The Dream Unfinished: A Symphonic Benefit for Civil Rights is an event taking place July 17 — the anniversary of Eric Garner’s death — in New York City. Part concert, part rally, part all-around art-meets-society awesomeness, the event will benefit some incredible social justice organizations while bringing the classical music community to the forefront of activism in a social arena in which it has largely remained silent.
This event is a big deal. Illustrious guest speakers and featured musicians complement a guaranteed powerful program of music by Leonard Bernstein, famously an activist and advocate for music and social change; William Grant Still, one of the most significant African-American figures in classical music; and Jessie Montgomery, a contemporary composer and violinist with a fresh perspective and too many accolades to name.
The project is the brainchild of musician and educator Eun Lee, who was kind enough to answer some questions about her work with The Dream Unfinished, the importance of this event in the classical music and global communities, and how others can get involved.
CC: How did The Dream Unfinished get started? How did you first get involved?
EL: I first had the idea for organizing this event last year, when I, like many of my peers, began to pay close attention to the news as the string of deaths of unarmed African-American men and teenagers were getting publicized. As more and more articles kept popping up, it became clear that this wasn’t an isolated set of instances but part of a much bigger, larger problem. I knew that, like others, I could share and disseminate information; march in protest; and donate modestly to activist efforts; but I wondered if there was anything I could do uniquely as a classical musician to respond to these issues.
I also observed that while prominent musicians of other genres (hip hop, folk, jazz) were engaging with the Black Lives Matter movement, the classical music community at large remained silent. Even when the protest was brought to the concert hall, orchestra administrations and musicians have by and large refused to comment or address these issues (the lone exception being the #OneBaltimore concert, which was a joint production between Soulful Symphony and the Baltimore Symphony). And, to be frank, I know exactly why none of these institutions are speaking out; they have donors and audiences they may be afraid of offending, and they may not necessarily have anything to gain from getting involved. But, while these institutions may be silent, as I did more asking around, I realized there were a great number of individuals within the classical music community who cared passionately about what was going on in the news and in their own cities, but they had no platform on which to speak out.
So, after a few months of allowing these ideas to percolate, doing some initial research, and conferring with others, last December I reached out to James Blachly, our artistic director, who is known for having curated similar concerts for a cause, and it was from that initial email exchange that the idea grew into the production that is taking shape today.
CC: In your own words, what is The Dream Unfinished? Why is it important?
EL: The Dream Unfinished is a symphonic benefit for civil rights. Proceeds from the concert will support the ongoing work of social justice organizations like the Center for Constitutional Rights, Justice League NYC, and the National Coalition of Law Enforcement Officers for Justice. More important than the financial outcome of this concert is the goal of using music to bring together people from all walks of life, both on stage and in the audience, to express solidarity with this movement.
CC: This project is such an amazing and vital intersection of art and society. What does the interplay between the art and society mean to you? How can the arts enact change?
EL: As a music educator, I am part of an international movement called El Sistema, which began in Venezuela 40 years ago. Its basic premise is that through the model of an orchestra, we can instill in under served students the skills and attitudes they will need for future success, and bing about meaningful change to their communities. It is through my involvement with this movement, as well as my observations of the work being done in organizations like Community MusicWorks, which inspire me to continue finding my own path of using music as a means of public service.
CC: Tell us a little bit about what your own role is in this project as founder and producer. What have you been up to?
EL: Basically, I have been wrangling a lot of the individuals involved. I would say, in equal parts, that James (the conductor) and I were the ones who curated the musical program, and I have also been programming the speeches that will be included in the event. In recent weeks, I’ve been supervising many of the logistical tasks involved to produce this event, which included contracting the orchestra, securing sponsorship, and directing our staff in our marketing efforts and social media presence.
CC: There are some very notable musicians and public figures who have joined in this project. What was the process of recruiting their involvement? Did you find that many were interested in the cause?
EL: Being that the organizers of The Dream Unfinished are by and large an “unknown commodity” as one adviser put it, personal connections have been the most effective for getting access to these notable figures. Once we have been vetted by these contacts and introductions were made, it was a matter of telling our story of why we felt passionate about this cause, and our vision for the implications and possible outcomes of involving classical music with the issues being addressed. I would say that for every email we sent that was unanswered or rejected, there was another that was an enthusiastic and resounding yes! There is so much energy around these issues right now, and I think our event is a way for people to channel their interests into something bigger than themselves.
CC: How can others get involved and help this project succeed?
EL: DONATE, DONATE, DONATE. Even donations as little as $5 or $10 are welcome, as this concert will not happen if we don’t reach our fundraising goals. We also have a number of smaller-scale events leading up to the headline event in July, so if you’re in town, attend those and encourage others to do the same. Most importantly, as I know donating is not always an option for everyone, help promote! Follow us on our social media platforms, share our content, talk about the event with your friends and family, and help us make some noise so we have a full house in July.
The Dream Unfinished: A Symphonic Benefit for Civil Rights
July 17 | 7:30 pm | Centennial Memorial Temple, New York City, USA