It took seven years to turn the idea of National Sawdust into actual music. It finally happened this past October 1st. A new space in an old building came to life through people who spent decades preparing themselves, wandering the less-traveled paths through the musical wilderness, following their own internal maps, which they often drew as they walked.
Theo Bleckman started life in Dortmund, Germany, became a champion ice-dancer, then gave it all up to become an American and sing music that has been described as jazz, other-worldly, and excellent. Foday Musa Suso is a griot, an oral historian and musician of the Mandingo people of Gambia, West Africa. He is also a master of the kora, and a direct descendant of the inventor of the 21 string instrument that looks a lot like a lute. He has played with Philip Glass, Pharoah Sanders, Ginger Baker, Paul Simon, and the Kronos Quartet, so his music qualifies as eclectic. Tanya Tagaq is an Inuit throat singer from Canada. Throat singing is unique to the Inuit, the native people of the arctic. Tanya learned to sing in Yellow Knife, Northwest Territories.
There is a focal point that drew these musicians of obscure, off-center, and exploratory styles to Williamsburg. That point is the dream of a woman who’s own path to making music in Brooklyn began with her grandfather.
A hundred years ago in Italy, an oboist had a son. The son became a reed, pad, and instrument maker. When his daughter was very young, he moved the family to Nogales, and later to Tuscon, Arizona. That’s where the daughter, Paola Prestini spent her early childhood, heavily influenced by southwestern and Mexican culture. When she was five years old, Paola discovered a strong connection to music at the same time that her parents were separating. Her now single mom embraced and enthusiastically supported Paola’s new interest. By the time she was nine, Paola dreamed of composing. The dream took control of her path.
Paola attended Interlocken Arts Academy, a high school in Michigan for students of the arts, where she majored in composition. It was here that Paola began to understand a composer’s life outside of composing.
Paola remembered, “Our teachers always spoke about the path of a composer–finish school and enter competitions. Once out of school, there was very little guidance. There were very few options.”
With very few options, while still attending the Julliard School of Music in New York, Paola started her own company, VisionIntoArt. VisionIntoArt (VIA) is a non-profit multi-media production company created to produce the grand scale projects Paola had been dreaming of for years, including performance and recording. VIA set the stage for National Sawdust.
About seven years ago, Kevin Dolan was following his own odd path between playing classical organ in churches, and practicing tax law at senior levels of responsibility for the Internal Revenue Service, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and major law firms. When Mr. Dolan’s and Ms. Prestini’s paths crossed, National Sawdust found its pulse.
Mr. Dolan is aware of the importance of music to human life. He has said the purpose of National Sawdust is “to help the musician and composer community. If you support them, you support the art form.”
Under the influence of Mr. Dolan’s presence, finances for National Sawdust fell into place. The organization acquired a building at 80 N. Sixth Street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The brick building had been abandoned for years, but the name of the previous owner remained in fading paint on the facade overlooking the intersection of Sixth and Wythe Avenue- “National Sawdust Co.”
The building’s interior is brand new and unusual. A visitor is certainly aware, upon entering, of being someplace “avante garde.” But as enjoyable as the space is, the point of National Sawdust (NS) is the music- highest quality, widest range.
BY KENNETH KERN