [00:25:00] they praising us for the the, good reasons that we tried to do this? Are they criticizing us for having abandoned those principles that we, that we are trying to honor?
Have we been clear about what those principles are? You know, I think I learned that, that, you know, all of those things I worked at were happening all at the same time. And it was really hard to understand, you know, what was going on and why, and it took a long time. And, and, and as I look back on it now, there are still times when I’m like, I, I still don’t understand.
I still didn’t get it. I didn’t get it then I only get it a little bit more now. And I, you know, I’m, I’ve tried my best to understand what happened and why and why people were upset or why people were happy or whatever.
So I don’t know. I guess all I’m saying is that, that lesson of like you’re going to be dealing with That really complex range of reactions and you have that balance between individuals who see the thing in a certain way, and you also have this balance between what’s [00:26:00] significant to a community that has some common viewpoints about why this particular story is significant, and then you also have that That further lens of, of perhaps you know, some people use this term, the white gaze to, to talk about like how, how white people look at it at a, at a story from an, a community that they’re not, you know, a part of. And, and they have their own values about what this meant and why it was important and how the story should be told.
So. I after me saying all of that, I mean, I, I guess I’ll be, I’ll be really curious to see what you guys do with it and I’m, I’m excited about it. And I don’t know, did my bloviating over here. Did that bring up any more ideas that you wanted to talk about to kind of wrap up this topic?
Sarah Tiedemann: It was some really quality bloviating. Yeah, it does. You know, it reminds me that a lot of this work is listening to all these different voices. And some, some of those voices are upset [00:27:00] voices, which like, if you haven’t been listened to for generations or forever in this country, yeah. You’re going to be upset.
We might say things in a certain way. You might have strong feelings and that’s all totally reasonable. So I feel like the work isn’t that someone is going to say something and that’s going to be the thing and you listen to it and then nobody gets mad at you. It’s more a matter of listening to a lot of different voices and being in a lot of different circumstances and sort of steeping in that.
My husband is actually a Buddhist he’s in this particular corner of Buddhism, I think it’s called Jodo shinshu where it’s a lot of the the more like farmers and, and the, the common folk in Japan. And it’s less about the, you know, the sort of Zen side of Buddhism, the meditating.
It almost looks like a regular [00:28:00] church service when you go to their Sunday services. When the minister there speaks the idea is that he’ll ” perfume in the air” with this ideology and, that resonates with me when it comes to this kind of work too.
Like, you’re just letting, letting all these different voices, perfume the air and you’re absorbing. even when somebody is not saying some key phrase that changes your life, you’re just starting to get it, you know?
Douglas Detrick: Yeah, well, it’s, it’s a complicated perfume,
Sarah Tiedemann: Yes,
Douglas Detrick: but I think there’s that idea of, of, of that. You’ve brought up a couple of times and that, that, that story, that analogy really brings out. And that’s just this idea of like, it takes a long time. All these competing viewpoints take time to kind of soak in.
And to make sense you know, cause I, I can certainly say that as, as I was getting into that project that I mentioned and for any fans [00:29:00] of PJCE, this was our from Maxwell to Vanport project. So I and I’m, I’m trying, I’m keeping the name, the specific names of folks out of it, just because it, it was a complicated and there are folks that are not happy to this day about it.
But I do remember that as I started encountering this, this perfume it was like I had an intensely emotional reaction, like that, that had like several stages of like, you know, that the seven stages, I suppose, like I had, I had anger, I had denial, I had acceptance.
I had all those things and, and, Sometimes it’d be like three in the morning that I’m having these things happen. So, so, yeah. So just what you said about this, this idea of this perfume, that’s kind of something that is very complicated, it’s in the air and, but, but at the same time, you have to expose yourself to it and you have to take the time that it takes to kind of sort it out and to really become familiar with it.
Sarah Tiedemann: I think there’s this idea where if you’re [00:30:00] doing something good and doing something that’s guided by your moral compass and, and your desire to make people’s lives better and do the right thing that you should feel good. Like, you know, if I make a donation to somebody, I feel good afterward, it might be generous, but I’m going to, I’m going to get some, some good feels about it.
And this is work where you can really try so hard and just feel like a total failure at the end of it, you know? So I think that can be shocking when you feel like you’re doing something good. And then somebody is just mad at you because of it. On the other hand, I think that’s also a symptom of whiteness is this idea that we should feel okay all the time.
You know, if somebody’s family home was taken away a few generations ago and you know, Their, their [00:31:00] wealth, their life experience, all that has now been affected. They probably don’t feel that great. And at some point I realized that part of this is an emotional form of reparations where like, I don’t get to feel okay when they don’t.
I think that’s the hardest part of the work to wrap your head around is that you can be doing the right thing and it doesn’t end up being the right thing in the moment, but you tried and you get better for the next time. And so you’re part of this process that is still a bigger picture, right thing.
Douglas Detrick: As a white person, that’s engaging in this work and, trying to be involved in these stories, I think it could be very justified to say we should not be involved in the telling of these stories.
And, you know, I think that that’s, that’s justified. I think there’s a reasonable logic behind that. That makes, that makes a lot of sense. but then I think at the same time [00:32:00] if by trying and, and sometimes failing or, or doing both at the same time, which is more, more, more like what really happens in the real world with everything.
I mean, on the whole, it, to me, it’s like, it seems like if we can, you know, as, as white folks who are involved in this work and trying to use the platform that we have in the arts to bring these stories out, to put you know, in this case we’re talking about African-American artists, if we can put them in the driver’s seats and empower them to make decisions that pertain to this work, then on balance, it seems like a good thing to do. and yes, that struggle of like, trying to understand whether this is a success or a failure. And to what degree of each of those things at the same time is happening is a good thing to engage in. Like it’s a, it’s a worthwhile activity, I guess, what’s kind of in my mind is there are some folks who say, we just shouldn’t do this.
We [00:33:00] shouldn’t try. And that’s something I disagree with. we should try. And I think we should try do it as well as we can. And I think, I think this, this idea of this perfume that you’ve talked about is a very helpful analogy. Actually. I think we shouldn’t expect that we do it right.
The first time we shouldn’t expect to receive unmitigated praise about it all the time. And we should expect to struggle. Of course then at the same time, it’s like, well, of course, I’m going to say, I should do this because I’ve done it a lot.
And I’ve, I’ve tried and I’ve, and I’ve failed and I’ve had, have made mistakes, but So, I don’t know. I guess that’s all I’m getting at is just this idea of like, you know, on balance, I would say we should try. And, and I, and it seems like you would agree with that. And that we should learn from our mistakes and that we should try to do better.
Sarah Tiedemann: I think, I think there are a few different aspects to this. Cause I have had the same debate with myself and wrestled with this a lot. I think we, as humans, as individuals owe it [00:34:00] to ourselves, to, and to our community to learn about these things. And, you know, I’m an artist. So I learned through creating art. So personally for me to figure out a situation, I have to be artistically involved in it to some extent, to really wrap my head around it.
I think also by and large, the white organizations tend to have more resources available in some cases. And I think we have an obligation to utilize those resources, to make space for other people to tell their stories.
I hate this, but I think. In many instances, white people who might be more averse to learning, listen to other white people better. And I, I think as white people, one of our obligations [00:35:00] is to make sure we’re bringing other white folks along on the journey and, you know, taking responsibility for helping people learn.
And hopefully in that process, they realize that they should be listening to members of the black community or the Latinx community or whoever. But sometimes man, those initial steps, you just you’re so caught up in where you are yourself, that it takes someone who you think is similar to you to kind of push you along a little bit at the beginning.
Douglas Detrick: Yeah. I completely agree with that. I mean, I think, you know, if you have your I don’t know, like your, your cousin who’s, you know, deep in the Fox news right-wing media bubble maybe their cousin doesn’t matter that much in their calculation of what’s important, but.
It, maybe it matters more than somebody they don’t know. So it’s like, I tend to take this very personal lens, like, the people that I know personally who are listening, who I’m like, Oh, you know, I [00:36:00] think this person might, dare say, might need to hear this. Might really benefit from hearing this particular interview.
Sarah Tiedemann: For me, part of, part of viewing myself in many ways as a moderate. I’m very pragmatic about all this in many ways and in ways that can offend people. I’m careful about the language I choose. Like I, I get worried about people saying defund the police, first of all, because the term sounds not like it means what it actually means, but really it should be re allocate resources that are currently allocated to the police, but that’s not as catchy I get that.
But in trying to find ways to communicate things in a way that people will hear, you know, there’s this argument that that’s tone policing. I almost always go with the mindset, what are we trying to get here? That’s just the direction I come from. And I think a lot of other people come from there’s this idea that if you use practical [00:37:00] language, that is not in line with maybe the term that a community has invented itself, that you’re you’re tone policing.
And I just always want to err, on the side of living by what are we trying to get here? Instead of am I expressing myself how I want to, and I get why people come from the other direction, but man. It’s sometimes it feels like the world wants us to make progress through our anger. And I see anger more as a catalyst and not necessarily as the way you convince anybody that there is more out there than what they currently believe, or maybe want to believe.
Douglas Detrick: Yeah, it’s more of a tool for solidarity than for persuasion.
Sarah Tiedemann: exactly.
Douglas Detrick: Well, I, you know, I’ve been using the term, re-imagined the police, which I don’t know [00:38:00] if that’s I don’t know if there’s any camp that would endorse that, but I’m more interested in persuasion, I suppose, but, but also, you know, kind of just building this kind of solidarity around the arts as a, as a positive tool, I suppose, for, for making change. I’ve tried to just be more specific and concrete about, well, you know, these are proposals that kind of fit under the umbrella of defund the police, but, to me, what I would rather see is a re-imagined police force. But then at the same time, it’s another vague term that doesn’t really mean anything. So it’s more
Sarah Tiedemann: Well, most, most things that include three words at the end of the day are fairly vague.
but also catchy. So that’s how that happens I think. My feeling on this is that there are certain people in the world who are a lost cause when it comes to trying to work against racism, trying to learn, to see everyone is as equal and being willing to do [00:39:00] what needs to be done to also make life equitable. Certain people are lost cause. There are certain malignant narcissist in the world who shall remain nameless, who probably aren’t going to come around. But the general populous, you just never know who might come around. I mean, I saw an interview the other day. What is that, what is that religious organization who pick it’s all the funerals?
Douglas Detrick: Westboro or.
Sarah Tiedemann: Yes. I saw an interview with a former Westboro Baptist member. Who had totally come around and was like, God, this is awful. I was totally indoctrinated. So, you know, people have value at humans even when they are not exercising that value to be kind to other people. I just don’t like writing people off with few exceptions maybe, but I don’t know.
And I think in the arts. [00:40:00] We have a really unique opportunity. It’s kind of that, perfuming the air idea again, where we can reach people maybe while they’re just enjoying the music, you know, like there’s, there’s a higher lesson in there, but also it’s really nice to listen to. Or if not, sometimes we do things that aren’t and I enjoy those too.
But I was just, I don’t like the idea that, we have to interact with people from a position of expressing our anger so that they should feel shame. That doesn’t feel productive to me. It feels like a thing that feels good in the moment maybe, and, and doesn’t feel good in the long run.
And I have had some people get so angry with me because of that position. I had people tell me you should disown folks, you know, in your family or in your friend group or whoever, because obviously they must be bad [00:41:00] people. For holding political opinions or racist opinions or what have you. I, and I feel like that, I mean, this, I’m not saying anything new, but that polarizes us in ways that are not productive.
And I look back at myself in high school… oh, high school Sarah, if I could shake her a little bit… I had this boyfriend. Who was, very conservative. And in like 10th grade, would say just the most offensive things in, in our world history class or whatever it was. And I would say things cause I knew he was going to be into it. And then we’d like sneak out at lunch and make out in the stairwell. So I mean, you know, but that, that version of Sarah. I would hope people wouldn’t have thought was irredeemable.
Douglas Detrick: I think no one is [00:42:00] beyond redemption. But it has to be earned. People have to be honest. And I think to me, it extends to the police. If we say all cops are bastards. That is to me, it’s like, it’s, well, it’s just wrong because I think that police officer can, can be redeemed and can, can atone for mistakes. Because I, I think if we want to make progress, we have to bring people in rather than pushing them away. I would say that like in the arts where we’re kind of in, like, we’re in the understanding business, we’re in the redemption business. Weird things like that can happen where people come around and people change their minds. And to me, that’s what we’re doing. Like that’s what, where that’s what we’re here for.
Sarah Tiedemann: Yeah. I, I mean, I grew up with just the, the most racist father. I mean Oh, the things that came out of his mouth. Well, he was also super fun and playe basketball with me and, you know, it was hilarious and all kinds of good things, but man, I just had so much trouble being around him.
And he actually like [00:43:00] the last, I want to say couple of months of his life, all of a sudden he figured it out and he was lovely. I think if I had written him off, like people are encouraging others to do now, I wouldn’t have seen that, and maybe been maybe even part of encouraging that.
But I also look back and the, the way I was able to keep him in my life and still live my own values is by having boundaries skills. And I think Americans tend to lack those. No, I grew up Northwest nice, so I understand. But you know, when he would say awful things, I would just say, I’m not going to listen to that. Do you want me to stay here? I’m like hanging out with you, but if you’re going to start that I’m going to leave and he would usually stop. And if he was still on a tear about something, I would say, okay, I’m leaving now and get out. I always used to hear people talk about boundaries and not really understand what they [00:44:00] are.
They’re just telling people what you’ll put up with and you don’t have to do it like an asshole. I don’t know how you can say asshole in your podcast, but you can, you can. You don’t even have to have an affect. You can just say, I’m not interested in that kind of conversation right now. And that’s that.
And you don’t have to, you don’t have to yell at people. I don’t know. That’s not very artistic. It’s not really an artistic conversation, but I guess it’s the same thing in the arts. You can just say things and, and not yell them at people.
Douglas Detrick: Yeah. I think we, we kind of, we kind of soften the gates a little bit. We’re not, we’re not tearing down the gates. I think we’re, we’re kind of kind of perfuming the air around the gatekeepers, perhaps all the many various ones with their own gates of different, you know, cities, whatever.
So for that pained analogy. Well, Sarah, I think we should probably wrap it up now. But I, [00:45:00] it was really, really great to get into this with you. And and, and just kind of getting to talk about what you’re doing with Third Angle and as a political being and a musical being yourself was really interesting. And thanks so much for sharing all of that with me and, and the folks who listen.
Sarah Tiedemann: My pleasure. Thanks for having me
Douglas Detrick: Absolutely. Good.
Thanks so much Sarah and the Third Angle New Music team.
I took a break from producing episodes for a while. Things have been very busy getting my kids through distance learning at home, with work and everything else happening right now. But I’m glad to bring this conversation to you as well as an update on the show.
You might have noticed that all the music on this volume of episodes was created using glass objects, along with mallets and fingers and knitting needles and my breath to set them vibrating. I chose this material because of it’s acoustic properties for sure—it can be a powerfully resonant substance but also very ethereal—but also because of the symbolism connected to the ways we use glass in our daily lives today, its history going back to antiquity and prehistory.
Glass is a fragile substance to be sure, and when it breaks the edges can be dangerous. But yet, we continue to surround ourselves with it thanks to its versatility and the relative ease with which we can produce it, either with new material or melting down old glass to remake it. Early on, my thoughts were more focused on glass as a fragile material, but now, as we turn to a new chapter in our history as a nation, I see glass as a symbol of our renewal. The old shards of our past will always be with us, but that doesn’t mean we can make something new with them too.
Taking that idea further, I’ll be working on an EP of songs inspired by glass and glassmaking that I hope to finish over the coming months. You’ll be hearing about it.
Until then, I’m thankful to all of my guests over this volume of episodes—Joni, Joy, Suba, Onry, Andre and Jeff. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and your stories! Unless some burning idea comes up that demands another episode, this will be the last of Volume IV. I’ll keep you up to date on what’s coming next.
Be sure to follow the show on Instagram and Facebook, and if you aren’t on the show’s email list, head on over to moredevotedly.com and sign up. You’ll hear about new episodes and other big announcements, and get a few thoughts of mine that aren’t included in the episodes, like a behind the scenes of my own mind. That sounds enticing doesn’t it?
You’ve been listening to More Devotedly. I produced this interview and created the music here in Portland, OR.
What you’re doing is beautiful. Can you do it more devotedly?