“This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.” -Leonard Bernstein
At Atlantic Music Festival this summer, that quote was our motto, though none of us knew how appropriate it would become to current events. And while I was going to post about the amazing summer I had at Atlantic, I felt that as someone who grew up in Charlottesville, I needed first to express my solidarity with the persecuted and the families of those who lost their lives to violent monsters who invaded my beloved, diverse hometown last weekend.
As a composer and an empath, when I’m confronted with this kind of violence and hatred in the world around me, it’s easy to feel like there’s nothing I can do. There are a lot of times when I question the value of my career choice. Would anyone care if I never again wrote a single note? Will my art matter to anyone? What kind of impact can music have on the world? Can it make any difference in healing the brokenness of today?
I believe that it can.
It’s easy to turn on the news these days, or in my case, to just go downtown on a Saturday afternoon, and then to come to the conclusion that the world is a terrible place doomed to its own self-destruction. Perhaps I’m just an eternal optimist because I have an unshakable belief in the goodness of the universe and of life itself. Why? Whenever I think my life or the world around me will never be okay, when I hear a piece of beautiful music and see diverse groups of people with little in common coming together to create it, I see what the world can still become.
I believe that there’s nothing that can bring people together quite like making music with one another. In an orchestra, it doesn’t matter who the musicians are, where they came from, or what happened to them that day—everyone, for that two-hour concert, is forced to put aside their differences to come together to make something beautiful. Personally, whomever I’ve made music with, he or she becomes my friend—and how could one truly hate a friend? I believe that the world would be a better, more peaceful and compassionate place if everyone had the experience of making music together.
And I believe that music not only has the power to unite, but to lift us out of the darkness and reveal the Light and divine love that is all around us, available to anyone. Watching diverse groups of people come together to create art and enjoying the visceral beauty of the orchestra gives me great hope. It’s my opinion that an orchestra is the closest thing to heaven that we, as humans, have on this side of eternity. The unity, beauty, and the inspiration that music brings makes it the symbol of what humanity is meant to be—and what it could still be.
So yes, music and art can make a difference—in fact, they already do. Of course I will continue to oppose all forms of hate and oppression by doing my best to love all people and stand up for what’s right, but I will also continue to make music. This will be my reply to violence.
And so, with that, I’m going to share one of my favorite pieces of music: the final movement to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. If you’re not familiar with the words, they are a celebration of the true brotherhood of humankind. We are all one.
Thy magic power re-unites
All that custom has divided,
All men become brothers,
Under the sway of thy gentle wings.