Words and Lines Following the Notes—A Visitor Muses at LACMA

Every year, LACMA presents over 100 concerts—everything from esteemed composers such as Steve Reich to ensembles such as the Los Angeles Master Chorale to jazz greats Wayne Shorter and Johnny Mandel and Latin legends Chuchito Valdes and Dori Caymmi. These concerts feature not only fine musicians, but also one of the world’s greatest audiences, made up of fascinating Angelenos with their own stories to tell.

For over 10 years, visitor Arsalan Ziazie has been a fan of LACMA. He has attended many concerts, be they Jazz at LACMA, Sundays Live, Latin Sounds, or the Art & Music series. He has been inspired by the stellar musicians that perform and his inspiration has led him to write poetry, accompanied by his unique sketches. Arsalan always attends LACMA concerts with his trusted sketchbooks, which have chronicled our many concerts over the years.

Arsalan Sketch

I sat down with Arsalan to find about the inspiration he finds at LACMA’s concerts. This is his testimonial about his experience at LACMA:

When I begin, I start drawing the musicians and the environment. The drawing takes me into the music and gives me focus—complete focus. I’m really there and I’m not thinking about anything else. As I’m drawing it’s as if I’m meeting the musicians. When you draw their faces, their posture, the way they play their instrument, you really get to know them. Each one is different.

And as I continue this sketching, I’m listening to the music and I get inspired. An idea pops up and I want the idea to be fresh, new and immediate. It’s the immediacy of this project that I like because I have very little time. Then I go to the right hand side of the sketchbook and I start writing the poetry.

It first started very haphazardly, sketching on scraps of paper. And then I got myself a sketchbook. Over the years, I have filled almost three complete books of poetry and sketches. And now when I go to other venues, I always bring my sketchbook. It has become a habit, which all started here at LACMA.

But it’s producing something immediate that I’m drawn to. You see poetry, like all the other art forms, is based on emotion. This is like you take a snapshot of the physical effect of the light on the bodies. Poetry is like taking an emotional snapshot of the time. So it has to be true and immediate.

Poetry is performance art. If I give you a sheet of music, it doesn’t come alive until you perform it. You can read poetry, but that’s not the way it’s supposed to be delivered. It’s supposed to be delivered from the poet to the audience. And then when it reaches the mind of the audience, they can interpret any way they want to—because that’s the way the art happens.

I now call my poems and sketches Words and Lines Following the Notes. I thoroughly enjoy myself and so appreciate the fine musical offerings the museum provides to the community.

“Dimitri Shostakovitch” (August 25, 2013)

To celebrate the death
of the brutal dictator,
Shostakovitch breaks free,
breathing a sigh of relief,
through the wind orchestra,

that reaches my senses
through decades,
still fresh,
full of meaning

and perhaps
some warning

If only
one could,
through some magic,
do the reverse:

shoe away
dictators and bad actors
on the world stage

(cropping up too oft)

by blowing loud
the harmonious sound
of freedom and liberty

If only

Perhaps we all do
possess that magic
but are too timid
to let it out

blowing the sound of freedom
in harmony and in quiet dignity


If only one could get
this magnificent harmonious
(occasionally dissonant as it were)
this sound of freedom and liberty
to every ear on the planet

If only

Mitch Glickman, Director of Music Programs

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