Humans evolved as nomads: hunter-gatherers following the seasonal migrations of animals. Yet today, nomadism is a distant memory for most of us, a concept both marginalized and romanticized by our society. Actual nomadic cultures have become rare, and they almost always exist on the margins of the states that contain them, often mistrusted and looked down on by others. Think of the European Roma (“Gypsies”), the Irish “Travelers”, the middle-Eastern Bedouin, the sub-Saharan African “Bushmen.” In our own society, nomadism is also often associated with marginalization, from trailer dwellers to seasonal workers to homeless people. Yet nomadism is also romanticized; “Nomad” shows up as a hip name for everything from cafés to bicycle shops to lifestyle blogs to…wind octets…signaling freedom and an unwillingness to be hemmed in by society’s conventions.
So are humans innately nomadic? Evolutionarily, the answer would seem to be “yes”…And yet, the urge for “home” also seems to be profoundly innate. We invest extraordinary resources in owning and maintaining homes, sums we would never contemplate spending on anything else. And we seem to view the lack of a “proper” home very negatively: we talk of troubled children being from “broken homes” and of course at the very bottom of our social order are those who are “homeless.”
But what is “home”? A building? A community? A landscape? An idea? How do we square our clear desire for home with our innate urge to wander and our historical origins as nomads? What, in the end, does “home” actually mean?
This piece attempts to explore these contradicting human desires for home and exploration, between being settled and being nomadic. It is structured in four movements that flow together without pause. The first movement evokes the wide open spaces and limitless possibilities – both literal and metaphorical – of an idealized “homeland.” Movement two interrupts this idyll with crisis, forcing us to flee from the comfort and security of home, becoming involuntary nomads like so many refugees and migrants before us. The third movement reflects nostalgia for a return to that idealized “home” that may never be possible. The final movement is an attempt to come to terms with and embrace the nomadic life. It is inspired in part by the genre of raucous, joyous wind and brass “street music,” as exemplified by Somerville, MA’s Honk Festival. This music, performed in the streets and deeply connected to movements for social justice, draws on a wide range of folk traditions and cultures in an attempt to create a sense of community that transcends the insular, personal sense of “home” that our modern, physical houses create. It implies that, in the end, perhaps “home” is not so much a physical place as a place within a community. That sense of a place within a community – of belonging – is what we ultimately long for when we long for “home.”
Nomad Concerto was commissioned by Nomad Session and premiered by Nomad Session and bass clarinet soloist Jeff Anderle at ClarinetFest 2022 in Reno, NV.