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 LGBTQ* community, 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 LGBTQ 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.
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.”