Updated: Sep 13, 2019
From the loft which was the center of my life between Nov 1994 and Aug 2005 I had the life shaking experience to witness this reality as it unfolded.
My journey all started back in the early days of the eruptions. Sometime right around the beginning of July my father called me and asked if I had heard of Etna's activity. I hadn't - and we had a father/son exchange on a subject that we both were invested in, Etna and the surrounding area. His father, Gaetano Toscano, my paternal grandfather and my first true mentor, who's influence continues to echo through my days, had been born and grew up in the town of Màscali in Sicilia just south of Taormina. As a boy, my grandfather entertained me and himself I'm sure, telling me endless stories about his life. Whatever talent I have as a story teller comes from him, although it's easy to call to my attention the out put of his wife's father, my greatgrandfather Lorenzo Gusmano and the man after whom my father was named. His poetry as some of you know, has also been a large part of my compositional output.
But, Lorenzo's output was not published until I was 9 years old therefore the oral reality of Gaetano's narrative took precedence. Stories upon stories of his life both in Sicily and in NYC and surrounding areas were a part of my daily or certainly weekly fare and the more I grew up the more he was with me guiding and often pulling me back from the precipice of extreme teenage angst. Many of these stories had to do about Etna, or Aetna as it's written in Greek, which, of course, dominated Eastern Sicily for a very long period of time. These stories created an immediate - "pay attention" instinct in myself and my father knowing this did not err in calling me that fateful day which eventually led me to the horrors that happened 18 years ago.
Here is an excerpt from 2017, national geographic article:
While the volcano in its present form does little to disrupt the surrounding region, it has a long and even mythological history. Mentions of Mount Etna have been recorded as early as 425 B.C. Ancient Roman records indicate a large eruption occurred in 122 B.C. that blocked out the sun for several days. In Greek mythology, Etna (spelled Aetna in Grecian texts) is said to be the burial place of a giant killed by the Greek god Zeus.
In modern history, Etna erupted forcefully in 1928, destroying the town of Màscali. However, Etna's most destructive incident was recorded in 1669, when lava flowed for four months. A 17-kilometer long flow of lava destroyed Catania and several neighboring villages.
Out of these stories and legends Gaetano laid the ground work without ever possibly knowing, of what was to happen to ME on 9/11. In writing ME, I am making it clear that this is my experience. The folklore and anecdotal preparation came from my Grandfather, which it's reasonable to understand also was handed down to my father. But, my father was his son and he had a son's relationship with his father. I was the grandson, which meant that it had less reasons to rebel and more reasons to be mesmerized by these stories.
So, as my father and I spoke I began to search. The internet was not what it is today, in some parts of the world, and after a fashion I began to find proof of what he was speaking about. As time went on more pictures were found and then, on the 22nd of July more dramatic photos were found.
Of course, at the moment that I found these pictures, I could not know that I was going to be there, exactly there, again, due to events that were yet to unfold. In the meantime, I marveled at the sights, the power, the sheer inevitability of it all as if there was absolutely nothing that god or man could do to change what was happening. I was later to find out that Etna is not known as a killer volcano it erupted approximately every two years until 2001 and the "local" population lives in harmony with what ever happens. When living in Catania it's quite common to find black pumice on the veranda in the mornings, and it's swept away just as sand, dust or leaves are in other parts of the world. In other words, it's a part of the natural rhythm of life within that local system.
Smoke and powerful thrusts of energy in any direction are common scenes within the palette of living images that change with each tick of the clock.
As these eruptions continued, I began to awake each night, during the nights between late July and early August. After a few nights of being awoken I had a frustrated outburst and yelled out loud
"WHY are you waking me up every night?"
and as if on cue a response came. A voice from within me replied
"You're receiving a message from the Volcano".
I replied rather aggressively
"Oh really and what's the message?"
The reply was simple and direct -
"There's too much violence in the world it has to stop!".
Voices were not uncommon at all in my inner experience, I had heard voices and sensed right and wrongs and yes and no's all my life. Indications of what direction to take, of where life was leading me. However, this was certainly one of the more dramatic realities which, in spite of my nightly wake up, really how seriously was I supposed to take this?
It all continued the waking up and the question for a few more nights and finally I began to put pencil to paper and started a composition entitled: "Messaggio Uno" The beginning of the work was scored for low strings ( no violins) Alto voice, Bass Clarinet, Contra Bassoon and I worked on it for about a week. Then, I stopped. I stopped waking up and stopped writing. It was the right decision for the work was going no where.
The summer continued with an enormous heatwave during the first two weeks of August and there was quite a bit less rainfall than normal. ON Aug 9th it reached 103 degrees and the humidity was brutal. Sept 10th it was very sticky and frankly we were so tired of the humidity that Sept 11th was a great relief.
Kio and I went down to the playground and had a wonderful time. I returned feeding Pablo and Kio and making breakfast for myself. I sat down on the couch and turned on the TV, something I didn't do at this time of day normally and there on the screen was what I thought to be a disaster movie. However, it wasn't it was in fact, the first tower which had been hit while I was around the corner washing the previous days dishes.
Not realizing it was real, I looked above the television and saw the truth - the 1st tower was on fire. The rest was a flurry of events, I made immediate phone calls to neighbors in the building. Some came back to my loft because of its easy access to a complete view of all that was happening. I began to take pictures, and then was stopped in my tracks when I heard screaming from across the Newtown Creek. A Budweiser depot was across the way and the drivers were congregated screaming as the second plane approached. I of course watched them, and only felt the crash as the sound waves rippled and hit my windows, which were very large. I owe them a debt, for they kept me from seeing that crash. I did however, look back and saw the ball of flame as it erupted out of the crash's aftermath.
A friend, Bojo came and stood with me as we saw the buildings fall, both immediately suspicious of each perfectly symmetrical fall. But, a time later, I can't possibly recall how long, something incredible happened.
As the general enormous amount of smoke and pulverized debris cleared a single column rose and was subsequently pushed towards the south east. The debris which remained in the air surrounding the site and which effected the first responders was pushed towards Red Bank. We, as you can readily see, were spared. Interestingly enough, my own brother Frank was eventually part of that enormous hiring which occurred in the aftermath of this great tragedy. Frank was working on the New Jersey side, digging out the subway tunnels for the Path Train.
As the plume began to thin out and began to form into a more established single column of smoke, the voice returned and said ... " We told you there was too much violence in the world. Now, the volcano has come to Manhattan." I began to shake within and without and I can attest that it was an extremely disconcerting experience, my reaction to those fateful words. I was horrified as well as blown away by it all and it should not be a surprise to any of you that it took me 6 months well into February to become artistically active again. However, I did sit down that afternoon and write "Slow Winds To The Southeast". Which eventually became the final section of my work.
Knowing that I had to write about this period in my life, I contacted my dear friend Giovanni Sollima who then put me in contact with Riccardo Insolia who is the founding director of L'Offerta Musicale and the rest is history. Messaggio e Domanda which depicted it all was premiered by them in May 2003 and then was presented at University of Cincinnati: Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, LaToya Lain Washington, Mezzo in the summer of 2004 as the last selection on an anti-war program. It was again performed at Central Michigan University by LaToya who became quite attached to the work. I am eternally grateful for her wonderful performances.
Imagine, would you for a moment the amazing journey this was. The incredible reality which unfolded out of that phone call with my Dad, the subsequent pictures found, the voice declaring the communication from the Volcano as in olden days, such sensitivities are still, I can add, very much alive in Sicily. One thing I'll talk about more in a later blog is the Sicilian folksong, clarinet solo immediately after the opening bells ( which have a spooky story indeed) so named by Prof. Riccardo Insolia himself, who was stunned when he asked me where I found it. My response was, "my grandfather gave it to me in a dream". He sincerely thought I had uncovered a previously unknown Sicilian folksong, I couldn't have been more thrilled.
For those of you who control your own time and are not enslaved by modern life -and so allow yourselves the luxury of listening to musical works here it is (click on link)...https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eUO0zRISdUU it's approximately 18 minutes long.
Thank you all for being with me here today. Thomas