Thoughts and Prayers

On Sunday, June 12, a lone gunman entered Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, and slaughtered 49 people, injuring 53 others.  This marks the most fatal mass shooting by a single assailant in U.S. history (though even deadlier massacres against civilians have haunted this nation’s past).

The club was hosting “Latin Night” and spotlighting trans performers, so the shooting explicitly targeted not only the already-marginalized LGBT community [1], but also a marginalized ethnic community.  Though the media has been frenziedly touting “radical Islam” as the shooter’s motive, there is no denying that the primary force that drove this tragedy — this invasion of a safe space for a community already disproportionately vulnerable to violence, homelessness, and suicide — was, above all, homophobia.

I’m heteroromantic, white, and cisgender, so I won’t use this platform to co-opt the LGBT and Latinx communities’ grief.  That’s not what this post is about.  Instead, I’m here to talk about classical music.

Remember the shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon last October?  Probably not, because it’s been overshadowed by the 200+ acts of mass gun violence that have taken place in the U.S. since then (Orlando included).  Regardless — back in October, Hartford-based classical music critic Steve Metcalf published an article entitled “Imagine Classical Music and Gun Control: It Isn’t Hard to Do,” which he later adapted as a radio piece following December’s attack in San Bernardino.

In the article, Metcalf talks about the trope of “thoughts and prayers,” words that are often expressed sincerely yet empty of intent or ability to take action:

I was struck this time by how many people, including President Barack Obama, made the point that they were so very weary of conveying their “thoughts and prayers” to the victims’ families and friends.  The phrase is sincerely offered, of course, but increasingly seems inadequate to the task, particularly when we’re called upon to use it so often.

Metcalf then points to the classical music world’s equivalent of the “thoughts and prayers” paradigm — the famous quote by Leonard Bernstein, noted pacifist and champion of civil rights, penned following the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963:

This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.

The Bernstein quote has been widely circulated on my social media feeds ever since Sunday.  The Orlando Philharmonic even posted it on their Facebook page.  And I’m no less guilty, having shared it on Tumblr last night.  As Metcalf writes, “It has become the classical music world’s automatic, default response.”

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Classical Music Round-Up: 11/6/15

Classical Conditioning presents this week’s worthwhile reads.

Orchestra Updates

The New York Times takes us inside the Kronos Quartet with 3D point capture, linked below. (image via)
The New York Times takes us inside the Kronos Quartet with 3D point capture, linked below. (image via)

Interviews & Introspection

Interesting Reads

Just for Fun

Classical Music Round-Up: 11/1/15

Classical Conditioning presents this week’s worthwhile reads.  (Actually, two weeks’ worth of worthwhile reads — I forgot to post last week!)

Breaking News

Live performances of video game soundtracks, such as ‘Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses’ (above), promise to offset declining ticket sales for U.S. orchestras, according to the Wall Street Journal article linked below.  (image via)

Deep Thoughts

In the Spotlight

Historical Proportions

Just for Fun

Suggested Listening Special Edition: Music for Memorial Day

On this day of discounted appliances and backyard barbecues, I just wanted to take a moment to share some music that captures the true meaning of Memorial Day — remembering the men and women who gave their lives for their country.

Leonard Bernstein: “Agnus Dei” from MASS

Bernstein’s MASS is a theatrical twist on the traditional Latin mass, interspersed with text in Hebrew and English, leaping stylistically from chorale to Broadway to blues.  MASS was composed at the request of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis to celebrate the 1971 opening of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and its premier performance was laden with cultural and political significance.  Portions of the text were influenced by Bernstein’s meetings with the imprisoned Father Dan Berrigan of the Catonsville Nine, who famously burned hundreds of draft files in an anti-Vietnam demonstration in 1968.  President Nixon sent staff to rehearsals of the mass, who reported back that the Latin text was coded with anti-war messages.  Though Bernstein was staunchly anti-war, the piece is more religious than anything.  Bernstein’s music is quintessentially American, and the call for peace at the end of the Agnus Dei — dona nobis pacem/“grant us peace” — makes this a memorable tribute to those who died in service.  Continue reading