In December of last year, I played a series of Christmas concerts with the Ohio Metropolitan Pops Orchestra. In the middle of our week of performances, the shocking Newtown shooting occurred. I remember reading the news the afternoon before the concert. When I read the death toll, I got chills. I was torn between turning away from and being glued to the news. How could anyone do such a thing to innocent children? Needless to say, I was not exactly in the mood to play a chipper, jazzy arrangement of “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” But I had to honor my commitment, as did the other members of the orchestra.
The mood was distinctly somber on stage for the sound check. It was clear that we were all shaken by the news. A light show and Christmas carols hardly seemed appropriate. I wondered how the night would proceed. Would the concert be canceled? Just before sound check our conductor addressed the ensemble. He acknowledged the news and the fact that we were clearly disturbed by the tragedy.
“I know we’re all probably not in the mood to play pops tonight,” he said, “and we could cancel the show. But the fact is, if we do that, they win. This,” he gestured to the ensemble, “is what keeps us going. Let’s lift people up tonight with our music.”
I will never forget that moment in my career. I was so relieved that the conductor faced the news head on. To do otherwise would have cheapened the show. He said a similar thing to the audience members before the performance, and I could tell they were appreciative as well. That night, amid the sorrow and confusion, we leaned on the comfort of familiar tunes. Suddenly the audience and ensemble were connected by a single uniting, soul-sustaining force: music.
Recent news of the events in Boston has been similarly shocking and tragic. We search for some reason behind the attacks, however flawed it may be. To succumb to fear and disillusionment would be understandable. At first glance it seems that terror and violence get the final say.
It is in times like this that music gives me hope. I could write about this for a long time, but I’ll just share a few brief examples.
I am fortunate enough to be involved with an incredible program in Price Hill (a suburb of Cincinnati) called Music for Youth in Cincinnati (MYCincinnati). The program provides free musical instruction for children ages 7-13, adhering to the principles of El Sistema. (For more information, visit this page.) Not only do we get to witness the transformative power of music in these children’s lives on a day-to-day basis, but recently we experienced music’s power to unite people over a common cause. This past Friday, the students played a benefit concert to support their own organization as well as the Red Cross Measles and Rubella Initiative. The concert was called “Kids Helping Kids.” As the students performed simplified versions of works by Mahler, Wagner, and Vivaldi, they helped protect children around the world from illness.
Secondly, my sister recently sent me this video.
It’s comforting to me to know that people are out there battling not with guns and bombs, but with saxophones playing Billie Jean in a subway. The video made me smile and reminded me of humanity’s capacity for creativity and humor.
Terror and violence don’t have the final say. Not if we don’t let them.
The perpetrators of the acts of terror in Boston have been apprehended or killed, and this brings some relief. But what of it? That fact does not reverse the damage done. Revenge won’t heal the victims or assuage the doubts and fears we all face. I certainly don’t think we should ignore the evil that is present in the world, but I would encourage everyone to remember that goodness and beauty are all around us.
Humans are capable of so many wonderful things. Recently the one that has given me hope is music. Few things have such an incredible uniting power. Music lifts us up, brings us together, overcomes barriers. So I say whether you are a world-renowned soloist, a nine year-old with a recorder, a drummer in a rock band, or just singing your favorite song in the car with your friends, play on. Keep singing. Keep dancing. Celebrate art and the creativity of the human spirit in all its forms. In doing so, you bring light to the world.
“This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.” – Leonard Bernstein