Monday, September 2, 2013
J.E. Brockman: Leadership in Art and Activism
"I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community" - G. B. Shaw
Beethoven, Shaw and Picasso are three of the greats who have married their art to political and social activism. J.E. (Jane) Brockman hopes to follow in their footsteps. I first met Jane, a classical music composer, when she asked me to coach her Culver City anti-fracking group, or "Fractivists," as she calls them. Tall and slender, an avid swimmer and yoga practitioner, Jane is humble, joyous and gracious. I liked her immediately and the more I learned about her and fracking, the more I wanted to know: What led her into musical composition and then into "Fractivism" and was there a connection?
"What's a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?" - Professor
Thinking Jane had inherited her musical abilities, her response surprised me. "No one in my family played an instrument. But my mother had wanted to play the piano and so encouraged me to take lessons. I could never practice for more than an hour, yet I could compose for hours on end!" When Jane anonymously won a national competition with her Master's Thesis, at the age of 24, the judges were shocked when they called to notify her that she had won the prize. At that time, women composers were vitually unknown and they, assuming the name "Jane" was a misspelling of "James," expected her to be a man. Not only had she correctly spelled her name, Jane really was one-of-a-kind!
This was one of many rewards for her prodigious work ethic. "Music taught me how to learn," she shares. "I never felt like I knew enough and would compose from early in the morning till midnight." Today, Jane continues to apply these study habits to composing, learning about fracking and educating others. She picked up this trait from her father, an electrical engineer, who worked on hydroelectric generators and the electric car, in the 60's. "My dad was always studying about his field and also about patent law, which he loved. He was the best man I've ever known, with so much integrity, in big and small things. He would study and work through the week, then play with his daughters on weekends and teach us life lessons. He valued his integrity, took pride in providing for his family and, years later, when our mother developed Alzheimers, he kept it from my sister and me so our lives wouldn't be disrupted. He always did the honorable thing and I wanted to be like him."
Trained to push herself harder and farther, Jane studied for a year in France on an Alliance Francaise fellowship and for another year in Vienna on another fellowship, developing her own personal composition style. Then, after achieving her Doctorate, she beat out 278 applicants to eventually become a tenured professor at the University of Connecticut, teaching music theory, composition and orchestration, grad and undergrad. After 9 years as a professor, however, Jane became restless for more creative challenges. She won a Sundance Fellowship in 1988 and fulfilled her desires to study with great film composers, score film clips, and work with the Utah Symphony. With dreams of composing for orchestras, the obvious next step was a move to Los Angeles. "At first, instead of composing," Jane emotes joyfully, "I ate humble pie. After all those years of developing my personal style, in Hollywood, I was told to sound like John Williams!"
But Jane did score films, including "Conquering Space." She began producing the on-going "Music and Conversation" Chamber Series Concerts, is currently working on a commissioned composition for a poem of analogies about aging and envisions a serious operatic composition in her future. She also applies her powerful study habits to learning the ins and outs of fracking, educating and expanding her leadership.
"I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country" - Thomas Jefferson
After moving to Culver City, Jane attended a 2012 Town Hall meeting about fracking. A line of concerned citizens was out the door. "Culver City is on an oil field and PXP (now Freeport McMoRan) had recently bought out Chevron's mineral rights and started fracking. People were mad as hell about the risks to public health and safety. Some had seen Gasland 1, documenting Pennsylvania's fracking horrors. Many were aware of the devastating effects to health and homes occurring in nearby Windsor and Baldwin Hills; so the State Department of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources had organized the meeting. As citizens spoke, I became more and more appalled that the government was not only allowing fracking to take place, but was touting it as a good thing!"
"Whoever Pays Is What You Get" - J.E. Brockman
The idea of a speech coach was planted during the Culver City meeting, as Jane listened to Pittsburg's former City Councilman, Doug Shields, speak. Pennsylvania had been ground zero for fracking and, having witnessed first-hand the horrendous health ravages and risks to air and water, Shields was instrumental in getting fracking banned in his city. Avoiding the technical jargon used by industry-paid think tanks to obfuscate and mislead, Shields spoke with simplicity and humility, cutting to the heart of the matter - public health, welfare and safety were more important than corporate profits. As she listened, Jane remembered how her great aunt, a speech teacher, had influenced her father to speak well. She tucked that idea away for the future. Now, being her father's daughter, she got to work, boning up on the facts about fracking.
"We have to leave our children a world to live in" - J.E. Brockman
Jane's study habits include a tool she learned in a memory course - to connect facts with emotions. "Just as I'd always brought passion to my composing, now I was outraged about fracking. Corporate personhood has put the health and safety of the public at risk!" she asserts. Then her tone changes. "But thanks to the internet, we can at least educate ourselves and others." For Jane, that meant applying her highly developed study habits to categorizing and filing, for easy access, the hundreds (over 800 now!) of articles, news casts, documentaries, scientists, politicians, corporations and corporate heads she studied.
She began networking, on-line and in person, to form alliances . Jane and her group of Fractivists are a storehouse of facts and figures, not just about fracking, but also about the democratic process of activism, consensus and public policy. They have connections to citizens groups at the local, state and national levels. One of these includes the Food and Water Watch (FWW), which, inspired by Jane's pioneering efforts, now plans to establish a speakers' bureau.
"Two paths diverged in a yellow wood, and I took the one less traveled by" ~ -Robert Frost
Knowing how "way leads on to way," I asked Jane if she saw herself bringing together musical composition with "fractivism" in some way. With characteristic enthusiasm, Jane affirmed her vision of writing an opera loosely based on an investigative report about the Exxon Valdiz oil spill. "But first," she exclaims, "we've got to get fracking banned in Culver City!"
I'm confident that, as her father's child, Jane's word is law. The inevitability of time and study, together with art and activism, will bring forth her vision. Thanks to Jane and other "Fractivists", people are learning, at an exponential rate, about fracking's threats to the public health, welfare and safety of their families. Fracking will be banned and, while Beethoven's, Shaw's and Picasso's activist masterpieces thrill, count me in as one of the fans who can't wait to sit in the presence of Jane's opera!