Thursday, August 30th, 2018
Dr. Christos J. Granias remarks early in the conversation, “I’m a glass half full kind of person.” Composer, educator, humorist, and longtime ACF member, Granias has been living with multiple sclerosis (MS) since the 1990’s, and he sees it as part of life’s journey. This month, as Granias focuses his creative talents on raising money for the MS Society, ACF sat down with him and his collaborators to learn more about him and about Kalo Taxidi (Good Journey), the fundraising concert he’s producing in October.
Dr. Granias received his doctorate in Theory and Composition from the University of Minnesota, a masters in Piano Performance from Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, and a masters in Composition from Drake University. A proud member of the Greek community of Chicago, Granias taught for nearly 40 years and has served on the music faculties of the University of Minnesota, Eastern Illinois University, St. John’s University, Concordia University – St. Paul, The Perpich Center for Arts Education, and the MacPhail Center for Music. Granias has done world music research on behalf of the Jerome Foundation in coordination with the Library of Congress, was a charter member of ACF’s Education Committee, and is a roster member of the Minnesota State Arts Board. He has travelled the world, and our conversation is rich with inspiring stories of meeting musical luminaries and working with artists of many disciplines. In 1991, while teaching in the Twin Cities, Granias began experiencing strange vision irregularities and hearing loss, which were diagnosed as an acoustic neuroma tumor. The tumor was removed successfully and he felt improvement, but there were still problems that hinted at early symptoms of MS. Eventually vertigo, muscle stiffness, and changes in his sense of balance led to his diagnosis and gradual path to treatment and support, including medications and physical therapy. Granias walks slowly, and he no longer drives, but he’s quick to say, “MS is not going to stop me.” Daily piano practice is part of his physical therapy, and he also composes at the piano. Granias sketches out his ideas on paper and loves being able to bring new work to life with the performers, together incorporating elements of surprise and improvisation. For him “the process is the product.” When each performance is slightly different it “makes the music human.”
This human connection has led Granias to partner with the MS Society on several projects, including public speaking engagements across the Twin Cities. He’s worked closely with local staff, including Mark Turbak, Corporate Engagement Manager. The MS Society funds research and offers programs that enable people with MS to “live their best lives,” Turbak shares. MS is an unpredictable, often disabling auto-immune disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body. It’s estimated that 1 million people in the United States are living with MS, which can be difficult to diagnose because its wide range of symptoms can appear over decades. Some people begin having symptoms in their teens, others not until their 40’s and 50’s. Medications slow the progression of the disease by minimizing inflammation and reducing symptoms, but nothing has yet been discovered to halt or repair the damage. Turbak explains that this individualized disease requires individualized treatment and support, which the national organization provides in a myriad of ways. Their Navigator service allows anyone (not only those with MS) to call, message, or email the organization for information and guidance with any and all questions related to living with MS. They host hundreds of support groups nationwide, providing connection, community, and assistance with complex processes like applying for disability. They also offer microgrants, which can be used to help cover medications that average $70,000 per year. Turbak “is humbled” to work for an organization that is so responsive, and which is “continually looking for new ways to support people through partnerships.”
Kalo Taxidi is one of those innovative partnerships. While the MS Society is known nationally for fundraisers that are endurance running and biking challenges, it also encourages do-it-yourself fundraising projects, enabling people to rally around those in their communities who live with MS. Anyone who has a fundraising idea is encouraged to make it happen with help from the MS Society. Since its founding in 1946 the MS Society has raised 1 billion dollars toward their work. Their current capital campaign, Breakthrough MS, aims to raise another billion dollars in 5 years. This campaign sparked the idea for the first Kalo Taxidi concert in 2017, a musical journey of Granias’ compositions and collaborations from the 1970’s to the present.
On October 7, 2018 the second Kalo Taxidi concert will include new music and poetry on social justice and present moment themes. Reflective of Granias’ compositions and the journey of his creative life, the concert will be a collaboration with poets and performers of many musical traditions, including world music, South Side Blues, Eastern Christian liturgical, classical, and early music — and will also feature other artists who are living with MS. From this conversation with his collaborators and friends, it’s clear that the goals are multidimensional: to bring together many communities in support of the MS Society, to celebrate Granias as an artist, to share his music with new people, and to record the concert and produce a CD. They hope you will join them! More details are available here.
Given his long career teaching composition, we couldn’t let the conversation end without asking Dr. Granias for some advice to share with young composers. “Step back from the computer,” he encourages. Whenever you have the chance, ask people to play through your music, so that you’re not only hearing the software playback. He also believes that composers can find their own voice by exploring their interests and their heritage: “Connect with your roots. Take time to listen to music your grandparents and great-grandparents might have been listening to.” Granias is inspired by his Greek heritage and the many creative and entrepreneurial people in his family. “When you are open minded and don’t let your ego get in the way, beautiful things can happen.” Wise words for all of us.
ACF is grateful to all the participants in this conversation:
Megan Frost, Step Physical Therapy
Dr. Christos J. Granias
Mark Turbak, MS Society